In the previous article we looked at the choice of components and what you will need to build your own computer. In this article we'll assume that everything is delivered and get on with unboxing and fitting all the parts together.
I have been building custom PC's since the 1990's, my first being a 486DX2/66. Here are a few photos of past builds
Now, on to this build, but first an apology that when I did my builds I did not have the foresight to fully photograph everything but I have been able to use photos from multiple builds for this guide. That is why things appear to change between steps.
The most important thing to remember is that at the end of the day a CPU is a CPU, graphics card is a graphics card. Everything has its place and only fits in its place. Don't force something to fit. Take your time and find out why it doesn't fit. Most things only fit in one type of slot/socket, so does it line up? is it the right way around, is something else in the way? Building a computer will test your problem solving skills.
First things first, its very tempting to take everything out the boxes and have a look but I would recommend you leave everything in its box and protective bag until needed. This will reduce the likelihood of something happening to damage it.
During the process of building a PC we are going to be touching sensitive electronics components. We must be very careful of static electricity, which can damage or destroy the new components.
Static electricity results from a difference in electrical charge between two surfaces. Have you ever touched a radiator or another person and got a little shock? That is static electricity. This little shock WILL damage computer components.
All components will be delivered in protective anti-static bags and should be kept in the bags until you need them. Once the item has been removed from the bag, if you need to put it down or store it somewhere, put it back inside the bag.
Some people prefer to wear an anti-static strap which attaches to your wrist and has a long cable which is then attached to something grounded - such as a radiator or central heating pipe. I personally don't like this method and use a grounded case method.
While working on a PC, plug the electrical cable into the wall socked and the power supply, but have the power supply turned OFF and the wall socket turned OFF. The power supply switch will be on the back next to the plug. Before touching any internal components, touch a metal part of the computer case with your hand. This will ground you, neutralizing your static charge. You should now be able to work without worrying about static electricity. To be extra careful, just touch the case occasionally to keep your static charge neutralized and ensure you remain grounded.
Building a PC
The first thing you need to do is locate an area where you will have plenty of room to work. A dining table or large desk is ideal. You may find it a good idea to use a table cloth or hobby mat to prevent any scratches in the table.
Coffee is optional and I'd probably advice against having coffee around on the same desk in case of spillage.
Now, unbox the case and remove the packaging and side panels. Locate the box of screws, cables and the instructions. Do the same for the Power Supply. This is going to be the first part to be fitted.
There will be a large opening on the back of the case which is just a little bit smaller than the power supply. The supply should fit inside the case with the fan exhaust and plug facing out the large case hole. The case instructions will tell you the exact placement and you should screw it in according to those instructions.
You can now plug an electrical cable into the PSU and plug into the wall socked, ensuring that the wall socket and the PSU are both switched OFF. The case is now grounded and every time you touch the bare metal in the case (usually grey) you will be grounded. Always do this before handling components and removing them from the bag.
Fitting the Motherboard
The motherboard is the largest of the components and the first to be fitted. Before you take it out of the bag, we need to screw in some spacers to the case. The position varies by form factor and your manual should show you the layout. You can also look at the motherboard and see where the holes are and line it up with the screw holes on the case. Once the spacers are tightly fastened, you can take the motherboard out the bag and lay it on to the spacers taking care to line up the ports with the holes in the rear of the case. You can now screw the motherboard into place.
Now is a good time to connect the case lights and switches as there is nothing in the way. Some cases have lots of individual wires with individual plugs, while others have a complete connector. Check the motherboard manual for where each cable is plugged into and they are generally labelled on the motherboard and close together.
You can also plug in the case fan and connect the PSU to the motherboard via the very large block connector.
Fitting the CPU
Once the motherboard is secured into the case, locate the large CPU socket. It is usually a large square or rectangle with hundreds of tiny holes. It usually has a little lever next to it. You should check the instructions for the motherboard on the exact procedure but essentially it goes like this. Always hold the CPU by the edges, NEVER touch the pins and avoid touching the top shiny surface.
One corner of the socket will be marked with a raised or lowered dot, or sometimes a triangle. Note the position. Lift the lever to the up position. Now ground yourself and carefully remove the CPU from its packaging taking care NOT to touch the pins. Inspect the top of the chip and locate the marker dot/arrow. Line up the markers on the socket and processor and gently insert the CPU onto the socket. It should gently fall into place. Now lower the lever and secure it. This is a zero insertion force socket.
Now you need to fit the heatsink and fan assembly. This process generally involves gently placing the heatsink ontop of the chip and securing the bracket over the CPU and into the socket. Please check the instructions for the processor for this exact process as it does vary between chips and manufacturers. Don't forget to connect the fan to the CPU fan connector on the motherboard.
Fitting the Graphics Card
Now the most difficult part has been completed we can install some of the smaller and easier components. The first of which is the graphics card. Use your motherboard manual to locate the appropriate slot, either and AGP or PCIe slot depending on the type of graphics card you bought. Remove one of the back panel blanks in line with the slot and gently lower the graphics card into the slot. You may have to push gently but its not stiff or hard to press in, so don't force it.
Depending on the graphics card specification you may need to plug in one or two power cables. There should be a couple coming from the PSU that you can plug in here.
Fitting the Hard Drives / SSD
Storage devices usually sit in a cradle or caddy within the case. Some are screwless in which case there is a plastic bracket that clips to the drive, other you have to line up the holes in the case with the holes in the drive and screw them in. Plugs face towards the inside of the case and the label is up (drive control circuit board is on the bottom).
You can then take a SATA connector from the PSU and connect it to the drive(s) and a SATA cable, sometimes supplied with the drive and/or motherboard and connect it to the drive and motherboard.
Most things should be wired up inside now, so now just have a check around and make sure that everything is seated properly in its socket, no lose screws. Next we need to connect a monitor and a keyboard. Keep the case lid off as we need to see inside and make sure everything is working. Be sure not to touch anything whilst it is running. Next turn the wall socket on. In theory nothing will happen which is a good sign. Next, turn on the PSU using the rocker switch at the back by the power cable. You should see some lights come on the motherboard. Don't panic if you don't, not every motherboard has these lights but most do.
Make sure that the monitor and keyboard are connected and powered up. Now time to turn on for the first time. You should see and hear activity. Firstly, check that the CPU fan has started up, then check case fans are spinning. You can probably hear a hard drive spin up, but not an SSD.
You should also hear a single beep and see some activity on the monitor similar to this picture. Different motherboards have different screens so yours's may well be different. If you hear a series of beeps then something probably isn't connected. Turn everything off and check to make sure all the connectors, power cables, any clips on the RAM are closed. If you still get beeps you can look up the BIOS Error Beep Code or refer to the manual which will help diagnose the problem.
In this example I did not have any drives plugged in but if yours are plugged in and working they will be listed on this screen.
If all has gone well you should see an error along the lines of "Operating System Not Found".
Installing Operating Systems
The final step you need to perform is the installation of an operating system. There are many to choose from, the most popular being Windows or a Linux distribution. These are outside the scope of this article, but I have further articles which you may be interested in.