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How To Build A PC, Part 3: Putting It All Together

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December 14, 2006 10:08:25 AM

With parts in hand, you're now ready to "build the dream". This final segment in our "How To Build" series will show you how to put everything together, and attempt to answer your remaining questions.

More about : build part putting

December 14, 2006 11:08:00 AM

1) you may want a reminder to plug in the CPU fan from the CPU fan connector... (especially the connector on board usually have the same shape as the case fan/NB connector, and some boards (not a lot, I assume) have them being close to each other) since it's very rare to have fanless non-peltier coolers that do not require case fans
2) Isn't the "legacy Power" connector called molex or something?

Edit: perhaps I am being picky, but what the hell, a lot of people are from the US
December 14, 2006 12:09:01 PM

Heheh, I looked at that drive photo, the sticker actually says "legacy" power. Most of us call them "Molex" connectors, but Molex is actually a company that makes hundreds of different connector styles.
Related resources
December 14, 2006 1:28:57 PM

Quote:
CPU pins are easily bent, so a truly dysfunctional builder could successfully force the CPU into the socket the wrong way while smashing pins in the process.


It happened to me when I changed a P4 cpu. I paniced and actually thought that I have to buy a low-budget pc just to have any decent pc at all(I couldn´t afford better then). BUT before I did that I didn´t have anything to loose so I took a needle and tried to bend the pins back(it was about 6 or 7 pins that were bent). It sure didn´t look pretty when I was finished but it worked and the cpu still works today without any data loss. The pins are just power connectors and it seems that it doesn´t matter if they are slightly bent as long there are connection to the socket.
December 14, 2006 1:50:57 PM

Nicely written article covering the build process.

But it seems like this should be the next to last segment in this series. The reference to the BIOS guide will cover many issues, but it seems like these areas aren't covered which could confuse a new builder:

1. BIOS updates
2. The F6 issue for RAID and controllers
3. Partitioning drives, e.g. with one physical drive do you do one partition or more (I like more than one in case of reinstall there is a place to put data)
4. Basic driver installation issues like getting latest drivers from manuf's website prior to installing Windows, use latest nVidia/ATi drivers instead of manuf's., dealing with Device Manager to find drivers not installed.
5. Few basic Windows setup things like if they want Quick Launch toolbars, hold ctrl down and drag-n-drop Explorer icon from Start menu to desktop, Manage | Disk Management to set drive letters. A few tips like these could go a long way.
6. Troubleshooting. We all know that a first-time builder will get something wrong, how about run through a basic list of symptoms and remedies? RAM not seated correctly, wrong polarity on a front panel switch/LED, turn on rocker switch on back of PSU, video card not seated, check that fans are plugged in, etc.

With the writing style that's been established with these articles it seems that any new builder would feel at ease tackling these remaining issues. :D 
December 14, 2006 2:08:15 PM

I agree Homerr, those things you mentioned would be invaluable to a novice/beginner builder. It's always those things that trip people up. Hooking up the cables is actually the easiest (and most fun!) part.

Great article, great series. Please keep it up and close the deal with further information, don't leave the rookies hanging!!
December 14, 2006 5:36:15 PM

In my experience, if the connectors for the disk LED and the power LED are plugged in the wrong direction, they simply don't work. Power off, unplug, reverse the connection, and then try again. These connectors may also require a lot of patience, a pair of tweezers, and a flashlight.

You might also mention that the motherboard manual should be consulted before beginning - my ASUS motherboard requires an additional molex power connection cable that wasn't mentioned in this guide.


Nice guide, and good pictures - especially using the 20 pin cable in the 24 pin connector.
December 14, 2006 8:27:47 PM

Quote:
Nice guide, and good pictures - especially using the 20 pin cable in the 24 pin connector.


hehe, it would be more interesting the other way around :twisted:
December 14, 2006 11:49:24 PM

This is a very good beginning article. I hope to see some more. I would only change a few things. When dealing with 40 or 80 wired ATA cables line 1 is the one with the read stripe and is always next to the power plug. This makes it easier when dealing with non-keyed cables. Always grab the plug and not the cable when unplugging them.

Another change for the article would be on electrostatic discharge (ESD). ESD, when it occurs, is always high voltage, but low amps, but as the traces in components get smaller the needed amperage to cause damage also decreased. Touching the case is fine for your own equipment but if you are going to work on someone else’s equipment I would suggest be sure your work area is clear of all insulators, plastic or Styrofoam objects hold a static charge for example. Consider a wrist strap and or an ESD matt and make sure you don’t touch connection pins. The biggest problem with ESD is that when it does occur the damage may not show up till later. I used to shrug this off myself till I got to see some of the diagnostic testing on failed components that clearly showed ESD damage.
December 15, 2006 12:25:16 AM

I'm constantly building computers on my carpeted floor (in Wyoming)while watching tv in my living room or family room. The way to avoid esd? Plug the PS in as the very first thing after mounting it in the case. Then before removing the mb or any other component, touch the case and keep in contact with it.

EDIT: Keep the ps switch off!

I used to use grounded mats on all my tables but that's just not as convienient anymore!

Also, I feel obligated to mention that some 40pin IDE cables and or devices won't work together as some devices don't have a missing pin and some cables have a plug where there should be a missing pin. Very rarely seen anymore, but good to know. Escpecially if working on older machines.
December 15, 2006 12:49:14 AM

Yes, the red stripe on ATA cables is "always" next to the power plug only because the power plug is "always" on the right-hand side of the connector. It's probably best that the article did NOT mention that because people would try to apply the same idea to other cables, such as floppy cables, where it's completely wrong.

That's probably why the article says Pin 1 is always on the left side of the connector for Floppy drives, and the right side of the connector for Ultra ATA drives.

All new cables are keyed anyway, so it's only the Floppy drive (which is often keyed both ways) that needs the extra attention really. The article is about building a new computer, not rebuilding a computer with 8-year-old cables.
December 15, 2006 3:06:52 AM

Not a bad overview for first timers but i think a video series would have better suited the material shown.Ive bean building my PCs for the last 8 years and wouldnt pay the overhead for someone else to build it unless i hit the lotto.

Standoff screws are very important lol.If you see smoke/fire on your first build dont get depressed get a RMA.I smoked my first motherboard that way but at least then they were out of cyrix chips and i got a AMD instead.I wanna go back in time and smack that kid in the head for trying to screw the motherboard directly to the back of the case with the power supply plugged in.
December 15, 2006 5:59:24 AM

Quote:
In my experience, if the connectors for the disk LED and the power LED are plugged in the wrong direction, they simply don't work. Power off, unplug, reverse the connection, and then try again. These connectors may also require a lot of patience, a pair of tweezers, and a flashlight.


Or, if you're like me, you'll have to actually re-order the pins because the motherboard you bought only has 2pins next to one another for leds, and the case has them in a 3 pin plug, in the wrong order, and at opposite ends.

I guess this is what happens when you buy an el cheapo motherboard(waiting for a better one), and putting in a decent case. Read Sig for clearity . . .
December 15, 2006 6:24:42 AM

No you don't. YOu only have to move one pin, that's easy to do. YOu don't have to move both, because it's OK to have the printing on the connector on the wrong side, so long as the wires go in the right direction.
December 15, 2006 7:03:15 AM

Quote:
No you don't. YOu only have to move one pin, that's easy to do. YOu don't have to move both, because it's OK to have the printing on the connector on the wrong side, so long as the wires go in the right direction.


You're wrong. Pins are in a place, that you HAVE to have the pins on the connector next to one another, and room for the extra pin overhang of the connector, on one side only, this means, if you get it wrong, you have to flip the connector, and then move both pins (wires). And unless you dont mind butchering the original connector (razor blade, shaving the extra pin slot off), its a serious pain in the butt.
December 15, 2006 7:21:03 AM

Yeh, I have a pocket knife to solve that problem. What, you thought you might like to put an OLD board into that case later, so you'd need three pins?

A bunch of cases use separate leads because of the problem you described. If you split the 3-pin lead down the center and clean the edges with a knife, you end up with separate leads. Then you never need to mess with moving the wires around.
December 16, 2006 12:15:57 AM

Well, you could cut off one side, then order the pins however you like, and just flip it(if needed), and it would work. Problem is, while I don't remember ever seeing a board that NEEDS a 3 pin connector for the power LED on the front of the case, I didn't want to risk taking that option away from myself, in case I do run into one some day ;) 
December 16, 2006 12:22:48 AM

Yes, but then there's the other option I mentioned of splitting the connector and have two separate leads.
December 16, 2006 12:33:43 AM

good article.

for installing the cpu.

as an example i have installed a socket 939 cpu in the mobo,
then flipped the retention lever, then installed the hsf.
and no post.

come to find out that the cpu wasnt completly seated 8O
i got lucky and didnt bend any pins.
that is scary but possible.
December 17, 2006 12:00:20 AM

On the application of thermal paste, I've actually thought about this
for a few days, and decided to comment...if you are not overclocking,
ignore this because the thermal pad supplied will work OK, but if you
know the value of a cool running processor you want to do everything
you can initially, you don't want to go out and buy yet another 80mm fan
down the road.

Most of the aftermarket heatsinks, esp Thermalright, are pretty rough
and could use burnishing. If you can see machine marks, you need to
do this: I use a 4000 grit really fine sandpaper which can get it shiny,
can't have any visible marks where the sink contacts the CPU.

I use the 90 percent alcohol (from Walmart actually) and not the 70
percent, which has oil added, rub it with something lint free,let it flash
dry at least ten minutes, and do the thin spread on both heatsink and
CPU, just very thin, and too much is bad and not enough can be
a disaster. I do this to insure 100 percent of the CPU will have the paste,
Which is Arctic but the other brands do work OK. Any touch of the
fingers will leave a minute amount of oil on the part, and sometimes
the brand new CPU's come dirty (had one)

I've done this and carefully noted temp differences, one current rig runs
at 30 percent overclock with CPU fan running at 2500RPM's, no case
fan whatsoever, and 42-46C usually. Like I say, not that big a deal
unless every degree counts to you, like me.
December 17, 2006 9:33:50 PM

If you have ordered all seperate components (Power Supply, case, CPU, MB. GPU, RAM, etc) I would suggest a quick "pre-post" test with stuff all spread out on your build area and out of the case just to make sure everything works before you assemble. This can save a *lot* of time later if you've fitted it all in the case and it turns out one of your components was shipped DOA.
December 18, 2006 1:01:23 AM

Quote:
If you have ordered all seperate components (Power Supply, case, CPU, MB. GPU, RAM, etc) I would suggest a quick "pre-post" test with stuff all spread out on your build area and out of the case just to make sure everything works before you assemble. This can save a *lot* of time later if you've fitted it all in the case and it turns out one of your components was shipped DOA.


Don't forget the motherboard should be put on a non conductive surface, such as the motherboard box, or something else appropriate ;) 
December 18, 2006 1:17:09 AM

Quote:
If you have ordered all seperate components (Power Supply, case, CPU, MB. GPU, RAM, etc) I would suggest a quick "pre-post" test with stuff all spread out on your build area and out of the case just to make sure everything works before you assemble. This can save a *lot* of time later if you've fitted it all in the case and it turns out one of your components was shipped DOA.


Dont forget the motherboard should be put on a non conduction surface, such as the motherboard box, or something else appropriate ;) 

Good point, I like to use the the black foam mat that's usually inside with the motherboard packing.

From reading this forum (while waiting for my own RMA) I have learned how to test the Powersupply without hooking to Motherboard (shorting green and a black wire on the 24pin connector with a fan or CD-rom plugged in only). I wish I'd tried this before I sent everything back :) 
December 18, 2006 2:55:16 AM

Meh, is "conduction" an actual word ? Lol, sometimes, I wonder where these words come from, because thats not what I was thinking as I typed . . . "Conductive"
January 4, 2007 3:24:55 AM

As an absolute first timer, I'd appreciate a bit more clarification between "Assemble all components" and "screw with the BIOS." I have everything wired up and sitting pretty in the case, and I probably won't hook up all the fans on the first shot, but I'd like to know if theres anything I need to do before powering on for the first time. Things such as:

Video card. The info that came with everything I have (I bought everything separate) says to install the latest drivers for the vid card before installing it. I can't install any drivers without being able to see the screen, and I can't have a screen with no vid card.

Boot disk (or whatever its called outside of the mac world, where I'm from). I've messed around in other peoples computers BIOSs to have seen that thats where I change the boot disk from hard drive to optical drive, but what about on this first round? Clearly I cant tell it to boot from the WinXP cd before I turn it on. Maybe I fire the thing up without either the hard drive or the opti drive hooked up, and just play in the bios first?

Fans. I bought the Smilodon case because I got a bigger paycheck than expected and it was the only case that dropped the mobo tray in the store (only one that wasn't full atx or beige or whatever...its exciting and I like it) and I didnt want to screw something up because my clumsy hands couldnt maneuver in a half open case. So, I now have 4 case fans for my one hard drive, one opti drive, one vid card. I realize cooling is an issue, but do I really need all of them?

Basically, I want another page on the guide, "So you're standing in front of $750 worth of technological parts nervously clutching your install disc. Next Step." Anyone with suggestions, feel free to PM me. I'll probably pull my post once I have answers. Thanks in advance.
January 4, 2007 3:29:53 AM

Ignore the part about installing drivers first. Start your system, use the required key to enter BIOS setup (usually DEL key), change the boot order, instal windows, instal motherboard drivers, instal all the other drivers.
January 4, 2007 3:34:48 AM

Thanks. You rock. Computer will be fired up as soon as the girlfriend can be distracted.
January 4, 2007 3:42:54 AM

Double posted, sorry~
January 4, 2007 3:47:26 AM

Check your connections again and fire it up, your default
motherboard settings should see the new hard drive.
XP has native video drivers to get everything going, and
you can install your card drivers later. It should see the Windows
CDROM initially, but when you see the first screen if you
hit delete (when you see 3 green lights on your keyboard)
you can access the BIOS and change the boot order so it
sees the CDROM first.
My preference in loading is:
XP install
Motherboard drivers
DX9
Video drivers
Any other required software
and I defrag a few times during this process.
Somewhere along the way initially I also check the CPU
temp in BIOS.......good luck!
February 17, 2007 2:19:12 PM

I've hooked up everything to test the components except to the case. How do you start the system without hooking it up to the case? I mean, do I have to short the switch or something?

Building my first system, really appreciate for any answers :) 
February 17, 2007 3:49:41 PM

If this is your first build, I wouldn't recommend firing it up outside the case.
The reason is the PS and MB should be properly grounded, and you risk frying
everything. Good idea not to touch MB either when it's running. Just mount
the power supply, motherboard/CPU, and video connection in the case
to determine if it posts to BIOS OK..having determined that you can safely
mount your drives and othe peripherals....good luck
February 17, 2007 5:16:43 PM

Actually, I don't have a case.

Reason is, I'm bringing back the components back to Aus, where I'm studying, but I'm buying them in Malaysia. Not really practical to bring a case on flight cause it's heavy.

Anyway, can't I just put the motherboard on top of its box? I know how to ground myself properly. But the thing is, I just wanna POST to determine everything is ok. How do I turn it on?
February 17, 2007 5:26:25 PM

Jump the power switch plug momentarily with a screwdriver.
February 17, 2007 5:28:21 PM

Gosh, if you can't make a case what chance do you have? Seriously, in that
*case* when you have good grounds for MB/PS, you should be able to plug
in the 24 pin cable from PS to MB (and 4 pin Molex to video card if required)
and it should work on the power supply switch OK :) 
February 17, 2007 5:32:58 PM

Is it really that bad if I don't have a case? I mean, I don't wanna waste buying a case that I know I won't bring with me on the plane. 8O Anyway, thanks for your reply. Thanks to Crashman too. :) 
February 17, 2007 5:52:52 PM

Your motherboard will still be grounded though the power plug ground wires to the power supply, and your power supply will be grounded to "earth" though the third prong on the cord. I don't see a problem.
February 17, 2007 8:30:18 PM

Crashman you are right, and Phreax seems to know what he's doing. I would still caution first time builders to use their case, or take extra care if you set your components on some surface, the enemy being static in handling equipment without a wrist ground strap and incidental microvolts hanging around in the air, waiting to attack your delicate equipment. like don't set it on a wool blanket and rub it around vigourously or attempt to assemble any equipment whilst taking a shower, making love, or eating breakfast. Thank you.
February 17, 2007 8:43:19 PM

I never use a wrist strap. Occasionally on dry days I have a huge spark jump from a DIMM to the board while I'm inserting it!

No problems so far, but I've only been doing this nine years. And it's not like I build a new system every day. More like two systems a day.
February 17, 2007 9:07:24 PM

I confess, I was permanently traumatized once by entering a room and seeing someone assembling a computer with the motherboard sitting on a damp towel. I wanted to emphasize the bottom of the board is active in operation, and not designed to work sitting flat. You build 2 a day? Wow...
February 18, 2007 1:50:28 AM

Thanks everyone for the replies, you guys are most helpful.

Now I've got my system to POST, so (without casing of course) should I proceed and install XP? Can't wait to play with it, hehe. :lol: 
February 18, 2007 3:15:47 AM

Sure, the best thing about doing that is spilling something on it!
February 18, 2007 3:37:07 AM

LOL. Whatever you say, boss :D  Will keep that in mind..
!