How To Build A PC

Step 11: Build The Platform (CPU, Cooler And DRAM)

Many technicians refer to the CPU, motherboard, DRAM and graphics as a platform. These parts can be assembled and tested outside of a case by connecting a power supply and power button, and except for a discrete graphics card, they can usually be inserted as an assembly into an empty enclosure.

Socketed processors have followed a common theme for at least 20 years: an arrow on one corner of the CPU aligns with another arrow on the CPU socket. This is the primary method manufacturers use to assure proper orientation, but AMD also uses missing pins with blocked interface holes to further prevent improper installation.


CPU pins are easy to bend, so if you're really rushing through the motions, it's certainly possible to force a processor into its socket the wrong way, smashing its pins in the process. With the tension lever released as shown, the CPU should literally drop into the socket under its own weight, with no force applied. These are known as Zero Insertion Force (ZIF) sockets.

After checking to make sure the CPU is fully inserted, press the tension lever into the horizontal position to lock it in place.

LGA processors have edge notches to prevent incorrect installation in addition to being marked with an arrow as a visual guide. A load plate holds the pinless CPU tight against socketed contacts, called lands, and one or two locking levers apply the load.

After making sure that the CPU is correctly installed (as shown above), lower the steel load plate over the CPU and rotate the wire clamp into its locked position. Take note that, unlike its ZIF counterpart, this step generally requires a bit of force.

Thermal interface material (TIM), also known as thermal compound, paste, or grease fills tiny spaces between the CPU and its cooler to assure optimal heat transfer. Most stock CPU coolers have a stiff factory-applied TIM that becomes soft when heated by the CPU, but other coolers require the manual application of thermal transfer grease or paste.

Igor Wallossek’s article on thermal paste installation shows a perfectly acceptable way to add today’s thick thermal materials without creating a mess. A small blob in the center of the sink will indeed spread as shown in the above photos, and thermal softening will likely spread it even more as the system is used.

Excess paste will squirt out around the edges of the CPU, so it's important to not apply too much and create a mess. Cleaning pastes out of crevices can be particularly difficult and becomes necessary when using certain conductive metallic thermal solutions.

Clip-on CPU coolers are still used by AMD for its Socket AM3+ and FM2+ processors, and the clip is still compatible with most of the firm’s older socket interfaces. With the cooler in position, slip the non-levered end over the corresponding plastic hook, then repeat the process on the levered end. Finally, finish the installation by flipping the lever to apply pressure.

Pinned-on CPU coolers use mounting holes rather than the more traditional clip bracket. They were introduced with Intel’s LGA 775 socket and have persisted through the company's modern LGA 1150 interface. Installation requires pushing each pin into the corresponding motherboard hole until a click is felt or heard.

The lower pin (translucent white, above) is hollow, split on one end, and has barbs on the split end. This part goes through the mounting hole first. The upper pin (black, above) protrudes through a hole in the lower pin’s center to wedge the barbs apart. Twisting the top of the pin 90 degrees counterclockwise unlocks the spring pressure, allowing the cooler to be removed. Since a counterclockwise twist defeats the latching mechanism, be sure to check that all pins are properly twisted clockwise before attaching the cooler.

Screw-on coolers solve the problem of fragile plastic pins and the four points of motherboard strain by using screws and a load-spreading support plate. This greater security and motherboard protection is particularly useful with large and heavy coolers that require increased contact pressure across the CPU’s heat spreader. The support plates are typically designed to fit Intel's four-pin mounting holes, or replace AMD's clip-style brackets. Intel’s LGA 2011 motherboards ship with a support plate already installed, and many coolers also ship with a second set of mounting screws to use its threaded holes.

Because the support plate must be placed behind the motherboard, these coolers should be mounted before the motherboard is installed into the chassis. Even though many cases have an access hole in their motherboard trays specifically for this purpose, it’s usually easier to reach the screws with the motherboard unobstructed by the case’s walls.

Pro Tip: Some installations require a builder to hold the CPU cooler in one hand, align it with holes in the motherboard, and reach around the opposite side of the case to inserts screws through holes in the motherboard. Rather than phone a friend, we suggest installing the CPU cooler with the motherboard removed from the case. Simply flip the cooler upside down and place it on the table, align the upside-down motherboard to the mounting holes, and continue the installation as described in the CPU cooler's instructions.

Installing RAM

System memory is keyed so that it only fits into the slot one way. Since this key is off-center, backwards modules cannot be fully inserted. Be sure to check that the notch in the module's contact area aligns with the slot's key, and press each module into the slot until a click is heard or felt from the latches. Fully seating modules may require a relatively significant amount of pressure.

Our configuration called for a pair of modules in corresponding slots to enable dual-channel mode. Check your motherboard manual to see which slots should be used for this performance-enhancing option.

Also, take note of the slot numbers, which are usually written on the board and compare them to the module installation order outlined in the motherboard manual. This was particularly critical with LGA 1156- and LGA 1366-based motherboards because they relied on a DIMM in the secondslot of each channel for termination, though many LGA 1150 and 2011 motherboards aren’t as fussy.

Create a new thread in the US Reviews comments forum about this subject
This thread is closed for comments
32 comments
    Your comment
  • AndrewJacksonZA
    "the power supply is actually one of the more important parts of a build"
    Thank you!!

    Or rather, let's do what the cool kids are doing and rather post a GIF:
    https://giphy.com/gifs/the-office-thank-you-michael-scott-1Z02vuppxP1Pa
    3
  • Eggz
    Great piece for a lot of first-time builders. This should have a sticky somewhere on the site so it doesn't get buried :-)
    5
  • jkhoward
    Quote:
    "the power supply is actually one of the more important parts of a build" Thank you!! Or rather, let's do what the cool kids are doing and rather post a GIF: https://giphy.com/gifs/the-office-thank-you-michael-scott-1Z02vuppxP1Pa


    Seriously, not enough people realize how import a good PSU is. I am working with someone is heavily overclocking an i7 and two 970 in SLI as well as 4 SSD and a few hard drives, a bunch of fans, with a 750W PSU.
    -2
  • jkhoward
    Also... I am digging the age of some of these images.
    4
  • alidan
    Quote:
    Quote:
    "the power supply is actually one of the more important parts of a build" Thank you!! Or rather, let's do what the cool kids are doing and rather post a GIF: https://giphy.com/gifs/the-office-thank-you-michael-scott-1Z02vuppxP1Pa
    Seriously, not enough people realize how import a good PSU is. I am working with someone is heavily overclocking an i7 and two 970 in SLI as well as 4 SSD and a few hard drives, a bunch of fans, with a 750W PSU.


    unless i'm thinking wrong, isn't that within the power limits of a 750? im even assuming that each gpu is 300 watts and i know they shouldn't hit that even with the most aggressive of ocs

    granted there is a distinction between a good psu and a bad one, but im just assuming its a good one.
    3
  • chimera201
    Motherboard slots haven't evolved much. Wished every slot was like a USB slot
    0
  • turkey3_scratch
    612443 said:
    Seriously, not enough people realize how import a good PSU is. I am working with someone is heavily overclocking an i7 and two 970 in SLI as well as 4 SSD and a few hard drives, a bunch of fans, with a 750W PSU.


    Your point being... ?
    3
  • renosablast
    Steps 1 and 3 should be combined, and step 2 comes after 1 and 3. You better worry about the CPU and motherboard combo compatibility before you worry about a graphics card.
    -1
  • renosablast
    Sorry, meant steps 2 and 4 before 3.
    0
  • SR-71 Blackbird
    I love when you see a $1500.00 build with top quality components and then they have a $40.00 PSU listed with it.
    5
  • Outlander_04
    IMO the very first component selection for a gaming build should always be the .... MONITOR.
    Decisions on where and how to spend the rest of the budget can only be made once you know the resolution , and whether its 60 Hz, 144 Hz or whatever else is available
    1
  • MasterMace
    Gonna throw in my disagreement on the priority, mentioned nice and early in the article. The first thing you pick is never your case. There's 3 things you can decide to be your starting point when building a pc to make it a smooth ride; either, 1. Budget. 2. CPU 3. Graphics. By picking 1 of these 3 things as your starting point, you can have a very smooth build process. Does that mean you buy your case last? No, I've seen plenty of builds where the case arrives first as a way of storing the items, but when you want a solid build, your case is last priority, as it has no impact on your performance and restricts the size of your items.

    Even if you wanted to build an odd form factor, like an itx, you would still pick the cpu or the budget before the case.
    2
  • MrXtreme
    Thank you for explaining ESD correctly. I have been annoyed with articles over exaggerating about ESD a lot. So just touching something metal can help? Well, next time I think I'll set a PC on my wooden desk instead of the carpet.
    0
  • kunstderfugue
    Quote:
    I love when you see a $1500.00 build with top quality components and then they have a $40.00 PSU listed with it.


    The XFX TS Bronze 550 comes down to $43 ish from time to time and that's a mighty fine PSU to power a single graphics card build.
    0
  • nitrium
    Quote:
    "the power supply is actually one of the more important parts of a build" Thank you!!

    While not unimportant, it gets far too much attention on the forum's here. PSU's are only relatively rarely the cause of issues, and I'll go out on a limb and say that virtually ANY modern 650W PSU (even ultra-cheap China garbage) will reliably power a single GPU and CPU, regardless of model or how much OCing you do to them.
    -3
  • Crashman
    269694 said:
    Quote:
    I am working with someone is heavily overclocking an i7 and two 970 in SLI as well as 4 SSD and a few hard drives, a bunch of fans, with a 750W PSU.
    unless i'm thinking wrong, isn't that within the power limits of a 750? im even assuming that each gpu is 300 watts and i know they shouldn't hit that even with the most aggressive of ocs granted there is a distinction between a good psu and a bad one, but im just assuming its a good one.
    You're exactly right. We've been using high-quality power supplies in most of our System Builder Marathon machines, and dual 970s was in one of the builds. The super-high recommendations you see from other sites are a response to most builders using mediocre-quality units.
    1
  • Crashman
    416912 said:
    Gonna throw in my disagreement on the priority, mentioned nice and early in the article. The first thing you pick is never your case. There's 3 things you can decide to be your starting point when building a pc to make it a smooth ride; either, 1. Budget. 2. CPU 3. Graphics. By picking 1 of these 3 things as your starting point, you can have a very smooth build process. Does that mean you buy your case last? No, I've seen plenty of builds where the case arrives first as a way of storing the items, but when you want a solid build, your case is last priority, as it has no impact on your performance and restricts the size of your items. Even if you wanted to build an odd form factor, like an itx, you would still pick the cpu or the budget before the case.
    Exactly wrong. The first thing people do is say "I want a LAN box" or "I want a media player" or "I want a big gorgeous office PC". They're picking a case SIZE when they make those FIRST statements, so size comes first in the discussion.
    1
  • beoza
    Quote:
    416912 said:
    Gonna throw in my disagreement on the priority, mentioned nice and early in the article. The first thing you pick is never your case. There's 3 things you can decide to be your starting point when building a pc to make it a smooth ride; either, 1. Budget. 2. CPU 3. Graphics. By picking 1 of these 3 things as your starting point, you can have a very smooth build process. Does that mean you buy your case last? No, I've seen plenty of builds where the case arrives first as a way of storing the items, but when you want a solid build, your case is last priority, as it has no impact on your performance and restricts the size of your items. Even if you wanted to build an odd form factor, like an itx, you would still pick the cpu or the budget before the case.
    Exactly wrong. The first thing people do is say "I want a LAN box" or "I want a media player" or "I want a big gorgeous office PC". They're picking a case SIZE when they make those FIRST statements, so size comes first in the discussion.


    I have to agree with you on this Crashman. Whenever I go to build a new system for friends or relatives I always ask what they're going for in terms of use. I like to go with the Form follows function principle which is that the shape of a building or object should be primarily based upon its intended function or purpose.
    0