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Step 10: Build The Platform (CPU, Cooler, And DRAM)

How To Build A PC: From Component Selection To Installation
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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 (separate) 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 to another arrow on the CPU socket. This is the first 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. 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.

Thermal interface material (also known as thermal compound, paste, or grease) fills tiny spaces between the CPU and its cooler to assure optimal heat transfer. Most factory-supplied 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. But I like to maximize contact surface area all the way to the corners, so I usually put a slight smear of paste around ¼” from each corner in addition to the small blob in the middle. My old method of dabbing it on worked only with the low-viscosity pastes of the past.

Excess paste will squirt out around the edges of the CPU, so it's important not to apply so much as to create a mess. Cleaning pastes out of crevices can be particularly difficult, and becomes necessary when using certain 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. Finish the installation by flipping the lever to apply pressure.

Pinned-on CPU coolers use mounting holes rather than the more traditional clip bracket. Introduced with Intel’s LGA 775 package and retained 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 ninety-degrees counterclockwise unlocks the spring pressure, allowing the cooler to be removed.

Because a counterclockwise twist defeats the latching mechanism, check that all pins are properly twisted fully-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. Many cases have an access hole in their motherboard trays specifically for this purpose, but it’s usually easier to reach the screws with the motherboard unobstructed by case walls.

Installing RAM

System memory is keyed so that it only fits into the slot one way. Because this key is off-center, backwards modules cannot be fully inserted. Check to make sure 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 orientation.

Also note 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 second slot of each channel for termination, though many LGA 1150 and 2011 motherboards aren’t as fussy.

Display all 34 comments.
  • 6 Hide
    gofasterstripes , June 23, 2014 2:11 AM
    Can I once-again say a big "Thanks" to the Tom's team for writing a great article which will save me lots of time and hassle in explaining PC building and component selection to n00bs who ask me for help.

    Cheers!
  • -1 Hide
    JOSHSKORN , June 23, 2014 2:57 AM
    What about NUCs and cases alike? Yes, I realize those are too small for discrete GPU cards, but depending on your usage and space, it just might be what one needs.
  • 4 Hide
    Crashman , June 23, 2014 3:06 AM
    Quote:
    What about NUCs and cases alike? Yes, I realize those are too small for discrete GPU cards, but depending on your usage and space, it just might be what one needs.
    It's addressed in the last two sentences of page 1:
    Quote:
    Intel even jumped on the tiny bandwagon with its similar-appearing NUC (Next Unit [of] Computing) form factor. Most of these machines are available either as a barebones system (no drives or memory) or a complete PC, and all of them use external, notebook-style power adapters.
    There's really nothing more to say. You don't build these from separate components, you just finish them with a drive and memory as you would any of the other systems covered in this article.
    Quote:
    Can I once-again say a big "Thanks" to the Tom's team for writing a great article which will save me lots of time and hassle in explaining PC building and component selection to n00bs who ask me for help.

    Cheers!
    You're welcome!
  • -1 Hide
    revanchrist , June 23, 2014 3:25 AM
    Should put in a Cooler Master Elite 110 to showcase a mini-ITX instead of that huge Lian-Li.
  • 1 Hide
    illuminatuz , June 23, 2014 3:47 AM
    Guess most of the issues in the forums will be ironed out by this one simple post..
    Wonderful as usual toms.. Appreciate it..
    :D 
  • 1 Hide
    rolli59 , June 23, 2014 5:46 AM
    Most if not all issues brought up on the forums have answers in some or the other article on Tomshardware. This article compiles answers to build questions.
  • 1 Hide
    AMD Radeon , June 23, 2014 6:37 AM
    This article is very good reference newbies asking how to build PC in toms forum.
  • 0 Hide
    DookieDraws , June 23, 2014 6:54 AM
    Long time reader of Tom's Hardware, even before I finally became a member. This has been a very helpful site to me and my friends over the years. In fact, this IS our go-to site for when we need to figure something out. I am always learning something new.

    Great article! No doubt this is going to help a lot of folks.

    Thanks, guys!
  • 1 Hide
    Yuka , June 23, 2014 7:25 AM
    Very good write up guys.

    I think you missed a section for "SLI - XFire", but it's great overall. Since its a guide for folks with little to no knowledge, I think it would help them to dispel myths and get some facts over XFire and SLI.

    Cheers!
  • 2 Hide
    Xeres Forteen , June 23, 2014 7:53 AM
    Good article with excellent info. I'm going to just add my 2 cents on how I like to do the actual assembly of the PC after receiving the parts.

    First I put the motherboard into the PC (not fastened) to see where the standoffs are going to be placed onto the case. Also I note what routes I'm going use for my cabling. Then I take the motherboard out and insert the standoffs and port plate into the case. Also I take my case cables (power sw, reset sw, USB, front audio and mic cables and put a twist tie around them all and place them near where they are to be plugged into the motherboard. These cables are easy to lose track of.

    Next I place the power supply, and "bay devices" (optical drives, non-removable storage, etc) into the case and have those cables attached and either hanging over the outside of the case or routed behind the motherboard tray. This obviously depends on how you determined the cables will be routed earlier.

    Then I take my motherboard, put the CPU, RAM, and cooling system on as much as I can. Then I place the whole thing into the case - usually at an angle at first, leading with the side with the RAM (which is normally going behind the case bays in smaller cases) in first.

    At this point it's just a matter of aligning the motherboard with the standoffs and port plate. Plug it all in (including the case plugs which are conveniently out of the way and together).

    Power it all on and volia!
  • 1 Hide
    Onus , June 23, 2014 8:03 AM
    I would like to have seen the article begin well before case selection, with questions as to purpose for the build. Define the purpose, then you know what sort of parts you'll need for it. The case is often the last component I choose, and only once was the first, when the purpose was to build the smallest system possible that would meet my needs.
    Otherwise, it was a good article. People who are uncertain of building their own PCs can learn a lot from it.
  • 0 Hide
    zelgar , June 23, 2014 9:10 AM
    I'm a little confused with the section dealing with Choosing your Power Supply. If the power requirements of the components is 647 W as shown in the example, how could you use any power supply that isn't designed to higher wattage? Is it expected that only 85% of the design load will ever be used (i.e., that you wouln't be using the max energy requirements of all of your components at the same time)? Wouldn't it be better to have your power supply based upon the max usage of the components since this may occur (e.g., running a modern game at max settings that your computer can run)? Aren't Power supplies rated Bronze/Silver/Gold/Platnium at 80% of the Power Supplies capacity, so you'd want a PS that is would be running at 80%+ at max load (e.g., 647/.80 = 809 W or 647/.85 = 761W)?
  • 1 Hide
    Damn_Rookie , June 23, 2014 11:35 AM
    Quote:
    I'm a little confused with the section dealing with Choosing your Power Supply. If the power requirements of the components is 647 W as shown in the example, how could you use any power supply that isn't designed to higher wattage? Is it expected that only 85% of the design load will ever be used (i.e., that you wouln't be using the max energy requirements of all of your components at the same time)? Wouldn't it be better to have your power supply based upon the max usage of the components since this may occur (e.g., running a modern game at max settings that your computer can run)? Aren't Power supplies rated Bronze/Silver/Gold/Platnium at 80% of the Power Supplies capacity, so you'd want a PS that is would be running at 80%+ at max load (e.g., 647/.80 = 809 W or 647/.85 = 761W)?

    The 647W is measured at the wall socket, as the article mentions input power. After taking into account the 85% efficiency of their power supply in this example, the PSU is only outputting 549.95W to the PC components at max load. Adding some headroom they come to the 600W PSU recommendation.

    Personally I'd like a little more headroom, but the calculations in the article are correct.
  • -1 Hide
    zelgar , June 23, 2014 12:00 PM
    I think the article will confuse noobs of talking about the power measurement at the wall socket versus the power rating of the power supply. If the sum of the power requirements of the computer components is X, they need a power supply the provides more than X. Making them aware that the power supply will be using more energy than X at the wall is useful to know so that people don't buy a PSU that is too wasteful. Since undersizing a PSU is more catestropic than oversizing one (e.g., crashes/boot faiolures vs electricity costs) getting one that meets the needs of the components is the starting point of evaluating PSU.
  • -1 Hide
    n3cw4rr10r , June 23, 2014 12:37 PM
    I usually buy my pc components from Amazon. #1 customer service. They dont give you any bs. Hell they even send you a pre-paid shipping label to ship the item back. I have never had they charge me a "re-stocking" fee on any item, even when I returned item because I did not like it.
  • 0 Hide
    PapaCrazy , June 23, 2014 1:16 PM
    After all this time, why do I still get the most excited about the cases? Maybe cuz the components are logical forgone conclusions, but the case is the artistic, subjective bit? I don't know, years at this stuff and a sexy case still turns my head. The mobos are starting to look really sexy nowadays too.
  • -1 Hide
    Jim Maher , June 23, 2014 3:03 PM
    Great article! This is a wonderful overview, and should prompt most readers to research their more detailed questions on the forums.

    Building your own is great fun, and most serious users should probably give it a try at least once in their lives. Given that, I'd recommend an annual "refresh" of this article, with updated info and re-validated links to corresponding reference articles and resource forums.

    A great service to your readers!
  • -1 Hide
    chaz_music , June 23, 2014 5:24 PM
    Excellent article with lots of interesting information.

    I wanted to comment on the power supply part of the article. One is the efficiency and the total cost to use versus the front end purchase cost. A less efficient system will obviously create more total heat as wasted energy. But aside from possibly making someones room rather uncomfortable, it also increases your airconditioning energy use. A good rule of thumb is that an AC system will use 50% of the heat energy. To add the total annual cost, multiply that times the percentage of the year that the AC is on. So your example of a 647W system with 85% PSU would give (550W used):

    647W - 550W = 93W at plug

    93W * 50% = 47W AC energy

    Total Energy (summertime) = 93W + 47W = 140W

    If the AC were on the while year and the PC were on continuously, this is about $140 annually, or almost $12 per month added electricity in the summer. If you did the same thing with a cheap 70% efficient system, you get $248 annual cost which is $20.63 per month summertime cost. At a difference of $8, it does not take many months (of continuous on!) to make the more efficient PSU make much more sense.

    The other topic I wanted to comment on is ESD. I am an engineer and work with ESD issues everyday. It is a very real an poorly understood issue by many because of the often hidden or delayed failures that it causes. ESD many time causes walking wounded damage without an immediate failure, which finally fails several months later. And if you look at websites sell PC parts, many people complain of DOAs. Many, many DOAs are caused by ESD. Memory, CPUs, motherboards, HDDs, and other sensitive systems are often returned as DOA, driving up the cost of the PC enthusiast market and adding frustration. In research texts, they estimate the global electronic failures due to ESD to be 40-60% of the total failures over product life.

    So that little $5 ESD wrist strap is money well spent. Buy one and reduce your heartburn.

    Charles
  • 1 Hide
    Crashman , June 23, 2014 5:49 PM
    Quote:
    The other topic I wanted to comment on is ESD. I am an engineer and work with ESD issues everyday. It is a very real an poorly understood issue by many because of the often hidden or delayed failures that it causes. ESD many time causes walking wounded damage without an immediate failure, which finally fails several months later. And if you look at websites sell PC parts, many people complain of DOAs. Many, many DOAs are caused by ESD. Memory, CPUs, motherboards, HDDs, and other sensitive systems are often returned as DOA, driving up the cost of the PC enthusiast market and adding frustration. In research texts, they estimate the global electronic failures due to ESD to be 40-60% of the total failures over product life.

    So that little $5 ESD wrist strap is money well spent. Buy one and reduce your heartburn.

    Charles
    The vast majority of "DOA" returns are for undamaged products (simple things like having a standoff or cable in the wrong place that caused power fault/no boot/no damage are number 1, followed by fraudulent returns at Number 2). And the majority of damaged products have physical damage from the amateur technician cramming things together. I used to be in that business.

    The only problem with wrist straps is that most people don't want to be "tied" to anything. They're a great idea that's really rarely needed. Feel free to say otherwise if you live in the desert.

  • -1 Hide
    cutiemech , June 24, 2014 12:31 AM
    Skimmed through it but didn't saw anything about tools required for assembly like what screwdriver etc
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