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October 5, 2008

You want to build a computer?

You have spent months researching your hardware. You've been working overtime for countless weeks to pay for your new computer. You've spent the extra money on priority shipping, and have been watching the UPS tracker for the past several hours. But what happens when everything actually gets to your house? The UPS guy will come with a smile on his face, and bring in box upon box of expensive computer parts. He will leave knowing he has done his job, leaving you to your own devices. As you unpack everything, you slowly realize that you have absolutely no clue what to do.

Calm down and get organized

Before you begin, you need to clear your head and relax. If you don't, you might make some mistakes. A good list of basic tips-

  • Frustration will end up breaking parts. Be very gentle, and remember that nothing will fit that isn't supposed to. This is supposed to be fun, not torture.

  • Mind static electricity. Make sure that you at least work on a non conductive surface, such as a hardwood floor. Always remember to keep your motherboard in an anti-static bag until ready for installation into your case. If possible, aquire an anti-static armband or rug. A good article on anti-static precautions can be found here.

  • Putting too much thermal paste between chips and heatsinks will slow-roast your computer. You don't need to worry about this if you don't plan on applying your own thermal paste (your graphics card comes with cooler already installed, and your CPU has thermal paste pre-applied on the heatsink).

  • If you need help, or aren't comfortable doing something, do not hesitate to ask for help.The forums at techPowerUp! are very friendly and would love to help you do a build. If you need help installing something, see if you can find a friend who's built computers before.

  • Take your time, it will pay off.

Take everything out of its box

If you were smart and bought a ton of retail boxes, they probably came with a ton of confusing cables, cards and manuals. Do yourself a favor and lay everything in front of you, so that you can put it in when it is required. Before you even open a box, read these tips about keeping things safe until you're ready to build.

  • Do not leave your parts on carpet! Unless you like your parts extra crispy from electrostatic discharge, I suggest you keep them as far away from sources of static electricity such as carpets, long haired cats, and fur coats.

  • Do your best to keep everything in an antistatic bag, if not its retail box, until it is ready for installation.

  • Do not start building until you are sure that you are ready.

  • Make sure to have a good phillips head screwdriver before you start building.

Here's how I laid my computer parts out-

The motherboard and some cables.

The case

And my components.

Getting the case ready for the motherboard

As you can see, my case clearly isn't ready for a motherboard. There are cables from the power switch, cables from the fans, cables from the USB ports....all summing up to one big mess. So here's what you need to do before you even think about putting your motherboard in.

The IO Shield

See this? It probably came with your motherboard.

See this? It's the same thing, except with one big difference. The IO shield that came with your case will not let your motherboard fit. You need to replace the IO shield. Some IO shields will pop in and out, but the other ones have screws that hold it down. You need to take those screws off, take off the IO shield, put the IO shield that came with your motherboard in, and screw it in. Now you can relax knowing that at least one part of your motherboard will fit.

The Spacers

When I first saw these in the bag of screws that came with my case, I had no idea what they were or what they were for. These are the single most important screws you will use in your build. To help you understand exactly what they are for, let's pretend that you're not going to use them. How are you going to get the motherboard secured to the case? You are probably going to screw the motherboard directly to the case. And if you screw the motherboard to the case, the whole thing will short circuit, killing your motherboard and quite possibly your processor because the whole backside with all the soldering and pins will touch the case metal. And so, remember the spacers, and you won't have to go through the really long process of RMAing your motherboard and processor.
Install the spacers exactly where you plan on screwing the motherboard to the case, so that the spacers effectively elevate the motherboard and prevent it from touching the case. After you install the spacers, your case should look something like this.

The Power Supply

Now that your case has an IO shield that will fit the motherboard, and the spacers are in, you should ensure that your build will have power. To do this, put the power supply on the rails located near the top of the case. The power supply has to be installed in a way so that the power supply can act as an exhaust fan. A fan on the inside of the PSU should be pointed towards the CPU. Make sure to screw the power supply in...I've marked the places where a screw should fit.


Alright, so you've got the IO Shield in, the spacers aligned, and the power supply secure. There are still probably all sorts of wires hiding around your case. These wires could sneak under your motherboard when you put it in, and that would be bad if you needed them. So what you should do is move the wires to the drive bays or the outside of the case. Once you're done, your case should look something like this, with the IO shield, spacers, and PSU in.

Getting the motherboard ready for the case

Congratulations, your case is just about ready for your motherboard. However, your motherboard isn't quite ready to be put inside your case. And so, here's what you should do to get your motherboard ready for its case.

Installing your computers memory

Now that you have straight access to your memory slots, now would be a great time to install your computers memory. This step is done at this point because some big CPU coolers may block access to the memory slots once the cooler is installed. Also it is a lot easier to install memory if you have open access to the motherboard.

Simply open up the RAM tabs...

Place the memory in the RAM slots... Please take a look at the little notch in the memory PCB and in the slot for the correct alignment of the module.

And gently push the memory into its slot until the tabs are closed.

Remember that if your motherboard supports DDR and DDR2, make sure you're putting the DDR in the DDR slot or the DDR2 in the DDR2 slot. DDR2 does not fit into DDR1 slots and vice versa.

Install the CPU and its heatsink

As much as I would love to post step by step instructions on how to put a CPU in, there are a TON of different sockets out there. Each socket requires a different way of inserting the processor, and each different way of inserting the processor has a different way of securing the heatsink. You're much better off reading the manual that came with your processor or heatsink. Just remember the following general guidelines-

  • If the CPU doesn't want to fit, it won't fit, so do not push. Neither AMD or Intel cover processors broken due to their customers frustration.

  • If the CPU does not fit right take it out again and take a good look if all the pins are straight. If not take a razorblade or similar and very carefully bend them back. Of course you can always return the CPU to your vendor in case you feel uncomfortable doing that.

  • Make sure that the CPU is all the way in. If it isn't all the way in, your motherboard won't recognize it, giving you a scare when you try to boot your machine for the first time.

  • Ensure that the CPU heatsink is secure and has very good contact with the CPU. If it doesn't, the CPU could fry itself, you could get very bad (= high) temperatures, or the CPU heatsink could fall off and damage other components.

  • After installing the heatsink, make sure to plug it in to the motherboard. The motherboard connector for the CPU is usually labeled "CPUFan".

If you lost the instructions for installing your CPU, I found instructions for

The instructions for K7 are very similar to the K8 and K9 instructions, so you should be able to install a K8 or K9 processor using instructions for K7 (I don't reccomend it however, you seriously should use the instructions that came with your processor).

My CPU is in. Now what?

Now comes the fun part.

See these headers? This is what the case wires connect to. The case wires are responsible for turning your computer on and off, resetting it, and lighting front panel lights. If you put the motherboard in BEFORE connecting the headers, you will have a very hard time seeing what you are doing, and manuvering the headers will be a pain. So what you gotta do is set yourself up like this.

Connect each case wire to its respective header using your motherboard manual as reference. Remember, because the case wire connectors are very small, case makers have probably abbreviated the names of each cable. For example, PWR SW means Power Switch.

Now that that's taken care of, am I ready to put my motherboard in my case?

Yes. Put your case on its side, place the motherboard in gently, make sure to push the IO panel through the IO shield, ensure that the screwholes on the motherboard line up with the spacers, and screw in the motherboard to the spacers. It should look something like this.

It usually helps a lot with the placement of the motherboard if you lie the case down so that the motherboard can rest on the spacers and gravity won't work against you.

Powering the motherboard

Okay, good job, you've got the motherboard in. Now your rig demands power. If there is no power, then it obviously won't run. There should be no less than two power connectors- a 20 (or 24) pin main connector, and a square 4 pin connector. Plug those in, and then refer to your motherboard manual to ensure that you don't have any other power connections to plug in. Plug EVERYTHING in that the motherboard manual tells you to. The people who make your motherboard probably know alot more about your motherboard than I do.

If your motherboard has a big 8 pin connector instead of the usual 4 pin connector and your PSU only has one 4 pin connector, do not worry. Just plug in the 4 pin connector where it fits there. The extra four pins are for very demanding systems to ensure stability and are usually not needed.

If your motherboard has a 20 pin connector and your PSU has a 24 pin connector (or vice versa). Just plug the connector in and it will work. The extra four pins are for additional power which might not be needed. Your system will still work fine.


So you've put in the motherboard successfully. Congratulations! Now, before we go any further, we need to make sure you didn't mess up. At this point, plug in your power supply, turn the power supply on, and press the on button. If you did everything right, the CPU fan should be spinning, and your case speaker should be giving you a long set of beeps summing up to "I have absolutely no hardware plugged into me right now". If you don't get a long set of beeps, then check the wiring of your case speaker. If you still get no beeps, I'd check your spacers, or hope that your case speaker is broken. If your CPU fan isn't spinning, turn off your system. Check all power connections, and if everything seems to be in order, I wouldn't be surprised if you received a dead motherboard or power supply. If your CPU fan was spinning and you got a long string of beeps, on to the next page!

Installing your peripherals

If you're like me and got system building experience from upgrading an old machine, then you probably know what to do from here. However, if you haven't had the experience of several upgrades, then read on!

Your various peripherals

Chances are that you'll be wanting an optical drive, a floppy drive, and a hard drive in your build.

Optical drive

An optical drive (CD-ROM / DVD-ROM / Burner) is a simple yet very important part of your computer. Basically, the back looks like this:

and is generally connected by an IDE cable.

There are special drives connected by SATA cables, but those are hideously expensive. However, SATA does come with a distinct advantage- no jumper settings to worry about. Remember to tell your optical drive exactly what it's going to do through the jumpers. Refer to the top of the drive, the manual, or the manufacturer for proper installation instructions. If you don't set the jumpers on your drive, your drive will get very confused and your system will not boot. Generally, jumper settings will tell your drive if it is a...

  • Master. A master drive is at the top of the round IDE cable, and is the first drive accessed in BIOS or whatever operating system you use.

  • Slave. A slave drive is operational, however takes second priority to the master drive in BIOS or your operating system.

  • Cable Select. This allows your IDE cable to decide what role your drive plays. This makes things alot simpler for you, but may cause some delay in BIOS when it detects your drive. Also it requires a special cable and that both drives are set to the cable select setting. In general it is easier to use Master/Slave.

Once that is all taken care of, installation is simple. Note- my case uses tool-less installation and will look different than yours. Take the front panel off of your case, as indicated in the case manual, take off whatever EMI shields stand in your way, and slide the drive in until the screwholes in the drive line up with the screwholes in the case. Secure the drive using screws. Then take the IDE cable, attach one end to the optical drive, and attach the other to the motherboard.

Floppy Drive

Floppy drives are positively ancient, and have little use in the age of flash drives and iPods. However, when you need to flash your video card's BIOS, install SATA drivers, or just do advanced system functions, a floppy drive comes in very useful.

To install, do the same procedure as you would for an optical drive, but remember to use the smaller 3.5" floppy drive bays. Then take the floppy drive cable, which looks like a thin version of the IDE cable. Attach one end to the floppy drive, and plug the other end to the motherboard. Floppy drives are slightly more complicated then IDE drives when it comes to wiring them, because the design will let you get away with inserting the cable upside down. While the cable on the floppy drive won't fit if you put it upside down, the motherboard will not bug you about it. You will know that you have the floppy drive cable upside down if the floppy drive activity light is always on. Please note that if the cable is reversed and the drive is powered on it will erase a floppy if you left one in the drive.

Hard Drive

The hard drive is one of the most complicated peripherals you will ever use. It is either in SATA (Serial ATA), SATA2 (SATA-II) or IDE (ATA / EIDE).

As you can see, SATA is alot smaller and easier to deal with than IDE, since the cable is a bit more fragile try to avoid very tight bends. SATA and SATA2 are almost exactly alike. For an SATA drive, you rarely have to worry about jumper settings. On an SATA2 drive, refer to the drive's manual to ensure that the drive isn't set to run at 1.5Gb/s. For an IDE drive, the IDE jumper rules apply for hard drives. However, hard drives are very senstive pieces of hardware. Please take note of the following tips when dealing with hard drives.

  • NEVER handle by the bottom, and try to avoid handling by the top. Doing so may mess up the motor, and a dead motor means a dead hard drive. Handle a hard drive by the sides only.

  • NEVER EVER handle a hard drive while it is on. Bumping it WILL cause temporary drive failiure, and if you are lucky, you can reset the drive by restarting the sytem. You can kill a hard drive by bumping it while it is on.

  • NEVER EVER plug in a harddrive power plug while the system running.

  • When you have a SATA drive with "legacy" power options like mine, you have the option to power the drive using either the four pin molex connector, or the new SATA power connector. Those both will be explained later in this guide. While you can power the drive using one or the other connector, You cannot use both.

To install, you do not need to take off the front panel. Carefully slide the drive into the internal 3.5" hard drive bay, and secure it using screws. As long as the drive is secure, the amount of screws do not matter. Remember to connect the cable from the motherboard to the drive.


Good job, you have successfully inserted your drives and connected them to the motherboard. However, your computer is not quite ready for its first run yet. The devices need to have power!

If your motherboard's cables look somewhat like this, read on, and find out how to connect everything to your power supply.

Getting to know your power supply

There are four main connectors, aside from the main power line to the motherboard. They are...

Four pin Molex

Serial ATA

Berg (floppy)

PCI Express

Basically, you need to ensure that every peripheral device has a connection to the power supply, including fans. I circled exactly where the power connection is to every main peripheral I have.



Hard drive

Take a minute to hide your cables, and then proceed to installing your PCI, AGP, and PCI Express devices.

How do I put these in my motherboard?

There are five main types of slots. These are ISA, PCI, AGP, PCI-Express, and PCI-X.
ISA is outdated, PCI is used for just about every non-video device, AGP is becoming a legacy graphics interface, PCI-Express is the current graphics interface, and PCI-X is for corporate servers.
The two slots you will probably use are PCI and PCI-Express. You will use AGP instead of PCI-Express if you have an AGP motherboard and an AGP graphics card, and the installation procedure is very similar.

This is the graphics card I will install.

And this is the sound card I will install.

When installing these things, remember, if it doesn't want to fit, it will not. Do not force your parts in, or else you will break them as well as your motherboard. So be very careful and insert each device one by one. It is generally easier to insert cards from bottom to top so that you can always see the slot which you are working on.
After the device fits snugly with your motherboard, screw it down in your case.
When removing an AGP or PCI Express graphics card, remember that a latch is probably securing your card. Disengage the latch before trying to pull your card out.

Installed GPU.

Installed sound card.

Everything is screwed in.


You're done! It took a good amount of time, a lot of effort, some serious concentration, and your back probably hurts. You are now done with everything hardware related. Take another minute to hide cables, shut your case, and connect your keyboard, mouse, and monitor. Now plug your rig in and press the on button. If you were successful, you should have gotten one "beep" from your computer, which is its way of telling you that your computer is ready for action. It will prompt you to "enter setup", so you should do that and make sure your computer at least knows what time it is.
Setup, or BIOS, is also how you perform advanced system functions such as enabling or disabling onboard audio. After you've saved your BIOS settings, proceed to install a copy of your favorite operating system, configure it however you choose, and have a good time with your brand new custom built system.
Once everything is all configured, remember one rule- If it isn't broke, don't fix it. It is a very hard rule to follow for computer modders, but you definitely won't regret it in the long run.
If you feel like doing any modifications, make sure you are ABSOLUTELY CONFIDENT with doing them before you even power down the system.

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