Date Published: Feb 15, 2018
Note: This is a chapter from the full PC building eBook we released last year. We decided to publish it for free for this year, but it still remains 100% applicable to building a rig in 2018. Thanks to everyone who supported the site by purchasing the eBook last year/early this year.
Welcome to the most complete step by step guide on how to build a PC that you've ever seen - and also 100% beginner friendly so no Noob gets left behind. Building a PC is easy and with this full in-depth tutorial by your side you can't go wrong.
This guide assumes you have no prior experience with computers and/or hardware and will take you by the hand through every single step from getting your workspace and tools ready, installing all your PC parts carefully and correctly the first time, booting up for the first time, and installing your operating system and other software.
You’ll never forget the first PC you build from scratch and it’s something to be proud of so enjoy it! Once you're done you'll feel a sense of pride and satisfaction every time you boot up your new battle station because YOU were the master who gave it life.
Ok, let's get this quest started then. Go through this step by step guide at your own comfortable pace as there's no need to rush anything, and I'll see you on the other side. Good luck gamer!
To build your first custom PC and end up with a fully-functional battle station at the end of it, make sure you have all of the below components and peripherals at your side before proceeding with this tutorial. All other parts are optional but feel free to include as many add-on components as you like.
Other Things You'll Need
For now just leave all your components in their bags as you don't want to handle them until the moment you're ready to install them.
The Only Must-Have Tool
Building a PC these days doesn’t require any fancy tools or equipment, and for the majority of modern builds the only tool that’s actually necessary is a basic screwdriver.
Specifically, you’ll need a Phillips-head screwdriver (size number #2 if possible) as pretty much all screws inside a PC are going to be crosshead ones.
There are other tools that are not absolutely required but may come in handy at times and are worth considering, especially if you want to be as prepared as possible. Let’s take a look at the options you have.
Anti-static Wrist Strap
If you want to be extra careful with static electricity, either because you want to reduce the risk of damaging components to zero or you don’t have a choice but to build your PC in an area with static such as carpet or very dry areas, you’ll want to invest in one of these. It attaches to a large metal object such as your PC case and keeps you grounded at all times to avoid any static electricity from damaging your components when you’re touching them.
They’re cheap and will give you peace of mind, however they’re not necessary as there are ways to avoid static electricity which we’ll cover later. It’s really up to you, but I would recommend beginners to get one unless you’re going to be really careful and follow all instructions carefully. I won’t take responsibility for any damage you cause during your build, so you’ve been warned!
Cable or Twist Ties
These come in two forms, zip ties and twist ties, and are used to tie up any loose cables lying around in your case which not only makes your finished build look neater, but promotes better airflow within your case.
It's important that you don't fit these too tight around your cables as you could damage them. Velcro straps can also be used instead. Note that some cases or power supplies come with these already. To cut the ends of your ties once you've fitted one you can simply use sharp scissors.
Needle Nose Pliers
Not necessary but handy to have. They have a variety of uses such as picking up hard to reach screws that you may drop within your case, removing chipped/broken screws, removing motherboard standoffs, and cutting zip ties.
Flashlight, Lamp or Headlamp
Depending on where you're building you may need an extra light source to see exactly what you're doing when working within your case. PC cases are notorious for blocking out light, even if you’re in a well-lit room.
You could use a flashlight (or a flashlight on a mobile phone), however this is far from ideal as you’ll have to hold it in one hand while trying to hold your hardware in the other; not good, and a recipe for a more difficult installation.
A better option would be a lamp that has an adjustable neck that you can place beside your build and angle right inside of your case. Even better would be a headlamp, which may feel a little over the top but works a charm and frees up your hands to properly handle your components.
As well as a trusty screwdriver and any other optional tools and equipment, you should take some considerations into actually WHERE you’re going to set your build up, as well as some important safety precautions.
Now to the meat and bones of how to build a PC - installing your parts. But just before that we need to prepare the case and motherboard.
Also, this guide assumes you're using a standard case with a common form factor of mid-tower, full-tower, or mini-tower (our build example is a mini-tower). The steps may be slightly different if you're using an unusual form factor such as mini-ITX. Have a skim through your case manual to learn about any specifics for your case.
Remove Case Side Panels
The first thing to do is remove the side panels on your case. Some cases may only have one removable side panel, but most will have two. In most cases, the left-hand side is the main access side where you install your components, while the right-hand side gives you access to some fixing screws and some space used for cable management. Most cases also have different slots or areas where cables can be pulled through or stored to keep things neat.
We'll cover what you need to know about cable management later, but for now just be aware that keeping your cables neat and organized is important to not only keep your build looking nice and tidy, but to promote better airflow within your case and to avoid dust build-up that messy cabling can create.
So back to the side panels; many modern cases use thumbscrews to hold the side panels in place, meaning you can just use your hands to undo them, however sometimes you'll still need to use your screwdriver to initially loosen them up enough to the point where you can use your hands.
Other cases will just have standard screws; either way, remove the screws which should be located at the rear of the case:
Once the screws are removed, the side panels should simply slide off:
Move or Remove Unwanted Racks
At this time, depending on your case, you may want to move to remove optical drive rack/s and/or hard drive rack/s that you either won't be using (to increase airflow) or to accommodate larger components such as a big CPU cooler/radiator or custom fan setup.
For our example build, we don't have a large aftermarket cooler and we're only installing the 1 HDD for now, so we're going to remove one of the extra hard drive racks that we won't be using to help promote more airflow. We'll remove the bottom rack which you simply have to unscrew from the side and bottom of the case.
Install Any Additional Case Fans
The majority of cases will come with at least two fans already pre-installed, with one usually behind the front panel to suck air in and one at the back of the case to release warm air. Most cases will also have support for more fans should you want to buy some to increase airflow further.
For our build, the two preinstalled fans are adequate for our needs because this is not an extreme system, but if you have extra fans now you'll want to install them now before you install your motherboard into the case.
To install another fan in the front, you'll probably have to remove the front panel which you may just be able to slide it off with a firm pull or by removing screws or pegs; refer to your case manual if you need to. For our example case, the Cooler Master n200, you simply pull off the front panel by grabbing it from the bottom and pulling it right off. Don't force too hard when removing your front panel though, as some cases will have wiring attached such as for the power switch.
You should be able to easily see where any additional fans fit in; if not refer to your case manual on how to install them. You'll simply have to screw them in with the screws supplied by your case.
Prepare the Motherboard
Now we've prepared the case, set it aside but keep it on your work table within easy reach so you can touch it occasionally to ground yourself before handling your components; especially if you're not wearing an anti-static strap.
There are now two approaches you can take to continue your installation. You can either install some of your components (CPU, cooler, RAM) onto your motherboard first before installing the motherboard into the case, or you could install the motherboard into the case first and then install your components onto it.
Either can work, and one may be better than the other depending on your components, but we're going to go ahead and do the external build. The advantage to this method is it makes it a little easier to install your CPU, cooler, and RAM with better control and more room to move.
Before touching your motherboard, if you're not wearing an anti-static strap you should ground yourself by touching a metal surface such as your case or other object such as a kitchen sink (more details about grounding are in the section earlier on safety precautions).
Carefully remove your motherboard from its box and remove it from the anti-static bag. You want to handle your motherboard by its edges; try to avoid touching anywhere else.
Now place your motherboard on top of the box it came in. Your box is cardboard, a non-conductive surface, which is just what we need:
Do not sit your motherboard on top of the anti-static bag it came in as the outside of the bag may be conductive to static electricity.
Sitting it on the box rather than just on your desk also makes it a little less prone to damage, and also makes it more stable and less likely to move around once we get to installing components onto it.
Position your motherboard so that the locking lever (the thin, bent metal rod) on the CPU socket is facing towards you.
How to Install a Processor
Now we're going to fit the CPU onto the motherboard. CPUs are fragile so you're going to want to take your time with this part to make sure you do things correctly. Always handle the CPU with great care, and only ever touch it on the sides. Never touch the contacts on the underside.
The steps to install an Intel CPU or an AMD CPU are very similar, but there are a couple little differences. The arrangement of the little contact pins are slightly different; Intel CPUs usually have the contact pins on the motherboard, whereas AMD CPUs tend to have the contact pins on the CPU itself.
When installing an Intel CPU, you simply (carefully) drop it in flat into the motherboard. With AMD you typically have to first hook the edge of the CPU under the lip on the motherboard's CPU socket, and then you lay it down flat. Only a slight difference, but keep that in mind if you're using an AMD CPU as our example uses Intel.
Before removing your CPU from its case, you want to open the locking frame on the CPU socket located on your motherboard by carefully pulling the lever slightly out to the right, and then pulling it back so that the CPU pins on the motherboard are now visible. Keep the plastic cover on the CPU socket for now.
If you look closely you should see a small arrow or icon in the bottom left hand corner of the CPU socket. This arrow shows you which way the CPU fits into the socket, as there will be a matching arrow/icon on the CPU itself.
First of all, ground yourself by touching the metal part of your case or another metal object. Carefully remove the CPU from its case and carefully hold it by its edges. Never touch the delicate underside of the CPU, and try to avoid touching the top of the CPU as well.
Carefully lower the CPU onto the motherboard socket with the metal part facing up, but don't force it at all. All you need to do is gently lower it onto the socket; no force is required and it should naturally sit in place if you've aligned the arrow in the bottom left hand corner to the arrow on the motherboard:
Now remove the plastic cover on the top of the CPU socket, lower the frame down by pulling down the lever, and then carefully but firmly press the lever back into its locking position. Well done, the brains of your new computer is now properly installed.
How to Install a Heatsink & Fan
Now it's time to attach the cooler to the CPU. This process will vary based on the cooler you're using, so refer to your cooler's manual if you bought a third-party/aftermarket cooler as the process for installing them varies from cooler to cooler.
For our example build, we'll be installing the stock cooler that came with our CPU because it's adequate for our needs.
1: Applying Thermal Paste
Thermal paste, also called thermal grease or thermal compound, is applied to CPUs to eliminate air gaps to maximize heat transfer between the CPU and the cooler.
Stock CPU coolers will come with thermal paste already pre-applied on them, so for our example there's no need to buy and apply some more. As you see below, the grey strips in the middle of the underside of our cooler is the thermal paste:
If you're installing a third-party cooler, it may or may not come with paste, and it may or may not come with it pre-applied.
What many builders do to squeeze out even better cooling performance is buy a high quality third-party paste such as the Arctic 5 paste which is popular and will usually work slightly better than any paste that comes with a cooler. But again, for our budget build example, the pre-applied paste on the stock cooler is all we need.
If you are applying a third-party paste, what you need to do is squeeze a tiny amount about half the size of a pea (or a little bigger than a grain of rice) onto the middle of the top of your CPU (not onto your cooler).
Then, use a clean implement like a credit card (or use your finger by placing it in a plastic bag) to spread the paste out to the edges in an even layer so that the top of your CPU is fully covered in the paste.
2: Fitting the Cooler
Fitting a stock cooler is very simple, but again if you're installing a third-party cooler the process may be a little more involved so you'll want to refer to your specific cooler's manual. Before fitting the cooler onto your motherboard, you'll want to check where the power connector for the cooler is located on the motherboard.
The power connector is a 4 pin connector and should be labelled on your motherboard as “CPU FAN” or something along those lines. On ours it's named “CPU_FAN1”. You'll want to position the cooler so that the power cable can easily reach the power connector.
Making sure you've grounded yourself beforehand, carefully lower your cooler onto the top of your CPU by lining up the four corners with the four holes on the motherboard. To lock it in place you need to push down on each of the four corners until you hear a clicking sound for each.
3: Secure and Connect the Cooler
To check if the cooler is properly locked in, carefully lift the motherboard and check to see whether the four corner of the cooler have all come through on the back of the motherboard. Remember to only touch your motherboard by its edges.
Also, try to gently lift the cooler out of its place to see if it's nice and firmly locked in.
It should be tight, and if one of the push pins isn't locked in place properly you won't have an evenly balanced cooler which may lead to undesirable temperatures down the track because the cooler base isn't entirely touching the processor. So take your time to make sure it's installed correctly.
If you ever need to remove your cooler, you'll need to twist each of the four corners 90 degrees in a counter-clockwise direction before lifting it out.
Now your cooler is in place, connect the power cable to the matching four pin connector on the motherboard which should be labelled “CPU_FAN1” or something similar as mentioned before.
Make sure your cooler's power cables don't lay across the cooler fan. Rotate your cooler fan blades by hand to check if it could come into contact with the power cables.
Play around a little with the location of the power cables if it either touches or is super close to the fan blades so that they're out of the way. That's all there is to installing your cooler so let's move on.
Installing the RAM
Now it's time to install your memory module/s onto your motherboard which is one of the quicker steps in this tutorial. Like all components, handle them with care (by their edges) and don't ever touch the metal contacts along the bottom of the module.
1: Locate Socket 1
For our build, we have the one 8GB module, and so we're going to fit it into the first memory socket closest to the CPU which is labelled “DIMMA1” on the motherboard in tiny writing.
If you're also just installing the one module, check the labelling on your own motherboard to locate socket 1 (or it may be socket 0 on your motherboard).
A single module will almost always go into the first socket, however it should work no matter which slot you place it in. Refer to your motherboard manual to check which slot you should install into; if it doesn't say in the manual (like on ours) just install your single stick in the socket that's closest to your CPU.
If you're installing multiple modules, it's more important to refer to your manuals to confirm which modules go in which socket.
On some motherboards with four or more memory sockets, they will be color coded to highlight the different memory channels which you should match up. For example, if your motherboard has 4 color coded slots, and you have 2 sticks to install, you'll likely have to install them into sockets 1 and 3 (and not 1 and 2).
2: Unlock Socket
Before grabbing your memory, there will be a hinged clip on either end of the memory socket that you'll need to unlock:
3: Insert Memory Module
Hold your memory by its edges (touching the top is ok too; just avoid touching the bottom) and place it into the socket st a diagonal angle so that one end of the stick properly slots into the socket first:
There's only one way your memory will fit as there's a hole in the middle of the stick that matches up with the socket. Lower the other end in and push the stick firmly into place by pressing down on the top of the stick.
Step 4: Re-Lock Socket
It might need a firm press, but don't push TOO hard. If it's in place properly you should be able to fairly easily lock the clips on either ends of the socket back into place. Now simply repeat these steps for any other memory sticks you have. That's all there is to it for your memory so let's move on.
Fit Motherboard in Case
Give yourself some props because you're making great progress. We're deep in the installation process, and after this next step your computer will start to actually resemble a computer.
If you've completed all the previous steps up till now, it's time to fit your motherboard into your case. This involves first fitting the backplate, preparing standoffs, screwing in your board, and then connecting the case controls. Let's get to it!
1: Fit the Backplate
Lay your case down flat on its side if you haven't already done so. Your motherboard will have come with a metal backplate which protects the rear of your motherboard, so go on and grab it.
There's only one way to insert the backplate into the back of your case, and for most motherboards it's with the mouse and keyboard connections on top and the on-board audio ports on the bottom.
Go ahead and fit the backplate into place. It'll have small clips or protrusions around the edges to help it clip into place.
2: Prepare Motherboard Standoffs
Once the backplate is properly aligned, before your motherboard goes in you'll need to ensure that you have all the motherboard standoffs in place. The standoffs, also called risers or spacers, are double-threaded pegs that hold the motherboard in place and off the surface of the case.
This is crucial to avoid shorting the motherboard out. Go ahead and locate the standoffs that came with your case. In our build our case has 2 standoffs already pre-fitted, with 4 left to fit.
Different motherboard sizes will require you to install the standoffs into different holes, so grab your motherboard carefully by its edges (ground yourself first) and lower it in to see which holes on the case match up with the holes on your motherboard. Place your motherboard aside safely for now.
To secure the standoffs into the case you'll likely need to use the standoff socket attachment provided by the case which attaches to the top of the standoffs so you can screw them in with your trusty screwdriver:
Go ahead and screw in the standoffs using the socket attachment:
3: Install Motherboard In Case
Now get your motherboard (ground yourself first) and carefully lower it so that the back ports on the motherboard fit into the corresponding ports on the backplate, and that the standoffs on the case fit into the holes on the board.
Look through the back of the case at your motherboard backplate to ensure the ports all line up properly. Once the board is in place, grab the motherboard screws which should be labelled as “M3x5” screws by your case manual and screw them in being careful not to over-tighten them:
Connecting the Front Control Panel
The front panel of your case will have a number of features that will need to be hooked up to your motherboard. Keep in mind that your motherboard may not support all of your case features. Common front panel features include:
1: Locate the Motherboard Ports
Before you do any connecting, you'll want to locate where all the front panel cables plug in on your motherboard. This is where things can be a little confusing, especially for first-timers, because it might not be immediately apparent where all the front panel connections go.
Aside from the case fan power connections, which you may have to connect to your PSU as we will (because we can’t plug them both into our motherboard as our board doesn’t support it), most of the front panel cables will connect to the same rough area on the motherboard.
The connections are also typically located along the bottom of the motherboard. By bottom we mean the bottom of your motherboard as if your case were sitting upright; you should still have your case on its side for easier installation.
The way the front panel connectors are labelled varies from board to board, so you'll want to consult your motherboard manual to be sure you know exactly where each one goes.
You also have to be aware that some of the connections (the power switch, HDD LED and power LED on our setup and probably the same for you) have both a positive and negative connection to link up to the corresponding positive and negative port on the motherboard.
These three (or six counting the + and -) wires will likely need to connect onto the same port on the motherboard (a row of double pins) side by side and without spacing.
Incorrectly installing the front panel connections may lead to damaging the board and/or first boot problems, so don't rush this process. Our motherboard didn't come with a full manual, only a quick installation guide which doesn't cover this part, and so we had to download the manual from the manufacturer's website. You may have to do the same.
2: Thread Cables Through Holes
Before we go ahead and connect the cables, we should get some cable management out of the way. By first knowing exactly where everything plugs in you get a sense of how loose the cables will be once they're plugged in.
When building a PC you want to avoid too much loose cabling if you can to promote better airflow and to keep your build neat and easier to work with. If your front panel wiring will seem very loose once connected, try to thread the cables through any holes available on the back (as in the rear side panel) of your case which will reduce the length of loose cabling that hangs around in the middle of your case area.
Most cases will have these holes on the back side panel which are designed for this exact purpose. Our case has some holes, and so we've threaded the wiring through them as you can see:
3: Connect the Cables
Ok, now you've considered cable management, and you're certain of where the front panel cables connect to, it's time to plug them all in.
Do this carefully and don't force anything too hard as they should naturally plug in without much effort. The exception being the USB 3.0 connector which is a bigger connector and may need a little extra push to insert correctly, but make sure you've aligned it the right way before adding any force to it so you don't damage anything.
How to Install a HDD
HDDs (Hard Disk Drives) are quite straightforward to install, and with most cases you'll have at least a couple choices of where to install them. Many modern cases will provide a tool-less drive cradle.
In our example build, we removed the HDD cradle earlier if you remember to allow for more case space. The main reason for this is because our case is a more compact, mini tower, and our power supply isn’t a modular one meaning that there will be more cables to work with in our case compared to a modular power supply which has less cabling.
We'll be installing our single HDD in the HDD bay at the top of the front of our case, but the installation process is basically the same wherever you install your drives. If you're mounting it in a cradle, you may need to remove a tray from the cradle and fit the HDD onto that before sliding it back in and securing it in place in the cradle.
1: Fit the HDD
Simply slide the hard drive in and align the holes on the side. The drive should only fit in one way with the power and SATA connectors facing the inside of your case.
Now screw it in through the lined up holes with the appropriate screws; for our situation it's a couple of thumbscrews provided by the case, but check your case manual if in doubt as to which screws to use as it should label the HDD screws.
With thumbscrews you should be able to use your hands to screw them in almost all the way, but sometimes you'll need a screwdriver to tighten them just that little fraction further (not TOO tight though).
2: Connect the SATA Cable
Now your HDD is in place properly, grab a SATA cable that should have come with your motherboard (if not, your hard drive) and connect it to the back of the hard drive and onto a SATA port on your motherboard.
You'll want to plug it into the first SATA3 port, which should be labelled as SATA1 or something like that on your motherboard.
If the cable is long enough, you'll want to try to thread the cable through a cable management hole on your case if at all possible.
If you need to remove a SATA cable you'll need to push down on the little metal clip on top of the connector to remove it. Your HDD will need a power connector as well, but we'll get to that once we install your power supply later on.
How to Install an SSD
This is an optional step as not all builds will have an SSD (Solid State Drive). We won't be installing one, but if you have one (or more) SSDs to install in your particular setup then it's a very simple process just like installing a HDD above.
Most modern cases have specific brackets or cradles for SSDs, otherwise you can fit one into a standard HDD mount using a 3.5” to 2.5” adapter plate which you can buy for cheap (or some SSDs may come with).
With an adapter setup, you screw the SSD to the adapter plate first (don't over tighten them), positioning the drive so that the connections on the drive face into your case. Then slot the adapter and SSD into the mounting bracket and screw it in.
Then you'll need to connect the SATA cable from the back of the SDD to a spare SATA port on the motherboard. That's pretty much all there is to installing SSDs besides connecting it to your power supply (in a later step). It doesn't really matter where your place them, and you could even do a custom job and tape them up to the side of bottom of your case with some velcro or something similar.
How to Install an Optical Drive
Another optional step is installing an optical drive if you have one. Once an essential part of any standard PC build, optical drives are becoming increasingly less important over time with the rise of media being streamed and delivered wirelessly.
But if you have one for whatever reason, such as for playing your older games or you want to burn discs, it's a simple process like installing storage drives.
The most common way to install an optical drive is from the front (outside) of your case, and not from inside, so you'll likely have to remove your case's front panel and slide it right into the 5.25 inch bay. The front panel in most cases should pop off with a simple firm tug.
You'll need to match up the holes on the drive to those on the case, and then screw them in (usually four screws). Then you simply connect a SATA cable to the motherboard, routing the cable through any cable management holes on your case where appropriate.
Most motherboards have a mix of both SATA2 and SATA3 ports, but most optical drives don't take advantage of SATA3 so you're probably better off plugging it into a SATA2 to free up the 3's for more important things such as storage drives.
How to Install a GPU
It's finally time to bring the star of the show into action. Your graphics card should be handled with care as it's likely your most expensive component, so take your time with this section.
1: Make Room for the King
Unlike trying to hunt for your case's front panel connectors, locating the PCIe (short for PCI Express) port where your graphics card will fit shouldn't take you more than a split second; it's the large port near the middle of your motherboard.
You'll want to make sure the area is well clear of any cables, and that your card is going to fit in nicely without problems such as a Hard Drive cradle getting in the way. With some longer graphics cards, in certain cases you may have to move a cradle around if you haven't already done so earlier to give your card more room to fit comfortably.
2: Remove Bracket/s
Depending on the card, you'll need to remove either the one or two rear brackets on your case by simply unscrewing them (other cases may require you to snap them off).
3: Remove Connector Cover
Now carefully remove your card from its anti-static bag, holding it by its edges. You can touch the fan area, but avoid touching the backside where the electrical bits are. Some cards, like our 1050 Ti, will have a cover on the bottom connector, so if yours does too go ahead and remove it:
4: Unlock the Clip
Like with the RAM, the graphics card port will likely have a clip that you need to unlock before installing the card. However, unlike the RAM clip, on some motherboards (like ours) the PCIe clip may automatically lock back into place when you insert the card.
5: Fit the Graphics Card
Ground yourself by touching a large metal object and carefully lower your graphics card in, firstly aligning it to the back of the case in the proper position, and then carefully inserting the connector into the PCIe socket. Ensure you've lined up the back and the connector of the card properly, and give it a gentle but firm press down from the top of the card until you hear it click into place.
6: Secure the Graphics Card
As mentioned above, on some motherboards the socket's clip may automatically lock back into place when the card is fully inserted. Otherwise you'll need to manually lock the clip.
Check from the rear of the case that the HDMI and DVI ports etc are lined up properly. Then re-screw the same screw/s that you removed in step 2 back into the rear of the case to fully secure the card.
7: Optional GPU Steps
If you're installing a high-end graphics card it will probably require a direct power connection from your power supply (either via one or two 6-pin connectors on the top or back edge), but we'll cover that in the upcoming section on installing your power supply.
In our example, the 1050 Ti graphics card doesn't require its own power connection and will be automatically powered by the motherboard.
Also, if you're installing multiple graphics cards to run in either SLI or CrossFire mode for a super powerful system, go ahead and install your additional card/s now. You can simply repeat the above steps exactly the same way for each card that you have.
How to Install a Power Supply Unit
Congrats for coming so far; we're almost done and if you're like me you're itching to turn this beast on. Now it's time to install your power supply and connect the cables with cable management in mind.
Your case will dictate where your power supply (we'll refer to it as PSU from now on) fits. Some cases, like our Cooler Master N200, have the PSU mount on the bottom of the case. Others will mount the PSU on the top.
1: Check Rubber Feet
Firstly, check for the presence of little rubber feet on the bottom of your case (for bottom PSU-mounted cases). Many modern cases have this feature to help reduce the effects of any vibration to lower noise.
If your case has them, like ours, they'll likely already be installed, but if not then check if your case provided you with some. If so, fit them in. If not, you could always buy some small self-adhesive rubber pads from your local stationary store if you wanted to.
2: Fit the PSU
Fitting your PSU on the bottom of a case may be easier if you sit your case upright. Position the PSU either in the bottom or the top of the case where it belongs, with the power socket and power switch facing out the back of the case and the cabling facing into the case.
Line up the screw holes on the back of the case (there should be four or more), and while holding the PSU in place go ahead and screw them in with the screws that should have been provided with your PSU. Otherwise you can use screws provided by the case.
Connecting Cables & Cable Management
Now that the PSU (power supply) is firmly in place, it's time to connect all of the power cables. As you do so, you'll want to try and thread them through any available cable management holes where possible as you go along to keep things neat and help airflow within your case.
You could always come back to managing your cables later on after you've successfully booted up, or in a few days time when you can be bothered, but it's generally a good idea to get it out of the way on your first go.
Connecting the PSU cables is straightforward, but before plugging anything in you want to be sure you're inserting the pins the right way round by analysing the patterns on the underside of the connectors and matching them to the patterns on the ports you plug them into.
If you have a modular power supply, you'll want to only use the cables that you need, and set aside any unused cables somewhere safely such as your PSU packaging. Oh, and as always, at risk of sounding like a broken record remember to ground yourself regularly during this process, especially if you're not wearing an anti-static strap. Better safe than sorry.
One last thing before we start plugging things in. If you're working with a large case and some of the PSU connectors don't reach, or are missing altogether, you can buy extensions and/or adapters.
1: The 20+4 Pin Connector
The biggest connector on your PSU will be the 20+4 main power connector which plugs into your motherboard power socket.
Most motherboards will require the full 24 pins, while others may only need the 20 pin part. Double check with your motherboard if you're not sure if you should use 20 or 24 pins, but you should easily be able to find the corresponding socket on your motherboard. It's labelled in small writing on your motherboard as “ATX_PWR1” on ours.
Go ahead and plug this bad boy in by carefully lining up the pins the correct way round and giving it a firm push in; hold your motherboard while you do this so you're not putting too much force on your board as you plug it in all the way.
2: The 4+4 Pin Connector
This connection is to power your CPU and will also plug into your motherboard, likely near the top of the CPU somewhere. Most modern motherboards will require the full 8 pins to be plugged in, but some may need just 4. If that's the case just plug in either of the two 4 pin headers. Line up the pins carefully, hold the motherboard, and press them firmly into place.
3: The PCIe 6 Pin Connector/s
Many modern graphics cards will require their own dedicated power connection via either the one PCIe 6 pin connection from the PSU, or two. It should actually be an 8 pin, with 6 and a separate 2, as some cards will require 8 pins. Our graphics card isn't a monster of a card, and draws power from the motherboard so there's nothing for us to do here.
However, your card may require power, so go ahead and plug the 6 pin connector/s into the top of your graphics card if you need to. In the odd case that your PSU doesn't have these connectors, and you need them for your card, some graphics cards come with a Molex to PCI-E adapter which you could use instead.
4: The SATA Connectors
Not to be confused with the SATA data transfer cables that you should have plugged into your storage drives earlier (and that should have come with your motherboard), these SATA connectors on your PSU also plug into your storage drives (and/or optical drives if you have any) to provide them the power they need.
If you have a ton of drives and your PSU doesn't have enough SATA power cables to connect them all, you can get a Molex to SATA adapter.
5: The Molex Connectors (and connect case fans)
Molex connectors have had their day and have been almost completely replaced by SATA connectors, however you may still need to use them. For our build, because we can't plug in our case fans into our motherboard (which you may be able to do on your system), we'll connect the case fans into a couple of these Molex connectors.
So go ahead and connect your case fans if this applies to you. The downside of having case fans connected to your PSU directly is that you have no control over them and they'll always run at 100%.
Being able to plug fans directly into the motherboard (if your board supports it) allows you to use software to control how fast the fans spin.
You probably don't need to worry about this, but it's just something to keep in mind. Sometimes fans can be louder than you like and you'll want to adjust their settings.
If you don't need Molex connectors, and you're using a modular PSU, simply keep them in your PSU packaging, otherwise you'll have to tuck them into your case somewhere. Another thing I'll say about Molex connectors is that they sometimes need a real firm push to connect, so don't be afraid of using a little force with them.
Step 6: Cable Management Basics
It may seem that whether your take the time to tidy up your PSU cables or not is down to personal preference, however cable management is important for the overall well-being and life of your system so it's highly recommended you at least do something even if just the basics.
The amount of cable management options you have and exactly how you should proceed with them will greatly depend on the specific case that you have, but here we'll give you some basic guidelines.
The first thing you should look to do, which you perhaps have already done if you carefully followed the instructions earlier, is thread any of the PSU cables you're using through any available holes on the rear side of your case.
Most cases should have a gap between the rear side panel and the frame of the case where cables can lay out of the way and out of sight. When doing this make sure you're still able to replace the side panel afterwards though, and be careful not to damage any cables when reapplying the side panel.
It doesn't matter too much how you run the cables behind your motherboard, but it's a good idea to group them together in a bundle if you can using plastic ties or a twist of plastic-coated wire. Some cases go the extra mile with this and will have quick release cable ties and small lugs built-in to the back of the case to attach them to.
As you're doing any cable management, keep airflow in mind and try not to cover your coolers or case fans with cables if possible. If your case doesn't have too many options for cable management, don't worry too much, but do your best to make do with what you have.
As mentioned, there's no one way to manage your cables as every case and setup is different, but in general you want to aim to have your cables running in a single direction, and not all clumped up in a messy heap. Tie up cables together in a bundle and position them against the side panel if you can.
Final Checks Before Starting Your PC
It's almost time for the moment of truth! If you've applied all the previous steps, we're just minutes away from starting up your machine for the first exciting time, but there are a few quick checks to get out of the way first to ensure a successful first-boot.
1: Check Component Connections
You'll first want to double check all your components are all still inserted all the way into their slots and firmly held in place via screws and/or their socket clips. It's unlikely, but during the installation of your motherboard into the case or while you plugged in all the power cables into the motherboard, a component may have accidentally been moved around a little or disconnected if it wasn't properly fitted and/or screwed in.
Loose screws may lead to a component being loosed in its motherboard socket, so it's worth double checking now. Remember not to tighten screws too far; just turn them a fraction more than when they feel tight. Go ahead and check your CPU cooler, memory module/s, graphics card/s, and any other components you have in your motherboard.
2: Check Front Panel Connections
Double check the front panel connections that you plugged in earlier in the building process, as there is the chance something may have become loose during later steps. While you're at it, double check all of your power supply cables are firmly plugged into place.
3: Connect Your Peripherals
Ok, it's time to connect up your peripherals so that you can see what happens on-screen when you first boot-up, and so that you can proceed with installation should your PC start up properly the first time.
Keyboard and mouse should plug into any USB ports; ideally you'll want to plug them in the back of your PC to keep your front ports available. Older keyboards and mice will plug into the PS/2 connections instead, also on the back of your PC.
Depending on the monitor, you will either need just the video cable (either HDMI, DVI, DP or VGA) from the back of the monitor into the back of your graphics card (not your motherboard), or you'll need both a video cable and a dedicated power cable connection from the back of your monitor into a wall socket.
If you have a set of speakers or using a headset, you can plug these in now if you want to. Same with your network connection; an Ethernet cable will plug from the back of your PC to your router, or if you're using a wireless dongle then plug that into the back.
4: Turn On Power Supply
At this time you'll want to replace your rear side panel if you haven't already done so. However, keep the main side panel off for the time being so you can see what's going on when you boot-up in the next step.
Then, plug in the main power cable (supplied by your power supply) from the back of your power supply to a wall socket if you haven't already done so, and make sure the socket is turned on. Now, turn on the switch on the back of your power supply, and turn on your monitor.
5: Turn on PC!
You now have everything ready to go, so it's time to press the On button on the front of your case. You should hear the fans start up, see a light on your PC and on your motherboard (some boards may not have a light though), and something should show up on your monitor (make sure the monitor is turned on).
Look inside your case to check your case fans and CPU fan is spinning. Note that your graphics card fan/s may not spin unless they're needed so don't worry if that one is not spinning at the moment.
If everything seems to be working, replace your side panel as you shouldn't run your PC without both panels in place for too long as it affects airflow. Pat yourself on the back for your efforts.
If there's no response when you turn on your PC, or something seems to be wrong, see our dedicated troubleshooting guide. Don't get down on yourself or freak out as it could be something very simple that you either missed or that you can quickly rectify, and you should be up and running in no time.
How to Install Windows
It's time to continue on from your successful first-boot and install your operating system. We're assuming you're using Windows 10, but most of the following steps will apply to any version of Windows, or Linux if you're going down that route.
1: Access the BIOS
The BIOS (Basic Input Output System) is pre-installed software that comes with every motherboard. It controls how your PC boots up as well as many other details about your computer.
When you first see a BIOS in action, it may seem a little daunting with all the many settings, and if that's the case don't worry because you likely won't need to tinker with it at all as the default settings are usually exactly what you need.
However, we will likely have to change just one thing and that is the boot order. The boot order dictates which device your PC encounters first when booting up, and we'll need to set it to either your Windows installation disk or your Windows USB drive depending on which way you'll be installing Windows.
With some motherboards, including ours, you won't need to do this as the system will automatically be set to recognize your USB drive/CD when you insert it and boot your PC.
So go ahead and test this; insert your Windows media (if it's a CD you'll need to turn the PC on to access the optical drive and then press reset) and then boot-up.
If the Windows installation immediately comes up on-screen, you're good to go and you can skip step 2 below and move straight to step 3. If it doesn't come up, after turning your PC on press ESCAPE, DELETE, F1, F2, F8 or F10 on your keyboard to access your BIOS. The button to access your BIOS will depend on your motherboard.
You'll have to time the keypress for just a little after you press the on button, but sometimes you'll miss the right time to press it, so if after you've hammered all of the above keys (press them all multiple times quickly) then turn off your system and repeat until the BIOS appears.
2: Set Boot Drive
Once your BIOS comes up, you'll notice either a very old-school, basic looking menu screen that can only be accessed with your keyboard controls, or a more modern BIOS with mouse access.
Either way, head on over to the BOOT section by using the keys on your keyboard (and pressing enter or escape to go forward and back) or by using your mouse for a modern BIOS.
You should see a list of devices listed in order of priority. You can set your system to boot from either a hard drive, optical drive, CD-ROM drive or an external device such as a USB drive. Configure the order so that your Windows media (either disk or USB) is set as the first boot device.
Save and exit the BIOS. Your PC should restart and then the windows installation screen should appear on screen.
3: Windows 10 Setup
Installing Windows 10 is a very simple process and all you have to do is follow the basic on-screen instructions. It should first ask you to choose to install either 64 or 32 bit; always go for 64 bit unless you have a seriously good reason not to.
Then you'll be asked where to install Windows by showing you a list of your storage drive/s. If you installed an SSD in your build to become your main system drive as many people do, make sure to select that one. Otherwise, select your HDD.
Sometimes it may be a little confusing as to which drive is which, so if you have multiple drives in your build and you're not 100% confident you're selecting the correct drive to install Windows to, turn off your PC and remove the SATA data cable from the drives you DON'T want to install Windows on, leaving only the drive you want. Then when you start back up again, only that drive will show on the list of available drives.
For anybody who has installed previous versions of Windows in the past and are wondering about whether to create a separate partition on your drive for Windows, these days there's very little need to do so.
Windows 10 shouldn't take too long to install, and once it has it should restart and you'll be greeted with the desktop screen for the first time after you login with your just-created username and password.
4: Other BIOS Considerations
As mentioned there are many different things you can check or change with your BIOS, but for most people you won't need to change anything as the default settings should be just right.
Advanced users may want to go through and check all of the settings, but if you're a beginner I wouldn't worry about any of that and I'd only return to the BIOS if you end up needing to later down the track.
However, there may be one more thing to do; if when your PC boots up from now on you get asked every time if you want to boot from disk, you'll need to go to your BIOS (by pressing the access key after your boot up remember) and change the Boot Order/Sequence like you did before so that your HDD or SSD where Windows lives is at the top of the sequence.
Also, just a word on BIOS updates. Motherboard manufacturer's sometimes release newer versions of their BIOS, however, unlike other software updates on your computer which are a mandatory and standard procedure, such as updating Windows, it's highly recommended that you DO NOT update the BIOS unless you know you really need to.
It's only suggested to update a BIOS if the newer version directly fixes a certain problem or bug you have with your system, or if you're installing new hardware that would only be supported by a BIOS update.
You can find out about BIOS updates on the manufacturer's website, but this isn't necessary unless you run into bugs with your system. Even then I would first contact the manufacturer to confirm that your bug would be fixed by an update.
Updating a BIOS is dangerous and may bring your system fresh problems, with the worst case being it kills your motherboard, rendering it useless. Updating a BIOS may even void your warranty. You've been warned my friend.
5: Update Windows
Before you update your device drivers in the next step, now is a good time to update Windows to its latest version.
You could perform this update after updating your drivers, for example if you want to use your new PC right away as the Windows update may take hours, but in general we recommend you to update Windows before your drivers.
Updating Device Drivers
Drivers are software and codes that allow a computer to communicate with your hardware devices. Most if not all of the drivers you need should be taken care of by Windows or the Windows update automatically, however you’ll want to manually get the latest graphics card and motherboard drivers from the manufacturer website and download them as these two are important.
You'll notice that some of your parts may have come with device drivers on CD, however these will be outdated anyway so I wouldn't worry about them.
You can install the latest drivers for all your other components if you really want to make sure, but like I mentioned the OS should take care of it and the graphics card and motherboard are the only ones I'd worry about. Without a graphics card driver your screen may not display properly.
Graphics card drivers are also different than other drivers because they not only fix issues/bugs, but NVidia and AMD actually work to improve direct performance in specific games.
To double check which other drivers may be necessary for your particular PC, use the Windows Search bar to open up the “Device Manager” to look at all your devices.
If there are any with warning icons that say something is missing such as “there's no display adapter” (your graphics card) then you know you'll need to go and grab that driver from the manufacturer's site. The graphics card is a bad example though because you should be getting them either way, and you would be wise because some of your games could see a serious improvement in frame rate, especially if the GPU drivers your system current has are quite old.
One more thing about drivers that's worth mentioning is that when you go to a manufacturer's site to get the latest ones to download, keep in mind you don't need to install all of the software available for that device. Many manufacturers include optional, bloated versions of their drivers with programs and other extras you either don't need or wouldn't want on your awesome new system. Keep your system lean and mean.
If you've read this far, well done! Now that you have the knowledge and understanding of how to build a gaming PC from scratch, you'll now be able to easily and confidently build a system whenever you need to (or for friends who may not have the interest in learning how).
If you enjoyed this guide all I ask is to share it with any of your gaming buddies who are thinking about building their own system and levelling up their gaming.