How to Build a Desktop PC Step by Step Part 2: Install Your Components

Ok now that we’ve got the important safety precautions out of the way you are ready to get your hands dirty and actually install your components. If you follow these simple instructions in order, at the end of this article you will have finished the physical installation of your new gaming desktop build and you’ll be ready for the third and final part of this guide which is to install the operating system.

Open the Case

prepare your pc caseTake your case out of its box if you haven’t already done so, and remove the outer casing or side panel (depending on the style of your case).

This usually requires you to unscrew some screws on the back of your case. Refer to your case’s manual if you need to as some cases are different.

Your case should come with a bag of screws that you will need soon so keep them handy. Carefully place your case on its side on a flat surface (preferable a sturdy desk, remember NEVER use carpet) so that you can easily reach in and install your components.

Install the Motherboard

First of all make sure to keep your motherboard inside its anti-static bag until you are ready to install it. Same goes for all of your components.

Ok, there are two ways to go about installing your motherboard. The first is to mount your motherboard in your case first, and then install your components onto the motherboard, which is how this guide will explain it. The second way is to install some of the components onto the motherboard first (eg the CPU, cooler, and RAM) before mounting it in the case. Either way will work just fine and it’s a matter of personal preference.

Your motherboard should come with an IO shield, which is the metal back plate that protects the ports on the back of your motherboard. There will be a matching size hole in the back of your case where the IO shield will fit in. Snap the shield into place. This may take a little force as you want to make sure all 4 sides of the shield are firmly in place before continuing.

Now it’s time to mount your motherboard into your case. Match up the ports on your motherboard with the ports on the IO shield, and you should find that the screw holes on the motherboard also line up with the screw holes of the case.

fit-motherboard-standoffsFind the motherboard standoffs (the gold screws in the image) from the bag of screws that came with your case, and fit them through the matching holes. Note that some cases may already include standoffs. The standoffs should raise your motherboard around half an inch from the metal mounting plate.

Now use your motherboard screws to screw into the standoffs to make sure your motherboard is securely mounted in your case. The screws should be fairly tight, but don’t go overboard and tighten them too hard.

Install the CPU

Now it’s time to install your mighty processor. Even though I mentioned the importance of avoiding static electricity, I want to remind you to ground yourself throughout the build process by touching the metal part of your case with your hands from time to time, especially before touching your components. Do this even if you’re wearing an anti-static wrist brand just to be extra careful.

Before taking out your CPU, you’ll want to locate the CPU socket on your motherboard and gently lift up the little lever/arm to open up the protective metal plate that exposes the pins. There may be a protective plastic that you need to take off to expose the pins. Avoid touching these pins and never drop anything on them as they can bend easily.

Now you can remove your CPU from its box and hold it gently by its sides. Avoid touching the bottom part where the gold pins are. Depending on the type of CPU you have, you’ll have to either match up the pins on the CPU to the pins on the motherboard, or there will be an arrow or a couple of notches on your CPU which you need to match up with the arrow/notches on the motherboard.

Carefully place the CPU onto the motherboard with the pins facing down. Whatever you do don’t force it in as it should fall into place nice and easily if you’ve aligned it correctly. Now pull down the lever/arm to lock your CPU into place.

how to install your cpu

Install the CPU Cooler

Take the cooler that came with your CPU (or the cooler that you bought separately) and you should see some silver thermal paste underneath it. If there isn’t any paste already pre-applied, you’ll need to buy some and apply a very thin line of it onto the top of your processor.

Now place your cooler on top of your CPU and lock it into place which is done slightly differently for different coolers. Intel coolers typically require you to push down on the four corners until you hear a click, and AMD coolers usually have two latches that need to be hooked onto the motherboard. Refer to the manual for exact installation instructions for your particular cooler.

If your cooler also has a power cable you’ll need to plug this into the motherboard. There should be a matching socket for this cable close to the CPU socket.

Install the RAM

Now it’s time to install your RAM stick/s which is one of the quickest steps in the building process. Locate the RAM sockets on your motherboard and take our your RAM from its protective bag. You may need to refer to your motherboard manual if you’re unsure exactly which memory slots you should install them in.

Hold the RAM stick by its ends and gently push it into the socket on your motherboard until it clicks into place. Depending on your motherboard you may need to disengage two brackets on each end of the RAM socket to install the stick, and then re-engage the brackets once you’ve clicked the stick into place. Do this for all of your memory sticks if you have more than one.


Install the Video Card and Other Cards

Fitting your video card is also dead easy. Seek out the topmost PCI-Express slot on your motherboard (assuming your card is PCI-Express as most modern cards are) where your trusty graphics card will live.

Beside the slot you’ll notice a thin metal strip at the back of your case which is held in with a screw. This is known as a blanking plate, and you need to unscrew it and remove this metal strip so that you can install your video card.

Hold your video card by its edges and gently slide it into the slot on your motherboard. The metal bracket on the side of the card will fit into the spot where you just removed the blanking plate. Screw this bracket into place and you’re done.

Now repeat this exact process for any other PCI or PCI-Express cards that you may wish to install such as a sound card, network card, etc.

install a video card

Install the Hard Drive/s and Optical Drive

There are different ways to install your hard disk drives depending on your case, so refer to your case’s manual for specific instructions. It will usually require you to either simply slide the drive into a spare bay and then screw it into place, or to pull out one of the hard drive trays where you can screw in one of your drives and then slide the tray back into the case.

Whichever method is needed to install your hard drives, I’m sure you are seeing a general theme here with installing your components: it really is very straightforward.

Just a note on hard drives, if you’re installing more than one and you have enough bays to allow for it, try to install your drives into every second bay to allow for more space between your drives. So for example if you’re installing 2 drives, install them into the 1st and 3rd hard drive bays. This can help a little to increase airflow.

As for the optical drive, simply locate the bay where it belongs and install it according to your case’s manual. Voila, that’s all of your drives done.

Install the Power Supply

It should be very obvious as to where your power supply goes as there will be a large hole for it in the back of your case. Depending on your case it will either install at the top or the bottom of the case.

Line up the holes on your power supply with the holes in the case and screw it into place. The fan should typically be facing away from the edge of the case so that it’s not blocked off.

Connect Your Cables and Cable Management

All of the components that make up your custom desktop PC should now be installed and now you need to connect up all the power cables. Separate the cords coming out of your power supply and plug them in one by one.

Just a note on cable management before you go ahead with this. As you’re plugging in all of your cables you will want to try to keep them as out of the way as possible for two reasons.

Firstly, if you have cables tangled up all over the place it can negatively affect the airflow in your case which can make your gaming PC run hotter and louder. Secondly, a clean looking build is easier to manage and just looks better (especially if you have a clear side panel showing off your finished beast).

Some cases come with zip ties which are handy for wrapping up long cables to keep things nice and tidy, and some also have very handy cable management features such as built-in clips and holes for your cables to run through.

connect your pc cables

Ok, so these are the connections you should have for a typical desktop build:

  • 24 Pin Motherboard Cable – The largest cable coming out of your power supply which will power your motherboard. There should be a 20 pin and a 4 pin connector on the same cable, so align them together and plug them into the 24 pin socket on your motherboard until it clicks snugly into place.
  • 4 Pin Motherboard Cable -There should also be another 4 pin cable for your motherboard. Find the matching 4 pin socket on your motherboard and plug it in.
  • SATA Cables – These are to power your hard drives and optical drive. You’ll need to plug in two different cables into your drives, one is the black SATA connector coming out of the power supply to actually power the drive, and the other is the red SATA cable to transfer data (this cable should have come with your motherboard). Don’t forget to plug in the other end of the red data cable into the SATA-labelled socket on your motherboard.
  • Video Card PCI-E Cables – Many video cards these days will require 1 or 2 power connections which are usually found on the top of the card. Plug your PCI-E connector from your power supply into the video card. If you don’t have these cables, a lot of video cards will come with a Molex to PCI-E adapter.
  • Molex Cables – These cables are used to power any other parts of your build such as the case fans.
  • Front Panel Connectors – Most modern PC cases will have some front ports for things like USB, FireWire, and headphones. Find the connectors coming from the front of your case (should be 8 pin connectors) into the corresponding ports on your motherboard which should be labelled with USB, FireWire (may be labelled as 1394) etc. Check your motherboard and/or case manual if you get stuck.
  • Power and LED Connectors – These are for the front on/off button of your case and the LED lights, and will need to be connected to your motherboard. Again, check your manuals for details if you can’t figure it out.

Awaken Your Beast

Ok, that’s all of your components installed. Well done! When I said it was as easy as building Lego, I wasn’t kidding around.

Now it’s time for the moment of truth, your very first boot up. Plug the main power cable into the back of the power supply and into a wall socket, plug in any peripherals such as a monitor, keyboard, and mouse, and then press the On button on the front of your case.

If your PC doesn’t start up for whatever reason, check out the troubleshooting guide that covers common problems. If you have lift off, then you’re ready for part 3 which is to configure your BIOS and install your operating system.

Next: BIOS Setup and OS Installation

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