As a follow-up question for advice when buying a computer, I would like to get another thing clear:

How do we assemble a computer properly?

  • In what order do I need to put the hardware I bought into my computer?

  • Do I need to watch out for static electricity? How can I avoid it?

  • What are the common pitfalls when assembling a computer? How do I prevent damage?

  • What is the bare minimum I need to connect to test that it works?

  • I asked a related question a while ago but it didn't get much attention at the time. – David Z Jun 23 '11 at 18:51
  • @DavidZaslavsky: Interesting, perhaps we can suggest both our questions on a QotW or as an apart blog post later on? I don't know which way we should merge the questions though... :) – Tamara Wijsman Jun 23 '11 at 19:17
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    that would probably be a good idea. I don't actually spend that much time on SU, so feel free to take charge of this ;-) I have no objections to having my question merged into yours, if that is what people think would be best. – David Z Jun 23 '11 at 21:24
  • Added a bounty, I'm looking for the pearl in a wide sea of possible answers... – Tamara Wijsman Sep 19 '11 at 22:32
  • When I built my last computer one problem I ran into was that the motherboard was touching the metal part of the case, there came special screws with the motherboard and one of them I didnt put right. So if your computer is all connected and it doesnt start or turns off by itself after one "tinysecond" this could be the reason – Purefan Sep 21 '11 at 6:59

Lifehacker has a set of night classes that cover most of the topics in question. This is from my own experiences, and memory, however and may differ from that.

Toolswise, get a good, comfy medium sized cross head screwdriver - I tend to favour one i got from ikea with a rubber handle. You will use this a LOT (unless you have a tool-less case) so get a comfy one.

These days I use an electric screw driver - I tend to prefer the 'stick' style ones with AAs to the gun style or rechargeable ones myself.

If you need to work with jumpers good fine toothed tweezers are useful. if its a cheap case, a pair of fingerless gloves may assist with preventing scraped knuckles.

This is the worst case, overcautious, sure fire approach. If you live somewhere without high humidity, please take any necessary anti static precautions. Prepare a nice clear table, or other workspace, and clear the room of any small animals, children or other such objects Installation procedure assumes that the case may be less than ideal, and some juggling is required. If you have a case that isn't designed by the lowest bidder, you may get away with less dry fitting. The smaller the case, the more planning may be needed.

Read the manual. Many DIY motherboards come with a schematic or sticker which shows what and where various connectors go. Confirm you know where these are on the motherboard, and check to see their counterparts from the case, and other components. Take note of the polarity of any LEDs.

If you're unsure, this is a useful chart of most common connectors

enter image description here

Open everything up. Make sure you keep all your screws properly.

Strip down the case. Remove both side panels for maximum space, take note of where everything is - 3.5 inch slots, 5.25 inch slots, motherboard brackets and so on. Decide where everything needs to go. Note down any oddities with the case. I tend to arrange any screws removed or supplied by type in a stable container to prevent them from getting lost.

Get everything in order - ensure your power supply has the appropriate power outputs/converters, you have enough case and drive screws (if any). Make sure you have the right number of pins on the connector for the main motherboard power array (20 or 24), the 4 pin CPU power connector, and the 4 or 6 pin video connector. Check if you have enough and the right kind of cables.

Double check the headers for the various case connectors - such as power, LED and reset and the front panel connectors (USB/Audio) on the motherboard

Mount the motherboard sans CPU and heatsink to the case. Fit in the headers, dry fit (that is to say, put in place, but do not secure permanently) drives, cables and power supply to make sure that your cables reach what they need to. Then, with the power supply in place, dry fit any cards you need - If not, you may need to rearrange things. In general though, things should be relatively smooth. Remove PSU temporarily (i tend to remove everything at this point). This bit is optional, but it saves time if the case is cramped, and it so happens you'd need to remove everything to install a particular bit of kit anyway.

Insert Processor, Heatsink and Ram. A PGA packaged processor should just fit in with NO pressure at all, and be locked in by the ZIF socket's handle - as shown below enter image description here

Modern Intel and AMD processors use a LGA or Land Grid array socket - the pins are on the motherboard - just line up the processor, drop it into place, and lock it into place

enter image description here

If you're using a standard heatsink, it has thermal tape and will fit, and lock over the processor.

When installing ram be aware of where the notch on the ram is, with relation to the equivalent protrusion on the socket. Do not force a stick of ram into the socket- it should go in smoothly. If using dual channel or triple channel ram, fill the slots of the same colour first - these are on the same channel. enter image description here

If system cannot use integrated graphics, add video card. Plug power supply into motherboard (20 or 20+4 pin), 4 pin CPU power connector, 6 or 8 pin power connector for video. Connect front panel and case headers. place and secure PSU.

Plug in keyboard and monitor to system (at this point you should have PSU, Ram, video card and processor installed - if you are missing anything, please check)

Do a test power up - make sure system POSTS properly and all ram is detected - if it dosen't check connectors, reseat or remove ram.

Install and secure drives - sata drives are almost no configuration, but with pata drives, check if they are set to master/slave appropriately or use cable select. Connect drives to system and power up. Check boot order in Bios. Power Down

Install other cards as needed.

Cable tie the cables to neaten things up, keeping in mind, you'll need to undo this the next time you work on your system (I don't usually do it, its good practice, but meh, too much work.). The aim is to keep your cables in nice bundles that don't mess with air flow.

Optionally boot up memtestx86 and/or a linux livecd/usb with smartmontoosl/gsmartcontrols to check if ram and the hard drives are healthy . If using a linux livecd/usb, check if all hardware is detected with lshw

Install OS - check in OS's hardware management to see if all hardware is there.

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  1. It is usually easiest to install the motherboard first (already having installed the processor and fan) and if there are any of those little white protectors that fit between the case and the board, install them. Connect the power cables.
  2. After that, I install things like the drives, optical and hard drives.
  3. Then install any PCI(x) cards.
  4. Then install the RAM.
  5. Then install the cables.

As far as static goes, it is VERY important in my opinion. I once worked in a place that did not observe any static precautions while building PC's. They had approximately 20% fail in the first year. I later went out on my own, used the same parts, but with static protection, and had only 1% fail in the first year.

It only take about 20 volts to do damage (it can be cumulative, and not cause immediate failure), but you can barely feel static that is 5000 volts, and 25,000 volts is a good shock on the carpeting.

The best way to protect yourself is to have a static pad, connected to the frame of the plugged-in PC, with a wrist strap connected to you. It must be plugged in so the electricity can go to ground, and is very safe since internally, the components only run on +5V or +12V DC. Only if you go poking in the power supply do you risk serious injury.

If you do not have a static pad, keep your forearm touching the frame as you install. Again, the PC must be plugged in, or have some other way you are grounding it.

The pitfalls are mostly just read the manual and observe static precautions.

You can POST it after you install the board and memory.

In the end, nothing guarantees that you won't have a part that is DOA, but this can help minimize your worries.

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  • Anyone have the name for those little white protectors? I have built hundreds of computers, but never thought about the name before now. – KCotreau Jun 15 '11 at 23:02
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    As noted in another answer, if your power supply is not purchased with your case, then install that first. – KCotreau Jun 15 '11 at 23:07
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    Don't have your PC plugged in to a power socket when assembling - an antistatic wrist strap connected to the chassis works through charge equalisation between you and the chassis and does not need the ground path, plus having the power cord plugged in is a risk should there be a fault with the PSU. Likewise, if you are just touching the frame - having the power cord plugged in is not necessary and not best practice for safety reasons. – Linker3000 Jun 15 '11 at 23:11
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    @Tom Wijsman My pleasure. Glad to help. This place is addictive even. – KCotreau Jun 15 '11 at 23:35
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    @KCotreau no, Linker is right. Static discharge is current flowing between two points at different potentials. Unless you are isolated from ground, and suddenly make contact with ground, you can't get a discharge to ground. The two potentials you really need to worry about are between you and the chassis because if there is a difference there, and you are holding the board, then it touches the chasis, then there will be a discharge. Simply touching the chassis and the board static bag at the same time before opening it will take care of that. – psusi Jun 16 '11 at 1:44

Assemble your computer on a table or wooden floor; don't assemble in on a carpet since that might cause static electricity which might cause failure of some devices.

Connect the hardware in this order:

  • Power supply
  • Motherboard - Attach it properly with all the screws
  • Attach the hard drives, DVD, Blu-Ray reader...... Use all the screws needed
  • Attach the RAM
  • Connect the data cables and power cables for the above devices
  • Connect the power cables from the Power supply to the motherboard (do NOT have it plugged in to the wall). You shouldn't have to force the cables, they should go in smoothly.
  • Connect the Video Card, Network card...all PCI cabrds to the motherboard

You should be ready to go, make sure no loose cables are left.

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1) The order would be everything in the case starting with the MB. For first boot some leave out the graphics card so that if there is a problem that is 1 less thing to check. The order is really up to you and could vary depending on the size of the case and the space open to you. Example some cases make it so its hard to get piece A in when piece B was put in first.

2) Yes watch out for static electricity. A common idea is to simply touch something metal, etc before playing with components. Avoid doing on carpet etc if you are worried.

3) Pitfalls include not plugging things up right, shorting things out and ending up with 1 piece that does not work. Also another pitfall would be having 1 component that is not right, (like incompatable ram, AMD proc. for an intel board)

To prevent damage your, motherboard and case prolly came with some sort of manual. Go through it and make sure you understand it all. If you have any doubts google it. Make sure you are connecting all pins and power supply cords properly.

(Every now and then people have bad luck so keep your case cover off when you plug it up and if you do end up with smoke, or a spark you know where it came from.

4) I personally would go with everything except the CDDrive/Graphics card/any extra drives(card reader etc.) and only 1 stick of ram(if you have multiples. If you get a power on then add these before you load your OS.

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My conservative, no rush, expect-the-worst procedure is to assemble the CPU, heatsink & fan, memory, graphics card and PSU on a table (not in the case). This makes part substitution very quick. Test that the BIOS can be configured. Run Memtest86+ for at least one pass; this validates basic PC operation. Attach the harddisk, and perform a full SMART test, which could take several hours; this validates the drive before I spend time installing the OS. Install in PC case or install OS, depending on mood.

And always pay attention to electricity: dissipate static electricity (touch something grounded before handling parts) and make good power connections without possible shorts.

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I think your pearl is to be found in this article (from 2007 but still valid) :
How To Assemble A Desktop PC.

It discusses assembly in a very detailed manner with pictures, and includes the chapters : Choosing the parts, Assembly, Software, Overclocking, Silencing, Conclusion.

In the Assembly chapter, the order is : Motherboard, CPU, Memory, Power supply, Video card, drive jumpers, drives, other connections, prepare for power up, power up.

The entire article can be downloaded as one PDF file, for safe-keeping in case the article disappears in the future.

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