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OCAU Guide to Building A PC

From OCAU Wiki

This Wiki entry is a replication of the OCAU guide to building your own PC sticky found in the OCAU Forums Newbie Lounge section with permission from the original author, break.

If anyone else has anything they would like to add, be it changing some of my description, adding thier own, or adding and images then please feel free to add and edit this wiki.


Make sure all parts are compatible, and present.

The number of times I've seen people try and build a PC and forget things like optical drives, or monitors etc. It sounds fundamental, but make sure you've got everything on hand before you start to assemble your PC.

Common tools you need to build a PC:

  1. Set of screwdrivers (both flat and philips head). A set of small watchmaker screwdrivers are also handy.
  2. Large and solid workbench. I suggest your PC desk or a dining table.
  3. Patience. There are few things as frustrating as building a PC. Don't despair!
  4. Lights. If you're not in a well lit room, it can pay off to have a torch handy.
  5. Cable Ties - Where necessary, keep things tidy by carefully tying back loose cabling inside the machine. This will also help airflow around the machine. Be sure to use plastic ties only.
  6. Small Wire Cutters - Useful for all manner of things, wire cutters are particularly handy when using cable ties, to neatly clip off the excess
  7. Long-Nose Pliers -When fingers are just too big for the job, these will help manipulate very small parts like IDE configuration jumpers.

Things to remember when building a PC:

  1. Be careful with assembling cases. Fresh cut cases and PCB boards are suprisingly sharp and almost every PC builder has cut themself on something over the years. The biggest hazards are drive bay covers (as most case manufacturers leave metal places in them which require you to bend them out) and any sharp corners in the case.
  2. The only other bit of advice I think you should know from the start is to use common sense. If something doesn't feel right, don't do it. If something isn't fitting smoothly, it's probably not meant to go there.

Prepare the case.

The first thing you should always do is to prepare the case for your build. You should visualise how/where everything will fit inside the case, and take into account things like where fans will be plugged into (either fan headers, or onto power rails) etc. It can be usefull to install the power supply in your case at this point (if it isn't already) to get an idea of how much cable you have to work with. Also, make sure you remove all bay covers, fans, grills, PCI slot covers, and hard drive racks at this point. Your goal is to make it as easy as possible to assemble the computer, this means making as much space as you can for the large items like the motherboard. Once finished, make sure both sides are off the case so you can reach both the front and back of the motherbaord mounting panel, and make sure the generic motherboard backplate has been removed and the backplate for your motherboard has been installed (they just pop in/out). If your case doesn't come with a power supply then at this point you should install one.

There are two methods of installing power supplies. On some of the larger cases there is a mounting bracket that needs to be unscrewed from the case. This bracket has holes for mounting your power supply, so affix the power supply and re-mount the bracket back into the case. The second method of installation requires the power supply be only put into the case and screwed in accordingly (both of these methods require the power supply to be mounted from the inside of the case btw). Make sure any fans are pointing downwards, not up into the space (if any) above the PSU.

Once your case is clear of obstructions start screwing in the motherboard spacers (if they are not pre-fitted to the case). Only install the headers required by your motherboard (you'll need to check your motherboard at this point and install the spacers only where there is a mounting hole on your motherboard). Note: some care should be taken so as to not 'overtighten' the headers as this may bur the threads and create problems when trying to remove them.

Finally, leave the case laying on its side for easy access as much as possible (but feel free to move this around to wherever is easiest for your application).

Prepare the motherboard, install the CPU

Now you need to prepare your motherboard and install your CPU. The very first thing I recommend doing is removing the battery on your motherboard for 60 seconds to clear the CMOS. Its easiest to do this before installing the motherboard into the case.

Now, depending on the CPU mounting method prepare the socket for insertion of the CPU.

On AMD machines this simply involves lifting the swing arm on the socket. such as shown in this picture:

soon to be added awaiting permission

Now carefully unpack the CPU from its box and insert it into the socket. You should NEVER have to put ANY force onto the cpu in order to get it into the socket. It should drop straight in. If it doesn't, you likely haven't lined up the cpu correctly. For AMD chips, simply match the white triangle on the corner of the cpu to the corresponding corner of the socket which has no pins. Once the cpu is securely into the socket return the mounting mechanism to its 'locked' state (for AMD machines you simply lock the swing arm back under the socket as it was initially).

Here is a picture of a successfully mounted Athlon64 CPU:

soon to be added awaiting permission

Now that the CPU is installed install the heatsink and TIM (thermal interface material). For every standard heatsink i've ever installed there has been a thermal pad fixed to the bottom of the heatsink. This pad is normally covered in a thin layer of plastic to protect the brittle TIM, you will need to remove this plastic before installation of the heatsink.

If your using an aftermarket heatsink and fan combination then you will likely have a tube of TIM in a paste form. In order to apply this, squeeze a small amount onto your cpu and spread it evenly with your finger. There should be very little paste required to do this. Your goal is simply to fill any airspaces between the heatspreader (the metal plate on the top of your CPU) and the bottom of the heatsink. So, a typical application should look like a smudge of paste in the shape of a 20c piece on the CPU (this prompts the point, ONLY apply TIM to your CPU, not to your heatsink). Both may seem very flat, but it is a very bad idea to neglect any TIM. Installation methods for aftermarket heatsinks vary based on the product. Follow the vendors instructions on installation.

Now, carefully hook the retention clip of the heatsink onto one side of the socket (for Athlon64) and lever the heatsink slowly onto the CPU. Try and center the heatsink as best as possible, but concentrate on having the heatsink sit flat as this is the most important thing to do to avoid CPU damage. Once the heatsink is flat, insert a flat head screwdriver into the 'cup' on the side of the retion clip not yet hooked onto the socket. Now carefully push the clip down with the screwdriver (be VERY carefull here, there is some degree of force required to push the clip down) and hook it under the socket. Upon successfull install, the heatsink should be firmly in place and should not move around at all.

Once the heatsink is in place, place the 3 pin cable from the fan into the fan header labelled 'CPU' on your motherboard (you may have to use the motherboards manual to identify this header).

This is a good picture of the 3 pin header you should be looking for. There should be only one way the plug will fit on this, so don't be too concerned wondering if you have it the right way around:

soon to be added awaiting permission

Install RAM

The next part is one of the easier parts of the system. This step involves unpackaging your RAM and inserting it into the appropriate slots (usually slots 1 and 3 for boards with 4 slots).

Two things to be weary of when install RAM are both the orientation of the memory and the RAM slot clips.

First, make sure your inserting the memory the correct way around. The cut-outs in the bottom of the memory stick should match the orientation of the slot.

Here is a typical memory stick. You can clearly see the 'cut-out' in the PCB board. This MUST be lined up properly to avoid damage to the memory:

soon to be added awaiting permission

Second, make sure both clips at the end of each memory slot are fully opened before you try and insert the memory. New motherboards generally make use of "dual channel RAM" whcih basically means that you can have 2 identical/similar sticks of RAM being read as one, which makes things that little bit faster. If you have two sticks that are the same (e.g. 2 256mb sticks of PC3200) you should make sure they're installed so that dual channel will work. Usually the RAM slots are coluor co-ordinated, so make sure you have the two sticks installed in the same coloured slots. If you have any doubts, then the motherboard manual is a good place to start.

Now, memory slots are usually quite tight and can require some force to properly insert the memory slot. The easiest way to get the modules in, in light of this, is to sit the memory into its slot. Now, push down on one end of the slot until that end clicks into place, then repeat the process for the other end of the memory module. This requires less force than pushing the whole memory slot into place in one go.

Example of how to install memory (DDR1 in this case) properly:

soon to be added awaiting permission

Mount the motherboard

Now that you've prepped the main parts of the motherboard its time to install it. This is completely optional. Some people prefer to test everything outside of the case first, so choose which you prefer and simply skip this step until after testing (at which point you will have to remove all AGP/PCI cards and cables to mount the motherboard).

During case preparation you should have installed all the stand-offs and the backplate so it should be a simple matter of placing the motherboard onto the stand-offs and screwing it into place. If your case has a removable motherboard tray now would be a great time to take advantage of it. Be carefull not to screw in the motherboard too hard as this can cause you to unscrew the stand-offs in the event you want to remove the motherboard.

Install video card(s) and PCI cards.

This step and the next one can be easily interchangable, its all about preferance and what you think will be easier for your application.

Before installing the card, make sure any locking mechanism on the motherboards AGP/PCIe slot is in the 'unlocked' position prior to attempting to install the video card. Now just remove the video card from its packaging and align the card into the slot so it fits first and flush in both the slot, and in the backings.

Here is an example of installing a video card. You can see the white round locking mechanism on the socket at the bottom right of the picture. This should be set in the unlocked position prior to installing the card. Also note, this card is being installed outside of a case, you will need to line up the backplate with your case during normal installation:

soon to be added awaiting permission

At this point some people like to wire up thier power supply and make sure thier machine POSTs. Do this at your own discretion, but remember its easier to troubleshoot problems with less things wired up to go wrong.

Repeat this process for the PCI cards, and try and space all cards as much as possible. Please note, however, that PCI slots will not have locking mechanisms like most AGP slots.

Install hard drive(s) and optical drives

I normally do this after my PCI cards as I find it easiest to do it this way for my case, however, if you feel it would be easier to do these first then be all means do this next.

To install optical drives simply slide them into the appropriate 5.25 inch bay and screw in securely on both sides. Prior to installing the drives, however, make sure the jumpers on the drive are set appropriately so that the drive(s) will run as the cable master/slave. Often, most drives will be happy to be set to 'cable select' and the IO controller will do the rest for you. The same technique is used for the hard drive(s) but alot of case manufacturers have removable hard drive trays and cages now so adjust your installation method to suit.

Please note, up until this stage we are still merely installing the components. At no point should you have wired anything up (bar the CPU fan).

Wire up your power supply.

Now its time to start wiring everything up. I tend to do power first, in my opinion a neat power cable system is more important than a neat SATA/PATA cable system.

The first two cables to plug in are your 20 (or 24) pin motherboard header. Once this is in plug in your motherboards extra 12v cable (4 pins) and then route these cables so that they are as hidden as possible and allow maximum airflow (do this with all cables you install btw).

Before installation, make sure the PSU is set to the right voltage. The switch on the PSU will need to be in the 230v position, not on 110v.

The next cable to install is the power cable for your video card (if your video card requires this cable). This cable is likely to be the hardest to keep hidden because of the location of your video card, but do your best to hide it where you can. Next continue powering your optical/hard drives until all power cables are installed. If your power supply isn't modular and still had plenty of left-over cables not being used, then try and squeeze these cables into a spare 5.25 inch bay for neatness.

Another good technique for minimising cable mess in your case is to run cables behind your motherboard tray and along the edges of the case. Cable ties can come in very handy when trying to keep things neat and tidy. These same rules apply to all cables in the system, be it power or data cables.

Run your data cables.

Now its time to run your data cables. Whether you start with your PATA cables or your SATA cables (if applicable), it doesn't matter. Just run the cables accordingly and firmly push them into your drives. If you intend to run any sort of RAID configuration i'm going to assume you know enough to run the cables correctly for this style of setup.

IDE/PATA cables have a very specific order. If the system isn't booting or if it's running in ATA33 or PIO mode, check that the connectors are right. Blue goes to mainboard, black to master, and grey (middle one) goes to the slave drive.

Also note, generally connectors #1 and #2 for both SATA and PATA are connected to the Southbridge, while any other ones may be connected through PCI. The SB ones don't need drivers when you're installing Windows and also have less bottlenecks (due to the PCI bus being full).

Connect your case cabling to your motherboard.

Many people do this earlier on, and if the headers on your motherboard are in difficult to reach places then it may be beneficial to do this earlier on. As with most things, do this when you think is best.

At this point I can't give you much instruction because this process is very different for each case/motherboard combination. All I can tell you is to take your time and read the manuals for both the case and motherboard.

I tend to find this step frustrating at the best of times, but hang in there... your nearly at the end.

Check Everything.

Always make sure you go back and check all cabling and mounting BEFORE you turn on any power. Especially check your heatsink is mounted firm (pay particular attention if you have an Intel socket 775 motherboard) and the fan header for the heatsink is in the correct header on your motherboard.

The number of times I've accidentally bumped a cable out or haven't screwed in something tight etc. is disturbing

Initial POST and Bios setup.

Now, at this point you should be certain that all the above has been correctly undertaken. At this point, you may connect your monitor/mouse/keyboard and connect your power cable. I suggest you keep the side of your case open and your case on your side should you have to do any further adjustments inside the case.

At this point, plug your power supply into the wall, flick its switch to on (if it has one) and press the power button on the case. If nothing happens here its likely because you wired the power button into the wrong headers on the motherboard so go back to step 10.

If you hear the sweet PC buzzer 'beep' of your system POST then give you a pat on your back, your doing well.

Now its time to jump into your bios. Hit the appropriate button required to get into your bios (usually the 'DEL' key on your keyboard).

Once in the bios, try and find the 'boot priorities' or similar. You may need to consult your motherboard manual at this point, but the goal will be to set the system to boot from your optical drive before any of your hard drives. Once this has successfully been set, save and exit from the bios and place your operating system CD into your optical drive.

Some early troubleshooting:

On most cases there's a HDD activity LED. It will flash when your HDD is 'thinking'. It's pretty beneficial to have. This LED connector is usually with all the other LED and switch connectors, but check your manual just in case. If it isn't working, try flipping the connector around.

Likewise, if you're finding that your floppy drive isn't working, then you might want to flip the floppy cable (at the floppy drive end) around. A good indicator of this is when you turn your computer on and the floppy drive light stays on. It should 'flash' a few times when the computer starts, not stay on permanently.

OS Installation

Upon reboot you should be greeted with a message like 'press a button to boot from CD'. At this point, press the button and continue with the installation of your operating system.

For windows, if you are installing to a SATA/SCSI drive you will have to press F6 when prompted and place a floppy disk containing your SATA drivers into the floppy drive when prompted. Select the driver from the list that corresponds to the operating system you are installing.

From here, follow the standard process for installing the operating system.

Credits for those who have contributed to this:

  1. McbLt
  3. Moooo
  4. KrAzEe (big thanks for the awesome pictures)
  5. Catweazle
  6. My Brain Hurts
  7. killer65210 (For transferring this from my posts on the forum to the wiki. Top work mate!)

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