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Angelo Abalos

Want a Better PC?

What Do You Need?
Motherboard
Every other component plugs into this circuit board. It’s the highway they use to communicate and collaborate. They come in different sizes and configurations, and each one looks a little different, but they all fill the same function.
Processor
This is the brain of your computer. It sockets directly into the motherboard, and it’s the single most important component of your PC. But that doesn’t mean it has to be the most expensive. We’ll get to that later. If the CPU doesn't mention including thermal paste, make sure to get some too.

Graphics Card
If you’re planning on playing games on this PC, you’ll need a graphics processing unit, or GPU (also called a graphics card). This is a specialized processor that’s designed and optimized for handling primarily visual data like the graphics in games. It's also used in video and photo editing, and other graphics-intensive tasks.

Storage
This is your PC’s walk-in closet. This is where you store all your files, your games, your movies, your documents, your photos, your everything. You can always add more storage later if you need it.

Memory
You’ll see a lot of the same terms when you’re looking at memory and storage, but they’re very different. Memory is more like that one table you toss things on to deal with later. It’s scratch paper; it’s short-term. It’s very important, though, because the software uses memory to cache (temporarily store) data in a place it can be retrieved very quickly.

Power Supply
Your power supply is a little box that keeps the electricity running to each and every component. It determines how quick and powerful your PC can be. The faster it is, the more power it needs, and you always want to have a little more than you need, just in case.

Case
Your case is just what it sounds like. It’s a metal box. It might be covered in glass panels and etched aluminum, but inside it’s just a big metal box that holds everything together.

Operating System
One thing to remember is that when you build a PC, you don't automatically have Windows included. You'll have to buy a license from Microsoft or another vendor and make a USB key to install it.

Putting It All Together
We’re not going too far into the weeds here, because the internals of every PC is a little different, but in general, here’s how you should go about putting all these components together.

First, prep yourself a clean workspace. This can be a dining room table, a cleared off the desk—just any surface big enough for your case to lay flat on its side, with ample room around it for the rest of your components. You’ll also need a Phillips-head screwdriver that will fit the screws on your case. When you put these parts together, be sure to discharge any static buildup, and work on a nonmetallic surface like a wood table. Or you could just assemble the motherboard on top of the cardboard box it comes in.

Installing Your CPU
Depending on what kind of CPU you purchased (Intel or AMD), the chip will have either little prongs on one side (don’t touch them) or little golden contacts on one side (don’t touch them). Seriously, don’t touch that side of your chip. Oils from your fingertips can damage the contacts, or you might bend a pin. Do either one and your processor becomes nothing more than an expensive hunk of silicon.

Seating your processor is pretty easy. First, double-check your motherboard’s instructions and make sure you’ve unlocked the processor socket. It’ll be a big square with a bunch of little holes (or contacts), with a lever or button beside it. Your motherboard’s instructions will say explicitly how to unlock the socket so you can put your processor in without any issues.

Once you’ve confirmed that it’s unlocked and ready, just find which corner of your processor has a little golden triangle and line it up with the same symbol on your motherboard’s processor socket. Gently lower the processor into the socket, then gently flip the latch or locking mechanism. You shouldn’t have to fight it. If you have to press really hard, double-check that the processor is socketed correctly.

Next, you’re going to need your thermal paste. That little tiny plastic syringe of silvery goo is very important for this next step. Now that your processor is seated, take a look at the shiny square of silicon in the center of it. That’s where your heat sink is going to sit. Your processor came with a heat sink, and on one side of it, you’ll see a copper circle. You’re going to be putting the heat sink directly on top of the processor after we apply the thermal paste, with the silicone square and the copper circle lining up perfectly.

Go ahead and carefully squeeze a tiny ball (no bigger than a pea) of thermal paste onto the silicon square on your processor. You’ll want it as close to the center as you can get.

Now line up your heat sink with the screws surrounding your processor, and gently lower it into place. You’re gonna squish the thermal paste, and the goal here is to create a thin layer covering the back of your processor. It’s OK if it oozes a little bit, but if it oozes out and over the edge of the processor, you used too much. Get some isopropyl alcohol, dab it on a lint-free wipe, and wipe the processor and heat sink. Wait till they’re thoroughly dry and try again.

If it looks all right, screw your heat sink into place. Flip back to your motherboard instruction book and find the right place near the processor socket to plug in your heat sink’s cooling fan. It should be very close to your processor socket. Once you’ve found it, plug it in and congratulations, you just installed a CPU. This was the hardest part and it’s over buddy, good job.

Installing Your Motherboard and Power Supply
The rest of this is formulaic. Let’s start by putting your motherboard into your case. Consult your motherboard’s instructions, line up the screw holes in the case with the ones on your motherboard, and get to work.

Next, you’ll want to install your power supply. There should be a spot for it near the top or bottom of the case, a big square spot that will fit your supply perfectly. If you’re having trouble finding it, look at the back of your case: There’ll be a big empty square. That’s where the power supply goes (and where you’ll plug in your PC when you’re all done). Once you've found its home, slot it in and screw it into place.

Make sure all the snakey cables coming out of the power supply will reach your motherboard with room to spare. Don’t plug anything in yet, we’re going to come back to the power supply in a bit.

Installing Your Graphics Card
Your GPU is going to be pretty big. Even a modestly powerful GPU like the GTX 1060 is large compared to your other components. That means how it fits into your case is important. Once you put your GPU in there, space is going to start getting tight.

Flip open your motherboard’s instruction book again and look for a PCIe slot. It’s going to be a horizontal slot with a little plastic latch beside it, near the middle or bottom of your motherboard. That’s where the GPU plugs in. All you need to do is identify the back of your GPU (the side with the HDMI and DisplayPorts), line that up with the back of your case, and push the GPU into the horizontal slot. It should lock into place easily enough, and if it doesn’t, make sure you’re inserting it correctly.

Find another one of those tiny little screws and fasten your GPU to the case. There’s a little spot for that on the same piece of metal with the HDMI ports. It should be easy to find.

Now, take a look at the cables coming out of your power supply. There should be a few that look like they could fit into the square (or rectangular) socket on the side of your GPU. It should look like six or eight little holes in a rectangle shape. If you’re having trouble, take a look at this video from hardware manufacturer Asus. Some of the specifics will be different, but it’s a great look at how to install a GPU.

Installing Your Storage and Memory
Memory is maybe the easiest thing to install. See those vertical little sockets beside the CPU? Line up your sticks of RAM and slot them in, starting from the left-hand slot. They’ll lock into place once you’ve seated them properly. If you have two sticks of RAM, make sure to skip a slot between them. Your motherboard manual should say which slots to use.

For your hard drive or solid-state drive, find an empty bay in the front-facing part of your case. Slide your drive in and screw it into place like we did with the power supply.

If you have an M.2 drive (a tiny SSD about the size of a stick of gum), there should be a place on the motherboard where you slot it indirectly. Check out your motherboard’s manual to see where the M.2 slot is.

Ribbon Cables
The motherboard needs to be hooked into all your devices. The power supply unit I used in this build is what's called fully modular, which means that you can select the cables you need and leave the rest off to eliminate clutter. Otherwise, power supplies have a ton of cables, and you'll have to deal with the unused power connections dangling inside your case. You'll need to connect the PSU to the SSD and the motherboard.

You also need to plug the motherboard into your case—the power buttons, audio plugs, and USB ports on the front of your case. There are special headers for each kind of plug scattered around the board, so you'll want to check your manual for the location and function of each grouping of pins. These tiny pins need to be plugged in a certain way, and they're unbelievably minuscule. There's also a hookup for the case's fan—in this case, I used, there was one header on the motherboard but three fans installed. Then there's the SATA cable for your SSD, which plugs into the motherboard.

This part really depends on the hardware you purchased, so consult the manuals for each component to ensure you've plugged it into your motherboard and the power supply correctly.

Boot It Up and Install Windows
The final stage of your build is a simple one: Hit your power button. If the PC whirs to life, you probably put it together perfectly! If it doesn't though, don't despair. There are a lot of potential problems that could cause a PC to fail to boot up for the first time. This video from Kingston goes over some pitfalls that might cause you some headaches, so if you're not able to boot your PC, give it a watch and retrace your steps. There's also a chance you could have received faulty components. This video goes over some tips on how to can check your parts.

If it started up just fine though, the next step is super easy: Turn it off. Remember that Windows flash drive you made earlier? Plug it into the PC and boot it up again. If you set it up right, it should just do its thing and get started. You might need to open your BIOS (check your motherboard's manual for how to do that) and set the USB drive to be a "boot device" first, though. Here's a brief rundown of that process, starting at Step 3.

You Did It!
Congratulations on building your first PC. It's a bit of a pain, but it's a great way to spend an afternoon. Or a couple of days, depending on how many unforeseen headaches you run into. And now that we're all stuck inside, you can use your PC to help you spend all those hours productively (or just grinding out loot in Warframe).


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