Building a computer for the first time is not without its pitfalls and gotchas. This article addresses the common mistakes made during the planning, building and post building phase of a computer build.
First and foremost a good plan of action can cut down your build time and frustrations. Setup a workspace that is spacey and comfortable to build a PC with enough room leftover to place your tools. Don’t build in a congested area or on the carpet of your home, remember that PC components are sensitive to static electricity.
Gather all the required tools for building your computer, including an anti-static wrist strap, anti-static mat, screw drivers, cable ties, scissors and pliers. It may seem like a Phillips screwdriver is all you need, but preventing electrostatic discharge (ESD) and good cable management are recommended practices for any build.
Before touching any PC component please ground yourself using an anti-static wrist strap. Attach the wrist strap to one of your wrists and attach the alligator clip end to any secure metal part inside the chassis. Another safe practice is placing PC components in anti-static bags if they’re out of their original packaging.
Before assembling the components, inspect the case and see where all the components would be placed. Some standard ATX cases can be straightforward, with enough size and space for all your components to fit comfortably. Other, smaller, cases for mATX or mini-ITX motherboards are compact and may need extra planning and foresight before building.
In general, install your CPU and heatsink before placing the motherboard inside the chassis. This way, if you’re installing an aftermarket cooler, the backplate installation will not be a hassle. Also, in consideration is making sure you use the correct backplate for your motherboard socket type, i.e. an Intel 1156 bracket for an Intel 1156 socket.
When applying thermal paste to the CPU heat spreader, make sure to apply a thin even layer of thermal paste. A thin layer makes for good thermal contact between the CPU and heatsink. Thermal paste that is too thick will cause poor thermal conductivity.
Before fastening the motherboard into the case, ensure the standoffs are of the same height and threading. The motherboard screws also need to have the same thread type as the standoffs to prevent locked or stripped threads. The same concept applies to matching screws for your hard drive, optical drive and power supply unit (PSU). The coarser 6-32 screws are meant for hard drives and the PSU, while the finer M3 screws are for optical drives. For more information on screws, see the PMP Tech article entitled “Computer Case Screws”.
Seating RAM properly is a simple procedure, but one that needs more attention than at first thought. When installing the DIMM module into the DIMM slot, use even pressure on both sides, so that the module “clicks” in. In addition, to seating RAM, consult your motherboard manual for the list of compatible RAM kits to prevent performance irregularities.
The PSU needs to be mounted in a way for the heat generated internally to exhaust out. Check your case if there is a PSU vent, if not place the PSU with the fan side blowing air towards a rear exhaust fan.
After installing all the components, it’s time to route and organize the spare PSU cables to maximize air flow to your PC components without any impedance. Cable ties and patience are a wining combination to successful cable management. Consult the PMP Tech article “Case Fans 101″ for more information on air flow and case fans for maximum PC cooling.
After assembly, don’t close the side panel just yet. Boot up the PC and check if you PC POSTs and that all components such as case fans, video cards, LED lights, etc. are working correctly.
When everything is properly booted up go into the BIOS by pressing the setup key (usually DEL) and make sure to enable all the settings you want for example the correct boot order and enabling the USB mouse and keyboard. Also, check if all your hard drives are detected and if the BIOS sees all the RAM.
The mistakes mentioned in this article are the common ones that apply to any computer build. Experience and some planning are the keys to avoiding these mistakes and will make future PC builds much more enjoyable.