How to Build a Powerful Data-Crunching Computer, Part 2: Putting Together the Pieces

If you haven’t already seen it, check out my post on how to choose computer parts. Now I’m going to show you how to put the pieces together! I recommend watching newegg’s tutorial video if you want a bit more guidance and/or would like to see a video in addition to my photos. (Note: these instructions are for an Intel CPU build)

The first thing to do is take everything out of the boxes they shipped in and organize all of the parts.

All of my computer parts

All of my computer parts

Once you’re done admiring all of your components, clear off a workspace to start your build. Also, read the manuals for all of your components, especially the motherboard, because every one has slightly different instructions.

1. Installing the CPU on the motherboard

Take your motherboard out of the box and place it on a non-conductive surface. THIS IS IMPORTANT!! Static electricity can destroy your motherboard so be careful. I put mine on top of the box it came in (but not on top of the protective covering it shipped in).

My motherboard

Next, open up the cover for the CPU location by squeezing the levers and hinging open the cover.

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Then line up the arrow in the corner of the CPU with the arrow in the corner of the CPU slot and gently place the CPU, holding it by the edges, onto the CPU slot.

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Close the cover and gently close the latches. The plastic cover will pop off when this happens (though ‘pop’ is not always the best term–on mine I had to nudge and pick up the plastic piece, but it came off with minimal force).

2. Install the memory

Next, consult your motherboards instructions for where to install the memory. My motherboard has 8 memory slots, but I only had four memory units to install. If you don’t install them in the proper configuration, the computer may not recognize your memory (which would be problematic!). To install the memory, open up the little latch on either end (they may only be on one side) and line up the memory. The memory has two sections on it and one of them is longer than the other. Line up the short section on the memory piece and the short section on the memory slot. Then apply some pressure and push the memory into place. You’ll know they’re in properly when the latch snaps closed again.

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At this point my build differs from the traditionally suggested steps!

Most instructions, especially those for beginner builders, suggest doing an out-of-the-case build to test the parts. That’s because sometimes the pieces are defective and it’s easier to find that out before you’ve installed the motherboard into the case. However, because I didn’t have any thermal paste remover or isopropanol on hand, I didn’t want to install my CPU fan twice. So I skipped the out-of-the-case build and installed the motherboard into the case.

3. Install the motherboard in the case

The first step is to remove the side panels. Set them aside somewhere safe, and lay the case on its side, so that the main body of the computer is facing you. Then pop the motherboard backplate in the case at the back. This just pops in and takes a bit of pressure.

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Then gently slide in the motherboard, lining up the external ports with the backplate. The motherboard will sort of click into place and the motherboard’s screw holes will line up with the  holes in the case.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Then secure the motherboard in place with the nine screws. So as not to place excessive pressure on any one side of the motherboard, I started with the center one and then did the corners in a diagonal pattern, then finished off the remaining screws.

4. Install the CPU cooler

Every CPU cooler is different so follow the instructions! I had to remove the fans on the sides of the cooler itself, then install the special screws to lift the cooler above the CPU and then install the brackets. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Before installing the main CPU unit, apply a pea-sized blob of thermal paste in the center of the CPU. My CPU cooler came with thermal paste, which is what I used, but you can also buy fancy thermal paste separately. Some people spread the thermal paste all over the CPU, but the paste will spread when you place the CPU cooler on top, especially once the CPU heats up, so it’s not necessary to spread it out.

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Place the CPU cooler on top of the brackets and screw it into place. Then I placed the fans back onto the cooling unit. It is important to keep in mind air flow! I made sure both fans were positioned to blow the air out of the case through the back, using the arrows on the fans to determine which direction the air is flowing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPlug the fans into the motherboard in the appropriate CPU fan plugins (and feel free to plug in any built-in case fans at this point too!)

5. Install the Graphics Card

The graphics card is best placed in the PCI slot closest to the CPU. To do so, remove the plates on the back of the case that align with the PCI slot. Then open the latch on the PCI slot and slide the graphics card into place, pushing gently to secure it in place. Then secure the graphics card in place with the screws that were removed with the back plates.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

6. Install the power supply unit (PSU)

The PSU fits in at the bottom of the case below the motherboard. There is one fan on the PSU an dyou can face it up, towards the inside of the case, or down, towards the outside. It doesn’t make a huge difference, and what may be more important is lining up the screw holes on the PSU with the screw holes on the case. I installed my PSU with the fan facing up, towards the inside of the case, because it was best aligned that way, and because my computer will be positioned on the floor on top of carpet so it wouldn’t pull in much air from the bottom anyway.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Once you’ve screwed in the PSU, start connecting the PSU to the motherboard and graphics card. My PSU came with a bunch of labeled cables, which fit exactly into the PSU in labeled slots. The motherboard’s instruction manual will help you find where to plug in the power cables. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

7. Plug in the case components

The case has power and LED connectors that must be plugged into the motherboard for the front panel power button and USB plugs to work, and this is a good time to plug them in.

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The piece labeled 1394 is a firewire connector, which my motherboard doesn’t support, so I tucked it in the back where it would be out of the way.

8. Check the build!

This is a perfect time to test the build, if you hadn’t already tested it out of the case. Plug in the PSU and if you so choose plug in your monitor. Then turn on the computer by pushing the power button on the case (since you’ve connected the case’s power button to the motherboard already!). The motherboard has an LED display to show error messages, so you don’t necessarily need the monitor. If you do use the monitor, the BIOS screen will pop up. Check to make sure the computer recognizes your CPU and memory, and that there are no error messages. If there are no warnings or errors, well done! It worked!

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9. Install PCI Express components, such as the WiFi card

Similarly to how you installed the graphics card, remove the back place that lines up with the appropriate PCI express slot, and gently place the WiFi card into the slot. Secure it in place with a screw.

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10. Install the hard drives

The hard drives fit snugly and precisely into the hard drive slots. Then plug the SATA power cables into the PSU and the hard drives, and plug SATA cables into the hard drives and into the motherboard. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

11. Install the optical drive, if applicable

The optical drive (a.k.a. DVD/CD drive) pops cleanly into one of the drive slots. The front cover piece on my case had a pinching mechanism to remove it, and then the optical drive slid easily into the slot. Then connect it to the PSU with a SATA power cable and to the motherboard with a SATA cable. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

12. Cable management

Finally, before replacing the side panels on the case, organize the cables so that they take up the least amount of space possible inside the case and in the small amount of space in the back (behind the panel holding the motherboard. There is no ‘right’ way to do this, but you want as much air flow as possible inside the case, so as many cables as possible should be secured in the back. They can be held together and organized with zip ties, twist ties, and/or velcro ties. I used whatever I had on hand. Then replace the side panels on the case and hook up the monitor, keyboard, and mouse. Turn on the computer and check out the BIOS. Verify again that everything looks OK, and if it does, then you’re done! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I stored all of my extra parts, pieces, and manuals–plus the UPC codes from the boxes–in the motherboard box. Also keep track of the CDs that came with your components–you’ll need them in Part 3 to install all of the drivers you’ll need for your computer.

Next up is installing an operating system and setting up the computer. I’ll post a tutorial about installing Windows 7 and setting up the computer in a week or so, so keep an eye out for Part 3!

 

 

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