Share this Build Guide
At this point, it’s time to start the build and assembly process. We recommend assembling the system barebones first, and doing so outside of the case. This allows for easier troubleshooting in the event of component failure or a dead-on-arrival part; it’s not common for PC hardware to arrive dysfunctional, but can happen as part of usual shipping or manufacturing issues.
In this part of the guide, we’ll walk through the process of preparing a system outside of the case. Once all assembled, the system will undergo its first boot attempt and will validate if the core components are functional.
How to familiarize yourself with the motherboard
This is a motherboard. Although different in layout product-to-product, they all mostly feature the same components, and normally in the same places.
We’ve identified the components in the above photo with the following numbers:
- CPU Socket – the installation point for the CPU, along with flanking mount points for coolers.
- Memory Slots – RAM sticks mount here.
- PCI Express (“PCI-e”) Slots – where video cards or other expansion cards are installed.
- Chipset or Platform Controller Hub (PCH) – responsible for almost all I/O in the system.
- SATA, U.2, & Storage Ports – for storage devices.
- M.2 Key – for SSDs and wireless cards.
- Rear I/O – faces outward from the case and includes USB, Ethernet, and other ports.
- Front Panel Connectors – case power (PWR_SW), reset (RESET), and LEDs (PWR_LED, HDD_LED) will connect here. A PC speaker is optional and sometimes provided with cases or boards, and can be connected for troubleshooting with POST codes.
Near the front panel connectors, there are also USB2.0 and USB3.0 connectors. USB2.0 connectors are identifiable by their rectangular housing and 10-pin array, with one missing pin. USB3.0 connectors are 20-pin arrays, also with one missing pin. These are located near the 24-pin and 8-pin power headers.
Take a look over your motherboard and locate some of these items.
Let’s start with the RAM slots. DDR3 uses fewer pins than the more modern DDR4, but both are still in active use. Intel’s Skylake also supports DDR3L (low-voltage DDR3 memory), so not all 100-series chipset boards are outfitted with DDR4.
Near the memory slots should be located a key for installation order. If not, it’ll be in the manual. With most motherboards, RAM is split into groups of two for channeling and speed purposes. If only filling half the available memory slots on the board, it’s (semi-) important to use the preferred, first-two slots. A good deal of motherboards will use a bracket to indicate two slots – e.g. DDR4_2, DDR4_4 – as “FIRST.” We’ll talk about this more in the memory installation section – but become familiar with this particular region of the board.
It’d also be worth becoming familiar with the front panel pin-out on the motherboard. Connecting these cables is difficult once the board’s in the case and it’s hard to see, so we’d suggest getting an idea of where the connectors go. Be sure to take geographical note of the PWR_SW and other connection points.
Ground yourself before continuing. The short of it is to break-out that anti-static wrist strap and connect it to a known ground. Although significantly less desirable, touching a grounded metal object serves as an alternative in tight situations.
For now, orient the motherboard toward the edge of a table that’s been cleared of static electricity. You can use the anti-static foam that shipped with the motherboard to help protect the board. The board should be positioned such that the rear IO (all the USB and Ethernet ports) are along the table’s edge. This positioning is so that we may install the video card later, as its expansion shield will hang over the edge of the table. – GamersNexus
Installing the CPU is one of the more delicate processes of PC building – especially if working with a non-LGA socket, where pins exist on the CPU itself. Following some simple guidelines and visual landmarks, it’s easy to ensure a CPU is installed and clamped-down correctly.
We like installing the CPU outside of the case, as it (1) allows us to perform pre-install component check, and (2) it’s easier.
How to prepare for a CPU installation
- Unlatch the CPU socket clamp on the motherboard. For X99 motherboards, this is a two-lever system (follow instructions with manual if confused). For most other boards, a single latch will clamp-down the mounting bracket.
- Intel non-X series motherboards will use a single lever and will cover the socket with a plastic shroud. This is to protect the pins from damage and serves a critical role. Do not touch the pins or interact with them more than necessary; they are exceedingly fragile and made of soft metals (gold).
- Remove the plastic shroud and save it with your motherboard box. The plastic shroud will be required by the motherboard manufacturer in the instance of an RMA or return.
- Open your CPU and separate the heatsink from the CPU itself. If AMD, your CPU will host its pins on the substrate (the green foundation). If Intel, it will host contacts on the substrate, but not pins. To this end, be exceedingly careful with AMD CPUs and with Intel motherboards, as anything with pins is fragile.
How to install an Intel CPU
- Intel’s CPUs have two notches that align with ‘bumps’ in the socket’s plastic. Locate these two notches.
- Align the notches in the CPU with the bumps in the socket. The arrow, located in the bottom left of the CPU, should align with the bottom left of the socket.
- Drop the CPU into the socket lightly, once aligned. There should be no force required. If force is required to socket the CPU, stop immediately and determine what is causing the hang-up. It is likely the case that the CPU is not aligned properly. Just make sure no undue force is applied as it may bend or break pins.
- Once installed, re-secure the latch to lock the CPU into place. It will require some force, but not much – stop if there’s a high force requirement.
The above image shows an installed Intel CPU. The latch, right side, is locked into place to secure the CPU. The CPU lid is exposed and ready to meet the CPU cooler, which we’ll get to momentarily.
How to install an AMD CPU
- Non-LGA AMD motherboards – which is all of them, at time of writing – will not be covered with a plastic shroud as the Intel boards are.
- Locate the metal lever for the AMD socket. Release the lever into an upright position.
- Match the arrow on the AMD CPU with the socket. If this proves confusing or leaves you uncertain, you can flip the CPU over and look at its missing pin locations, then match those with the filled pins in the socket.
- Mount the CPU – same as with Intel – by dropping it lightly into the slot. Close the latch after word.
How to install a CPU Cooler
If you’re running an aftermarket cooler – something that didn’t ship with your CPU, like an NZXT Kraken liquid cooler – then follow the instructions provided with that product.
The stock Intel cooler is pretty simple and requires no backplate. Socket the four pegs into the slots flanking the socket, then depress the tab and twist so that the anchor locks into the motherboard. There should be a slight “pop.”
Regardless of stock or aftermarket cooler usage, make sure that you’ve connected the pump and/or fan headers to their appropriate hubs on the board. There is a CPU_FAN header on every motherboard. The CPU fan goes there; do not use a SYS_FAN header, as the CPU fan is controlled by special logic in UEFI to account for thermals and load. – GamersNexus
Installing RAM is exceedingly trivial. Memory installation is best done outside of the case. Take inventory of your CPU cooler and read its instructions prior to proceeding with this step; sometimes, it proves easier to install the CPU cooler first, but not always. Order of installation for the CPU cooler and RAM most heavily hinges upon the size of the cooler.
How to Install RAM
- Locate the DIMM slots on the motherboard. On boards with four slots for RAM, these are (more or less) always to the right of the CPU when oriented with the CPU toward the top of the motherboard.
- If not saturating all available slots for memory (filling only one or two slots in a traditional board, or only 2-4 in an X-series board), check the manual to determine which slots are optimal for the configuration you are using. Dual-channel configurations (aside: there is no such thing as “dual-channel memory” – only platforms and configurations) will want to use specific slots. These are often marked on the board as “FIRST” or “USE_FIRST.”
- Locate the push pin on the left and right of the slot. Apply pressure to unlock it from the locked position.
- Locate the notch centered on the stick of RAM. Align this notch with the nock (like an arrow) in the slot.
- Drop the RAM into the slot, double-check that it is aligned, then use both thumbs to apply downward pressure on the corners of the memory module. You should hear a gentle ‘snap’ as the locks pop into place. If they lock most the way but not completely, double-check that everything looks agreeable, then finalize the lock/socketing manually.
The picture above shows you how RAM should be installed on the motherboard. It’s pretty hard to screw-up memory installation, but it’s possible. As with all computer components, follow the rule of “monkey tight, not gorilla tight;” if something is taking too much force to lock into place, stop, inspect, and figure out why. It could be as simple as the pins not lining up with the nock in the socket.
Once the RAM is installed, mount the CPU cooler fan (if dismounted previously) and finalize CPU cooler installation.
The RAM can remain installed for the rest of the build process. Unless it is obstructing the CPU cooler at some point, RAM does not need to be removed once the system is transplanted into the case. RAM does not require a dedicated power header from the PSU; it will draw its power from the 24-pin motherboard connector. We will socket this later. – GamersNexus