Author: Steve Burke, GamersNexus
Building a PC is easy – yes – but there are enough components and enough small tricks that it’d be easy to overlook a minor, critical aspect of assembly.
The most common mistakes pertain to anti-static procedures and grounding, though we’ll also talk about overkill on PSU selection, needlessly high-end chipset or CPU selection, “cheaping out” on some components, and incorrect installation of components within the case.
WHAT ARE THE COMMON MISTAKES WHEN BUILDING A PC?
COMMON MISTAKE #1 – NOT FOLLOWING ANTI-STATIC PROCEDURES WHEN BUILDING A PC
When we talk about “grounding”, we’re referring to the process of discharging static electricity (from the builder) into a safe ground – which sinks the charge and pulls it away from the user. This prevents electrostatic build-up and discharge into components, which will damage computer hardware (and there is such a thing as “latent ESD” – not all damage is immediately visible).
It’s advisable to take some sort of grounding safety precautions. A simple anti-static wrist strap is a good first step, and they’re cheap – a few bucks – but you’ve also got to use it properly. A lot of folks like to simply clip the anti-static strap to the case, but that doesn’t guarantee much of anything. For starters, most cases are painted, and paint is not as conductive as a proper ground via direct metal or copper contact. It’s also sort of “floating” without a real route to take the charge, and if you’re building on carpet, the case is sitting atop insulators.
The best method for grounding oneself without over-spending on lab-grade equipment would be to buy a banana plug receptacle that connects to the third prong in a wall outlet. The third prong (the circular, fat one) is a grounding pin, and delivers no electrical charge in US outlets. Connecting the anti-static wrist strap to this (remove the alligator clip to reveal a banana plug) will provide a known, direct path-to-ground that ensures no static discharge into components.
My team (in the GamersNexus labs) has its own solution – we build our own grounding cables and clip the anti-static bracelets to the exposed copper grounding wire. This approach is effectively free – everyone’s got a spare power cable to mutilate – but it does require carefully following instructions (bend those hot pins and DO NOT connect to an outlet, for one, and clip the hot wires, for two) and five minutes of work.
A mid-step to proper grounding would be to connect to the PSU grill, toggle the PSU switch to ‘off,’ and then connect the power from the PSU to the wall.
Many users just assume the anti-static bracelet will inherently dissipate static charge by merely connecting it to any vaguely metal surface. That’s not the case.
COMMON MISTAKE #2 – GOING OVERKILL ON THE PSU WHEN BUILDING A PC
Very few PCs require more than 600W of efficient power, and yet it’s so common to buy more than necessary. PSU selection is an entire, massive article on its own – but we’ll recap the common mistakes here.
Modern PC power supplies do not draw more power from the wall than is necessary to run the system (after factoring-in loss through inefficiencies – mostly converting AC to DC). To this end, buying a 1000W PSU for a 300W-draw system might not seem ‘bad’ at its core – the PSU just won’t pull the power it doesn’t use, right?
Well, yes – but there are efficiency metrics that matter, too.
Other than the fact that going heavy on wattage is sort of a waste of money, it’s also less efficient. Power supplies (general rule, here) are often most efficient when loaded approximately 50-60% of their total power output. This is where 80 Plus numbers are validated. There’s also a lot more to PSU selection than wattage; if you’re allocating budget toward more watts, but not buying something properly high-end, it’s possible that the PSU lacks more important features – like over/under-voltage and current protections, cooling, modularity, and validation.
TDP has increasingly been dropped with generations, and the new, smaller process nodes will continue that trend. Wattage is not in as much demand as, say, when the GTX 400 and HD 7000 series cards were on the market. Don’t overbuy on wattage, and don’t fall into the trap of “I’m just giving room for future upgrades.” If you’re legitimately upgrading in the future, only GPU or major CPU changes will draw a significant amount more power.
COMMON MISTAKE #3 – BUILDING A PC WITH NEEDLESSLY HIGH-END OR MISMATCHED COMPONENTS
Somewhat related to the previous “common mistake,” another one is mismatched component selection. It’s easy, again, to “want the best” and over-spend on components which will never be properly utilized in the build they’re thrown into.
The easiest example is with K-SKU CPUs (from both AMD and Intel). K-SKU CPUs are designated as overclocking chips for both AMD and Intel. The i5-6600K and AMD Athlon X4 880K are both meant to be overclocked, if deployed in their ideal environments. The “K” signifies an unlocked multiplier, used for increasing the frequency output (BCLK * multiplier = operating frequency). If overclocking is of absolutely no interest, there’s not much reason to buy a K-SKU chip.
COMMON MISTAKES WHEN BUILDING A PC ARE ALWAYS CHANGING
The advancement of PC hardware moves at an accelerated rate. For example: we’re currently in a switch-over period between DDR3 and DDR4 RAM. Z97 / Haswell builds and AMD builds (as of this writing) are on DDR3 and will not change, with Skylake and HW-E/BW-E builds now on DDR4. This means you should check hardware compatibility with every component before making a purchase and ultimately building a PC.