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. – Steve Burke, GamersNexus