Building your first PC: Do’s, don’ts, and did nots

By | December 3, 2015

Around this time last year, I decided to upgrade my PC. It had been 5 years since I got my first desktop for school, and I found that a lot of my parts were becoming outdated and did not interface with newer parts I wanted for upgrades. So I decided to build my desktop myself. I quickly found that /r/buildapc contained a wealth of information, and began consuming as much of it as I could during winter break. I wanted to have everything in order and assembled before the spring semester began. I got most of my components from one retailer, for a decent price (I spent too much time waiting for the perfect deal), shipped within the promised time frame. The build went off without a hitch and I remembered to take pictures along the way for posterity. I did have a few complications that weren’t explicitly described in the guides I read, so I made note of them here for anyone else who does a similar build. It was a lot of fun, and even motivated me to detail clean my apartment so I could have a neat and organized space to assemble everything. The experience was actually sort of therapeutic. It was such a different experience than what I had in mind, I felt compelled to make a short post to counter the common misconceptions floating around about PC building. So here is my first time build log. Combined with the article I wrote last week, this log should contain a decent amount of PC building information, as well as the mistakes I inevitably made, and the things I did not do but wish I had.

The Team:

The Team

Pictured later: memory, graphics card, SSD

  • Intel i5-4690k – Initially I was set on an AMD processor for a lower budget build. However, after much deliberation (and perhaps with the help of /r/buildapc’s Intel bias), I ended up going with the bread and butter i5-4690k. The CPU sits nicely in the $175-$250 price range, depending on market conditions, and delivers more than enough performance for even the heartiest of PC tasks. Notice how the name is appended by a ‘k’ – this means the CPU can be overclocked.
  • MSI Gaming 5 Motherboard – This is something that is a bit flashier than what I normally like, but it was bundled with the CPU for a discounted price. It is a nice motherboard for overclocking and has M.2 compatibility. It has 4 USB 3.0 ports and 6 SATA ports. I don’t stream or livecast, but it also comes packaged with a free XSplit trial.
  • Corsair HX 750 Gold Rated PSU – I probably could have gotten away with a 750 watt EVGA power supply unit for half the price, but there were a few bad reviews that ultimately pushed me away from it.
  • Kingston Fury HyperX 8 GB RAM – This also came with the bundle, and is still decent memory. Unlike some other brands, these memory sticks are also aesthetically pleasing.
  • MSI Radeon 7870 HD Hawk – My trusty old GPU. I’ll be riding this one out for at least another year. This was a really good investment, in hindsight.
  • Corsair 450d Obsidian Case – I was really torn about which case to get, there are so  many nice cases, each with there own pros and cons. This one caught my attention because of the spacious room to work in for a first build, but was also nondescript enough to avoid being an “unsightly monstrosity” that some cases end up being. The design is sharp and conveys a sense of quality albeit there were a few scuffs. I was pleasantly surprised by the quick access filters – you can snap them off and blow out the dust in just a few seconds.
  • Samsung 850 Evo 120 GB SSD – Bought this at a big price drop. It’s big enough to install Windows and games onto.
  • Hitachi Deskstar 500 GB HDD – Was on sale with free shipping, a good alternative and on par with Western Digital. This holds my bulky media files and virtual machine files.

The Process:

What I needed

First, I gathered up my tools. I printed a ruler and made a 12 inch strip of string, as these helped measure the distance between two connections when the path wasn’t straight. That made cable management a bit easier. The room was already well lit, but the flashlight provided necessary additional lumens. A good screwdriver with a magnetic tip goes a long way, but sometimes a penny just does the job better in close quarters.

Next thing to take care of is getting that precious bundle of computing power (CPU) safely into the motherboard’s socket. I’ll admit, this step was slightly intimidating. I was a little sleep deprived, and running low on coffee. I had a few “Go-arounds” where I would pull back from dropping the CPU into the socket because my hand was shaking. A bent pin is not something that can be easily fixed and I didn’t want to go through the RMA process after waiting for so long.

Next I installed the stock CPU cooler. I did not get an aftermarket cooler, but if I were planning on upgrading in the future, I would just get one from the start to save myself the hassle of installing the part twice. Following this I mounted the motherboard to the case. One of the screws either stripped the threads on the case’s standoffs or just didn’t align right, so I left it out. These were the hardest steps, the rest was a breeze.

Trapped Wire

I did not think before I installed the cooler.

You might have wondered about the nail clippers in my tools – the stock Intel cooler came really close to some of the outcroppings on the motherboard, I used the clippers to trim off a plastic hook that was trapping the cooler’s wire. I preferred doing that to taking off the cooler, cleaning off the thermal paste, reapplying the thermal paste, etc. I should have installed it rotated 90 degrees clockwise, but I was too focused on lining up the four legs of the cooler. Sometimes you have to improvise.

As I recall, there is a method to this step. Apply a pea sized dot  of thermal paste (I used Arctic Silver 5) in the center of the CPU, align the cooler & set it down, then snap in the legs of the cooler in an ‘X’ pattern. E.g., top right –> bottom left –> top left –> bottom right. You can see the memory slots also get very close to the socket, something worth noting if you are planning on buying a larger cooler.

Everything Together:

I had a brief scare, when it wouldn’t post because I tried booting with the GPU before figuring out my driver situation. Basically, the motherboard detected the GPU was in and disabled the integrated graphics, leaving me with no graphics processing at all, as well as a blank screen. Thankfully I learned from others to ensure everything works before nailing it all together and putting it under the desk. I simply powered off, removed the graphics card, plugged the power back in, and got that lovely red MSI screen. Note: you can boot with the GPU you in, just make sure you connect the DVI/VGA cable to the motherboard and not the GPU (until after you get the Nvidia/AMD drivers installed). I like that the Corsair case has room behind the back plate for cable management (and SSDs), leaving everything in the front by the window looking tidy. The one really, really close fit was the CPU power connector, all the way around the back, to finally come over the top left of the motherboard (facing it) and plug in. I had to remove one of the SSD trays to get that to work.

Some of the wires have braces at the ends which make cable management a little harder, especially if you’re using a hard disk drive as well as an SSD like I am. I managed to make it work and be organized well enough. I have a new found appreciation for twist ties, they’re incredibly useful for making cables conform to the path that you want. The semi-modular PSU was crucial to maintain cable sanity, and ended up saving me a lot of room inside the case. Can you imagine all those extra cables, sprouting everywhere, connecting into nothing? The horror.

Semi-modular PSU

Concluding Remarks:

  • Install parts in logical steps
  • Plan out wire connections
  • If you’re considering upgrading your CPU cooler at some point, just do it right away
  • Don’t make the dreaded graphics drivers mistakes
  • Everything doesn’t have to be perfect, but try to group up and tuck away your cables
  • You are correct, I have no DVD drive – USB installs for the win!
  • Note: having a USB DVD drive never hurts
  • Color coordinating will either make you pay more or wait longer if you’re shopping for deals
  • Try to buy everything within the span of a month: then you can do a bench test to ensure everything works before the store return policy expires
  • Have fun!

More Pics because. . . Why not

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One thought on “Building your first PC: Do’s, don’ts, and did nots

  1. Pingback: Building a PC: Blending Budget and Performance | Learn | Imagine | Innovate

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