photo of interior of computer

With a little research you will probably have an idea of which components you’ll want to use and what you want your computer to look like. Double check and make sure all of your components are going to fit together inside the case you’re going to use — motherboards and other components come in different sizes, so don’t expect a full-sized motherboard to fit into a small form-factor case without issues.

 AMD and Intel processors have different requirements, and choosing the correct motherboard is the most important thing to consider.

It’s also important that you choose a motherboard that is compatible with the processor you will be using. AMD and Intel processors have different requirements, and choosing the correct motherboard is the most important thing to consider. Otherwise, everything else is fairly modular. RAM, power supply, hard drives, and your video card should be chosen to suit the needs of what you want to do with your machine.

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Getting started

Assembling your computer only takes attention to detail and some patience. Make sure to analyze your parts first to get an idea of what they look like and read any instructions that were included. Take extra time with the motherboard to understand where the different components and cables will be connected. Organize your workspace on a non-conductive surface; your dining room table will do fine. Don’t forget your screwdriver.

Step 1: Install the motherboard

You’ll want to start with preparing the empty case for the motherboard. Lay the case on its side and begin installing the motherboard standoffs. These raise the motherboard up off of the case to keep the motherboard safe from shorting out on the case’s steel frame. There will be a specific pattern you will need to use to install the stand-offs — a quick analysis of the motherboard will help you determine what the pattern is and, in some cases, the patterns are labeled inside of the case based on the size of motherboard you wish to use. Continue by securing the motherboard onto the standoffs with the screws provided.

Step 2: Seat the processor

When installing the processor into the motherboard, make sure you have the arrow on the processor itself aligned with the arrow printed on the motherboard. If you try to force the processor to fit in the wrong orientation, it will end up getting ruined.

Also, take note of the processor having pins on the underside. Although some processors do not have them, if yours does, you can easily bend or break these pins with your fingers while attempting to install your processor into the motherboard. Secure the processor to the motherboard with the retention lever.

A person seating a processor in a compiuter
Seat the Processor

Step 3: Install the heat sink

Before attaching the heat sink that will keep your processor cool, you’ll need to apply some thermal paste to the back of your processor. The amount of thermal paste needed will vary depending on your processor, but ideally, when the heatsink is attached to the motherboard and tightened down on the processor, the thermal paste will spread evenly on the entire processor.

Attach the heat sink assembly directly on top of the processor, securing it in place with screws. If excess thermal paste seeps out, wipe it away. The heat sink also has a fan which you will need to plug into the motherboard.

A person installing a heat sink in a computer.
Install the Heat Sink

Step 4: Install RAM

Now that we have the hard part out of the way, we can finish up and get the rest of our components installed. Install the RAM into its slots, noticing each stick goes only one way into its respective slot. Once inserted, firmly snap the retention lever into place, seating the RAM into the motherboard completely.

A person installing RAM in a computer.
Install RAM

Step 5: Provide your system with power

Next, situate the power supply inside of the case and secure it to the case with the four screws provided. The power supply will have several cables that power different components of your machine. While plugging the appropriate cable from the power supply into the motherboard, you can start organizing the cables so that everything is out of the way and not getting tangled up later on. Proper airflow is also a consideration when organizing your case.

A person installing a power supply in a computer.
Provide Your System with Power

Step 6: Add drives

Install your storage drives — SSD or HDD — in the designated area inside the case and connect both the cable from the power supply, as well as the SATA cables that transmit data back and forth from the hard drive to the motherboard. The SATA cables should be included with your selected drives. If your new system includes an optical disc drive, you can install that now as well.

A person installing storage drive into a computer.
Add Drives

Step 7: Seat the video card

All that we have left is to install the graphics card. Gently place the video card into its PCIe slot. Make sure the mounting holes are lined up to the case and screw the two screws in, securing the video card to the case. Then, you can plug the cables from the power supply into the video card to give it power.

A person seating a video card in a computer.
Seat the video card.

Step 8: Close the case

Once all of the major components have been installed, give your build one last look to make sure everything is secured and cables are as organized as possible. The case you choose might have fans mounted on the inside — or space to add your own. If so, you can connect the fans to the motherboard in the appropriate plugs. Once done, it’s time to close up the case and move on to the final steps of getting your new computer up and running.

Step 9: Plug in and boot up

All you need to do now is connect the power cord to the new computer you just built, as well as connect the monitor and other peripherals you want to use, and get to installing the operating system (OS) of your choice.

When you first start your computer, you’ll have the option to enter setup mode to view and edit your BIOS. Familiarize yourself with the BIOS menu and address any indications that a component is not working correctly. Next, find the boot priority options and make sure your optical drive or USB drive — depending on how your operating system will be installed — is first on the list.

Step 10: Install the operating system

From there, you can insert your operating system, install a DVD or USB drive and restart the system. Follow the instructions on screen to complete OS installation. If everything boots up and installs properly, you’ll know you have succeeded.

Congratulations, you’ve assembled your very own custom PC exactly to your specifications. Now it’s time for the real work of editing your next masterpiece.

Zach Solomon could assemble at least three working computers from parts stored in his closet.