I recently finished building my first PC. It was an experience, to say the least. Not a lot went right and I got it working by the skin of my teeth. Come to think of it, I’m still not sure that the thing came out of the process entirely undamaged. We’ll see.
Anyway, let me save you the trouble and tell you how to put together the parts of a PC in a way that doesn’t mess up your heat dispersion. These are tips that everyone needs to know but a lot of the guides I found seemed to skim over.
7 Things to Know Before Building Your Own PC
Carefully Follow the Motherboard Manual
I mistakenly thought that assembling a PC was about connecting the components and that you didn’t really have to attach the case bits. What were those for, anyway?
First pro tip: The PC would not turn on until you connect every last case-mounted connector (for headphones, the power button, etc) to its proper slot on the motherboard. Do all that stuff, flip your power supply on, then push the power button on the front. That turns the PC on. You just need to do this once.
Second pro tip: Make sure your motherboard is compatible with your case’s USB types. The USB port on the front of my case is a 3.0 plug, which does not play nicely with the 2.0 prongs on the motherboard. Be sure these match before buying!
Third pro tip: Put in all the prong stuff before you start hooking things like the graphics card into the motherboard. You never know when your GPU’s huge fan will block the prongs you need.
Get the Thermal Paste
Thermal paste is essential to making sure your PC works. If you don’t apply it correctly, it will screw up everything. Trust me, I learned that the hard way when my PC became fond of randomly shutting off at inconvenient times because the CPU overheated.
That silver stuff on the CPU and the fan bottom is not enough thermal paste – you need to add more. Do like the guide says. In the long run this will really help you keep your CPU temperature under control.
Get a Good Magnetic Screwdriver
PC cases are built on tiny screws that need to be worked into even tinier holes. It’s a bitch getting the things into the correct slots.
Do yourself a favor and get a magnetic screwdriver. As far as I know, there’s no danger of damaging your PC parts (the magnet is way too weak). It’s just a useful tool for putting it all together.
Assume no feature will be in your PC
This one got me twice. I tried my new PC when it booted up by playing some music through Spotify. Nothing. Right, because I don’t have any speakers connected.
That happened two more times with WiFi and Bluetooth. Do yourself a favor and get a motherboard that has both of those. It’ll just be easier and save you the ethernet cable and a trip to Best Buy to get a wireless adapter. Speaking of which…
Expect ~$50 more in hidden expenses
You never know what’s going to go wrong during the process. Maybe you need more thermal paste and a wireless card. Maybe you realize your awesome Bluetooth keyboard won’t work during a Windows installation because there’s no Bluetooth anyway.
There will be unexpected problems, and you should be ready to pay for them.
Bootcamp Assistant is great
Bootcamp Assistant on OS X was surprisingly useful for me. It created a Windows boot drive with minimal fuss that installed the OS on totally different hardware, no problem.
The only difference between installing a Bootcamp partition and using it on a new PC is that you shouldn’t install the Apple drivers after booting up the machine.
For PC users, there are other more common options than borrowing a Mac.
Check the Size of Your Case
I ordered a case that seemed well-reviewed off of Amazon. It works, but good lord it is far too enormous for me. I have a single solid-state drive and there are ports for a half-dozen more. Too much.
Buy the case you need, not one that could house an entire server. Read more about the number of ports the case has and what all equipment it can house. Then make a decision based on what all you would have in your PC.
Building my own computer taught me a lot about how these things work. It’s an experience that you just don’t get much in these days of sleek, self-contained units like smartphones and laptops.
It makes you appreciate having something that Just WorksTM. Good luck, and good building!