How to Build a PC from Scratch: A Beginner’s Guide

Learning the art of building a PC from scratch is simpler than you might imagine. The process mainly involves tightening the appropriate screws and connecting the right cables. As long as you handle your components with care and take the necessary safety precautions, even beginners can create a PC that rivals the most powerful desktop computers.

Building a computer may seem daunting with its numerous steps, but it’s not as difficult as it appears. In this guide, we will take you through the process step by step so that you can gain the skills to build computers in the future. It’s time to dispel the misconception that building a PC is a challenging task.

What You Need to Build a PC

Before you embark on the journey of building a computer, it’s crucial to gather all the necessary components. Without the required hardware, you won’t be able to build a functional PC. Ensure that you have carefully selected and purchased the following core components:

  • Case
  • CPU
  • CPU cooler
  • Motherboard
  • RAM
  • Solid-state drive (SSD) and/or a hard drive
  • Power supply
  • Graphics card

Newcomers to PC building often struggle with compatibility issues between components. To simplify the process, we recommend using a site like PCPartPicker, which automatically checks for compatibility problems.

It’s important to set up a clean workspace with ample room to unbox and assemble the parts. Ideally, choose a desk at a comfortable height for working.


Safety First

When building a computer, it’s essential to consider an invisible risk that rarely arises with pre-assembled PCs: static electricity. The same force that allows you to shock your friends when wearing wool socks can potentially damage components. Thankfully, it’s easy to mitigate the risk.

One solution is to use an antistatic wristband. This device wraps around your wrist and clips onto the computer case, keeping you continuously grounded. Another method involves frequently touching the case while the power supply is plugged in and turned off.

To minimize static electricity, it’s advisable to work in a room with a bare floor rather than carpeted flooring. Additionally, wear rubber-soled shoes instead of socks. Many components come in antistatic bags, so keep them bagged until just before installation.

Opening the Case

Preparing the case is the simple part. The instructions that accompany your specific case will introduce the basic layout and provide any special instructions for component installation.

Place the case on your workspace and remove the side panel, usually the left-side panel when viewed from the front. This panel allows access to the interior of the case.

Remove any loose or dangling items inside the case. If something is attached, gently push it aside. Be aware that some cases have permanent internal wiring that can become problematic later.

Installing the Power Supply

The power supply (PSU) should be the first component you install in the case. Typically located at the rear, either at the bottom or top, consult your case’s manual if you’re unsure.

Step 1: Most cases are designed for the PSU fan to face downwards, allowing it to pull cool air from outside the case. However, check your manual for any specific instructions regarding PSU installation. You may need to remove a PSU mounting plate depending on your case. In most cases, you’ll need to push the PSU into the rear of the case from the inside.


Step 2: Attach the PSU to your case using the appropriate screws or thumb screws.


Step 3: If you have a modular PSU, connect the necessary power cables for your components. If you’re unsure, don’t worry. You can connect them later as needed. If your PSU is not modular, all the cables should already be installed.


Installing the Processor

Although it’s not mandatory, it’s recommended to install the processor before placing the motherboard in the case. This approach provides easier access for installation.

Step 1: Carefully remove the motherboard from its antistatic bag and place it on a hard, flat, nonmetal surface like a wooden desk or the top of the motherboard box.

The process of installing the CPU is designed to be straightforward. By following clear instructions and ensuring the chip is properly seated before securing it, you’ll be successful. However, note that the process may differ slightly depending on the CPU manufacturer. Handle processors delicately to avoid damage.


Step 2: Locate the square CPU socket on the motherboard. If the motherboard is new, it may have a plastic cover. Unhook the metal retention lever, lift it up to free the plastic cover, and remove it.

Step 3: To install the CPU, you need to align it correctly. Most Intel CPUs have notches on the side that allow for placement in only one orientation. Modern Intel CPUs have a golden triangle in one corner to assist with proper alignment. The same applies to modern AMD processors.

Handle the processor by its sides, avoiding contact with the underside, and align it correctly using any provided aids. Gently place it into the CPU socket, then double-check its placement by giving it a slight nudge from side to side. If it’s correctly seated, it will move slightly. If it’s misaligned, it will slide out of place. In that case, remove the CPU, realign it, and reinstall it.

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Step 4: Once you’re satisfied with the CPU installation, firmly press the retaining arm down to lock the CPU in place. This may require some pressure, but it shouldn’t be excessive. If unsure, double-check the CPU’s alignment before securing it.


Installing RAM

System memory, or RAM, is one of the easiest components to install since it doesn’t require intricate cable connections or complex mounting procedures. However, it’s crucial to choose the correct slots for installation, as each motherboard has different recommendations. Refer to your manual to identify the best slots for your RAM.

Before beginning the process, ensure that your motherboard is adequately supported across its entire surface. Pushing too hard while installing RAM can put excessive pressure on the motherboard, which should be avoided.

Step 1: Identify the slot where you’ll install your RAM by pushing the plastic wings (there may be only one) at either end of the slot down and outward. Confirm that the gap in the metal connectors of the RAM stick aligns with the notch in the slot, indicating the correct orientation.

Place the stick in the slot, ensuring it stands straight up. Apply firm downward pressure until the RAM clicks into place and the plastic wings click back in to secure the ends of the sticks.


Step 2: Repeat the process for each RAM stick until all of your desired RAM is installed.

For more detailed guidance on how to install RAM, refer to our comprehensive guide.


Installing the Motherboard

The motherboard is the most unwieldy component due to its size, but it serves as the foundation for the entire system. Installing it correctly is crucial.

Step 1: If your motherboard lacks an integrated rear panel, remove it from the box. The rear panel is a small cutout featuring various motherboard ports. Install it at the rear of your case, ensuring it aligns with your motherboard’s outputs. If you’re unsure about orientation, consult your manual.

Step 2: To install the motherboard, screw it into the insulating standoffs that prevent components from shorting. Some cases come with pre-installed standoffs, while others require manual installation. Standoffs resemble unusual screws with an additional screw hole on top, instead of the typical screwdriver notch. They’re often gold or black in color.

If necessary, screw the motherboard’s standoffs into the correct holes based on your motherboard’s size and layout. Look to your motherboard or manual for guidance.

Step 3: Carefully place your motherboard into the case, ensuring it slots into the I/O panel and aligns all screw holes with the standoffs underneath.

Secure the motherboard to the case by tightening the screws. Start by seating the screws and providing a couple of preliminary turns. Then, proceed in a star pattern, gradually tightening each screw. Avoid excessive force, as overtightening can damage the board. The screws just need enough torque to hold the board in place securely.

Step 4: Once the motherboard is comfortably seated, make the necessary connections.

The motherboard’s main power connection is a wide, two-row cable that fits snugly into a corresponding slot on the board. This connector, typically 20-28 pins, powers both the motherboard and the CPU. Some motherboards may have additional four-pin or eight-pin connectors for the processor, usually located near the CPU in the top corner. If present, plug in these additional connectors.

Connect the case plugs and buttons to the motherboard. A double-wide row of pins, specified in your manual, handles the buttons for reset and power, as well as activity LEDs for power and storage. These connections can be a bit delicate, but at minimum, the power button must be connected for the PC to turn on.

The USB headers and front-panel audio connectors will have their own set of around eight by two pins, enclosed in a larger plastic housing. The housing notch indicates the correct orientation of these connectors.


Installing the CPU Cooler

Installing a CPU cooler varies depending on the specific cooler used. For detailed instructions, refer to the manufacturer’s manual or support site. However, the following general instructions apply to most coolers.

Note: The images below demonstrate the installation of an all-in-one (AIO) water cooler, but the principles also apply to most air coolers.

Step 1: Every cooler requires thermal paste. It’s not necessary to use the best thermal paste available, but it’s crucial to apply some. Thermal paste is typically a silver-colored substance that comes pre-applied on the cooler or in a syringe tube.

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When applying thermal paste, ensure that you remove any pre-existing paste using a lint-free cloth and isopropyl alcohol if reapplying. Apply a pea-sized amount in the center of your CPU.


Step 2: If your CPU cooler requires it, remove the other side panel of your case and attach the custom backplate design. You may need to remove the stock backplate from the motherboard beforehand.

Step 3: Place the CPU cooler on top of the processor and press down gently. Align any retaining brackets or bolts with the CPU cooler’s mounting holes on the motherboard.

Secure the cooler in place by installing the retaining screws or brackets. If you have multiple screws to tighten, do so gradually in a cross pattern to distribute pressure evenly across the CPU. Ensure that the screws are tight enough to prevent CPU movement but avoid overtightening.

Step 4: If your cooler includes a separate fan, attach it now and plug its three-pin or four-pin connector into the CPU cooler port on the motherboard. This port is typically located near the CPU cooler. If you have additional fans, either connect them to other motherboard headers or use a fan splitter to power both from the CPU fan port.

If you’re installing an AIO water cooler, mount the radiator in a suitable location inside the case, such as at the front or rear for air intake or exhaust. Attach the fan’s header to the appropriate port. You may also need to connect the pump header, which may have designated ports on some motherboards.


Installing the Graphics Card

While not every system requires a dedicated graphics card, it is essential for building a gaming PC.

Intel processors often come with integrated graphics, so a separate graphics card may not be necessary if you’re not gaming. However, be cautious when choosing processors with an “F” at the end, as they do not include integrated graphics.

Step 1: Modern graphics cards utilize a PCI-Express (PCIe) x16 slot. This long, narrow connector is typically located at the rear of the motherboard, below the processor. For most motherboards, it’s best to use the top PCIe x16 slot.

To insert the card into the slot, remove one (or more) rectangular backplates located at the case’s rear. These backplates secure the PC and can be removed by unscrewing them from the chassis. Keep the screw(s) for later use.


Step 2: Ensure the graphics card’s ports align with the rear of the case and that the PCIe connector faces downward. Carefully insert the card into the motherboard slot. You should hear a click when the motherboard locks it into place, although this may not occur with all motherboards.

Avoid using excessive force. If you encounter resistance, check the alignment of the backplate and the PCIe slot to ensure a proper fit. Some motherboards employ a pushpin to secure the card, similar to memory slots.

Step 3: Use the screws removed from the metal brackets to fasten the card in place at the back of the case. These screws only need to be tight enough to hold the card securely.

Step 4: Most graphics cards require more power than the PCIe slot can provide. You’ll notice one or more PCIe power connectors on the side of the card facing away from the motherboard, or occasionally on the card’s top. These connectors can be traditional six- or eight-pin PCIe connectors or new mini 12- or 16-pin designs for the latest Nvidia GPUs.

Locate the appropriate connector on your power supply (often labeled VGA) and plug it into the graphics card. The design of the connector prevents incorrect installation, but confirm the correct alignment if the connection feels difficult. If your power supply lacks the required native connectors, you may need to use an adapter, usually supplied with the graphics card.

For additional guidance, refer to our comprehensive guide on how to install a graphics card.


Installing Expansion Cards

Graphics cards aren’t the only components that utilize PCIe slots. Other add-in cards include wireless networking, sound, video capture, and storage devices. Installing expansion cards follows the same general procedure as a discrete GPU.

PCIe slots come in various types. Many expansion cards use a “PCIe 4x” slot, which is shorter than the full-length PCIe slot for video cards. Refer to your motherboard’s connectivity and the size of the connector on your expansion card to determine the appropriate slot. If unsure, consult your expansion card’s manual.

Step 1: Remove the metal bracket at the back of the case corresponding to the PCIe or other expansion slot where you’ll install the add-in card. Retain the bracket screw for securing your new card.

Step 2: Align the row of contacts on the card with the slot and firmly press down. If the card requires additional power from SATA or four-pin Molex connectors, connect the appropriate cables.

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Step 3: Secure the card by screwing it into the back of the case.

Installing Hard Drives and SSDs

Different storage drive sizes require distinct mounting and connection methods. Hard disk drives (HDDs) are usually the larger 3.5-inch size, while solid-state drives (SSDs) typically adopt the smaller 2.5-inch size. Additionally, M.2 and PCI-Express drives are thin, stick-like devices with bare chips measuring a few inches long.

Step 1: To install a hard drive, identify the 3.5-inch mounting points in your case. These may be full hard drive cages with multiple mounting points, or the case may have space for a single drive with screw holes. Consult your case manual if unsure.

Place the hard drive in the designated area and secure it using your case’s mounting system. Connect the SATA data cable to both the drive and the motherboard, and attach the SATA power connector.

Step 2: Installing a SATA SSD follows the same steps as installing a larger hard drive. The main difference is the mounting point, which should be an appropriate 2.5-inch cage or slot. Some cases may position these slots behind the motherboard tray. Ensure the SSD is secured in place and attach both the SATA power and data cables.

Step 3: To install an M.2 NVMe SSD, locate the appropriate slot on your motherboard. It should be labeled, but it is relatively small, so consult your manual if unsure.

Remove the retaining screw and insert the drive at a 45-degree angle. Gently but firmly push down on the drive until it clicks into place, then replace the retaining screw.

Step 4: For installing a PCIe SSD, choose an appropriate PCIe slot on your motherboard. The 16x slots offer the most bandwidth, but consider your specific drive’s requirements. Consult the drive’s manual or manufacturer’s website for the best slot configuration for your particular motherboard.

Align the drive with the gold contacts facing downward and gently insert it into the PCIe slot. It should click into place and lock. If you encounter resistance, check the alignment.

Attach any necessary additional power cables.

Turning On the PC

Step 1: Switch on the power supply, and press the Power button on the front of the case. If everything is in order, the monitor should display the post screen or the manufacturer logo before proceeding to Windows installation or the login screen. If not, don’t worry. On the PC’s first startup, it’s common for it to reboot a few times or take a couple of minutes to configure memory and other components.

If you encounter error messages or hear beeps, consult your motherboard’s manual for decoding the message and troubleshooting.

If the PC fails to receive any power, turn off the power supply and double-check all connections. Ensure that the wall socket is turned on as well. For further assistance, refer to our PC Troubleshooting guide.

Step 2: Once the system successfully boots up, you’ll need to install an operating system like Windows. If you’re unsure about the process, you can find a quick guide on how to download and install Windows.

Step 3: After reaching the Windows environment, you’ll need to install drivers. Modern versions of Windows, such as Windows 10 and 11, usually support most chipsets and automatically download and install the necessary drivers. Check the Update and Security section in the Settings menu for more information.

If automatic driver installation fails, you can rely on the chipset driver for your motherboard, which usually encompasses most connectivity and onboard features. However, specific motherboard and component manufacturers may have different requirements. Download the latest drivers from your motherboard manufacturer’s website.

For dedicated graphics cards, download the appropriate drivers from the AMD or Nvidia websites.


Don’t Forget Peripherals

While building a gaming PC is thrilling, it’s easy to overlook the peripherals required to make it fully functional. If you still need a keyboard, monitor, or mouse to complete your setup, we can guide you to the best options.

With attention to detail and a bit of luck, you’ll have a fully operational PC. Monitor the system temperatures in the initial days to ensure optimal cooler performance. If you encounter any error messages, address them promptly. With time, you’ll become more familiar with your machine and gain confidence in pushing it to its limits. In case of any component failures or necessary upgrades, you’ll be well-equipped to handle them.

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