How to build a computer

Building your own PC is the best way to earn geek cred — here’s how to do it

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Installing the processor

We’re going to prepare the motherboard by installing the CPU, cooler, and RAM before fitting it in the case. It’s a lot easier to install them now, rather than after the motherboard is installed in the system.

In fact, depending on your case and cooler, it may not be possible to assemble your system with the motherboard in the case. That’s because many after-market coolers use a backplate to provide the tightest fit possible. It is, of course, attached to the back of the motherboard. You won’t be able to install it unless you have a case with a cut-out that aligns with the backplate’s location, a feature typically found only in high-end enclosures.

Carefully remove the motherboard from its anti-static bag and set it on a hard, flat, non-metal surface such as a wooden desk, or the top of the motherboard box itself. Also, make sure that there are no sources of dust or liquid nearby.

Pick a side

Even though installing a CPU has become an easier task over the last few years, it’s still one of the most precarious. There are numerous pins on the CPU and motherboard, and bending any one of them could render that component kaput.

That said, the process isn’t designed to be difficult, and as long as you follow the instructions clearly and keep an eye out to ensure the chip is fully seated before you clamp it in place, you’ll be fine. However, there are some subtle differences in the process depending on who made your CPU.


Modern Intel sockets have pins on the motherboard, instead of jutting from the processor, which makes installation easier. This part of the socket is called the contact array, and it’s very important not to bend or touch any of the pins on it — no touching! The square metal bracket that holds the CPU in place is the load plate, and it’s raised and lowered using the load lever. When clamped down, the end of the load lever tucks under a hook to keep everything in place.

First, open the load plate. Do this by pushing down gently on the load arm and moving it out sideways from under the hook, and then lifting it up all the way. The lever action of the hook will open the plate, which you can easily flip up. If it’s a new motherboard, there may be a plastic or foam filler in the socket, which you can gently remove.

Intel Core i7-7700K review
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

The CPU itself should have two small notches cut out of it, directly across from each other on the chip. With the contacts facing down, there should be only one direction where the notches will line up with the notches in the socket. Gently set the CPU in so that the outer rim lies flush with the socket body. This part doesn’t require any pressure.

Use the load arm on the side to lower the plate over the chip, then push down and re-clip the arm under the hook once again. This will require a fair amount of pressure, so make sure the chip is properly seated before pressing down! Remember, the notches in the processor should align with those in the socket. If in doubt, start again and double check.


With AMD CPUs, the pins are on the chip, with holes that they slip into on the socket itself. The load arm on the socket shifts the holes underneath slightly, gripping the pins on the processor when pressed all the way down.

If it isn’t already, lift the arm up so that it’s pointing straight up, and then rests a little further back. That will ensure the holes for the pins are wide open.

Instead of notches, we’ll be looking to line up the processor in the slot correctly using the golden triangle. The triangle should be engraved in gold on one corner of the CPU, and all you have to do is line that up with the triangle cut into the slot itself.

Once the processor is sitting comfortably in the slot, simply press the arm down until it clicks into place and locks in. This last step can be intimidating since it will require a fair amount of pressure to lock in place.

Remembering to install memory

RAM doesn’t require any careful goo placement or wires. There are just two important factors, assuming you’ve chosen compatible RAM: Direction and slot choice.

Direction is easy enough. Each memory stick has a notch in the contacts along the bottom edge that lines up with a block in the memory slots on the motherboard. If you hold it just above the slot and the two line up, it’s facing the right direction. If it doesn’t line up, spin it 180 degrees.

Slot choice depends on a few factors, and one of which is how the RAM you bought is packaged. If it’s just a single stick of RAM, install it in the A1 slot and move on with your life (a diagram in the motherboard manual should label the slots, if it isn’t printed directly on the PCB).

There are more likely two identical sticks of RAM, a common package called a dual-channel configuration. The system can use both sticks as if they were a single block of RAM but accesses them individually, providing a modest boost to memory performance. These sticks should be installed in channels on the motherboard with matching colors, usually labeled A1 and B1, though sometimes A2 and B2 are preferable. Check your motherboard’s manual to confirm which are best for your system.

Now that we know which slot and direction, the next part is easy. Push the plastic wings at either end of the slot down and outward (some motherboards only have one) then place the stick in the slot sticking straight up. Push down firmly until the RAM clicks into the slot, and the plastic wings click back in and clamp the ends of the sticks. Easy!


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