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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Get your game on with the GPU

Not every system needs a dedicated graphics card (GPU), but if yours does, no worries! The installation couldn’t be simpler. We’re also assuming for this step that the card you’ve chosen is appropriate for your case size, capabilities, and power supply. For a more detailed walk-through of GPU installation, make sure to check out our video guide.

Modern graphics cards take up a PCIExpress (PCIe) slot. It’s a long, thin connector located on the rear of the motherboard, below the processor. To seat the card in that slot, you’ll need to remove a backplate from your enclosure. It’s one of a row of thin metal brackets on the back of the case to keep it sealed up.

You’ll need to remove one or two, depending on the width of your card. Do this by removing the screw that secures the backplate you want to take out. Once removed, the plate should slide out freely. Keep the screw as you’ll need it in a moment.

Once the brackets are clear, it’s time to seat the card in the PCIe slot. First, make sure the switch on the slot on the motherboard is pushed outward. Then, with the ports facing the empty spot where the backplate used to be, carefully line up the long series of contacts on the card with the appropriate slot on the motherboard. Once it’s lined up properly, a solid push on the top of the card should cause it to snap into place as the switch clicks back in to hold it.

Not much force is required, so if you encounter a great deal of resistance, take another look at the backplate and PCIe slot to make sure both are clear, and the motherboard is properly aligned. Also take note if there is a push-pin that locks the card in like your memory slots, as some motherboards feature that safety measure.

Use the screws you pulled from the metal brackets to fasten the back of the card into the same spot in the case. Again, they don’t need to be as tight as possible — just enough to make sure the card is held firm.

Most video cards need extra power apart from what the PCIe slot can provide. Those cards that do will have a PCIe power connector on the side of the card facing away from the motherboard or, in some cases, on the side facing the front of the case. The connector is a group of square plastic pins numbering six or eight. The most powerful cards may have two such connectors. Find the appropriate connector on your power supply, typically labeled VGA, and slot it in. The connector is designed to prevent improper installation, so if the connection isn’t easy, double-check your alignment to make sure it’s correct.

Additional expansion cards

Graphics cards aren’t the only component that uses the PCIe slot, and the list includes wireless networking cards, sound cards, and even hard drives. The process for installing them is very similar to the GPU process.

First, remove the metal bracket in the back of the case that corresponds with the PCIe or other expansion slot you’ll be installing the device into. Keep the screw from the bracket handy, as we’ll use it to reattach the new card.

PCIe slots have a small switch at the interior end, which you can push down and outward to open the slot. Then line up the row of contacts on the card with the slot, and push down firmly. Once the card is seated the switch will flip back up. Securing the card in place is as simple as screwing it into the back of the case and attaching any necessary PCIe ports.

There are a few different types of PCIe slots. A good deal of expansion cards use the “PCIe 4x” slot, which is much shorter than the full PCIe slot used by video cards. A quick check of your motherboard’s connectivity, and the size of the connector on your card, will make it obvious which slot is appropriate. If in doubt, refer to the expansion card’s manual.

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