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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The big moment — installing the motherboard

Installing the motherboard with all of the parts on it is easy enough, but it can’t just sit in your case. Most modern cases have spacers between the back wall and motherboard, known as standoffs, that are built in permanently. They act as a ground for the motherboard, while preventing the connections on the back from shorting.

Some cases will have removable stand-offs you have to install yourself. These are easy to identify because they look unusual — they’re essentially screws that have another screw hole on top instead of a head for a Philips or flat-head screwdriver. They’re usually copper or gold in color, which makes them easy to pick out.

PC build-out guide
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

The orientation of your motherboard is dependent on your case. At the back, or the top, you’ll see a rectangular cut-out. This is for the motherboard’s I/O panel – the portion containing the USB, video, and Ethernet connections. Your motherboard will be packaged with an I/O shield that fits into this rectangular cut-out. If you install that shield, and then align your motherboard’s I/O panel with it, you’ll find the screw holes in the motherboard align with the stand-offs in your case.

Well, generally. You may have to wiggle the motherboard slightly to make sure it snaps properly into the I/O shield and the stands-offs align. This may require a bit of effort, but it shouldn’t require much force. If you find yourself forcing the motherboard, double-check how you’ve aligned it, as it may not be positioned properly.

Depending on the combination of case and motherboard, attaching the two will require anywhere between six and 10 screws. You may find that not all of them match up with standoffs underneath, but dropping a screw in will reveal whether it threads right away.

Like every set of screws, the first step is seating the screws and giving them a couple of precursory turns. Then, proceed in a star pattern, tighten each screw a little bit at a time. Don’t go wild while tightening them, as you might damage the board if you put in too much effort; it just needs to be held in place without wiggling.

Once the motherboard is comfortably seated in the case, there are a few necessary connections. One is the power cable, which in the case of the motherboard, will be a wide, two-row cable that fits snugly into a similar looking spot on the board itself. This 20-28 pin connector powers both the motherboard and the CPU. However, some mobos have a second 4-pin or 8-pin connector for the processor, which is located near your cooler, typically in the very corner. You’ll need to plug that in, too, if it’s on your mobo.

There are also case plugs and buttons that need to be connected to the motherboard to function properly. A double-wide row of pins, the location of which will be noted in your manual, runs the power and reset buttons, power and hard drive activity LEDs, and any USB 2.0 ports.

These small cables will run in a bundle from wherever the ports on the case are, and installing them is as simple as matching the labels on the pins with the labels on the connections. However, their size can make them very hard to properly install. If you have a magnifying glass, now is a great time to use it. A set of tweezers can come in handy, as well. Some motherboards include an adapter you can plug these jumpers into, and then fit to the right space on your motherboard.

The USB header that connects to your front-facing motherboard ports will be on its own. This connection is about eight by two pins, and they’re enclosed in a larger plastic housing. It has a notch on one side that should clearly indicate which direction it plugs in.

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