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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Optical drive

While optical disk drives are on their way out in the computing world, there are still a lot of builders who prefer to include them. The optical drive mounts in a 5.25-inch slot that looks similar to the 3.5-inch slot where we installed the mechanical drive, and the installation procedure is similar as well.

The drive itself loads into the system from the front, but if it doesn’t fit, you may need to remove the front faceplate of your system. If that’s the case, check your case’s manual for specific instructions.

Once all obstructions are clear, slide the drive in from the front of the case until it’s flush with the faceplate, or the other front-facing drives. Then, simply attach the included screws through the side of the case to mount it there. The cables should be similar, if not identical, to the ones used for the 3.5-inch hard drive. There’s no real way to install the wrong ones, or install them in the wrong direction.

Preparing to boot

Now before you get too excited and hit that power button, it’s worth running back through the system to make sure everything is properly seated and connected. Let’s start with the components found in every machine.

The motherboard is usually easy to spot if it isn’t plugged in. Most PSUs have one wide cable that’s obviously intended for this slot, with no other connections on it. It should plug into your board somewhere near the PCIe slots, but location will vary.

Your motherboard is also likely to have a second, four-pin or possibly eight-pin, connector. This powers the processor. You may have to look through your power supply’s available connectors with a keen eye to find this, because it looks a lot like a PCIe power connector. But don’t worry — a PCIe connector won’t fit, so improper installation isn’t possible.

The CPU cooler also needs power, but it gains it from the motherboard. Its power cable shouldn’t have to go far though, as most motherboards keep the plug close by the socket. The little wire is just three or four sockets, and connects to a set of four pins on the motherboard.

The hard drives need their own power sources too, in the form of L-shaped SATA connectors (unless it’s a PCIe drive). Typically, a string of three or four runs straight off the power supply, with just that type of connection on it. These can’t be installed the wrong way, either.

Finally, high-powered graphics cards need their own power connection, usually in the form of a black rectangular connector with six or eight pins. These plugs are brightly colored and easy to spot, and only fit in the interior end of the card in one orientation. If they aren’t plugged in, the fans on the card won’t spin, and it won’t produce any video output.

The final steps

Now that you’ve double-checked everything, turn on the power supply, and press the power button on the front. A lot of systems don’t boot correctly the first time, so don’t get discouraged if you need to go back and check connections again.

Once it does boot, you’ll need to install an operating system (OS). Luckily, we’ve built a handy guide that walks you through that process clearly, and succinctly. If you don’t have another PC around to download the ISO, you can purchase a USB thumb drive from Microsoft with the OS image ready to go.

Once that’s taken care of, you may need to install some drivers. Modern chipsets are already supported in Windows 10, and the OS will automatically download and install the rest of your drivers in most cases. Check the “Update & Security” menu in the Settings pane for more information regarding this process.

If that doesn’t work, the chipset driver for your motherboard will handle most connectivity and onboard features, and usually only discrete graphics cards will require a driver of their own, although this varies greatly based on motherboard and component manufacturer. Check out the AMD page for Radeon drivers, or the Nvidia page for GeForce drivers, and remember to check component boxes for install discs and other information.

With some luck, and a lot of attention to detail, your system should be fully operational. Make sure to keep an eye out for any error messages, and hold your hand outside the case fans to make sure air is flowing and isn’t too hot, at least for a few weeks. If something breaks, or needs an upgrade, you’re fully equipped to deal with it. Just watch out for static.

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