Building a computer is not really hard. The reason why is because there aren’t that many parts, it is pretty obvious where the parts go, the parts are designed to only fit one way, and it doesn’t take much strength or force to assemble the machine.
What are the basic parts? A working computer requires surprisingly few parts. It might not do much, but it counts.
The minimum parts required for a working computer are:
Power supply, CPU, Motherboard, RAM
With that configuration, you have a computer a system that is “functional”.
The problem is that there is no visual feedback…or in computer terms there is no output. To get output, and test to see if your parts are working you need only to add a keyboard with a caps lock or number lock display light. When added, if all the parts are working, you can press the caps lock to see the light go on and off. For this to work, the CPU, ram, and motherboard must all be working together correctly and receiving power.
Of course, that is not nearly enough to build a real computer! You would like to have a nice display of course, and a mouse, and at least an operating system.
Most modern motherboards come with much of the peripherals built into the board. So a decent motherboard would also get you sound and video, as well as USB, and wired networking.
So let’s relist:
You need a power supply, CPU, motherboard, ram, video, sound, USB, keyboard, mouse, and hard drive. Don’t plug the power supply into the wall until you are ready to test the system. I suggest that you use an anti-static wrist band and ground yourself before you begin handling your parts.
The first decision you want to make is what processor do you want to use. How powerful, and what type? This determines what motherboard you will choose.
The two types of processors are AMD and Intel. Typically at lower power, AMD provides a better value, but Intel dominates high-end machines. When you choose your processor, you will need to choose the motherboard to match, and then you will need to choose RAM that works with that board.
So your basic starting point is CPU, Motherboard, and Ram. Once you have that worked out you are going to be in pretty good shape.
If your motherboard has audio and video on board, and you don’t need powerful graphics for high-end gaming this will save you money. In most cases, you can add a boss graphics card later.
The installing the CPU is probably the trickiest part. The good news is that motherboard manufacturers provide really good manuals with the board to walk you through the process of putting your machine together. You will want to study your motherboard manual carefully before you start.
As I said, the CPU is the tricky part. The pins on the CPU have to match the slots in the CPU socket on the motherboard. Specifically, PIN 1 of the CPU MUST MUST MUST go into slot 1 of the CPU socket. The CPU will have pin one marked on the CPU and slot 1 of the CPU socket should be marked on the motherboard. If it is not marked on the motherboard, the motherboard manual will have a diagram that shows where pin 1 fits. Once you have the CPU in the socket you must install a cooling fan and heat sink on top of the CPU or it will burn up in a fiery supernova and you will be very sorry. Usually, there is a little packet of grease called thermal paste that makes a nice seal between the heat sink and the CPU. Find that paste, and apply it to your CPU, then fasten the fan and heat sink to the mainboard slots surrounding the CPU. This can be difficult physically to do, so take your time and get it right. You can ruin your fan and heat sink if you are not careful with this process. Once you have the CPU, heat sink, and fan assembled together and attached to the motherboard, you should look in your manual and locate the power connection for the CPU fan. The power cable from the fan must be plugged into the motherboard to activate when the computer is powered. Make sure its plugged in. Do not let your computer spontaneously combust because you forgot to provide power to the CPU fan.
THE MOTHERBOARD MANUAL IS YOUR FRIEND.
Now you have the CPU installed, so the RAM is next. The ram has a slot near the middle that ensures it can only be installed the correct way. You will need to use a little force to install it, but not too much. If you feel you are forcing it to check to make sure the slot in the ram matches the divider in the ram socket on the main board. Pictures will help this post, and I will add some.
With RAM and CPU installed into the motherboard, you can go ahead and fasten the motherboard into your case. You will also need to install the power supply into the case, but this is a fairly straight forward process. Pretty much align it with the screw holes and use a Philips head driver to fasten it in place
With Power Supply, CPU, RAM, and Motherboard connected, you will need to consult your motherboard manual to see where the power switch wire from your case hooks into your motherboard. The board has what are called jumper blocks, and they have pinout assignments. That means each pin has a number, and these should be marked on the board, as well as diagrammed in your manual. You can find the wire from the case’s power button and it will be marked something like PW SW. Fit that onto the correct jumper on the motherboards jumper block.
Now you should plug in a keyboard and you are almost ready to test your basic parts. Double check everything first. The CPU is positioned correctly based on the motherboard’s pinout diagram. The fan and heatsink are firmly attached to the CPU and there is thermal paste creating an airtight seal between CPU and heatsink. The RAM is seated correctly into the ram slots, and the fasteners at each end of the slot are fully upright and fit perfectly into the notches on each end of the ram. The motherboard itself is firmly fastened to the case and is not loose. You have your power switch wire from the case attached to the correct pins on the motherboards jumper block.
If all this looks good, find the very wide set of power cables coming from the power supply. What I mean here is that the connectors at the end of the wires will be very wide and will match up to the main power connection to the motherboard. What is your friend? The motherboard manual is your friend. Check and attach the power supply to the motherboard in such a way that you can tell it is locked in place.
Now hook up your keyboard. Finally, grab the main power cord that plugs into the back of the power supply and the wall. Plug it into the power supply but not into the wall yet. Some power supplies have a dual setting on the back for 110 and 220 AC. In the USA we use 110. Make sure your power supply has its current switch, assuming it has one, set to 110. If so you can now plug your cord from the power supply into the wall. Sometimes when you do this the power supply fan will spin just a bit. That’s not a bad sign at all.
Now you can activate the power switch on the case. When you do, hold it in for at least 5 seconds. If everything is correct the CPU fan should spin up, the power supply fan should activate, and if you are watching the keyboard, caps locks and num locks indicators will flash. If you miss this try clicking your caps and num locks a few times and see if the lights go on and off. If so you are in business. If not something is wrong.
If you have no power at this point, you either have a part that is faulty, or something is wrong with your assembly. The best thing to check right away is to make sure you have all the power cables connected correctly. This includes the power from the power supply, checking to make sure the power supply on/off switch on the back of the power supply is switched to the on position. Sometimes there is an extra power cable that plugs directly into the motherboard. It might be yellow and black, and have four connectors. If this is required and is not connected the machine will not power up.
If you made it this far and your machine is working, you have crossed a major milestone. The rest of the job is fairly straight forward. Hooking up the hard drive and other peripherals is fairly simple, and if you have installation media, installing the OS is a breeze.
No doubt a YouTube video would be the cat’s meow here. I may very well meow tomorrow and make one. I have the parts to put a machine together, so it’s just a matter of creating the video.
Check back soon, and good luck!