You don’t really “build” a computer – you assemble it. So the processes for any assembly line operation apply to this task. You need to have all the materials, tools, and work instructions available and a clean, roomy work area with proper lighting. I started the project early in the morning, and I had plenty of my secret weapon available… coffee!
I opened all of the boxes, removed the components that were not in anti-static bags, and commandeered the kitchen table right after breakfast. I had the work instructions (the “How to Build a PC in 10 Easy Steps” website) open on my laptop. I spread out the wiring diagrams for the case, power supply, and motherboard. I organized all of the bolts and screws that came with my case in a pill organizer. I did not use an anti-static wrist strap, but I did frequently ground myself on the case. I was as ready as I would ever be.
I am going to leave out a lot of important information because this is not a guide to building a PC, so I caution any reader that there are more things to know beyond what is said here. If I put in every detail, this would be an even more boring read than it already is. I’m sure my family and friends are falling asleep by now, but they must trudge on because there will be a test later. You have a choice to quit however, so I will try to make this as entertaining as possible.
I started by installing the power supply in the case. I removed the back panel I/O template and replaced it with the one provided with my motherboard. I removed the two drive bays from the case, and the front panel for one of the 5¼” drive bays.
I installed the Core i7 chip in the motherboard. The only trick here is the pressure required to latch the lever that holds the chip in place. I had to push harder than I thought I would, and I feared that the chip was not installed properly. However, it was and this amount of force is normal. I also installed the memory on the motherboard, an easy operation. At this point, the motherboard was still out of the case, and I had a decision to make.
I decided that it would be easier to mount the Zalman CPU cooler after the motherboard was in the case, rather than wrestle the motherboard into the case with the heavy CPU cooler hanging off it. I was concerned about the weight of the cooler putting stress on the motherboard and possibly cracking it. However, I did install the mounting bracket for the CPU cooler first, because the screws for this bracket must be installed from the back of the motherboard.
I installed all of the standoffs in the case, and maneuvered the motherboard into place being careful to align the cutouts in the I/O template properly. It took a little twisting and pushing to line it up and I was glad at that moment that I decided to do this without the CPU cooler installed. I secured the motherboard with screws being very careful not to over-tighten them.
I practiced one BB-sized glob of Arctic Silver 5 thermal compound on a piece of cardboard, and then carefully put the real glob in the center of the CPU. Perfect! I installed the CPU cooler making sure to point the fan airflow toward the back of the case, and plugged its fan into the motherboard. The CPU, cooler, and motherboard had gone in very easily, and I had completed the most stressful portion of the install without incident. Whew!
Next, I installed the hard drive in the top slot of the bottom bay, allowing for airflow from one of the front fans directly onto the drive while keeping it from obstructing my long graphics card. I also installed the DVD drive in the top bay of the case. Some people don’t like to use this bay, but my case did not have any access problems and I preferred the appearance of it here. Finally, I installed the graphics card in the primary PCI-E x16 slot. At this point, I had all of the hardware in the case, and it was time to wire it up!
I started with the motherboard power connectors, and the ATX 12V power connector proved to be very challenging due to its position between the I/O ports and the processor chip. The CPU cooler made it very difficult to get my hand in position to seat the connector, and I was wishing that I had plugged this in before I installed the CPU cooler. However, I got it in with only a few minor hand scrapes from the cooler’s sharp copper heat sinks, and no damage was caused to the cooler.
Next, I started from the front case panel switches, and connected everything going in a clockwise direction around the case. I went back a couple of times to re-route some cabling to make it neater and avoid tangled wires. My case has a space behind the motherboard compartment, which is covered from view by the back case panel. There are plastic tie-wraps pre-installed and it makes a great place for storage of extra wiring. I made good use of this space to clean up the inside of the case and used black twist-ties inside the case to keep wiring from hanging over the motherboard or looking sloppy.
The case fans have manual speed controls, so I used Molex connectors for those and ran the cable outside the main case compartment. I had one unused string of power connectors, so I ran it outside the case compartment also. It probably wasn’t the neatest install ever, but I was pretty satisfied that it looked professional and the airflow in the case was not obstructed with cabling.
The moment of truth was near. I double-checked every connection, secured the drive bays, and closed up the case except for the side panel. I hooked up my monitor, and attached a non-USB keyboard and mouse that I had lying around. I plugged everything into a power strip and held my breath while I pushed the power switch on the case. The first post was successful, and I had gone from a pile of boxes to a working computer in just under four hours! Every switch, light, and device was working properly, and all of the fans were spinning.
I explored the bios screens for a little while but I used the default settings, only changing the boot drive sequence to check DVD first (for the operating system install). I spent the next couple of hours installing Vista, hardware drivers, and checking the voltages and temps via monitoring software. The rest of the day was devoted to configuring my wireless internet connection, installing security software and patches, and loading some basic applications such as Microsoft Office. By evening, I had installed and patched World of Warcraft and I was seeing that world in a whole new way.
In fact, the highlight of the experience was configuring the graphics options for World of Warcraft. I had always gone with custom settings to compromise between frame rates and visual effects. Now I scanned the options screen and found a setting called “Ultra”. Hmmm, that sounds like what I want, and I selected it. I got the following prompt (paraphrasing): “WARNING: This will set all of the graphics options in World of Warcraft to their maximum settings. This may stress your computer. Are you sure you want to do this?” I thought to myself, “Hell yeah I want to do this!” The result was startling. Screen resolution of 1920x1200, maximum AA and AF, all effects on, and playing with no lag or delays at all… priceless. I went to bed VERY late that night.
I spent a couple of days playing games, stress testing, configuring my music software, and moving data from my old PC. However, the saga was not complete. The shining beacon in the distance was still calling me. In the next and final installment, we’ll cover overclocking but for now I’ll leave you with links to the obligatory pics to prove that it did happen.
PC on desk
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