If you're looking for a PC that's perfectly suited to your needs but don't want to pay over the odds for the luxury, your best bet is to build it yourself. We show how to create the PC of your dreams.
Some assembly required
Once your parts have arrived, assembling the PC isn't as daunting a prospect as it sounds. First, you should install the power supply inside the case using the supplied screws.
Next up is the motherboard. In the box you should find a rectangular plate with holes that match up with ports and connectors on the back of the motherboard. This plate needs to be fitted into the hole at the back of the case, typically underneath the power supply. It should click in with minimal force.
Now is a good time to ground yourself, thus avoiding any problems with static electricity, which can cause damage to components. The easiest way to do so is to plug the power supply into the mains with it switched off, then touch a metal part of the case. If you're particularly worried about static, you could invest in an antistatic wristband to keep you grounded at all times.
The motherboard needs to be mounted on risers, which are small metal pins that screw into the back of the case. Often these risers are pre-installed. Check that each riser lines up with a hole and unscrew and remove any that don't – these could short-circuit the motherboard. Next, lower the motherboard on to the risers and make sure the ports line up with the blanking plate. If everything fits, use the supplied screws to fix it into place.
To install the processor, lift up the lever on the socket and line up the pins with the connectors – they're designed to fit in only one way around. When it's in the right place, pull down the lever to make contact. The heatsink then clips over the socket. A small amount of white thermal paste can be spread between the chip and heatsink to endure good heat transfer. Alternatively, a thermal pad can be installed (remember to peel away the protective foil first).
Check your motherboard's manual to see which slots are in which bank (see our section on processors and memory) and make sure you put one stick of RAM in each. Typically, each bank is colour-coded and grouped together, making it easy to identify. Fold out the tabs at the end of the slot, insert the memory (it will fit only one way around) and then press down firmly until it clicks in place.
You now need to connect the power supply to the motherboard. There will be one long connector that clicks into place and typically a smaller secondary socket, but consult the motherboard's manual to make sure. The case buttons and lights also need to be wired up – this requires you to match up small sockets with pins on the motherboard, although these will often be grouped together. You'll find a diagram showing which wires go where in the manual.
Now install your hard drive(s). Most PC cases include runners that simply clip on to the side of the drive, allowing you to slide it into place. But sometimes you might need to secure these runners with screws. Connect the power supply to the drive and use a SATA cable to connect the drive to the motherboard.
The procedure for installing optical drives is similar, but they may use the ATA interface (which needs a wide, flat cable rather than a thin SATA one). You also need to check that the jumper on the back of an ATA drive is set to the master position.
With everything else in place, install a graphics card if you plan to add one, as well as any other expansion cards. You'll need to remove a blanking plate from the edge of the case so you can access the connectors on the back of the graphics card. Line up the card with the slot and press down firmly. Secure it in place. If yours is a high-end graphics card, it may also need to be hooked up to the power supply.
Finally, double-check everything is correctly and securely connected, plug in your peripherals and get ready to start up your new computer. The Bios should automatically detect the correct settings for your components; consult your motherboard's manual should you need to change any settings.
The entire process shouldn't take more than a couple of hours – less if you've done it before – and at the end you'll have a machine built to your exact specification.
Next page: selecting the right motherboard
- Build your own PC: price vs performance
- Build your own PC: tips on assembly
- Build your own PC: selecting a motherboard
- Build your own PC: processors & memory
- Build your own PC: hard disks & optical drives
- Build your own PC: graphics cards & monitors
- Build your own PC: power supplies, fans & cases
PUTTING IT TOGETHER: Click here for PC Advisor's detailed seven-step guide to assembling your components