Building a computer is the best way to get the perfect machine for your needs. We’ve shown you the basic steps before, as well as tips on beefing up your setup, but there are certain things most of us learn after screwing up and wasting a lot of time. Here are a few things you can learn from veterans’ mistakes.
Of course, if you’ve built one or two computers before, you might still find some nuggets of knowledge in here you hadn’t discovered on your own, so check out the video above for a quick overview, and check out the tips below for more details. And don’t forget to share your own too!
1. Test Before You Build
Getting a part that's dead on arrival is rare, but it does happen -- one look at reviews on Newegg will tell you that. The last thing you want to do is spend a day building your computer only to plug it in and have a DOA motherboard. Thankfully, your motherboard's box makes a perfect test bench: put your motherboard on top of its box, install your CPU, RAM, CPU cooler and video card (if applicable), plug in your power supply's 24-pin and 8-pin power cables, hook it up to a monitor and fire it up (which you can do using your motherboard's power button, if it has one or a screwdriver). If you can at least get into the BIOS, you'll at least know nothing's dead. From there, just put your mostly built motherboard into your case, screw everything in, and hook up your fans, case headers and other accessories. It won't add very much time to your build, but it will save you a lot of time if you get a dead component.
2. Don't Overdo Your Thermal Paste
It's a silly little step, but it's something people constantly argue about online: what's the best way to apply thermal paste? I've seen people do some pretty crazy things, like put on a giant blob or spread it around with a credit card, when it really couldn't be simpler. Just put a small, pea-sized dab in the middle, or a thin line about the size of a grain of rice. Then put your heatsink on and start screwing it in. The pressure will spread it out for you. (Note: there are always exceptions to this rule, like very high-viscosity or low-viscosity pastes, but the process really is this simple for the average paste).
If you want, you can head to your thermal paste manufacturer's website, where they may have a list of which method (pea or rice) is best for your specific brand, but in the end, it shouldn't make a huge difference unless you're using really specialised, expensive thermal paste -- which, by the way, probably won't make a huge difference in your temperatures. Just don't use too much and you'll be fine. If you want more information, this article at Tom's Hardware has all you need to know.
3. Plan Before You Build
Every build is different, and jumping in too quickly might mean you forget something important and end up having to take it apart and start from scratch. So, take a step back for just a few moments and plan your build out. Does your CPU cooler have a backplate? Attach it to your motherboard before you screw your motherboard into the case. Is your graphics card large? Install your hard drives first, since it will probably block access to them. Does your power supply hinder access to your motherboard? You'll want to install it afterward, instead of before (though sometimes the reverse is true). It sounds silly, but a little visualisation can make things a lot easier and less time consuming.
4. Create Good Airflow
I don't need to tell you that a hot, dusty computer is bad -- but a lot of builders don't put too much thought into their fans the first time around. Pay attention to which directions your fans are facing (they should have an arrow on the side that tells you which way it blows air), and try to get the air flowing all in one direction -- usually in the front of the case, and out the back. You also probably want more intake fans than exhaust fans to create positive air pressure inside your case. If you have more intake pressure, then any extra air will escape through the nooks and crannies of your case, as opposed to entering through those nooks and crannies (and thus bringing in more dust). Positive air pressure coupled with filters on your intake fans means you'll have much less dust, which means cooler and quieter operation. For more information, check out our complete guide to cooling your computer.
5. Skip the Driver Discs
Chances are, your motherboard, video card, and other components came with a CD or DVD filled with drivers and other software. Generally, we recommend skipping these. By the time you build your computer, the drivers are probably outdated, and the discs often come with other software that you probably don't want. Instead, visit the manufacturer's web site and download the latest drivers from there.
There is one exception to this rule, and that's Ethernet or Wi-Fi drivers. If Windows doesn't have your drivers built-in, you obviously can't access the internet to download the latest ones, so those discs can help you out. Or, you can use another computer to download the drivers to a flash drive and transfer them over.
6. Save Your Boxes and Bags!
Lastly, when you're done building, don't throw out those boxes or anti-static bags! They can come in really handy when selling your parts down the line (because yes, you can sell old computer parts!). Plus, I've found that the motherboard box is the perfect place to store all the extra cables, screws, brackets, and other parts that you don't use. Don't throw them away, because you'll probably need them if and when you upgrade down the line.
Obviously, this isn't an exhaustive list, but these are a few of the handiest tips we've learned after years of building. If you've got your own, we'd love to hear them -- and if you're a veteran builder, be sure to send this along to your first-time builder friends to save them the trouble of learning the hard way.