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How To Build a Custom Computer

Author:  Jason Dumbaugh
Date:  2007.07.26
Topic:  Misc Mod
Provider:  TechwareLabs
Manufacturer:  TechwareLabs

How To Build a Custom Computer

A side job I have is building custom computers for friends and strangers alike. This guide is help you, the upcoming computer genius, to build your own custom computer. I'll start with the parts I'm using, and explain step by step how to get the job done. Building a custom computer can take anywhere from 20 minutes (if you rush) to an hour. It usually takes me 45 since I don't want to mess up and have to start all over again. There's nothing quite like getting to the end and realizing you put the processor in sideways and almost crushed a $165 piece of equipment. We suggest you alot 2 hours to building a computer if it is your first time, alot more time if you have more components that a standard installation or if this is a server system.

The Components:

A custom computer only runs as well as the components you put in them, so what did we use? The beauty of building a custom computer is that you can focus on whatever you plan on doing with the computer and buying the components to accomodate that goal. This computer was built for a person who needed a lot of storage for their music and pictures, a fast hard drive, good DVD burners, and nice fast RAM. This was a computer that was going to be used for a family in the main room, so high performance and a good video card weren't a must. We therefore threw our spare cash into getting a large hard drive, solid RAM, and a good processor.

Now the computer that this was based off of came from a website which will go unnamed, but the cost was approximately $1,223, and it came with lots of extras we just didn't need. We added up the parts we did need, and found our custom computer to only cost $653 shipped without the Operating System.

Xoxide X-Static 2 Case
 - Blue LED 80mm fan
2 x Lite-On DVD burner
ASUS P5L-VM 1394 LGA 775
Intel Core 2 Duo Conroe E6300
Seagate 500GB SATA perp. record.
2GB Super Talent DDR2-800
Rosewill Stallion 450W 
Logitech Webcam
Rosewill 52-in-1 Card Reader


NOTE: Do not throw ANY of the parts boxes away until you've booted up your computer and played with it a while. That way, if your parts are broken, you can ship them back in their original boxes for an RMA. We cannot stress enough that you buy from a reputable dealer with a return policy that actually exists and that you KEEP ALL RECEIPTS.

Unpacking the case:

I received all of the components within 3 days of ordering them, and first unpacked the case. The safest way to unpack a case without damaging it is to cut the tape and pull the case out by the styrofoam. Place the case on the ground, styrofoam side down. Pull the styrofoam side facing up off of the case. Flip the case onto that side and pull off the other piece. Now take off the plastic wrapper. This keeps you from pulling things off in the air and potentially dropping the case. Now take off the side panel and place the thumbscrews somewhere that you won't lose them. Look around inside and remove the bag of screws from the case so they don't get lost. Notice the bag of screws was taped inside the case on the HDD rack.

Xoxide X-Static 2 case Xoxide X-Static 2 case open



Open up the motherboard package. DO NOT THROW THE MOTHERBOARD BOX AWAY. They are almost always the same type of box that pivots and opens, they're great to store all of your extra cables, screws, and manuals in. Make sure your hands are clean and completely dry and carefully remove the motherboard from the box. Remove the plastic wrapper and throw it away. Now we have our motherboard, manual, metal backplate, and cables in front of us.

NOTE: The notherboard manual is extremely important and will be your guide to the setup of the system after it is constructed.

ASUS P5L motherboard ASUS P5L

Look for the processor socket and unlatch the lock on it, in this case mde for an Intel socket 775 processor. Flip open the lid and remove the plastic processor protector. Place this in the motherboard box to be kept. Sit the motherboard someplace where it won't get dirty nor touched much by hands.

NOTE: Avoid touching the components soldered onto the motherboard. Especially avoid touching the EPROM chip (usually black with pins that sits into a socket) as this is the location of your bios and if damaged your system will not boot. We suggest the use of an ESD or grounding bracelet be used during all handling and construction of the system.

ASUS P5L processor



Time to briefly move on to the processor. Remove the processor from the box and remove the processor and heatsink. Your heatsink should have thermal grease on the bottom of it, so make sure you don't touch it.

E6300 Processor Heatsink E6300 Intel Heatsink

Take the processor out of it's plastic cover without touching the bottom of the processor. Place the plastic cover in the motherboard box. With the processor socket open, line up the markings on the processor with the markings on the processor socket. With the Core 2 Duo, there are two flanges that stick out on the sides.

NOTE: If the processor is installed wrong, you could ruin your processor and potentially your entire system. Make sure it is installed correctly.

E6300 Intel ASUS P5L

NOTE: Notice that the processor has one corner marked with a gold arrow, this will line up with a similar marking on the socket or motherboard to show you which way the processor should be installed.

After the processor is seated and you're sure it's in correctly, close the processor socket and latch the locking arm into place. Make sure it's secure.

Intel E6300 Locked

Following the instructions for the heatsink, mine told me to simply insert the corner posts into the motherboard holes and press down on the tops, locking the arms underneath the motherboard. You do not need to smear the thermal grease around, as it will spread through pressure and heat. Heatsink installations vary, and you should follow the instrtuctions rather than me.

Intel E6300 heatsink

Now you can go ahead and take the plug for the heatsink fan and plug it into the slot titled "CPU FAN" on the motherboard.



Sitting the motherboard in a clean dry place again, we open up our RAM. Most motherboard these days have something called dual-channel RAM access, which allows the RAM to be used together. This will; only work if it is the exact sdame type and size of RAM, and is not recommended for mix-matching. Dual-channel is indicated by different colors of the RAM sockets. I chose to install my dual RAM kit into the yellow slots. Pull back the locking arms on the RAM so that you can insert the RAM. RAM only fits into the motherboard one way, and should not be forced. The pins should match up on the RAM. If it is difficult to insert, try turning it around. The tabs on either end will pop into place as you insert the ram fully into the slots.

Super Talent DDR2-800 Super Talent DDR2-800 installation Super Talent DDR2-800


ASUS P5L Super Talent Intel Core 2 Duo
complete motherboard


Case Preparation:

Now that the motherboard is ready to be installed into the case, we must first prepare the case for installation. Take the metal motherboard backplate and replace it with the template one in the case. Put the template in your motherboard box.

Time for us to go to our bag of screws. Take out all of the gold hex-headed screws. Hold up the motherboard to the backplate inside the case and take note of where the screw holes are located. Sit the motherboard back down and screw these gold screws into the spots where the motherboard holes are located. Make sure they are very tight. This puts a space between the motherboard and the case so that connections will not short out.


Motherboard Installation:

Move any extra gold hex screws to the side, we'll put them back in the bag later. Look at the round screws that have a flat edge on them. These are the motherboard screws used to screw the motherboard into our gold bases. Place the motherboard back into the case up against the backplate. Screw the motherboard into the case and make sure it is sturdy. If it isn't, do not add any more random gold screws because it may touch the motherboard in the wrong spot and short it out.


Now that the motherboard is in the case, it's time to start connecting peripherals. Grab ahold of the wires coming from the front of the case. These four wires are the Power LED, Power Button, Reset LED, and Reset Button. There may be a Speaker and USB plug as well. Following the installation in the motherboard manual, see how they have it arranged and follow that. My motherboard plug was a little different looking than most usually are. There are generally fewer pins and are back to back.


Power Supply:

Remove the power supply from the box. If anything will be DOA, it'll be the power supply. Make especially sure you don't throw this box away. Installation of the power supply is easy. Simply take the bag of screws out and place them on a table nearby. Lift the power supply into the case so that the power plug is outside the case, and the big fan is facing towards the motherboard to act as a blowhole fan. Move all of the power supply cables to the side for now.

Rosewill Power Supply Stallion 450W

Turn your attention to the 24-pin large cable and the 4-pin small cable. The 24-pin cable is what powers the motherboard. It should be plugged into the socket on the right in my picture. The 4-pin connector powers the CPU, and should be plugged into the socket in the top left corner of the picture. These two plugs are absolutely needed to make your PC run. Sometimes there is an 8-pin connector on the motherboard instead of the 4. Some of the new power supplies have this pin, and some require an attachment. Check this out ahead of time so you can order the attachment if you need it.


Hard Drive:

Take the Hard Drive out of the packaging and open the bag of screws it came with. Place the hard drive in the desired 3.25" drive bay and line up the screw holes. Seat the hard drive by putting in the four screws, two on each side. If you bought a SATA hard drive, you'll be plugging the SATA power plug from the power supply and the SATA data cable in. The SATA data cable will plug into the motherboard in the red or black socket (shown behind the hard drive). On my motherboard, the red plugs designate master, and the black designates slave. If your hard drive is an IDE/ATA, it will use Molex power and the data will come from the IDE plug on the motherboard.

Seagate 500GB Perp Recording



If you've purchased extra fans for your case, now would be as good a time as any to install them. I only bought an extra 80mm fan for the rear, though I would recommend a 120mm if it's going to be in a hot location.

blue LED 80mm fan


Optical Drives:

Open up the box(es) of your DVD burner(s). For my case, I needed to take off the front plate because it had a decorative drive cover. Most cases won't require this, but if it does, you usually only need to pinch a few clasps on the inside of the case to remove it. Once they're seated, secure them with their screws. Plug in the molex power plugs and the IDE plug.

NOTE: The IDE cable usually designates the end plug as master, so if your drives are set on CS (cable select), the end plug will be the master. The same rule applies with the IDE hard drives.

I/O Magix DVD burners


Card Reader:

We bought a card reader, too. This gets installed in the 3.25" floppy bay, and uses a USB plug for power. There are usually two USB plugs available on the motherboard, so choose wisely when adding in extra USB ports.


Completing the Computer:

That's it! Now your computer is ready to have it's Operating System installed on it. Start by checking all connections on the computer first.

Plug the power plug into the CPU and into a power strip. Turn the switch on the power supply on (if there is one), and push the power button. It should come alive! Put the Windows CD in and install it! If you're not familiar with OS installation, stay tuned for our "How to Install Windows XP" tutorial.

complete case Windows XP Pro install



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