10 tips for first time PC builders

| January 8, 2010 | (41)

This is the first of three posts written specially for people who are considering building their first PC or who are ready to, but need some advices.

  1. 10 tips for first time PC builders
  2. Building your own computer FAQs
  3. Help me: Why won’t my newly assembled PC start?

10 Quick Tips for 1st Time PC Builders

Building your first PC is definitely a fun project that you can get excited about and I don’t blame you. However, to ensure that you have a trouble-free experience and that in the end, you have a functional PC that didn’t cost you more than it should have, here are ten tips for first time PC builders. I hope that they will be useful to you:

Before buying your parts:

1- Plan, plan and plan
Take your sweet time to plan every aspect of the computer that you want to build, before buying the parts that is. If you buy the parts and realize that they are either not compatible or under/over-powered for your needs, you’ll have to pay return fees in most stores to change your parts.

2- Buy the appropriate parts based on YOUR needs.
Make a list of all the programs, video games and everything else that you plan to run/do on your PC. This will help you figure out what are the components that YOU need. Trust me, most of us don’t need the latest and fastest.

3- Buying online vs buying in a brick and mortar store
Are you better off buying your parts online or in a retail store? I weighted the pro and cons of both in Buying online versus buying in a retail store.

4- Be patient
The expression goes that “Patience pays off” and this is especially when it comes to computers. With the insane rate at which new parts are released, if you’re patient, you’ll be either able to go with the newer, more powerful part or perhaps you’ll be able to save up because stores are liquidating older parts to get rid of them.

5- Buy all your parts at the same time
Yes, I know, I said be patient. However, most of time, you’re better off saving up your money to buy all your parts at the same time. Usually, as time goes by, new parts come out and prices on older parts drop. If you buy one part at a time, you might get the problem that some new parts are not compatible with older ones.

However, the main reason for my recommendation is that for most parts, you only have a certain time to return if they are defective, for example, 30 days. If you buy them one at a time, you can’t test them before you have all the parts, unless you have another compatible computer to try them, which may result in that you’ll be stuck with a defective part that you can’t return!

Building process:

6- Give yourself plenty of time, space and light.
Make sure to have many hours ahead of you to build your PC. It is not something that you want to rush, especially not when handling expensive and fragile parts. Work on a large table, with plenty of light available to make the process easier for you. Avoid working on carpets, as the resulting static is deadly for PC components.

7- Don’t force anything in or out
The vast majority of components can only be inserted one way. It if doesn’t fit, do not try to force it, as you’ll most likely just going to break it. Simply try to fit it another way. Heatsinks are the exception here though, sometimes they require quite a lot of force to secure them.

8- Handle the parts with care:
Computer parts are very fragile and should be handled with extreme care. Whether it’s the pins on the CPU, motherboard socket, caps on various parts, thin wires all around, etc. etc., it is very easy to damage something if you’re not careful.

Troubleshooting

9- Help me! My PC won’t power on!
First of all, calm down. Panicking is the worst thing to do when working with a computer and more often than not leads to poor decisions. Once you’ve calmed down, here’s a few things to check. They are simple, but sometimes we take them for granted and forget about them:

Make sure to double-check every power connection. Your motherboard will need a 24-pin connector, as well as a 4 or 8-pin connector. Video cards require one or two 6 or 8-pin PCI-Express power connector. Did you connect the cables that came with your case to the bottom of your motherboard, as the manual specified? Did you plug the power supply cord into the wall and made sure that you’ve switched on the power supply?

10- My PC powers on, but nothing shows up on my monitor!
This is something that can happen with a variety of reasons. When someone writes to me, here’s what I usually ask them if I don’t have enough information to help them:

  • Is the CPU fan spinning at all when you start the PC?
  • Reseat (Unplug and replug) all cables.
  • Make sure that memory modules are plugged where they should be, that is slot 1 and 3 (some motherboards work only with slot 2 and 4). Try one stick a time.
  • Make sure that all the power cables are plugged in. The video card required one or two PCI-Express power connectors and the motherboard requires the 24-pin ATX connector along with the 4/8-pin ATX power.
  • Ensure that the motherboard stand-offs are installed correctly (including the insulation washers) and the mobo is not touching any part of the case.
  • Check your CPU for proper seating, and possibly a bent pin.
  • Think through everything you have done in the setup, even the heat sink and thermal paste.

Something else you can do to is take a few clear, well-lighted pictures of the motherboard and the components with the cables plugged in and post it on the forums.

Conclusion

Do you have any tips of your own to share for first time builders? Share them below in the comments.

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Category: How to, Questions & Answers

About Mathieu Bourgie: HR Founder - Computer expert with over 14 years of experience in building, fixing and modifying PCs. Over the years, I’ve developed a passion for PC hardware and now I enjoy helping others build their own PCs! In April 2008, I launched Hardware Revolution and ... Read more at my about page .

  • Tony

    ok i dont know if i should be freaking out but i just recently built my computer and you helped me alot during the process but for the second time in the first month and a half my computer has frozen up and then i get the blue screen and then the computer restarts. what could be the problem?

  • Tony

    ok i dont know if i should be freaking out but i just recently built my computer and you helped me alot during the process but for the second time in the first month and a half my computer has frozen up and then i get the blue screen and then the computer restarts. what could be the problem?

    • http://www.hardware-revolution.com/ MathieuB

      Tony,

      I read the e-mail that you sent me a while ago with your specs, here's something that I noticed with your RAM (http://bit.ly/2TKdrf): It requires 1.65V to 1.85V. Too low voltage would be a source of freezing/BSOD. Here's what to do: In your BIOS, set your RAM voltage higher, to 1.85V.

      Then you can use Memtest86 (http://www.memtest86.com/) to make sure that RAM isn't your problem. If it passes tests with no error, then try Orthos (http://sp2004.fre3.com/beta/beta2.htm) to see if the system as a whole is stable.

      Hope that helps. If you need more help, feel free to reach me via e-mail.

    • Guest

      maybe your power supply is messed?

  • http://www.hardware-revolution.com/ MathieuB

    Tony,

    I read the e-mail that you sent me a while ago with your specs, here's something that I noticed with your RAM (http://bit.ly/2TKdrf): It requires 1.65V to 1.85V. Too low voltage would be a source of freezing/BSOD. Here's what to do: In your BIOS, set your RAM voltage higher, to 1.85V.

    Then you can use Memtest86 (http://www.memtest86.com/) to make sure that RAM isn't your problem. If it passes tests with no error, then try Orthos (http://sp2004.fre3.com/beta/beta2.htm) to see if the system as a whole is stable.

    Hope that helps. If you need more help, feel free to reach me via e-mail.

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  • Andrew

    So I am going to build your $850 gaming computer and was wondering if I need any additional parts such as cables?

    Thanks!

  • Andrew

    So I am going to build your $850 gaming computer and was wondering if I need any additional parts such as cables?

    Thanks!

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  • Herka Derka

    would you need antistatic wrist bands in order to build a computer? what about thermal paste? where would you get these if so?

    • http://www.hardware-revolution.com/ MathieuB

      Herka Derka,

      An anti-static wrist is not necessary, just make sure to ground yourself by touching the case or power supply before handling any component. I have been doing that for over a decade without a problem ;) The only case where I would recommend an anti-static wrist is if your floor is covered with carpet.

      Thermal paste is not necessary with stock coolers, as AMD as well as Intel cover the bottom of their stock CPU Cooler with a thermal pad (pre-installed equivalent of thermal paste) which does the job. Note that you can remove said thermal pad and use thermal paste to improve your CPU temperatures.

      If you buy an after-market CPU Cooler, most of the time it comes included with thermal paste, although not always with high-performance thermal paste. If you really want the lowest temperatures, high-performance thermal paste will help drop a few, if not several degrees off.

      Hope that helps, let me know if you have more questions.

      Take care,
      Mathieu

      • AJ

        Hey there Mathieu, I had a question about building a new gaming system that can run guild wars 2 flawlessly, do you have any suggestions? New to the whole building thing, but I know I want to put together a nice system in which I can crank up the graphic settings without having to worry about me being choppy while I play, if you have any suggestions that would be great

  • Ian Burnette

    Mathieu,

    Wow, I've been trying to decide for a while the most cost-effective way to get a gaming PC. I've been scouring all the sites I can find (ebay, amazon, as well as tigerdirect and others of that sort), and it's been a really discouraging process. I have a pretty good idea of what I want, but I couldn't find a pre-made to those specs. And I have a friend who built his own computer, and it worked well for him, but he's not nearby and the whole thing seemed like too much of an intimidating task, even if I would get the best value. So, in a last-ditch effort searching, I found your site – and I was at first skeptical when I saw the gaming PCs listed by price ranges. “Could it really be that simple? Can this site actually be helpful?” I asked myself as I began reading. My hopes were soon confirmed, and I'm very exited to get started. So, thank you very much for all your hard work. It's certainly appreciated.

    • http://www.hardware-revolution.com/ MathieuB

      Ian,

      I'm glad to hear that you're finding the website useful, since one of my main goals is to help people build their first PC and to make the whole process as simple as possible.

      If you have any questions about a build, feel free to leave a comment on the build page and I'll get back to you quickly.

      Take care and I look forward to hear from you,
      Mathieu

  • Mr. Guy

    Mathieu B, you are fantastic! There should be more people like you online to help others with their expertise!

  • Caribbean K

    Im building my 1st pc, i’ve always loved computers and as im saving up i thought it would be great to build my own.I got all my parts in a cart waiting to order and i was just double checking with you to see if they would be compatible, i have a AMD Phenom II X6 1090T Black Edition Thuban 3.2 GHz 6×512 KB L2 Cache Socket AM3 125W Six-Core Processor – Retail HDT90ZFBGRBOX,Arctic Silver 5 Thermal Compound 3.5g,Cooler Master RC-922M-KKN1-GP HAF 922M ATX Mid Tower Case (Black),Corsair CMPSU-850TX 850-Watt TX Series 80 Plus Certified Power Supply compatible with Intel Core i7 and Core i5,Corsair Cooling Hydro Series H50 All in One High-performance CPU Cooler CWCH50-1,XFX ATI Radeon HD 5850 1 GB DDR5 2DVI/HDMI/DisplayPort PCI-Express Video Card HD585XZAFC,ViewSonic VX2439WM 24-Inch Wide Full HD Monitor features HDMI Input and SRS Premium Sound,ASUS Crosshair IV Formula – AM3 – AMD 890FX – DDR3 – Republic of Gamers – ATX Motherboard,Corsair XMS3 8 GB 1333 MHz PC3-10666 240-Pin DDR3 Memory Kit CMX8GX3M2A1333C9,Western Digital Caviar Black 1 TB Desktop Hard Drive (WD1002FAEX)x2 and Scythe “KAZE MASTER ACE ” 5.25″ Bay Fan Controller- Black (KM02-BK). I think i have all the necessary parts minus sound system and mouse n keyboard n stuff, im just checking to see if im a-ok for ordering and building.thanks in advance

    • Caribbean K

      oh n i forgot my cd drive,lol,lg lite on 24x

  • Chris

    Hello Mathieu, this is a very helpful and unique site, and if I had a paypal account I’d send you a few. Is there any other way I can support you? I searched for help with building my first new pc and eventually came across your site, being I have replaced and upgraded everything in my HP Pavilion since I bought it new in mid-2005 I feel I have enough experience and shouldn’t have trouble with the majority of my build. What your site has really helped me with is WHAT to buy. Your tier system chart is near perfect in directing one to the right part at the right price. I do have a question on video cards, not sure if you reply here anymore but I’ll leave one anyway. I originally clicked on the EVGA 01G-P3-1380-KR GeForce GTX 460 (Fermi) SSC+, a very good card indeed. I also found a EVGA 012-P3-1470-AR GeForce GTX 470. I have the extra cash to budget this more expensive card in, it does have more Processor Cores and a larger memory interface, but on core, shader and Effective Memory Clock, it has lower ratings than the 460. If money is not a concern, what is better overall, having more processor cores and interface or having higher core, shader and clock speeds? My second question is what is SSC+? Does it mean this card is supersuperclocked or can be? My last question concerns Open GL 4.0, the 460 has this but not the 470 from what I can see, is this a non-issue or does the 470 actually have this technology and does it need it? Do you have a pictures section? I will begin building my new pc in 10-14 days and I will be doing photo documentation and would love to upload pics somewhere on here showing my build. Being everything I am buying is from your chart with the exception of Storage and Power Supply and the two “free” items in Audio and Network, I would love to share my build experience on here. Thank you also for directing me to the HAF912 case, it’s both amazing and affordable, the absolute perfect case I have been searching for the last few months. Hopefully see you on here again soon, I noticed you haven’t commented in over 4 months. Chris

    • Chris

      I’m replying to myself just to let Mathieu and others know I finished my build. This site helped me a lot with choosing parts, although I bought mostly different ones then in my first post. I went with a HAF case, Asus Crosshair Formula IV mobo and the phenom 3.2 BE 6-core cpu with the Corsair H50 cpu liquid cooler with the two fan setup. I went with the XFX HD6950 2GB vid card and for a future upgrade I will just buy another and do crossfire. The G.Skill Ripsaw 2x4GB runs great even though in the mobo manual it isn’t listed. Total of 6 coolmaster red led 120mm fans with the H50 keep my temps lower than expected. I passed on a SSD because they’re just too much currently, grabbed two 150 Raptors 10k speed and a 1TB WD 7200. Have a Rheosmart 6-fan controller, fit and looks perfect in the HAF case. The HAF has amazing wire management and for how small it is compared to other current cases it sure can fit a lot. I grabbed three Asus 25.5 lcd monitors that were on sale for 259 each, went a bit over budget but only because of the monitors. The Corsair 850watt PSU works great, got screwed on the 20 rebate but oh well. Grabbed a 15 LG dvd drive and a 89 LG BluRay Burner, the BR works great with the right third party software. Kept the intergrated 8-channel sound, I see no need for a separate sound card. Using my old school Klipsch 2.1 sound system and grabbed a pair of Grado SR80 headphones on sale for 69, amazing sound. I think that’s it other than windows 7, which I hated for the first few days, but I’m in love with it now. It feels good to have built a great system, I had a old HP Pavilian since 2005 and that is a door stop compared to this pc. No real issues with the build, I was afraid to snug up the H50 to the CPU and mobo but no damage and it keeps temps LOW. Love all the software that came with the Asus Crosshair and the 6950, just endless tweaks and tools. Like I said before, I left room to upgrade. Another 6950 in crossfire eventually, more room for other hard drives and another two slots for 8 more gigs of ddr3. “I love the smell of a new pc in the morning, it smells like, victory.”

  • Senrusho

    This may be a stupid question but what happens If I buy OEM and my HDD crashes and I need to reformat? Can I do that with the OEM disc/license?

    • Chris

      Yes. The only time you would have an issue is if you change motherboards. And if this happens you can still call Microsoft and ask them to reactivate your key/license. A HD crash is fine, even if you decided to use a new HD it wouldn’t matter. I imagine you will have to do the robo call over again to get the full key for activation just the same as when you first installed it. As long as you have your OEM disc you’re good to go.

      If for whatever reason the activation fails or refuses to begin, do the following.

      Here are the steps for using the telephone option for activation.

      1. Press the Windows Logo Key+R. This will bring up the Run dialog box.

      2. In the Open: box, type slui 4 and press OK. This will start the manual activation wizard.

      3. Select your Country in the drop down menu and click Next.

      4. The wizard will display a Toll Free phone number. Leave the wizard open on the computer and call that phone number.

      Follow any of the recorded instructions. If this activation fails, stay on the line until a live Activation Representative answers. The representative will manually activate that system for you.

  • Luno888

    Matheiu this website is brilliant. I’m a newbie with computers and this site is my holy grail. Building my first PC this summer :) I was overwhelmed until now

  • Blakecintenn

    I have a quick question. I will be building my first computer this summer and this site is absolutely AMAZING. However, I really don’t know what tier computer I really “need”. I want my computer to be able to handle any game out there at pretty high settings with little to no lag. What build, from this website, should I choose for what I want it to do (I don’t need the features to be the latest and greatest of course)?

    • http://soundcloud.com/dj-chopstick Choppin’ Stix

      You should probably look at Mainstream or High-End Gaming computers, depending on which games you’re going to be playing and at how high settings. Also, there are plenty of helpful benchmarks (from games) at AnandTech for all the parts in the builds ;)  

  • TZ86

    This is the best website i’ve come across for newbies to get advices! Great job! and Many thanks!

    • http://www.hardware-revolution.com/ MathieuB

      Cheers, glad to hear that it was useful to you!

      Take care,
      Mathieu

  • Ramses Byron

    I like to say I know enough about computers that they are frighted of me hurting them accidentally I have been reading many of your pages and do not feel so dangerous to them now :) and am also considering building my next family computer

  • kyau

    thanks to you guys i built my first comp! Your advice is really helpful. Cheers :]

    • http://www.hardware-revolution.com/ MathieuB

      Congratulations on your new PC :D

      Feel free to join us on the forums to share your experience and/or some pictures of your new PC: http://forums.hardware-revolution.com/

      Cheers,
      Mathieu

  • Gunnar

    im building my first PC and im 13 years old but my dad is helping me and i’ve been doing tons and tons of research and these hints really helped a lot thanks man :D