For a while now I have been wanting to upgrade my desktop PC. I had a Gateway Intel Q6600 Quad Core PC that had served me well, but was getting a bit long in the tooth for my needs (specifically more CPU intensive tasks such as encoding, commercial scanning, etc…). This combined with an itch I have had of late to build a PC led to me finally pulling the trigger a few weeks ago. I still remember nearly three years ago when I built my first PC (thanks to the forum members here at MediaSmartServer) how intimidating a process it was. After I was done with that PC build though I was amazed at how something that seemed so complicated could actually be so easy. Since then I have built two more PCs, a Windows Home Server, and haven’t looked back. I don’t consider myself to be any sort of master PC builder, but I thought it would be worth documenting walking through a build.
To build a powerful yet quiet desktop PC that will serve as my workhorse. Typical duties (aside from internet browsing) will be ripping movies, encoding to mobile formats, live TV recording, commercial scanning & removal, software testing, and video playback.
When building a PC it is important to take some time planning before ordering the components. For example, you want to make sure that the components you are getting are compatible with each other (i.e. is the RAM compatible with the motherboard). Another thing to think about is how much power (PSU) do you need (you can use an online calculator such as here to determine). For me I always like to err on the side of getting too much instead of getting not enough. By doing this if your needs change in the future it may be as simple as adding on/replacing a component versus having to do an entirely new build. Based on the purpose I listed above here is what I decided to go with:
- Antec Three Hundred Illusion Black Steel ATX Mid Tower Computer Case – $54.99
- COOLER MASTER Silent Pro M600 RS-600-AMBA-D3 600W ATX12V V2.3 SLI Certified CrossFire Ready 80 PLUS Bronze Certified Modular PSU – $99.99
- GIGABYTE GA-Z68A-D3H-B3 LGA 1155 Intel Z68 HDMI SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 ATX Intel Motherboard – $129.99
- GIGABYTE GV-N450OC-1GI GeForce GTS 450 (Fermi) 1GB 128-bit GDDR5 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready SLI Support Video Card – $114.99
- CORSAIR Vengeance 8GB (2 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1866 (PC3 15000) Desktop Memory Model – $99.99
- Intel Core i7-2600K Sandy Bridge 3.4GHz (3.8GHz Turbo Boost) LGA 1155 95W Quad-Core Desktop Processor – $289.99
- Western Digital Caviar Black WD1002FAEX 1TB 7200 RPM SATA 6.0Gb/s 3.5″ Internal Hard Drive – $89.99
- LG Black Super Multi SATA WH12LS30 LightScribe Support – $94.99
- Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-2250 Media Center Kit Dual TV Tuner – $129.99 (note, I pulled this out of the PC I am replacing)
- COOLER MASTER Intel Core i5 compatible GeminII S RR-CCH-PBU1-GP 120mm Sleeve CPU Cooler – $39.99 (already owned from a previous build)
- Arctic Silver 5 Thermal Compound – $11.99 (already owned)
- Miscellaneous – depending on the hardware you get you may next to get extras such as molex convertors, sata cables, etc…
Total Cost – $1,106.89 (backing out various rebates). Actual cost for my order was $924.92 since the last three items I already owned.
Building The PC:
Now keep in mind there is no correct order that you must go in when building a PC and you may find it to be trial and error. This is the process that worked best for me with this build.
IMPORTANT: whenever you are dealing with electronics you always want to be aware of electrical static discharge which could potentially damage your hardware. Always make sure you are grounded (either with an anti static wrist band or by simply touching something metal immediately prior to handling).
1) Unpack the case and get to know it. Take a look at the front and the rear (in this case I am talking strictly about the PC )
Open up the case and take note of how everything is laid out. The layout may ultimately decide what steps you follow. For example, you may notice that the HDD cage comes very close to where the motherboard would sit, so you may want to install the motherboard first in case inserting the hard drive first blocks installing the motherboard. Since the case I am using is very roomy I didn’t notice any major obstacles.
2) Install the PSU. I decided to go with a modular PSU. This is really a great option for cable management.
Line up the PSU with the case opening (you should see the opening for the PSU at the back of the case). The cable should be pointed towards the inside of the case and the PSU fan should hopefully be pointed up away from the case wall (could vary depending on the case you use). Then simply use the provided screws to secure the PSU to the case.
3) Install ROM Drive and Hard Drives. I chose to do this step next because in past builds I have installed the drives later on and encountered some issues that made it more difficult then it needed to be (for example RAM blocking access). Your standard ROM drive will require an external 5.25in Drive Bay which is pretty standard on cases until you start getting down to the smaller mini-ITX cases.
With the cover off simply slide the ROM drive into the bay from the outside. The ROM drive or the case itself should cone with screws that you will need to use to secure the drive to the bay.
Since the hard drive is an internal drive all that is needed is to position it inside on of the 3.5in bays. As with the ROM drive secure the hard drive to the case with the included screws. In the picture below you can see the ROM drive in the top bay and the hard drive a few bays below.
With the drives installed it is now time to turn our attention to the guts of the PC. If you look at the rear of the case you will see a pre installed I/O shield. This is really just a place holder and odds are it will not match the I/O of your motherboard. However, the motherboard does come with its own I/O so all you need to do is simply pop out the case I/O shield and insert the new I/O shield.
Once the I/O shield is in place, lay the case on its side, position the motherboard so the screw holes on the case line up with the motherboard screw holes, and using the included screws secure the motherboard to the case (note: you don’t need to line up with all the case screw holes as there will be additional holes to accompany different size motherboards). Figuring out which direction to place the motherboard in is easy since the I/O ports must line up with the I/O shield.
Next up is that mystical little square thingy called the CPU! I remember when I built my first PC I treated the CPU like it was worth more then gold and more fragile then glass! If you look at the motherboard you can see the socket where the CPU is to be installed (there is a big yellow sticky with a note stating that the socket cover must be placed back over the socket when returning the motherboard). To remove the cover unlatch the lever attached to the socket which should lift up the socket plate.
With the socket plate unlatched it is time to install the CPU. When you take the CPU out of the box and look on the underside you will see patterned grooves which should match with the grooves on the CPU socket. An easy way to tell which way to install, if you look at the CPU you will notice on the upper left and upper right side a half circle indentation which will need to match up with the CPU socket.
Once the CPU is in place re-secure the socket plate.
At this point you can install the CPU heatsink/cooler. However, the CPU cooler I purchased is on the larger size, and with the RAM slots so close to the CPU I feared I would have a difficult time installing the RAM once the cooler was installed. Instead I decided to install the RAM first. As you can see below the RAM I purchased have big blue heatsinks attached which is another reason I was concerned about squeezing in the RAM after the CPU cooler.
On the motherboard you should see the RAM sockets (for my motherboard I have 4 sockets). Since I only purchased 2 sticks of RAM I only need to use two sockets (and I believe best practice if not using all the sockets is to use the same socket pair so in this case use either the top 2 sockets or the bottom two sockets, not one socket from the top and one from the bottom)
To install the RAM just line up the RAM with the socket (the RAM should be fitted so that it will only install one way) and push in until the white clips on each end lock in, securing the RAM to the socket.
Now that the RAM is installed it is time to get the CPU cooler attached (pictured below).
Using the Artic Silver thermal compound place a small pea sized amount of thermal paste on top of the CPU. The purpose of the thermal paste is to help dissipate heat from the CPU to the attached heat sink.
Now place the heatsink flush on the CPU and secure to the motherboard. How the heatsink/cooler attaches to the motherboard will be dependent on both the motherboard and heatsink/cooler . For this build you have to actually attach a bracket on the underside of the motherboard to connect to the heatsink. Fortunately the side of the Antec case where the motherboard is secured actually comes off to reveal access to the motherboard. If the case did not have this I would have had to install the CPU and heatsink to the motherboard prior to securing to the case.
Picture of the heatsink/cooler attached.
5) Install Any Add-on Cards:
The last step before connecting all the wires is installing any optional add-on cards (such as a graphics card or TV tuner). For this build I decided to add a NVidia graphics card and a Hauppauge TV Tuner. The NVidia GPU will connect to the motherboard’s PCI Express 2.0 x16 socket. One thing to note is that due to the large cooling fans the GPU will actually end up taking up two sockets (the socket it is connected to and the sock next to it which the fans will cover).
The Hauppage TV Tuner card will connect to the motherboard via the PCI-Express x1 socket. Since there are no attached fans it will not end up taking up an additional socket.
Inserting the cards is easy to do. Once you locate the appropriate sockets on the motherboard you just need to remove the corresponding slot covers from the case, pop the cards in, and secure with the provided screws.
Here is a picture of the NVidia GPU secured to the motherboard and case as well as picture of what the GPU will look like from the outside of the case.
6) Plug Everything In:
With everything now installed the last step is to plug everything in. Off the top of my head this included the following:
- Hard Drive / ROM Drive – SATA cable from drive to motherboard SATA connectors, SATA power cable from drive to PSU.
- Motherboard – Main power connectors from PSU to motherboard 24-pin ATX main power connecter and 4-pin ATX 12V power connecter
- Case Fans – Molex connectors from fans to PSU
- CPU Cooler Fan – Motherboard CPU fan header
- NVIdia CPU – 6-pin external power connector to PSU
- Antec Front USB Port – Motherboard USB 2.0 header
- Case Power Switch, Reset Switch, HDD Status – Motherboard Front Panel Header (this can get a little confusing as it is not always clear from the cables which cable is + or -, so you may need some trial and error)
A picture of the front of the case once completed
A picture of the rear
Plug the case in to a monitor and the power cable, turn on, and hopefully everything will boot up without the smoke (seriously this did happen to me once, turned out the PSU was bad!)
7) After The Build
Now assuming the PC build boots up without issue, what next? Well, hopefully it will be uneventful but install your O/S of choice. Once that is done and you are in the O/S load any necessary drivers (such as for your motherboard, graphics card, etc…), any additional software you plan on using, and enjoy!
I have been using this build for over a month now and love it. The case is simple and efficient yet dead silent. The case also has plenty of space for storage and expansion, and although I don’t need additional storage it may come in handy down the road. The Intel core i7 gives me a nice boost over my previous Intel Quad Core CPU, cutting encoding time in half.
The only downside of building your own PC is that you are now customer support, so if something goes wrong it is your responsibility to troubleshoot what the problem is. I actually encountered two issues. The first issue was the NVidia GPU was bad. After about a week I kept getting screen freezes, but after RMA’ing for a replacement I have had no issues. The second issue which I am dealing with now, my PC no longer recognizes the Blu-ray ROM drive. I tried switching out cables/connections but no luck. Next step is to try connecting the ROM drive to another PC, and if I still get the same issue then it would indicate that the ROM drive went bad.
Stay tuned as in the next day or two I hope to put together a quick post on some very useful resources when it comes to building a PC.