How to Build a Gaming PC

How to Build a Gaming PC

So, you’ve made the decision to build your own gaming PC! Well done! Though we warn you that once you have successfully built your own PC, apart from the sense of fulfillment, there’s every chance that your family and friends will lean on you for your knowledge for the rest of your life! We won’t go into recommended components or talk about budgets here. Suffice to say that it’s important that you purchase well-balanced hardware. Make sure you buy adequate cooling for your build (either for optimal cooling performance, low noise levels, or both). Also, don’t forget the importance of a quality power supply; it’s an investment that can last for many years and can be used for potential future builds. If you’ve never built your own PC, it can be a bit daunting, but don’t be discouraged. After you’ve done it once, you’ll be chock full of confidence and you’ll never have to buy another pre-built system. The first thing to consider is what parts to buy to suit your budget and use case. If you’re a gamer, you’ll want to spend extra on a good quality graphics card. Don’t spend too much on a CPU at the expense of the GPU. If you’re working from home, you won’t need a powerful GPU. If you’re working with a lot of data or you’re a content creator, you might want to go with a higher core count CPU or buy extra memory. For our guide, we’ll go with the assumption that you’re using a standard ATX case with ATX components. Many cases will feature instructions specific to that model, ITX builds in particular may deviate a lot from the procedures we list here. Of course, it’s impossible to write a one size fits all guide, but many of the basic principles apply.  

Prepare your workspace

 Before you begin the build itself, it’s important to be prepared. You’ll need a good amount of area as you’ll be elbows deep inside your case, moving it around up, down left and right.Depending on your parts, you’ll need a couple of basic tools. A larger size magnetised Philips head screwdriver will take care of almost the entire build, while one with a smaller head may be needed for installing M.2 drives. Those screws can be tiny. A set of needle-nose pliers or tweezers may come in handy too, so you can easily retrieve a screw that falls into some crevice.Your case will come with all the screws you need, usually labelled. You’ll probably get some cable ties or Velcro ties too. These are used for securing your cables and keeping everything looking tidy.Your specific case will require some deviation from these general points, but essentially you need to begin by removing the side and front panels of the case so you’ve got maximum access (+ top or bottom panels if your case supports it).  

Cable management starts right at the beginning

 It might be obvious (or not) that some planning in the early stages can go a long way to ensuring your build is clean looking, neat and tidy. Our build guide does some things slightly out of order from where you’d expect. This make is easier to work at every stage of the build, and it allows you to route cables and connectors with much greater ease than you can once the motherboard is installed.  

Prepare your case 

 A good recommendation is to prepare your case's motherboard tray. Most cases will have motherboard stand-offs preinstalled, but if not these can be found in your case's accessory pack. Ensure they are installed correctly in the case for your motherboard's form-factor - whether it be ATX, mATX or ITX.   

Fans and cooling

 The next step is to take care of your fans and cooling. If you’ve got extra or replacement fans, now is the time to install them. You’ll want to have a good balance of airflow, E.g. two intake fans and two exhaust fans, give or take. If you have an AIO cooler to install, now is a good time to install it. It may seem counterintuitive to install the AIO before the motherboard, but that’s because the motherboard can get in the way of things like fan mounts. Once your AIO is installed, you can just move the pump head out of the way as needed so you’ve still got access to all of the interior of the case.  

Prepare and install the power supply

 Power Supply (commonly referred to PSU) cables can be very stiff and routing them after the motherboard is installed can be very difficult, particularly the CPU power connectors.If you’re using a modular unit, first of all, plug in the cables you need, then slide the PSU into position inside the case and attach it with four screws. Don’t forget to position it so that the fan is able to pull air in. Usually there will be an air vent at the bottom of the case to allow airflow (for bottom mounted PSUs). Once the PSU is installed, you can begin to route the cables into their positions, ready for attaching later on. You’ll want to route the 8-pin power connectors (or two) up to the top of the case. The 24-pin connector, SATA power connectors and PCIe cables can be left loose out the back of the chassis for now.  

CPU Installation

 Before we get to installing the motherboard, it’s a good idea to install the CPU and cooling backplate. It’s easier to do that outside of the case. With an Intel system, you’ll notice a little plastic cover. Leave that on. Open the latch and install the CPU, making sure it is correctly oriented by lining up the little gold triangle, then close the latch and you’ll find the plastic socket cover will pop off.Intel systems almost always require the installation of a cooling backplate unless you're using a stock Intel box cooler. Simply orient the backplate in the right direction and screw it in with the provided screws.In the case of an AMD system, it’s a simple matter of lifting the little lever, lining up the CPU properly, inserting it and closing the lever. AMD systems can make use of the plastic mechanism and backplate, while others don’t. Follow the directions for your specific cooler.  

RAM Installation

 The memory is just about the easiest part of the whole build. Modern systems prefer to have memory inserted into slots two and four (2nd and 4th farthest from the CPU socket). Just make sure the retention clips are open, install them by lining up the notch, and pushing them in until you hear a click. Some motherboards will only have a retention clip on one side.   

Storage Installation

 Now is a good time to do things like install an M.2 SSD. You may have to remove a pre-installed motherboard M.2 heatsink to access the slot. On most modern motherboards, the best slot to use is the slot located just above the primary PCIe slot. This is usually wired directly to the CPU and its positioning means it shouldn't have hot GPU exhaust air being dumped onto it.If you have any SATA hard drives or SSDs, now is a good time to install them, but don’t plug them in yet. Just have your Windows drive ready firstly. SATA drives can often be installed in bays adjacent to the PSU. Many cases allow you to remove individual drive bays so you can install the drive with four screws (or sometimes via a toolless pin system) before inserting it back into the case. Don’t forget to orient them correctly so you have easy access to the SATA power and data connectors later.  

Motherboard installation

 Now we get to the motherboard installation. At this point you should have your CPU, cooling backplate and M.2 SSD’s installed. This saves you from having to do it from within the more cramped confines of the case. Your AIO cooler should also be nicely waiting to be attached. Motherboard installation is easy. The first thing you’ll need to do is mount the rear I/O plate. Orient the I/O shield to align with the motherboard's I/O and give it a bit of a tap to ensure its firmly connected into its rectangular slot. Many modern motherboards come with an I/O shield pre-attached so you can skip that step. Inserting the motherboard is a simple matter of lining it up with the standoffs at the base of the motherboard tray. Once that’s done, the I/O plate should be lined up and you can install the nine screws (typical of an ATX board, with fewer for an mATX or mini ITX board - 4 screws for ITX). Double check that there aren't any unnecessary motherboard stand-offs still installed into the case hidden under the motherboard as they can short the motherboard should they contact it in the wrong place. Fasten the screws firmly, but don’t overtighten them. Motherboard installed!  

Connect all of the cables

 The next bit is probably the most tedious part of the installation. Making sure all of the cables are connected. By taking steps earlier in the build, things should be a lot easier. There’s no set pattern here, but you’ll need to connect the following:• Fans. These may be connected to three or four-pin headers to the motherboard.• Hard drives. Connect your SATA drives to their power connectors (from PSU) and data connectors to motherboard ports. You may wish to leave this until after Windows is installed to avoid partition or drive confusion with the installed M.2 SSD.• Case connectors. These will usually include front-panel USB cables, an audio cable and the power, reset, and LED connectors. Consult your motherboard manual for the precise layout. This part can be a bit fiddly.• RGB connectors. Many modern motherboards allow you to bling things up! Take note on the difference between 3 and 4-pin RGB connectors as they differ in voltage.• Power supply connectors. If you’ve followed our steps, these connectors should be within easy reach. Connect the main 24-pin ATX cable and one or two 8-pin CPU connectors. Don’t confuse these with the 8-pin PCIe power connectors, they should be marked to differentiate between them.• Install your cooler or AIO pump. The backplate has already been prepared so this should be a simple step depending on the cooler model. Some coolers come with thermal paste already applied, while others come with a small syringe. Put a rice sized dollop of paste onto the CPU heatspreader. As the cooler screws are tightened, the paste will spread out over the heatspreader. For most consumer grade CPUs, it is best to tighten the screws in an alternating 'X' pattern to ensure even pressure is applied during installation.  You’re almost there!  

Install the graphics card

 The last step is to install the graphics card. You’ll want to remove the little PCIe bracket covers that correspond to the top-most slot of your motherboard. To insert the graphics card, just line it up and give it a little push. You should hear a click when it slides into place. Then just secure the PCIe bracket to the case with a couple of Philips head screws. Once the card is inserted, you can go ahead and insert the relevant PCIe power connectors (typically 6-pin or 8-pin PCIe connectors). Note that some of the latest graphics cards utilize a 12-pin PCIe power connector that may require an adapter to run from your PSU's 6 and 8-pin PCIe connectors.  

Cable Management

 You’ve done it! Well, almost. There may be some cable management issues to take care of. At this point it’s easy to remove individual cables, route them more appropriately and use cable ties to make everything nice and neat. Ensure fans are clear from obstruction and can spin freely. That’s it! You’re done! But before you go ahead and put the case panels back on, first you’ll want to make sure everything is installed correctly.If all goes to plan, simply attach the power cable to the PSU, plug in a keyboard and mouse, network cable or Wi-Fi antenna and a monitor to your graphics card. Double check your monitor is connected to your graphics card's ports and not your motherboard's video/display ports. Take a deep breath and hit the power button.  

First Time Power-On

 The first time you fire up a system and discover everything is working properly is a great moment.Once your system powers on, quickly press ‘del’ or perhaps ‘f1’ or 'f2' to enter the BIOS setup. The first thing to look at will be the CPU temperatures to make sure your cooler is attached and functioning properly. A CPU temp that continually rises is an indicator that something is amiss, perhaps the fans aren’t spinning or the pump is not turned on. Simply go back and check that the cables are correctly attached or you might need to reseat the CPU cooler. Then you’ll need to set your memory to run at its correct speed. This means setting XMP to enabled. Your system may ask you if you want to enable auto overclocking, generally you shouldn’t, at least not on the first couple of boots. Leave that kind of advanced tweaking for later once you know everything is 100% stable.  

Install Windows

 The next step is to install Windows. This can be done either via an old-fashioned optical disc or via a USB drive. You’ll need to go into the BIOS and make sure that the USB drive or optical drive is selected as the first boot device priority. When you follow the Windows setup, please make sure you select the correct drive for your windows install. The last thing you want to do is erase an existing drive with your precious data on it! Though if you've left your secondary drives disconnected, this should not be a problem.  

Install drivers, system checks and a stress test

 Once Windows is installed, you should be sitting at your main desktop screen with a big grin on your face! At this point you can navigate to the manufacturers’ website to download and install your system drivers including the chipset and graphics driver. If Windows doesn’t detect your network, you might have to use another system or laptop to download network drivers to continue. It is also a good idea to grab hold of a couple of monitoring programs to keep an eye on the vitals of your system. HWinfo is a great option as it provides a comprehensive set of monitoring readings. You can also download CPUZ and GPUZ to keep an eye on your CPU and GPU parameters. CPUZ includes a little stress tool that you may want to give a run, in order to make sure your cooling is functioning properly. If you see temperatures rise very quickly to 100c or so, its likely your cooler is not seated properly or the AIO pumps speed needs to be increased.Once you’re satisfied, at this point you can go ahead and put all of the case panels back on.  

Get gaming!

 Now comes the fun part! Download your games and get to it! And that’s the whole point of this: To have fun and enjoy the system that you put together. The first time you dive into a game, you’ll enjoy it a little bit more knowing that the machine sitting next to you is one that you personally chose the parts for. Sit back and admire your build!We hope that this guide has given you the confidence to go ahead and attempt your own build. It might look complicated, but it’s hardly any different from putting together a complicated IKEA piece. Like electrical LEGO in a way. When it comes to choosing the right parts, don’t forget that Mwave are the PC experts, we’re here to help you choose the right parts for you next (or first) build!