How to build a gaming PC in 2021: A step-by-step guide

The thought of building a PC for the first time might be intimidating, while in reality, it’s an easy process. It’s literally just putting the right components in the right places, which can hardly be done wrong since the parts only fit into their dedicated slots.

Building a PC on your own is cheaper than buying a pre-built one and the knowledge allows you to easily upgrade your battle station whenever you feel like it’s time to increase the juice. This guide will lead you through your first self-build PC in a simple step-by-step layout.

Even if you’ve never done it before, building a PC won’t take you longer than 30 to 60 minutes. You usually don’t even need to worry about all the cables and screws, as they will be included by your components.

If you need advice on buying the right components, make sure to take a look at our gaming PC guides.

Set up to build your setup

We compiled this sophisticated list of tools that you will need for this highly complex process:

  • A screwdriver

That’s it. Usually all you need is a screwdriver. Keep in mind that you’re handling very small screws for the most time, hence it’s highly recommended to use a magnetic one, to not risk one of the screws getting lost in the abyss of your case. If you’re still looking for a companion to help you build your PC, the POWERGIANT Mini Electric definitely won’t screw you over.

Most of your computer parts will come with zip ties to tidy up the cable management once you’re done. To cut them you’ll need a pair of scissors or side cutters.

If you now manage to clear up enough workspace to flip your PC on the side and comfortably work with the components, you’re all set.

After you’ve taken the preparation steps and before you start to actually work on your PC you should discharge any latent electricity you carry. Even though the chances are very slim, there have been reported issues where an electric charge damaged electronics to a point where they didn’t work anymore. To discharge yourself simply touch any metal, like unpainted metal on a radiator or your PC case.

Also: Keep your Windows 10 ready on an USB stick, so you can start installing as soon as you’re done building your PC. If you’re using an optical drive you can use that as well. More about installing Windows later though.

Step by step

Overview

  1. Opening the case
  2. Fan Installation
  3. Motherboard Preparation
  4. CPU Installation
    1. Intel CPU
    2. AMD CPU
  5. RAM Installation
  6. Cooler Mounting
    1. AMD Boxed Cooler
    2. Intel Boxed Cooler
    3. Third Party Cooler
  7. M.2 SSD Installation
  8. PSU Installation
  9. Mainboard Installation
  10. Storage Installation
  11. Wiring
  12. GPU Installation
  13. BIOS Setup
  14. Cleaning Up
  15. Windows Installation
  16. Desktop Essentials

Let’s build it.

1. Opening The Case

The very first thing you want to do is to open up your case and remove every panel that’s in your way. Make sure to clear up enough space to easily work inside the case. Store all the panels in a safe place, like inside the box your case came in. It’s a good habit to collect the screws in a safe and quickly accessible place as well, like in a bowl or a magnetic tray if you have one.

2. Fan Installation

It’s important to have a balanced airflow within your PC. This means there should be as much air being drawn in, as there is being blown out. The plastic fan guards will indicate in which direction air will flow. This step depends on the design of your case, but typically you want two fans on one side drawing air in and at least one fan blowing air out on another side.

If you’re using pre-installed fans your case came with, you can skip this step.

Fan Airflow Example

Airflow example

3. Motherboard Preparation

Before putting the motherboard into your PC, it is advised to install the processor, CPU cooler and RAM, as it’s much easier working in an open space than inside your case. Put the motherboard onto a soft surface, like the cardboard box it comes with, to prevent any damage on the contacts on the underside.

4. CPU Installation

This step slightly differs depending on the processor brand you decided for.

4.1 Intel CPU

Slide the spring loaded retention arm out and up, which allows you to lift the safety cover upwards. Now that the pins are exposed, take the CPU and put it on the socket. The CPU does only fit in one direction, but there’s a golden triangle on the bottom left corner which should match the circle on the socket.

Double check that the CPU firmly sits in place and lower and lock the retention arm back into it’s original position. Don’t be scared by the safety cover jumping off – this is what’s supposed to happen. Make sure to keep the cover, as you can use it at any point in the future if you want to make some changes to your rig. The cover perfectly protects the sensitive pins inside the socket from any damage.

CPU Socket

4.2 AMD CPU

Hard to imagine, but installing an AMD CPU requires even less steps. The difference is that the pins are located on the bottom of the CPU itself, rather than on the socket. Just lift the retention arm, put the CPU in the socket, check for the golden triangle on the CPU to match the circle on the socket and lower the arm again. Boom, done!

5. RAM Installation

It’s relatable that you may want to install the CPU cooler right after the processor, but the problem is that a big cooler may cover up some of your RAM slots, which is the reason why we insert the RAM first.

Note that it does matter which RAM slots you use, as inserting the sticks into the wrong sockets may result in losing dual-channel advantages, or your PC may not even start at all. Which sockets to use first depends on your mainboard and can be found in it’s instructions. Most boards also print this information directly onto them, in which case it can be found somewhere close to the RAM slots.

RAM installation

To open the slots push down the levers on both ends and simply slide in the RAM sticks. Check the bottom side to line up the notches – you’ll notice that the sticks will only fit in one direction. If aligned correctly, push in the sticks by applying pressure until you hear a clicking sound and the RAM is secured into place. One of the most common mistakes is that the memory isn’t pushed firmly enough into place, which can quickly result in the PC not starting.

6. Cooler Mounting

Installing the cooler might be slightly different depending on which one you’re using.

6.1 AMD Boxed Cooler

To install the cooler that comes with your Ryzen CPU, simply remove the brackets next to the CPU socket by unfastening the four screws. Now take the cooler and match it’s screw holes with the ones on the mainboard. Then put some force on the cooler and drive in the screws you just removed. Finally connect the cooler cable with the CPU-Fan port on the mainboard.

The boxed cooler already has thermal paste applied to it, hence no further steps are required.

Cooler Brackets

6.2 Intel Boxed Cooler

Installing the Intel boxed cooler is pretty similar, except that you don’t need to remove the brackets. The cooler get’s mounted directly on top of them.

6.3 Third Party Cooler

Chances are that you don’t want to use the boxed cooler, but rather a bigger one, or an AIO water cooling system. Make sure to check the instructions on how to install them, as there are hundreds of different mounting options.

In any case, installing a bigger cooler won’t be blackmagic though. Typically it requires you to install a backplate on the back of your motherboard, which will route four pins to the front on which you can affix the cooler mounts to.

If there isn’t thermal paste pre-installed to the cooler, squeeze out a pea-sized amount onto the middle of the CPU. Once the cooler is mounted, the pressure will distribute the paste evenly over the surface and transfer the heat from the CPU to the cooler.

Thermal Paste CPU

For air coolers, remove the fans first and install the cooler then, as they’re much easier to handle this way. Hover it over the designated holes of the earlier installed mounts and secure it in place with the provided screws. Afterwards just reattach the fan to the cooler and plug in the 4-pin cable to the CPU fan slot on the motherboard.

Every cooler will be mounted like this, or in a very similar way. If you’re uncertain, always refer to the instructions. When installing a liquid cooler, don’t forget to plug in the second 4-pin cable into the AIO cooler or optional cooler header on your mainboard.

7. M.2 SSD Installation

This step is optional, but if you’re using a M.2 SSD, it is a good time to install it now. Some mainboards will have a M.2 cover, in this case you’ll have to remove it first. Simply put the SSD into it’s slot and secure it into place with the screw at the other end. There might be a thermal foil on the cover, in this case just remove the protective film and then reinstall the cover over the connected M.2 SSD.

8. PSU Installation

If you’re using a modular PSU, figure out which cables you’ll need for your components and plug them in the power supply. Those will include the 24-pin and 8-pin EPS cable, the PCI-express cables for the GPU and S-ATA cables for your hard drives.

PSU Connectors

Once your PSU is ready, put it into your case and secure it accordingly with the screws on the backside. Make sure for the fan to point to the outside of your case, so it won’t suck in the hot air from the interior. If your case has built in ventilation areas, point the fan in that direction. In any case make sure that the fan points away from the inside of your PC, this way the PSU can draw in fresh air.

9. Mainboard Installation

Now that all the preparations have been met, we can install the mainboard into the case. First, check if your case has pre-installed standoffs for your motherboard and make sure that the arrangement conforms the holes on the board. If you have to install them yourself check the instructions or the labelling inside the case. You can also simply check the distances between the screws on your mainboard and place the standoffs inside the case accordingly.

Chassis Mainboard Standoffs

Now take the rear I/O (input/output) shield and push it into the rectangular frame at the back of your PC. Make sure that you’re installing it the right way by checking with the ports on the back side of your motherboard. Not installing the I/O shield first is a common mistake, in which case you’d have to completely disassemble your PC again later. Some mainboards even have the I/O shield installed directly onto them, in this case you can simply skip this step.

Next we can finally place the motherboard inside our case. Just make sure that the I/O shield aligns with the ports of the motherboard and place it on top of the standoffs installed in the chassis.

10. Storage Installation

Usually your case comes with designated spots to install your HDDs and SSDs. Once you locate the 3.5 inch HDD cage, pull out the sledge and mount your hard drive to it. Make sure the cable ports are facing towards a cable cut-out inside your chassis, as this will make cable routing much easier.

For SSDs you can find brackets, that allow to fix them by just sliding or screwing them into place. If your case doesn’t have a SSD bay you can use the 3.5 inch cage, which should have compatible mounting spots as well.

11. Wiring

We start with the 24-pin cable, that supplies the mainboard with power. When plugging the cable into the corresponding 24-pin ATX port, pay attention to the security catch that will snap into place once the cable is connected correctly.

24-Pin ATX Port

Connect the 4+4-pin EPS cable to the port located at the top of your mainboard, right above the CPU socket. Move it all the way up on the back of the chassis, pull it through the cable grommet and conncet it to the board. This cable will supply the processor with power.

We also need to connect the front panel of the case to the mainboard. This includes the power and reset button, as well as the status LEDs. They’re many small plugs reading ‘RESET SW’, ‘POWER SW’, ‘POWER LED+’ and ‘POWER LED-‘. Which plug has to be connected with which pin can be found in the instructions of your mainboard, or in most cases it’s even printed directly on the board. Typically the font has to face downwards to be positioned correctly and you need to pay attention to put in the + and – plugs into the + and – pins on the mainboard. Make sure to be gentle on this step, as the pins are bending rather easily.

Front Panel Connectors

Modern cases may have the front I/O header in a single block, which you’ll simply need to plug onto the front I/O port on the motherboard.

The USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 headers are marked accordingly on the mainboard and should be relatively easy to locate. Make sure to line up the pins with the holes in the USB 3.0 cables. To activate front audio and microphone ports you need to plug in the header saying ‘HD AUDIO’ in the corresponding pin reading AUD1, which usually is located at the bottom left of mainboards.

Now you’ll need to plug in the case fans into the pins marked “SYS FAN” on your mainboard. Even if your fan has only 3-pin connection, you can safely plug them into a 4-pin port. If you have an older case and your fans only have molex cables, then you’ll have to connect those directly onto the power cable of your PSU. If your case has a controller where all fans get connected to, simply connect it to the mainboard.

In our last step we’ll need to connect our hard drives, which works the same for HDD and SSD. Routing from your PSU you’ll have to plug in the S-ATA power cable and the smaller S-ATA data cable into your hard drives. The other end of the S-ATA data cables gets connected to the corresponding S-ATA connectors on your mainboard. Make sure to pull the cable firmly enough to hear the clicking sound when it snaps into place. If you do have an optical drive, then they will be connected the same way like a hard drive.

S-ATA cables

The bigger S-ATA power cable and the smaller S-ATA data cable

12. GPU Installation

Locate the PCIe slot closest to your processor, to see which two of the back slot covers you need to remove. Usually you can just unscrew the slots, on cheaper models it’s also possible that you’ll have to break them out.

PCI Slot Covers

Now open up the small lever on a PCIe slot and slide in the GPU until you hear the clicking sound of the security lever snapping back into place. Securely fix the GPU with screws and attach the power supply cables, which usually should be either 4, 6, or 8-pin cables.

PC Ie Slot

PCIe slot for your GPU with security lever on the side

13. BIOS Setup

Before reattaching all the panels, do a test run and see if everything’s working. Plug in your peripherals and your power cable, start the PC and press your BIOS key (delete key in most cases) while booting. Have a quick look at the CPU temperature, which should be somewhere around 30° to 40° and make sure that the boot drive is registered correctly.

To ensure that your memory is operating at the correct frequency, you can now enable XMP for Intel, or DOCP for AMD.

14. Cleaning Up

Once we’re certain that the new battlestation is working, disconnect it again and put it back to your workspace. It might be a bit tedious, but it’s definitely worth to tidy all the cables flying around.

Usually there are zip ties included in most new PC components, use them now to bundle cables together. Most cases have cut-outs in the back panel, which you can easily use as a choke point to tie all the cables closely together.

When you’re happy with your cable management, reattach all the panels, close the case and bring your PC back to your gaming desk – this time it’s final (I promise).

15. Windows Installation

To get your system up and running you’ll usually want to install Windows 10. As most modern PCs don’t have any optical drives anymore, the most common way to install it is using an USB stick. To prepare the stick you’ll need to download the Windows 10 Media Creation Kit and save it to the stick from another PC. Note that the USB stick should have at least 8GB of space.

When your stick is prepared properly, simply plug it into your new PC and boot it. Get back into BIOS, where you tell your system to boot from the USB stick. If you start your PC now, it’ll boot and automatically guide you through the Windows installation process.

Don’t worry if you’re not getting asked for an activation key during the installation, you can activate your Windows 10 once you’ve gone through the whole setup.

(Please let us know if you want a separate, in-depth guide about windows installation and desktop maintenance.)

16. Desktop Essentials

Admittedly, the new automatic driver installation of Windows 10 is pretty good and finds drivers for almost any hardware. To double check, you can just google for your motherboard’s manufacturer and find the drivers in the service section of their website. Make sure to choose the correct chipset.

Do the same for your GPU driver and you’re good to go.

You’ve built your own PC and it’s all set up properly. Enjoy gaming on new (FPS) heights.

 

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