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Avoid these rookie PC building blunders

Core P5
Core P5

Building and upgrading a PC isn't a difficult endeavour, you simply need to ensure you follow some guidelines. I've rounded up some helpful pointers that'll see you achieving greatness without the blunders.

Make sure it will work

One of the bonuses of building your own PC is the excitement of taking delivery of all the parts required. That is until you work out that you've mistakenly ordered the wrong part or a specific component like RAM isn't compatible with the motherboard.

Research should always be thoroughly carried out prior to filling up an online (or physical) cart and parting with hard-earned cash. There are websites that can even do the hard work for you. While they're handy to utilize, we still recommend you double-check everything before ordering.

Make sure all your PC parts are compatible

Don't buy cheap power

The Power Supply Unit (or PSU) is the most important component of any PC simply because it's tasked with supplying reliable power to everything connected. You could pick up a cheap PSU from a relatively unknown brand, but you run the risk of one-day experiencing a shutdown because it has blown or worse fired a some of your expensive components.

Don't cheap out on your PSU. We strongly recommend you fork out some money here for a solid, recommended unit. Luckily for you, we've rounded up some of the best PSUs out there and they will all work with your PC, depending on chassis dimensions.

Best Power Supplies for your PC

Not enough cables

GPU Cables

Source: Rich Edmonds / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Rich Edmonds / Windows Central)

A PC requires numerous cables to hook up every component and ensure it all works flawlessly. Some cables like specific power (e.g. PCI) and data (e.g. SATA) are included with a Power Supply Unit and motherboard, but should you be adding additional hard drives and multiple GPUs in a SLI/CrossFire configuration, it won't hurt to order a few extra cables. Just in case.

Pesky headers

There are a few annoying headers that need to be plugged into the motherboard. These provide power to specific buttons, hard drive activity light, and power indicator. The pins themselves are usually labelled in the motherboard manual and sometimes on the board itself, so pay close attention to the positive and negative corresponding pins.

Size matters

You've got everything installed in that awesome, compact chassis you found on sale. It's a mid-tower and is perfect for securing all your components within. The last task is to insert the GPU into the corresponding PCI slot. There's only one problem: it won't fit.

Do your homework with the chosen case (or one you already own). Fetch a measuring tape and check that the larger components will fit inside. For example, the GTX 1070 AMP! Extreme Edition by Zotac is a superb GPU, but it measures in at a whopping 325mm.

Which GPU is best for you?

EVGA GTX 1060

Source: EVGA (Image credit: Source: EVGA)

The GPU is the most important part of your PC for playing games. You could probably manage with integrated graphics on a CPU, but in order to really enjoy PC games as intended, you'll want to consider purchasing a dedicated unit and we rounded up some of the best out there for different budgets.

Best GPUs for your PC

Ground yourself

Anti-static Wristband

Source: Rich Edmonds / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Rich Edmonds / Windows Central)

A preventative measure you should always employ is to discharge any static electricity your body may have conducted. This can be caused by rubbing against carpet, wearing wool clothing, etc. While incredibly rare, you could inadvertently cause damage to components by short-circuiting them. Luckily, it's super easy to avoid this.

An anti-static surface, anti-static wristband, or by simply touching a grounded object like a case will help here.

How to prevent frying your PC with static electricity

Storing Screws

As you remove screws from various components and sections of the case, it's worth having a bowl or container nearby for easy storage of all the screws. The last thing you need to happen is to get to a point where you're unable to continue with the build because a screw or two are missing. Keep them safe!

Too much thermal paste

How much thermal paste is too much? Well, consider using nothing more than a small garden pea you'd find in a tin for cooking. Just enough to be spread across the surface of your CPU is ample for efficient cooling. Using too much won't cause damage per se, but it'll look messy and be horrific to remove.

How much thermal paste you should apply?

Airflow is important

Phanteks Fan Covers

Source: Rich Edmonds / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Rich Edmonds / Windows Central)

Fans, fans, fans. You need them to help keep components adequately cooled. Before even powering up your newly assembled system, it's worth checking each fan to make sure you've positioned them correctly, they're facing the right direction, and they're plugged into the motherboard (or PSU if you have a lack of headers).

The last thing you need is to have heat issues down the line, especially if overclocking is on the cards.

Best CPU air coolers for your PC

Take your time

This last tip may sound a little obvious, but you should always take it slow when inside a PC case. There's plenty of time and if you're heading out, make a note of where you got up to, what's left to address and return to the build later.

Rich Edmonds
Rich Edmonds

Rich Edmonds is Senior Editor of PC hardware at Windows Central, covering everything related to PC components and NAS. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a PC chassis. You can follow him over on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.

47 Comments
  • Should be one further tip here, as it is a very common mistake. If you buy one of those nice sealed water cooling units from the tech shop, or one of those front-to-back cpu coolers that fill the shelves (so most of them these days) rather than the sort that comes with the cpu (that blows directly down on to the cpu) realise that your mobo was designed to use the backwash (or sidewash) to cool the VRMs. You need to check their temps at load and plan in suitable VRM cooling or you'll find your CPU clocks down viciously once they reach max temp to keep the VRMs alive. This is one of the most common mistakes, I think, which leads to under performing PCs all over the shop. Also, know the difference between airflow fans and static pressure fans before you start to order components. Please.
  • Linus has a pretty good two videos about PC building that are actually very good tips, you can find them here:
    1- Avoiding Common PC Building Traps - Episode 1:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-plesrt8ZCs&feature=iv&src_vid=pPFEkL5GI... 2- Avoiding Common PC Building Traps - Episode 2:
     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pPFEkL5GIiI You might as well see the top comments on both videos as there are multiple other good tips!
  • Linus has some overly extreme hardware videos sometimes, but I would defintely suggest subbing his channel. Always good info. 
  • I know I'm shallow here but... I just can't stand that guys voice, can't listen to him...
  • Let's see issues I ran into: Always read the motherboard manual especially for all the headers for your case.  Inevitably some of your lights probably won't come on the first time. Make sure you are using the stand-offs for the motherboard they come with the case.  And make sure you are using the right screws for the right things.  Some of them look very similar but are actually different especially on the motherboard.  I recommend testing them on the standoffs outside your case.  Using the wrong ones will mean when you need to remove your motherboard it will likely just spin in place without unscrewing. Fun times.  The case should have a manual explaining which is which. As a follow-up to the previous advice-any extra screws you should put into a hard sort case with labels of which is which (I put it in an excel list print it up and put it in the case) so 3 years down the road when you finally add that 3rd hard drive you wanted or get that motherboard upgrade that is bigger than the old one you know what screws do what. Take the time and do wire-management.  Your airflow will thank you.  In addition to this make sure no small wires are being caught by a fan in the case.  For years my wife's PC was grinding away when it booted up and her performance was terrible.  When we got her a new GPU and it under performed in GTA V I was looking in the case the the CPU wire was just a little too tight around the fan house and it was jamming the CPU fan causing it to throttle down to prevent over heating.  Thank goodness it wasn't an old school AMD CPU... Get a case with fan filters.  Best thing ever. Don't skimp on the PSU...a good PSU can out-last several builds barring any major specification changes.
  • Haha, always a fun time when someone tries to screw their motherboard directly to their case with no standoffs! Some fine newbie tips in this comment.
  • Not sure what the big deal is on standoffs. I actually wnet to use them in my mITX build, and the thing doesn't fit right with them in. The GPU was too tall for the slots in the back.
  • some cases have built-in standoffs, which I imagine would be more common for mini-itx than for larger cases that can accomodate many motherboard types. The main thing is that the only points where the motherboard touches the metal of the case is through the designated screw holes. The motherboard should never touch the case except for those points.
  • Totally agree on the fans both making sure they move correctly and airflow is thought about, also you are right its nice that most modern cases now have filters. Lastly 100% agree get a solid PSU one with at least a bronze rating and enough watts to power your given tasks then add a 100 (bit like the one for the pot if you are making tea with leaves)
  • Yes, NEVER CHEAP OUT ON THE POWER SUPPLY! in fact, get the best one you can possibly afford. The power supply is literally like the heart in your body. It pumps the blood (electricity) through your system, and a crappy power supply is like having a heart that doesn't beat regularly or is really weak, usually resulting in premature death. Its the least sexy thing to spend on, but also the most important.
  • If the CPU is the brain of the PC, then the PSU is indeed the heart. When choosing a PSU of course get the right spec (not just by total combined output, but on the rails that matter too), but also go by weight. A heavy PSU is a PSU with quality components in it. Trust. Expect to pay about £100. It should last two motherboards out. A poor PSU will be a constant source of strange behaviour that you are highly unlikely to ever trace back to the source. A PSU problem can mask itself as any other component being at fault, because they all use power. A poor PSU can cost you plenty if you try to throw money at the symptoms. If you need to cut cost, you need a lower power CPU, GPU and or less swanky storage. RAM needn't be the high priced stuff, so you shouldn't need to cut back on capacity there. Never cheap out on PSU or motherboard. Reliability first, speed second.
  • weight? certificates like Silver and Gold 80+/90 and Brand  - thats all you need to know, not weight...
  • "RAM needn't be the high priced stuff' You obviously haven't been introduced to Ryzen. You really get what you pay for on the RAM front with it.
  • Don't close it until its booted up and works.
  • Unless you're walking out for a bit and have pets! I've got an open PC in my coset that isn't used and I've got the side door off. I've watched some idiot dogs poke their noses in.
  • Very simple tip is missing. Verify your tools are not magnetized. I know of someone who made this rookie mistake years ago.
  • Magnets won't affect anything other than the hard drive.  And even then your standard screwdriver tip magnet won't affed the HD.  When I built PC's I used magnetic tip screwdrivers all the time. 
  • >Magnets won't affect anything other than the hard drive. Andd it needs to be more powerfull than and any small tool can provide. This is honesly a NON issue. Maybe in the days of floppy drives, MAYBE and even that needed to very powerfull to wipe data.
  • You mean make sure it IS magnetized? If you've got bigger hands, a magenetized screwdriver makes mounting the board SO much easier. That your buddy did something stupid doesn't mean everyone else is stupid (and I'd be curious to know what he did that made a magnetized screwdriver a weapon).
  • Cool. So when I forgot to use the motherboard standoffs it wasn't a rookie mistake.
  • They should have come with the case
  • My top tips... Ensure the motherboard type and the PC case are compatible
    Ensure that Graphics card fits into the case, they can be very long and that can cause all sorts of issues.
    Ensure the Memory, GPU Card CPU, USB etc. etc. is optimal (They might be compatible but not optimal) and adjust if need be (You might actually be happy with compatible over optimal could save some pennies).
    Ensure you understand the cable paths before you put it together sometimes they are a nightmare to connect
    Understand the Case to Motherboard cable block this can be fiddly trying to get that down onto the pins especially if you cannot read the writing (At which point I also strongly recommend you retrieve that motherboard manual from the bin)
    Ensure you have all the fixings you need (Hard drive cradles and fixings for example or the slide rails that sort of thing)
    Ensure everything is seated firmly and correctly then check again especially memory, CPU and GPU
    Test what you can before you sow it all back up
  • After everything is wired, check every wire again and even a 3rd time. Reference the manaul to make sure it's connected right. It's always the last problem that you run into why when you hit the power button, nothing happens.
  • The hardest part about building your own PC now is keeping up with the newer technology. If it's been 5 years since your last build, there will be new things to learn. But then, doing your research is part of the fun.
  • mmm... the only significant change since my last build is the SSD.. nothing else changed (5y.)
  • That's BS. You can certainly move to a newer CPU, and chipset, or even faster RAM. DDR4 was not really much of an option 5 years ago, and even when it was first released it was not well developed. You can nicely move to a Z170 Skylake setup for under $500.
  • ok, yeah, each component improved, but nothing dramatically changing how you build a PC though in that it'd be difficult to keep up with.
  • My previous PC was built in July 2010 and my current one in July 2016. The things that were new for me since my last build: M.2 SSD, DDR4 (last system was DDR3 triple-channel), AIO water cooling (CPU & GPU), 4K monitors & DisplayPorts, UEFI BIOS, and the whole variety of new sockets and matching cpu's / boards etc. Sure everything bolts together in approximately the same way but there's still a lot to learn if you don't follow hardware trends constantly.
  • I think my previous build was in 2007. It still had a floppy drive. But I noticed that the shape, size, and number of card slots on the motherboard had changed. There are slots that I didn't recognize (and still don't). People were even calling it a mainboard instead of a motherboard. There are more connectors on the power supply. IDE drives are gone along with the connections for them, not to mention ISA slots. :P SSDs are the norm for quick start ups. And I had to determine if I wanted to go with the stock CPU cooler or an aftermarket.
  • Ah yeah, good point. My previous system had an IDE DVD R/W drive (as well as HDD's), and my new board doesn't support IDE at all. I ended up scavenging a SATA DVD drive from a scrapped PC and it works perfectly. I almost considered not even having a DVD drive as I almost never use them. It turns out it's been useful though as I went through my entire DVD library and ripped everything to my NAS.
    ISA is long gone, and I've thrown out (recycled) all of my old ISA cards. Even standard PCI is barely used...
    I've always used stock CPU coolers, as I can't be bothered overclocking. My latest build I bought an overclockable CPU and an All-In-One watercooler (Corsair H115i). I have yet to overclock it though in 6 months... it's more about running cool & quietly, and a bit of "future proofing" thrown in, than anything else. My system typically runs at around 30 C, with ambient temperature around 25 C. According to Corsair Link I've managed to hit 48 C sometime in the past
    Note: mainboard and motherboard are pretty much interchangeable words... most people would know them by either name.
  • Go to Cyberpower PC and build the PC you want. It'll check to ensure everything works together. Then, go to Amazon to buy all of the individual parts for about 40% lower cost than buying from CyberPower PC.
  • Depends on what you buy. I just ordered the Arcus 34...hey, you only live once...really, you can't find a better price for an all in one like that anywhere. Of course, I have to sell a couple of body parts to get it and get some financing. But 'tis will be mine in the next 2 weeks or so.
  • Definitely don't do this. They will push you towards something well about what you could ever need, in most ever case. My friend spent $1,000 on a pre-built, and they threw him a CPU that was nowhere near necessary, while skimping on the GPU. People almost always buy more CPU than they need (seriously, you don't need that i7). Instead of taking what an overpriced, poorly balanced pre-built sells you, figure out what you want and build around your wants and needs.
  • Number one rookie mistake:  If it doesn't fit, don't jam it.  You're putting it in wrong. I had a friend who was paid as a programmer, who wrecked his board and RAM when he tried to jam the SIMM in backwards.
  • I've seen that many times myself, particularly when DIMMs first started taking the place of SIMMs. Folks would try forcing them in the slots backwards and break the slots.
  • for god's sake, MODULAR PSU I have a full size case, a monster Noctua Fan and it's a clean little build aside from the giant ball of unused cables at the bottom of the case because i was too cheap to spend another 25$ on a modular PSU. that's the only thing i'd change about my build; it's a great first try, but that fist-sized ball of cables just sits there, taunting me for my cheapness.
  • Definitely. Recently upgraded to one - a true godsend. There's several cables I didn't have to use and made the whole operation much much cleaner.
  • Indeed. If you can go modular, DO IT. I got one, and I went from about 6-8 sets of cables out the back of my PSU to just 2 (GPU power and SATA power). Switched to a board-bowered GPU (RX 460), and now I'm pretty sure my PSU just has the SATA power coming out of it (along with the main power, of course).
  • I might also add make sure the power supply you are planning to use can handle all the components you intend to use in your system under load. There's nothing work than a power trip just as soon as things get busy in your favorite game. This should be right after making sure the components will fit in your case of choice.
  • Good article for the newbs. Everyone starts somewhere.   That said, am I the only one that has noticed in the past few years that (might have started when the domain changed) articles here have become FAR less technical and the site seems geared for the novice? For the rest of us, the articles on this site are useless now except for the news. It would be nice to see some technically in-depth articles on advanced subjects so you can appeal to a larger audience.
  • I'm so amazed at how much easier it is nowadays to build a PC. Tool-less designs, cable management designed into the case, the sheer number of cables is so much lower. 30 years ago, motherboard held the cpu and that was about it. You had to install a separate HD controller if you wanted drives, a serial card to get your COM ports, a parallel card if you wanted a printer or other parallel device, a sound card if you wanted to hear more than beeps and blips, a video card (no on-board video back then), a network card if you wanted to network (sometimes multiple network cards as there were more than one type of cable back then), a joystick card if you wanted to use a joy stick or controller, a midi card for either music or advanced custom key/pedal/dial/etc control, and the list just goes on and on And the header pins weren't even LABELED! You had to look at a wiring schematic to know which pins were for power, hd, turbo, speaker, reset. And then you had to configure your CPU by JUMPERS. Jumpers jumpers everywhere. You had to properly select your bus speed by jumpers, you had to assign your hard drives as masters or slaves via jumpers, you had to use jumpers to manually assign Ports, IRQs, and DMA channels your devices just so they wouldn't fight with each other and actually work, and then the onus was on YOU to perform low-level hard drive formatting to configure the capacity properly so the OS could do it's usual formatting, holy hell you needed to practically be a rocket scientist to put together a machine back then. I can't believe how easy it is nowadays. It was sometimes a two day job to put a machine together and configure everything to work seamlessly. Anyone else remember those days?
  • I do! My trusty old 486 DX2 system.
  • oh nice. The 486 line did bring some good advancements. IDE, serial, parallel controllers were on the motherboard now, freeing up a lot of ISA slots. Some jumpers were being replaced by DIP switches. Still had to manually configure ports IRQs and DMAs though, but lots of that could then be done at the driver level rather than at the hardware level. Memory management was a big thing for the 386/486 and you had to make the choice between expanded memory and extended memory. And certain programs would only work with one or the other. How absurd would that be in the present huh? Like I said, computing nowadays is a breeze compared to long ago
  • Someone else might have already said this, but it doesn't really matter which way (positive or negative) the power and reset switches are installed since they just break the connection or whatever.
  • For the switches it doesn't matter, but it does for the Power and HDD LEDs
  • Building a PC is not that hard, a little techy skill is needed but, as long as you can read a few manuals or websites, it should not be a problem. There are also a lot of videos on youtube that you could find very usefull. Also building a basic computer is easier than a gaming PC with higher components.  I've been doining it from the Pentium 1 days..(P60 anyone ?) and over the years, the conponents have changed and the cables got smaller but, everything is still the same... install in this order.... Mount motherboard in case, connect case fans and wires for case buttons, CPU (heat sink/power connectos), RAM, Hard drive(s), other drives (CD/DVD/Flopppy), Video card and finally power cord... Double check connections, connect power and hit the power button. If it beeps, review your manual to see what the beeps mean, if nothing happens, check your power and your button connections... It's really not that hard..
  • i'm not sure i'm on board with your order. personally, i'd install the CPU before mounting the motherboard. depending on the cooling apparatus being used and how it's secured to the board, you may want to do that prior to mounting as well. sometimes some of those locking mechanisms can put strain on the motherboard and you may want it on a flat surface so you don't flex it too much.