Over the holiday 2020 season, I decided to treat myself to some gaming PC upgrades. I saved some money by keeping my old motherboard and storage, but I was able to get my hands on both an i7-9700K (opens in new tab) and an RTX 3070 (opens in new tab), as well as a new Hiearcool 750W power supply (opens in new tab), 32GB of CORSAIR Vengeance RGB RAM (opens in new tab), an NZXT Kraken M22 AIO (opens in new tab), two of NZXT's RGB fans (opens in new tab), and a snazzy NZXT H510 Elite (opens in new tab) case. This combination of hardware was a big step up compared to my previous kit, and I knew it was an investment that was going to pay off.
At that point, the only obstacle that stood between me and a top-notch gaming experience was actually putting it all together.
You see, I had never built a computer before; instead, I had always opted to go to someone else with all the components for assistance. This time, though, I wanted to learn how to do it myself (don't miss our guide on how to build your own PC in 2021, courtesy of my colleague Rich Edmonds). Doing so was a great learning experience, but during the build, I did make some mistakes that led to frustration and wasted time. Also, one of them could have even led to me frying some of my parts, although it luckily didn't.
Here's a look at the mistakes I made so that you can avoid them yourself if you're a newbie PC builder like me.
Not doing compatibility research
I made my first mistake before I even opened my components: in my rush of excitement to upgrade my PC, I didn't check to make sure that each of my parts was compatible with one another.
Prior to settling on the NZXT Kraken M22 AIO cooler, I had actually chosen and purchased the award-winning Noctua NH-D15 air cooler. The problem was that it wouldn't fit on my motherboard without covering up my RGB RAM, defeating the purpose of it entirely. Rotating the cooler to solve this wouldn't work, as that prevented my graphics card from plugging into the PCIe x16 slot. Sure, I could have used the PCIe x8 slot instead, but that would hinder the performance of my beefy RTX 3070.
Thankfully, I was able to get a refund on the Noctua cooler, but this isn't always guaranteed. Therefore, it's important to do proper research before buying components so that you don't have to deal with the risk of buying a component that won't fit your build and can't be refunded.
The air cooling king
Stay cool...very cool
The Noctua NH-D15 is widely considered to be the best consumer-grade air cooler available, but just make sure it will actually fit properly with your other components before you buy one.
Being too shaky and nervous
One of the worst mistakes I made early in the build process was being too nervous while installing components. It's understandable to be worried about ruining your expensive PC gear, but the fact of the matter is that putting together a PC the right way requires confidence. This is because many connectors require a considerable amount of force to plug in, and also because being shaky while screwing things in can result in crooked or stripped screws.
Not correctly hooking up cables and messing up your screws can result in your components getting damaged, which you obviously want to avoid. Once I took some deep breaths and relaxed, everything went much smoother.
Not using a screw container
Pretty much everything that you put into your PC requires screws for proper installation, and as you build, you're going to need to screw and unscrew things alot. Not having a container to put screws in during this process will inevitably result in frustration, as screws are likely to roll off your workspace and onto the floor. Losing a screw can halt your entire build and prevent you from completing it, so for the sake of your sanity, use a bowl or something similar. I didn't use a container at the start of my build, but eventually I wised up after dropping a screw for the millionth time.
Any type of container is better than none, but I strongly recommend getting a good magnetic screw tray. These will ensure that screws will stick to the surface of the tray and won't go flying everywhere if you accidentally knock the tray itself off of your desk. They're dirt cheap and incredibly helpful, so there's no reason not to pick one up.
Loose screws stay put
Never lose a screw again
This nifty magnetic tray allows you to keep your screws in place as you build your PC, ensuring that you'll never lose them.
Plugging your display into the motherboard
Once my build was finished and was able to post on my test bench successfully, I rushed it over to my gaming space and immediately started hooking everything up. I wasn't really thinking much — I was simply plugging cable connectors into the matching ports. When I booted everything up and started a game, my performance was significantlyworse than what it was in my older rig. How could that be?
Well, as it turns out, I accidentally connected my monitor to my motherboard instead of my RTX 3070. This causes your PC to use your processor's weaker integrated graphics solution as the active GPU. I spent 20 minutes of frustration trying to figure out why my performance was so bad before realizing I made this boneheaded mistake, and suffice to say, I facepalmed pretty hard.
Not grounding yourself
The final mistake I made while building my PC was that I never grounded myself during the process. Static shocking your PC components is incredibly unlikely, but if it does happen, it can damage or even fry the parts you spent hundreds of dollars on. Thankfully I never had a static charge while building, but you might, especially if you live in a home filled with lots of carpeting.
To ground yourself and ensure that there's no risk of static shocking, you can plug in your power supply with the power switch off and touch it with your hand. You can also get your hands on an anti-static wrist strap if you'd prefer to be even safer. These are cheap, and all you have to do to stay grounded while wearing one is attach the clamp to your PC case and leave it there while building.
For more on preventing static shocking, catch our guide on how to prevent frying your PC insides with static electricity.
Avoid the worst
With anti-static straps like these, you can fully protect your PC parts from accidental static shocks.
Good luck building!
Are you new to the process of building PCs like I am, or are you a seasoned veteran? What are some mistakes you've made before? Let me know in the comments, as I'm eager to learn more myself. Also, don't miss our list of other rookie PC building blunders to avoid if you're looking for more tips. If you'd prefer to go with a pre-built PC, check out our roundup of the best gaming desktop PCs.
Affordable accessories that'll pair perfectly with your PC
Every one of these awesome PC accessories will enhance your everyday experience — and none cost more than $30.
KLIM Aim RGB gaming mouse (opens in new tab) ($30 at Amazon)
Whether you're a gamer or not, this is an absurdly good mouse for the price. It's ambidextrous, has a responsive sensor, a braided cable, tank-like build quality, and, yes, it has RGB lighting, though you can turn it off if that's not your thing.
AmazonBasics USB speakers (opens in new tab) ($16 at Amazon)
These neat little speakers may only pack 2.4W of total power, but don't let that fool you. For something so small you get a well-rounded sound and a stylish design. And they only cost $16.
Razer mouse bungee (opens in new tab) ($20 at Amazon)
Use a wired mouse? You need a mouse bungee to keep your cable tidy and free of snags. You get no drag on the cable, and this one has subtle styling, a rust-resistant spring and a weighted base, all for $20.
As someone who has built every one of my own PCs since 1998 and works full time in IT...
1: Duh, Don't want to order the wrong parts and wait for returns/exchanges a day later
2: You can be shaky and nervous, Just be cautious. Especially when dropping in a CPU.
3: screw container? I leave everything in the baggies they come in.
4: plugging the display into the motherboard? Before a month ago I would have laughed, but had a user not understand why his new second screen wasn't working. Yup, 1 was plugged into the videocard, the other into the motherboard.
5: I have never, ever, grounded myself (using a strap) and never had an issue, BUT I do know some areas are more prone to static and static can cause a really bad day to PC parts.
To your point #5: I was the exact same way, but I never spent real money on my PCs in the past. When I decided to finally build a real PC I want ahead and took the precaution. It is true about the area, and also the time of the year. I live in the New Orleans area and it is almost always 80% humidity and that usually stops static buildup. During the winter the inside of homes can get much more dry and this will present an issue. Of course if you have carpet and are building it in socks you are asking for trouble. 😝
I would say the biggest mistake was not doing a test install of all the components first. You can do it on the motherboard box. You want to see if everything boots and is recognised. Once all the parts are correctly registered in the bios etc you can go ahead and install in the case.
That's probably good advice, but I have never done that. I guess I never had to learn the hard way.
It is very easy now to check your build. Www.pcpartpicker.com
I have one for the newbies. Make sure GPU fits in the case. Some newer GPU are massive and will not fit certain cases. Different manufactures have different measurement for the same GPU so there are options. Just wanted to throw that out there.
To add to this; for small pc cases (mini-itx) you might want to look at Low Profile or Mini gpu's. Though usually these are slightly more expensive and limited up to entry gpu's (e.g. Nvidia 1650) for the Low Profile and more powerful ones for the 'Mini' (e.g. RTX 2060, which would be high midrange). Note that the Low Profile ones are also short in height (they look really cute irl 😊), which means they also fit thinner cases (~110-120 mm) while Mini usually refers to the GPU card's length being shorter. Generally speaking I would not recommend going for a Low Profile PC unless someone knows what they are doing (not only GPU matters but also size restrictions of CPU cooler and PSU), but Mini might be interesting for casuals to save space.
At this moment don't build one. Graphics cards are non-existent. Buy a prebuilt or try to pick up an xbox x\s or a ps5.
Building a pc still has advantages; you get to pick your parts which means (if you either ask on forums or have some basic knowledge) you pick more quality parts (PSU and SSD especially) for your pc. You can still let a company build it, but picking the parts offers a big advantage for quality besides flexibility.