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Here are 5 mistakes I made building my gaming PC so you don't have to

Brendan's gaming PC
Brendan's gaming PC (Image credit: Windows Central)

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

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

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.

Being too shaky and nervous

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

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

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

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.

Plugging your display into the motherboard

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

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

Anti-static Wristband

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

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.

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.

Brendan Lowry is a Windows Central writer and Oakland University graduate with a burning passion for video games, of which he's been an avid fan since childhood. You'll find him doing reviews, editorials, and general coverage on everything Xbox and PC. Follow him on Twitter.

15 Comments
  • 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.
    Compared to consoles a pc is initial more expensive but games are cheaper (and multiple stores to pick from) and pc's can also double as HTPC or work pc. It is also nice that you bring along your whole pc games library when upgrading, while with consoles you have the chance that older games are not supported anymore.
  • I've had brown trousers moments when I bent the pins on a CPU trying to get it into the socket, way back when CPUs had a lot of small exposed pins. Also watch out when tightening the cooler on top of the CPU, follow the instructions to avoid putting too much force on the motherboard.
  • For newbies, Don't forget the motherboard spacers when screwing the board to the case...
  • Connecting the HDMI cable or Display port cable to the motherboard on a Ryzen CPU will cause most newbies to panic. Since, Ryzen CPUs don't have integrated graphics only Ryzen APUs (all APUs have G in the processor name). I would say best thing to do is research, research, research. For me when I'm consulting someone on their PC build this is the steps I always take.
    1) Who is going to use it?
    2) What do you want to use the PC for?
    3) How long will you use the PC? These dictate the components, budget and upgrade path. So if it's for someone who just browses the web, watch occassional youtube video, streams netflix, skype calls, office work etc. They can literally get by with a extremely low budget on components thanks to Ryzen APUs and AM4 upgradeability. You get the picture. Always, Always, Always, read the motherboard manual of the motherboard you want to purchase first. Some motherboards don't have internal USB 3.1 type c headers. By researching you can avoid pitfalls:
    1)front I/O cables not being long enough to reach the required internal ports. 2)Saving money by avoiding unnecessary expenses - you don't need to pay the premium for expensive CPU coolers if the CPU has a max TDP of 65 Watts (at full burst it may hit just over 90 Watts). 3)Most newbies always cheap out on the PSU and go for a generic brand. With the PSU it's always best to go for a reputable brand with at least 80% bronze (if you are never game, otherwise Gold or Platinum for better power delivery to GPUs) and at least getting a semi modular PSU for easier cable management. 4)With GPUs, most people use a single cable - this was fine for old GPUs but GPUs in the past few years it's best to use two seperate cables. 5)The cheapest PC cases often do not have any cable management features at all. Always watch the video reviews of the case you want. When building the PC, always read the motherboard manual first and assemble outside of the PC first on the motherboard box on a dust free surface. 6)Getting a PCI-E 4.0 m.2 nvme and expecting PCI-E 4.0 speeds when installing it into a PCI-E 3.0 slot or a Z490 slot which says it's PCI-E 4.0 enabled. This is why reading the manual helps, X570 has PCI-E 4.0 across all slots, B550 does not - only the top slot which is direct from the CPU. Some select Z490 boards have PCI-E 4.0 but Intel CPUs at present do not have PCI-E 4.0. 6a)Not installing a heatsink for PCI-E 4.0 m.2s will cause them run extremely hot and reduce the life span of M.2. 7)PC case placement - if you are placing it on carpet - make sure you rise it above the floor on a little table or wide stool or something or install the PSU fan facing up. In cheap cases I recommend installing the PSU facing up as the clearance between the desk and bottom a cheap is case is very low for air flow. 8) if you are using an after market cooler, get some electricians tape use small stripes to hold the back plate in place on the bottom of the motherboard when you unscrew the brackets next to the CPU on the top side of the motherboard. 9)When installing the cooler do not over tighten, always screw down in a X pattern, i.e. Screw top left one turn, then bottom right one turn etc. 10) The fiddly power button and reset button connectors. Read the manual, before assembling it would pay to find out what goes where via the manual. The connectors always have writing on them, once you connected them. Get some electricians tape or masking tape - something you can peel off easily. Bind the connectors together then take them off. This is the most fiddly part of a motherboard install - most motherboards do not provide a holder for these connectors. 11)Make sure you always install the CPU fan on the cooler to CPU_FAN1 on the motherboard. Otherwise the motherboard won't detected it nor would it apply the current fan profile. 12)If you are using a Ryzen 1000 series or 2000 series CPU, I suggest undervolting to increase the life span as well as increasing the thermal headroom for longer boosts at sustained work loads. Install in the following order: 1) CPU - read the manual - look for the little indicator triangle. On Intel CPUs, install then the slowly lower the lever and tuck in - this will pop up the plastic cover. On AMD the PINs are on the CPU - do not force the install. Look for the indicator triangle - read the manual if unsure. Once the CPU is seated properly, only then lower and tuck in the lever. 2) RAM - read the manual on which slot install the sticks in to enable dual channel with two RAM sticks. Even with 4 sticks some motherboards require installing in a specific slot first (it's usually the second slot away from the CPU). 3)CPU cooler - when installing make sure you peel of the cover at the bottom for the thermal paste. Follow the manual for cooler installation. If there is no thermal paste, then you will need to purchase some and then put on the CPU. However, all coolers have thermal paste pre-applied these days so... but always have some spare. 4a) Here the steps will vary if you have a m.2 NVME / SSD or Sata cable SSD if the former. Install the m.2 first as the GPU will always cover most or some parts of the top m.2 port which is why you install the m.2 first. You will most likely have to remove the M.2 cover and a m.2 stand off.
    Determine if it's PC-E 3.0 or 4.0. If the motherboard and CPU supports PCI-E 4.0 and if the M.2 is PCI-E 4.0 then install it on the top slot otherwise install it on the bottom slot. You can also connect the SATA SSD now if you want - really doesn't make much difference. 4b)GPU - Slide the motherboard with the input side slightly over the box so when your install the GPU you the GPU wont seat properly. Use two seperate power cables especially if it's a 30 series card or 68 series card. If you only have one then, you can only use the one... Also remove the port covers on the GPU i/o shield. Then test the components, most motherboards don't have a power button - so you will need to use a paper clip or a flat head screw driver or a jumper to turn on the PC by creating a circuit between +/- for the power button. At first launch, when prompted press the bios key shown on screen then enable XMP for the RAM. After the O/S is installed, download the free benchmarks such as heaven, superposition, cinebench R20, prime95 for CPU testing. When installing the motherboard always, always lay down the case flat on a flat surface first then install the I/O shield if it seperate to the motherboard. Then install the stand offs into the case, the cheap cases do not
    have these pre-installed. The case should include a hex screw bit which you can use to install the standoffs. If you don't then use an small allen key - not a wrench or pliers - cheap cases often use cheap stand offs use pliers will squash them. When removing the GPU make sure you press the down the PCI-E slot connector tab. You may need to use a small tweezer or small flat head due to the size of the GPUs. Also make sure you remove the PCI-E connector covers on the case on the cheap cases pop then up first then use pliers to gently bend them at the tab connectors back and forth. Do not use force. Do not over tighten the screws when installing the motherboard. Install the PSU - that's self explantory. Cables - tuck the cables down the side for easier cable management. As long you relax, take your time, have done your research and read the manuals. You shouldn't have much issues.
  • the NH-D15 SE-AM4 is a beast cooler. so quiet and CPU runs so cool. I know my Ryzen 3900X is always going to operate in peace. I would not sacrifice its performance just to show off RGB RAM. I'd rather get a better motherboard with better spacing. I wouldn't call it a compatibility issue either. compatibility is more like buying RAM that doesn't work.
  • Another tip: quite a lot of games sold on Steam (and even GOG) support a controller (recommend an Xbox controller, these are supported the most). In both stores look for the 'Controller' tag or category. Steam also offers a controller friendly interface through Big Picture.
  • Seeing that PC ... another tip: No, LEDs won't make it faster. And the glass is a dust magnet, so go with a non-glas case.