DesktopReview’s How to Build a Computer Video Series

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In our last video in the series, we talked about picking out a motherboard and power supply for your system, and installed them into our case. In this installment, we’ll take a look at mounting the CPU to the motherboard, putting on thermal grease and installing the heatsink, adding memory, and installing a video card.

Be sure to check out the previous videos in the series!
How to build a computer video #1
How to build a computer video #2

Last time we talked about choosing Intel or AMD. In the end, it doesn’t really matter which you choose; the biggest difference when it comes to building a system is how the heatsink is mounted. Modern processors can get very hot; a heatsink draws off the excess thermal energy and radiates into the case, keeping the CPU cool. Intel heatsinks mount with tensioned pins on each corner; a surprising amount of force can be required to get the last couple in. Third-party heatsinks are often easier to put on because they use mounting brackets and/or screws that don’t require so much force. AMD heatsinks mount with a clip on one side of the CPU.

When putting the CPU into the board, a little golden arrow on the CPU lines up with a second on the motherboard to indicate orientation. Intel CPUs have a metal flap that lifts up before they get put in, AMD’s do not. Once inserted, a small metal bar locks the processor into place. After the processor is installed, it’s time to apply the thermal grease. Thermal grease serves to fill in any imperfections in the metal of a heatsink and provide a better medium for heat transfer. One problem many system builders maker is to put too much thermal grease on; adding too much can actually cause the material to insulating and block heat in. Only a small amount of the grease needs to be applied; a common rule of thumb is to use an amount equal to about two grains of rice. Any more and it just goes to waste. It only gets applied to the CPU, not the heatsink.

At this point, Intel heatsinks can be set onto the processor and tightened, evenly, one corner at a time. AMD heatsinks are looped around the back of the mounting bracket so that the bracket gets anchored. After that, the clip is pressed down, locking the heatsink into place. The last part of installing the heatsink is connecting the heatsink’s fan. In order to radiate heat fast enough to keep the CPU from burning out, most heatsinks need a fan to speed the process along. It gets connected to either a three or four pin plug on the motherboard, somewhere near the CPU socket.

Installing the RAM is probably the easiest part of the entire build. In this example, we’re using some of Corsair’s DDR3 performance RAM that comes with built-in heatsinks to keep it cool. To install the RAM, open the slot by pushing back on the clips to each side of the slot. Press the memory down into the slot evenly but firmly, until the two clips lock into place. Check them to make sure they are secure. Take care to note the notch in the bottom of the RAM and line it up with the separation in the slot to avoid causing any damage. To make sure the memory runs at its fastest, install matching pairs in matching color slots.

Finally, we’re going to install our video card. If you’re building a low-powered computer or file server, you don’t need a discrete graphics card. On-board video, that is, video built into the motherboard, will serve just fine. If you want to game, or take advantage of GPU acceleration, however, a dedicated card is a must. For this build, we’ll be putting in an ATI Radeon HD4890. Paired with the Phenom II 955 CPU, this build will handle pretty much any game that’s on the market today. Video cards take advantage of PCI-Express slots, high speed communication ports on the motherboard. Modern graphics cards use PCI-Express x8 or x16 slots and often need auxiliary power connections. To install the card, first you need to remove the expansion slot covers. Take the card and gently insert it into the slot, taking care to insert the edge of the card into the space taken up by the slot cover. Run your hand along the card to make sure it’s firmly seated into the slot, then replace the screws that formerly held the protective covers. If necessary, take two of the PCI-Express power cables from the power supply and insert one into each of the ports. If you forget to plug it in, it won’t damage anything, but the computer will flash a warning message on the screen instead of booting.

With that, we’ve chosen a case, prepped it for the building, and installed the motherboard, CPU and heatsink, RAM, power supply and video card. Go ahead and plug in the power supply and try turning it on; hopefully you’ll be rewarded with blinking lights and noisy fans. If not, check all of the connections and cords and try again.

Our next video will cover installing hard drives and optical drives, as well as any other expansion accessories. Links to each of the products used in our build thus far will be at the end of the post. As always, if you have any questions or comments, don’t hesitate to check out our very capable forums.

List of products used in this build:

Antec Twelve Hundred
AMD Phenom II X4 955
ATI Radeon HD4890
ASUS M4A79T Deluxe
SilverStone power supply
Corsair XMS3 Performance RAM

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