How to build a gaming PC in 2021 – a beginners guide

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In previous posts, we have discussed why you may want to build a gaming PC, the reasons why you should build it yourself and finally the components you require. This guide will walk you through a step by step process with pictures to show you how to get your next gaming PC up and running.

What tools do I need?

Not very many actually! Building a Gaming PC doesn’t require any specific tools other than a phillips screwdriver. I have a variety at hand as the size of the screws used can vary from tiny m.2 screws through to large fan screws. I also use an LED torch as there are often dark areas within the case so shining a light in there can make it much easier ton see what you are doing.

Unpack the case and then remove the side panels

For this build I am using the Corsair iCue 465x case. It comes with a tem,pered glass side panel and 3x LL120 RGB fans. It looks great and is reasonably easy to build in. I found there was limited space at the back for the cables, however.

We can now see in to the case and the space we have to work with. Remove all of the accessories such as the box of sctews etc located in the drive cages.

Note that you’ll have some small stand offs protroduing from the inside of the case. These are what the motherboard is screwed to in order to keep it firmly in place.

Components used: Corsair iCUE 465X RGB (Amazon)

Prepare and install the motherboard

The next step is to find the I/O (input/output i.e. where the mouse, keyboard etc connect) shield for the motherboard. This is a small piece of metal which goes over the motherboard I/O panel and pushes through the hole of the case in the top left-hand corner. There are a couple of methods you can use. Firstly you can slide it over the motherboard as I have below (this one was fixed so very straight forward). Otherwise, you may find it easier to push this into space of the case first, then align and slide the motherboard in afterwards. They tend to be quite flimsy so don’t push too hard. It’s better to line things up perfectly rather than pushing hard and risking bending it.

Once this in place, you can carefully drop the motherboard into the case making sure you align it with the I/O shield in the top left-hand corner and also the standoff mounts which will line up with the screw holes. You may find it easier to push the cables coming through the case over to the right-hand side, or even pull them through the rubber grommets so they are at the back of the case, ready to be pushed through when you need them. You do not want to trap a cable under the motherboard as you could either risk damaging the cable or motherboard or having to remove the motherboard to retrieve the cable!

For my motherboard there are 9 screws to be tightened once everything has been lined up correctly.

Components used: MSI MAG B550 Tomahawk Motherboard (Amazon)

Install the Power Supply (PSU)

It pays to think ahead slightly when you install the PSU. The PSU will normally be hidden in a chamber at the bottom of the case. If you need to slide in another cable once it’s in place then it can be tricky as there is minimal space and it tends to be very dark. I therefore suggest you think which components you will be powering and connect the relevant cables to the PSU from the outset.

In the image above I have connected the 24pin ATX cable, the 4+4 CPU cable and a PCI-E cable. I also needed to add a SATA cable as well for the RGB fans.

The PSU can then be slid in to the PSU chamber and attached with 4x screws from the outside.

You now need to connect the power cables so that the motherboard receives power. The 4+4 CPU cable should be fed through at the top and the 24 pin ATX cable should be fed through the top grommet on the right hand side.

To connect the connectors to the motherboard, align them so that the catch is on the correct side of the socket and push down firmly. You should feel a slight click. The 24pin ATX cable can require a bit more force but don’t press too hard. A slight wiggle from side to side will let you know that the connector is in the socket.

Note that due to the shape of the individual connectors it’s not possible to connect it the wrong way around so don’t worry about that but it’s best to check that the clip is on the right side.

Components used: Corsair RM850X (Amazon)

Installing the Processor (CPU)

We now move on to perhaps the most difficult part of the build, in my opinion. This requires a lot of care and patience to avoid making a costly error. You’ll see on the rear of the processor that there are hundreds of small pins. These need to be aligned with the tiny holes on the CPU socket. If you take your time then it’s very straight forward, but there is the possibility of not aligning the pins correctly and bending the processor pins. They can sometimes be bent back but it’s a painstaking process and you can risk snapping the pins too. It’s best to get it right first time.

In the picture below you’ll see the lever being raised ready for installation.

In the top left-hand corner, you’ll see a white marker indicating pin number 1. This needs to be matched up with the white indicator on the processor. You can then carefully lower the processor down to the motherboard and once aligned carefully drop it in place. There should be no resistance, you shouldn’t need to push or wiggle the processor into place. It should go in perfectly and you will feel the processor pins drop in to the socket.

You can now lower the lever. It shouldn’t require any force whatsoever. The level tucks under the small piece of plastic along the bottom side.

Components used: AMD Ryzen 5 3600 (Amazon)

Installing the Cooler

For this example I will be using an AIO cooler. Firstly remove the front panel of the case. As my AIO cooler has 2x 120mm fans, I will remove the top 2 fans in the case. Using the long screws provided, screw the radiator and fans together, through the front of the case.

From the other side you can see that it fits neatly within the case. Make sure you position the tubes at the bottom of the radiator to avoid air bubbles. This will ensure the AIO cooler is working optimally.

Place the water pump to one side until you are ready to attach it to the motherboard.

Components used: Corsair Hydro 100i RGB Platinum (Amazon)

Applying thermal compound

It’s important to use thermal compound between the processor and the heatsink on the AIO pump to ensure a solid heat conduction. This is a crucial part of moving the heat away from the processor so it can work optimally and your components do not overheat.

Place a small amount of thermal compound directly in the middle of the processor. Only a small amount is required, less than the size of a pea.

I probably applied a bit much here so be careful, a little goes a long way. When the heatsink is mounted on the processor the pressure will spread the thermal compound. The idea is to have a very thin covering across the processor. Do not over apply it as the pressure will push the thermal compound over the edges of the processor resulting in a very difficult to clean up mess.

The pump can now be connected to the motherboard. The AIO I used was very straight forward to install and required the AIO bracket to be hooked over the processor mounting brackets. The screws can then be tightened carefully. I slowly tightened the screws a little bit at a time, alternating between the two screws, until it was finger tight. Be careful not to overtighten.

Components used: Arctic MX-4 Thermal Compound (Amazon)

Installing the memory

You’ll want to check the motherboard instructions to see where to place the memory. It’s most common to have 2 sticks. The motherboard I used required me to install the sticks in DIMM A2 and DIMM B2. Open the clips on either side.

The memory has 2 sides with one longer than the other. Line this up correctly with the sockets on the motherboard.

Starting one end, gently push the stick in to the slot and push down each end. You should hear and feel a click as the clips engage which will hold the memory in to position.

Components used: Corsair Vengeance RGB Pro 16gb (2x8gb) DDR4 3600mhz memory (Amazon)

Installing the M.2 Hard Drive(s)

For this build I will be using 2x M.2 SSD hard drives which will occupy both of the slots on the motherboard.

Align the teeth with the slots on the motherboard. The hard drives will be suspended on one side at a 30degree angle. Use the very small screws (this is where your tiny screwdriver comes in!) to screw them down.

Components used: ADATA XPG SX8200 Pro 512gb M.2 SSD (Amazon) 

Connect the front panel USB, switches and audio

On the front of your case will be additional USB ports, an on switch and light, possibly a hard drive activity light, a reset switch and audio connectors. These will need to be connected to the motherboard. I find it best to connect these before you install the graphics card as you’ll have limited space to do so otherwise.

Feed these connectors through a grommet closest to where they need to be connected. Your motherboard may have different places to connect to your USB header but the front panel switches etc tend to be at the bottom right of the motherboard.

Firstly, starting with the audio header in the bottom left of the picture attach this to the motherboard. It’s a case of making sure the cable is the correct way around. This cable cannot be inserted incorrectly as one of the pins is blocked off. It should slide in to position easily, take care not to wiggle it. The USB connector should connect in the same way.

The pins for the front panel switches and lights are a bit more difficult and again require some patience. Take a look at the motherboard instructions for a diagram.

The connectors are very small as you can see.

One by one, connect each connector to the motherboard paying careful attention to the power LED which requires the correct orientation of the positive and negative sides.

They are quite delicate and fiddly but should just slide in.

Below is a picture of all the front panel connectors connected to the motherboard and the cables neatly routed through the grommet.

Installing the Graphics Card (GPU)

I tend to install the graphics card last as it takes up a lot of room in the case and prevents you from accessing some of the motherboard once it’s in position.

Start by removing the covers. Line theGPU up in the slot to eyeball which covers to remove.

Slide the graphics card in to the slot. You should hear a click once it’s seated correctly as the clip at the far end will engage.

The GPU requires a seperate connection from the power supply to ensure it gets enough power to operate. Take the cables you connected to the power supply earlier and route them through the closest grommet to the card. You’ll need 2x connectors, a 6 pin and 8 pin connector. Sometimes you’ll have 2x 8 pin connectors on a single cable and the final 2 pins are separate and won’t be used.

It can sometimes be difficult to hide these cables. In this build I used some white cables to make them match my case.

Components used: Antec Power Supply Sleeved Cables White (Amazon)

Tidy the cables so you can install the side and window

As you can see below, I have a lot of cables to hide! It’s a good idea to route the cables as tidily as you can using cable ties but it isn’t always possible.

In this build I had to stuff many of those cables in the PSU chamber. I actually had to remove the drive bays to make room as I knew I wouldn’t be using them. No one will see this side of the case so it doesn’t need to be perfect.

Switch on the computer!

Now comes the moment of truth! Connect the kettle lead to the computer and hope that everything has gone to plan and your new gaming PC boots up correctly. Press the switch on the front panel which you connected earlier, hold your breath and watch your new gaming PC come alive.

After this picture I fitted the windowed side panel and added 3x more RGB fans to the top and rear of the case blowing the hot air out of the computer, acting as an exhaust.

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