In spite of the rapid growth of mobile computing, custom-built desktop computers remain a popular hobby for many. After all, nothing beats a fully personalized desktop rig when it comes to performance, flexibility and aesthetics, particularly if you are an avid gamer. However, while there is no shortage of guides online to walk you through building your own computer, many fail to mention some of the more common mistakes.
1 – Buying a Budget Power Supply
Having no influence on the actual performance or functionality of your PC itself, the power supply hardly seems like a very interesting component, and as such, many novice PC builders fail to recognize its great importance. However, you need to choose a power supply that can deliver enough power to keep your dream desktop running. Budget, unbranded power supplies might be temptingly cheap, but installing one in anything but the most low-end of machines can spell disaster, even causing your system to short-circuit. To be safe, go for a branded PSU delivering at least 500 watts, though for a high-end machine, 650 or more is a better bet.
2 – Forgetting about Static Electricity
Static electricity can instantly fry any fragile printed circuit board. To minimise the risk of static electricity damaging your components, make sure that you ground yourself by touching the metal case of the computer before working with any of the components. You should also work in the right environment with the computer on a stable surface such as a table. Avoid working on a carpet or other such surfaces that can help to discharge static electricity. As an additional line of safety, consider wearing an anti static wristband while assembling or upgrading your PC.
3 – Not Applying Thermal Paste Properly
Thermal paste is an essential but often overlooked component. Purchased either in a small tube or, less commonly, a square pad, the thermal paste needs to be applied between the CPU die and the bottom of the heat sink. Without it, heat will not be properly transferred from the CPU to the heat sink, and the former can get permanently damaged within moments of starting up the computer for the first time. Always apply a thin layer of thermal paste covering the entire CPU die, but be sure not to apply too much, since doing so can be counterproductive.
4 – Bending CPU Pins
Older CPUs tend to have hundreds of tiny pins on the bottom of them, although these days it is more common for the pins to be located in the motherboard socket and for the CPU itself to have a flat surface. Regardless, however, the pins tend to be exceptionally fragile, and it is important to take extreme care when installing any CPU. Fortunately, most current motherboards provide a special installation bracket to help minimize the risk of damage to these pins, so make sure that you use it if one is present. If you do bend the pins, you’ll likely void your warranty, and fixing them is often next to impossible.
5 – Not Using Motherboard Spacers
When you install the motherboard into your case, you’ll notice lots of little holes in the metal chassis, but these are not for screws. If you simply screw the motherboard directly into the case, you’ll almost certainly short-circuit the whole thing and have an expensive disaster on your hands. Any new case should come with a selection of motherboard spacers, and you need to screw these into the case so that they line up with the holes in the motherboard. Only once the spacers have been installed in the case will you be ready to install the motherboard.
6 – Not Having a Cable Plan
A typical desktop computer has a dozen or more internal cables including power cables for components, data cables for disk drives and many smaller cables for front-panel connectors. Not having a cable plan will make the internals of your computer a chaotic mess to work with, and disorganized cables may even get snagged in fans and cause damage to your components. Any decent desktop case should provide some cable-management options to help you keep the inside of your PC organised. However, for even better cable management, try choosing a modular power supply that allows you to add and remove cables as required.
7 – Not Thinking about Compatibility
Making sure that all of the components are compatible with one another is a major challenge that newbies face when building a new computer, but if you want to avoid an extremely frustrating experience half way through building your computer, you’ll need to take every step to ensure that everything is compatible. You probably already know that AMD CPUs only work with AMD motherboards and Intel CPUs only work with Intel motherboards, but there are also socket types and motherboard firmware versions to consider. Be sure to look at the CPU compatibility charts on the motherboard manufacturer’s website before purchase. Finally, don’t forget to choose compatible memory sticks for your particular system.
8 – Neglecting Cooling
Unless you are an enthusiastic gamer or other power user, you probably haven’t placed too much emphasis on the importance of cooling. However, cooling is extremely important for keeping your computer’s components safe and optimizing performance. If you’re a power user, then cooling is exponentially more important, and you’ll likely want to opt for an aftermarket CPU cooler and a high-end case to ensure the optimal flow of air. However, regardless of what you intend to use your new computer for, you can never have too much cooling. Most importantly, make sure that the inside of your computer is as tidy as possible, and take care to remove excess dust on occasion to help promote proper airflow.
Don’t let the above put you off building your own computer. Putting everything together is actually a fairly straightforward process, and it is well within the capabilities of almost any computer user, provided that a few sensible preparations are made.