Beginner PC Building Tips & Common Mistakes

By Published January 24, 2016 at 2:43 pm

It's been snowing here lately, which means that the entire state has shut down from its 1” of cumulative death-powder. While waiting for one of the thermal benches to warm-up, we figured a quick, informal discussion on basic PC building would be a worthy snow-day topic.

GN test technician Mike Gaglione handles most of our system assembly and case testing, making him an ideal candidate to speak to out-of-mind system install tips and common beginner oversights. We talk about motherboard standoffs, memory slotting, PCI-e slot assignment for multi-GPU setups, cable management tips, and more.

Recapping the basics in the video, here are a couple points we came up with on-the-fly:

Oft Forgotten: Motherboard Standoffs, I/O Shield

Motherboard standoffs – those brass-colored pegs that come with cases – are critical to board installation. If a case doesn't pre-install the standoffs, it's important that you plug each relevant hole (line them up with the board form factor) with a standoff. This ensures the board never makes direct contact with the steel board tray, which could cause a direct short and prevent boot-up or cause damage. Don't get lazy about this, either; skipping a hole because the board seems elevated “enough” is dangerous. As components are added, like the GPU and CPU heatsink, the board can flex slightly and may make direct contact with the case.

As for the I/O shield – that plate which sits between the board and case – it's not as functionally important as standoffs, but still forgotten. We've all got different build styles at GN. Personally speaking, I do not install IO shields in my systems anymore. I know all the parts will come out soon anyway, so I don't bother. For builds with more permanence, just remember to install the shield before the board – otherwise you're pulling it all out for a metal plate whose only function is keeping dust and fingers out of the rear of the case.

“Monkey Tight, Not Gorilla Tight”

Don't over-torque CPU coolers. This is another common mistake we've seen beginners commit. Tighten a CPU cooler until it's “hand tight,” then apply a few screwdriver turns until significant resistance is met. Do not continue torquing the screws with additional force. It is only required that the CPU's IHS (integrated heat-spreader) makes contact with the cooler coldplate. Additional force serves no functional purpose and can actually damage the board by warping it, or could damage the CPU by tweaking the IHS off of the substrate.

The same goes for every other component – if you have to force it, something's wrong. CPU installation is a fantastic example: Drop the CPU into the socket, check that it lines up, and lock the plate. If resistance is met or force is required, STOP. Something is wrong. Continuing could bend or destroy pins. Bent pins can be fixed with a lot of patience, a magnifying glass, and tweezers or a flat-head screwdriver, but it's best to avoid this problem altogether. Warranties will not honor boards or CPUs with bent pins.

RTFM: RAM Slots, PCI-e Slots

Read the manual for this stuff. When using only some of your motherboard's memory slots, installation order often matters and will impact the speed of single- and dual-stick configurations. Some motherboards will helpfully print “DRAM_1, DRAM_3 – FIRST” on the motherboard, which tells you to utilize those slots in two-stick configurations, but the rest will detail this in the manual.

PCI-e works the same way. For multi-GPU installs, some motherboards – the X99 Classified comes to mind, because we use it – will designate PCI-e slot assignment for two-, three-, and four-way SLI setups. Multi-plexing will impact lane assignment. Read the manual to ensure you're getting full speed to those GPUs.

Cable Management

Cable management is primarily important for aesthetics, but will marginally impact dust accumulation and (more as a result of the dust than the cables) cooling performance. We won't go too deep on this today, but the short of it is to route as many cables through the rear of the board tray as possible. In the event a CPU power header won't reach the EPS 12V slot (often resultant of a full-tower case), you can alternatively route the cable under the video card's expansion slot bracket. Extension cables can be purchased for behind-the-tray routing.

We've got a few more tips in the video above. As for the more in-depth article (and video) content through this week, we're scheduled to publish a laptop overclocking article, SI benchmark, two case reviews, and more.

- Steve “Lelldorianx” Burke.

Steve Burke

Steve started GamersNexus back when it was just a cool name, and now it's grown into an expansive website with an overwhelming amount of features. He recalls his first difficult decision with GN's direction: "I didn't know whether or not I wanted 'Gamers' to have a possessive apostrophe -- I mean, grammatically it should, but I didn't like it in the name. It was ugly. I also had people who were typing apostrophes into the address bar - sigh. It made sense to just leave it as 'Gamers.'"

First world problems, Steve. First world problems.

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