In the age of smartphones, tablets, and inexpensive laptop computers, you may not think going the way of a clunky desktop PC is the most time worthy endeavor that one could take on. Devices like smartphones and tablets are excellent for on-the-go communication with friends, watching YouTube on the bus, or playing relatively simple games, but at present you will get so much more functionality out of that desktop.
Desktop PCs are typically more powerful than laptops. Laptops will generally use much smaller mobile versions of the same processor. The desktop’s full-size model will give you more power than the smaller mobile parts. This may not be of much use if you’re only using your laptop for everyday tasks like browsing the web or getting trapped in the social media wormhole, but if you are using your computer for video or photo editing, graphic design, animation, or playing the latest triple-A games on the highest and most beautiful graphical settings, a desktop computer is most definitely the way to go. There are laptops that can perform these tasks, but the laptop equivalent will be more expensive, and they are much harder to build and upgrade than their desktop PC counterparts. It’s also good to remember, if you do go for the high-end desktop, you can always buy that $105 laptop for your more general use.
Once you’ve decided to build a desktop things can get a little tricky if you don’t know what you’re doing. If you’re a first time builder, make sure you avoid these common mistakes many of us have made during our first build.
20. You Didn’t Read the Instructions
This seems like a no-brainer but you would be surprised how many people throw out those instruction manuals because they have access to things like YouTube to show them step-by-step processes or because the part looks simple enough. To a degree, this is totally understandable. We have all been guilty of throwing out the instructions when it comes to things like coffee makers. We all know how to put the filter in, fill it with coffee, fill the basin with water, and press “Start”. We all know how to put a lampshade on a lamp. Those instructions can take a hike. Your computer parts aren’t coffee makers and they certainly aren’t lamps, even if they do have fancy LED illumination.
If you simply read the instructions for every single part, there is a good chance you won’t make any of the mistakes that follow. These parts aren’t always the same and that video on YouTube might be using different products than the parts you have selected.
19. You Didn’t Pay Attention to Form Factor
There is a good degree of standardization when it comes to the parts you’ll need for building your own desktop. One of the most important types of standardization you’ll want to pay attention to is form factor. The two main types of forms you’ll run across when building your PC is ATX and micro-ATX. As you can imagine, ATX is larger and typically more powerful than micro-ATX and things get smaller from micro-ATX.
While many ATX cases allow for the installation of a micro-ATX motherboard, you will not be squeezing an ATX motherboard into a micro-ATX case in almost every scenario. While it may look like your ATX motherboard will fit in a larger micro-ATX case, you must consider that the mounts and holes are standardized and the micro-ATX case won’t have those mounts. While there is some room for cross compatibility, it’s safer to just make sure you stick to one form factor on your first build.
18. Who Needs Risers?
One mistake that is easy to make, and this goes hand in hand with not reading the instructions, is the exclusion of risers when installing the motherboard. The instructions will be happy to remind you of this, but it’s easy to see how the mounts line up and just start putting in those screws. As someone who made this mistake on their first build (in my defense my case appeared to have its own built-in risers), I can tell you a couple problems you’ll run into first-hand.
Without the risers, the inputs on your board will not line up with the back of your case. If you plan on using your USB ports, your headsets, a mic, or a monitor, you’re going to need those input jacks to be fully visible from the back of the case.
17. Poor Cable Management
You’re going to notice you have a lot of cables and wires hanging out in that case once you have everything plugged in and ready to go. Having cables hanging out all willy nilly can cause cooling issues because air isn’t traveling efficiently through your case with all the wires in the way. It can also cause issues with noise if a cable were to begin leaning against one of your fans. You can avoid these issues in a number of ways.
One way is to purchase a case that has clips and railings that actually give you set places to loop your cables. This is great for a first time builder but good cases can get rather expensive.
Another way is to purchase nylon cable ties. If you use these in conjunction with running cables behind your motherboard, you can group like cables and wires together and tie them to things so they don’t move around and stay out of the way.
16. Poor Cooling
Things get hot in a PC. Very hot. So hot that you can melt your parts and they will warp and be rendered useless. The more powerful your build, the better cooling you are going to need. The main two methods of keeping your PC cool is using fans or liquid coolers. For a first time build, you’re probably not building on the expensive high-end side and fans will do fine. Unfortunately, a poor heatsink/fan and poor fan placement can cause the computer to get hot.
You will need at least two fans. One blowing air in and typically installed in the front of the case, and one blowing air out. This exhaust fan should be at the top mount on the back of the case. If you feel you need more fans, ideally you want more exhaust than intake.
As far as your heatsink/fan combo on your CPU is concerned, it is recommended you buy a good one as opposed to using the heatsink/fan that comes stock with your CPU. Those little stock CPU coolers work, but they get just a little too hot for comfort.
15. Poor Motherboard/CPU/Graphics Card Planning
Now most of us that build do so with upgrading in mind. That’s the beauty part of building: you can upgrade and swap out parts which saves money over time. You typically can’t do this with a manufactured desktop or laptop because the parts aren’t interchangeable.
Because builders plan on upgrading, they might save some money buy purchasing a high-end motherboard that won’t need upgraded for years and years, but skimp a little on their graphics card or processor to keep costs low on the initial build. This is a great idea at face value.
Unfortunately you might buy a CPU or graphics card that is so far removed from your motherboard they aren’t compatible. You might purchase a CPU or graphics card that is too powerful for your motherboard if you’ve decided to skimp on the board.
14. Insufficient Power
So you have everything hooked up. Your new PC is ready to go. You have verified everything is plugged into all the right places. You know your parts on the board are compatible. You press the power button. Lights start coming on. Fans start spinning. Your monitor begins showing you start-up info. SUCCESS! And then…
…everything shuts down.
You have a 350 Watt power supply you found at an excellent price. Your computer needs 400 Watts once you’ve turned on and plugged in all of your peripherals (These numbers aren’t necessarily typical, this is simply an example).
13. You’ve Gone Too Cheap
We all want to spend as little money as possible, especially on a first time build. Remember, there is a difference between an excellent deal and a cheap part. I have brought this up after the power supply issue as it brings up a solid example of a mistake I made on my first build.
I didn’t want to do the math in regards to the amount of wattage my build would need, so I purchased a 750 Watt power supply knowing that it would power just about anything I threw at it and I wouldn’t have to upgrade it for a long time. Unfortunately I made the mistake of buying a 750 Watt power supply that was cheaper than most 500 Watt power supplies you could find on the market. That part I didn’t think I’d need to swap out for years and years needed replaced in two years. Not to mention the fact I could have used the power supply from a pre-built gaming PC that I was replacing had I done the math in the first place.
12. You Didn’t Remove Your Stickers
A lot of parts you purchase will come with stickers on them. Your CPU will generally have a sticker on it telling you the make and model of the processor. It seems like this is handy information to be able to see when getting into your case when upgrading, but this can cause some major issues.
One issue is the thermal paste that helps cool the processor isn’t making direct contact with the processor because you have a sticker in the way. Over time, your processor may start heating up for some reason or another and now it’s going to melt and heat up this sticker. You don’t want that burning smell coming out of your computer.
11. Don’t Use Tape
While there is heat resistant tape out there that may not melt when your PC hits its hottest or your cooling is nearing replacement time, it’s best to avoid it. If you don’t have the foresight to get heat resistant tape, you are going to have one heck of a mess when that computer heats up.
If you find yourself needing to tape a part together, it might be best to replace that part anyway.
Some folks might even tell you to use heat resistant tape for cable management as cutting off those nylon cable ties put you at risk of cutting your cables. This isn’t inherently bad advice, but even twist-ties would be a better option if you don’t want to cut your nylon cable-ties off when upgrading.
10. You Used Your Basic Set of Everyday Tools
This has the potential to be a major disaster.
First off, a lot of modern screwdrivers (which you’ll be using the most) have magnetic tips that make it easy to pick up a lost screw. This seems like a great thing to have when working with such small screws in a case that can feel cramped at times, but there are a number of computer parts and electronic components that do not like magnets.
Your general home improvement tools also tend to be large, which can be tough to maneuver in a less spacious case.
Your home improvement tools may not be anti-static and could possibly carry a charge that fries your motherboard before you’ve even turned it on.
Buying a good set of specialized computer tools is the way to go. Did you lose that screw? You’ll get a nifty little grasper that reaches inside that case. These tools are generally anti-static so you won’t have to worry about them carrying a charge. The kits often come with extra screws and a large supply of those nylon cable-ties that have come up a couple of times. If you plan on building, a specialized tool kit is a must.
9. Too Much Thermal Paste
If you have decided not to go with the stock cooler for your CPU, you’re going to need to clean off the old thermal paste from your CPU and reapply a fresh coat to go between the new heatsink and your CPU. This calls for a very small amount of paste. The amount is so small that many first time builders aren’t convinced that it’s enough to serve any purpose and they apply more than what those pesky instructions call for.
So you’ve applied extra paste for “maximum cooling”. Now you press your heatsink over the CPU. All the excess paste starts spilling out the sides and gets all over your motherboard. Great job, Paste Master. Now your board is ruined.
8. You Didn’t Have a Construction Plan
You’ve done your research. All your parts are compatible. They’ve arrived and you are ready to begin construction. Everything goes on the motherboard so you decide to go ahead and screw that in first. Hey, you’ve even remembered the risers! Now you screw in the power supply. Success. Now you try to run the power supply cables around the back of the motherboard. Oops. The jacks at the end of the cables won’t fit under the board. Now you’re unscrewing the motherboard, removing the little easy-to-lose risers, laying the cables down, and then screwing the motherboard back on.
7. You Dwarf Your RAM
Heck yeah! You’ve completed your first build. You were smart and built a very cheap, very low-end gaming PC. This is fine. You wanted to make sure you could do the job first. Now, instead of upgrading, you decide you’re going to start over with better parts now that you know you can do it. You keep the old power supply because you know it’s sufficient. You keep your optical drive and hard drive because they do their job. All your peripherals are fine as they are. You decide you are only going to buy half the necessary RAM because you can use some of your old RAM. This is all very sound logic. You buy some really good RAM as an “upgrade”.
Your RAM only performs as strongly as the weakest link. Your expensive and powerful stick of RAM will only run as powerfully as your cheapest low-end stick of RAM. It’s best to make sure your RAM is all equal.
6. Your Monitor Doesn’t Show Off Your Graphics
This isn’t necessarily the worst mistake you can make but if you are ignorant to this concept you’re going to be rather disappointed. If your graphics card is capable of 4K graphics, you are not going to see that quality if you’re only rockin’ a monitor capable of 1080p.
A less capable monitor is fine if you pulled it from another build and plan to get a new monitor later, but if you’ve bought the monitor brand new alongside your other parts, you’re just going to need to buy another one. Otherwise the money you spent on other parts to get those nice clean graphics was a waste.
5. You’ve Ignored Electrostatic Discharge
Electricity carried in your body can fry your components and it is very easy for the human body to carry a charge. While a lot of modern parts can take a little abuse when it comes to this, it just isn’t worth the risk. Static electricity in the body has the potential to fry a part before it even turns on and it’s so easy to avoid that there just isn’t a reason not to.
Do not build in a carpeted area. If you walk across carpet to go back and forth to your work area, touch a doorknob. Most importantly, get yourself an anti-static mat and an anti-ESD bracelet that can connect to something grounded while you work. That way any charge is leaving the body and your work area. These items typically come in most PC toolkits.
4. You’ve Plugged Your Power Supply Into The Wrong Components
Most of these parts and wires will be labeled directly on the components and power supply or shown in a diagram within your instructions. It’s difficult to mess up if you are paying attention. However, if you aren’t familiar with some of the technical jargon and some of the parts, it may be easy to get confused.
A friend of mine that builds gaming PCs for a living sees the same issue over and over again and it is heartbreaking. A new builder has everything in the right place except for one detail – they’ve plugged a small female fan plug on the power supply to a small male plug on the motherboard labeled “fan” that fits perfectly. You’re instinct is to connect them. This part on the motherboard is supposed to send power to a fan so the fan will only turn on when the board senses something is too hot. The small plug on the supply is, obviously, also sending power out. Connecting these parts will keep the computer from turning on, and too many attempts at turning the computer on when you don’t know this detail can completely fry your board.
3. Not Admitting When You Need Help
There are a lot of things you need to know before switching that computer on and if it isn’t turning on, for any reason, STOP. Stop right now and take your build to your nearest tech center or computer repair shop. Sure, the operator of the store might charge $55 – $120 depending on where you are located, but it sure beats destroying hundreds, if not thousands of dollars worth of parts.
If at any time you seem lost or something isn’t working, get professional help. Most of them will let you watch as they work if they aren’t busy when you come in. If they are busy and you can’t stay, they will almost always tell you what you did wrong and show you what they did. This information will help greatly on your next build or when it comes time to upgrade.
2. You Bought An HD/SSD But No Operating System
Almost every computing device we buy from a manufacturer comes with an Operating System. We take it for granted that this is something that technically isn’t standard with your drive. Many first time builders assume their brand new drive just has the latest version of Windows pre-installed. It isn’t impossible to find one that does, but most do not.
Your Operating System is what allows you as the user to control what your computer does. The most common OS for a computer are Microsoft products like Windows 7,8, or 10. These operating systems, while coming standard on most manufactured PCs, actually cost over $100 and are necessary for operating a computer. If you have some familiarity with Linux, they have a lot of free and even user-friendly operating systems you can install on your new drive.
1. 1. You’ve Gone Too Expensive
This could be the single biggest mistake anyone makes when constructing their first build. They’ve gone completely top of the line and spared no expense. This will ensure you aren’t upgrading for quite a long time but if you’ve been paying attention to this list, you’ve probably noticed there are two types of mistakes a new builder will make. Those little mistakes that are just inconvenient and time consuming, and major mistakes that will render your parts useless.
That high end part means nothing if it doesn’t work and if you’ve broken it there is no returning it. You now have to buy that $800 motherboard again. Don’t have another $800? You can always buy a cheaper board, but now what you have left to spend may not buy a board that can handle your top-of-the-line processor.
Don’t go high end with your first build. You can always upgrade once you know what you’re doing.
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