Desktop PC installation checklist and the installation of Windows 7/8.1/10
This page of the Build Your Own PC section of this website provides a summary of the order of the assembly of the internal components and the installation of a version of Windows in a newly-self-built desktop PC. In June 2015, there were four main versions of Windows in use: Windows XP (Home and Professional Editions, no longer supported by Microsoft by still widely being used), Windows Vista (Home Premium, Business, Ultimate used by under 5% of computer users), Windows 7 (Home Premium, Professional, Ultimate) and Windows 8.0/8.1, which only has a standard version (Windows 8.0/8.1) and a Windows 8.0/8.1 Pro. Windows 10, already being hailed by the PC world, was released on July 29, 2015.
WARNING: Note that you can switch the computer on without replacing the cover while installing software or testing it, but you should not touch any of the components unless it is switched off at the wall socket. For obvious reasons, if you have small children or pets, you should never leave it unattended in an exposed state. Often a computer is not switched off when powered down – it remains in a suspended mode, so it is always best to switch it of at the wall socket. Leave the plug in the socket with the switch off, since in this state it is earthed. Always replace the cover if you are not going to be in attendance and you have pets or children – and never have drinks, etc., nearby when working on electronic components.
Confirmation or clarification of the information provided here…
If you want confirmation or clarification of the information provided on this page, and/or you want to view images not provided here, visit the other websites that are devoted to providing self-build PC information or have a section devoted to it, such as Tom’s Hardware. You should also be able to find many other such websites by using a suitable search query, such as build your own pc, in a web search engine.
1. – You have the tools required for the job at hand. It is possible to use nothing other than a standard Philips screwdriver, but a pair of pliers are handy for removing recalcitrant power-supply connectors, a pair of tweezers are handy for removing and replacing jumpers, a magnifying glass is handy for reading the small print on the motherboard, or on the other hardware, or for seeing if pins have been bent, etc., – and a torch is handy if the lighting is insufficient. – Inexpensive tool kits can be obtained from most computer stores.
The motherboard’s user manual
The motherboard you purchased to build your PC should have come with a user manual that you will need to read before you install in in the PC’s case and then add the components. You should have it handy to consult as you configure jumpers or install the components.
2. – You have purchased all of the components and you have reminded yourself to touch the metal case to earth yourself before you touch or install electronic hardware. You can touch earthed metal, such as a radiator, before handling electronic components. I have never used an anti-static wrist band that connects to the computer’s case by a clip to discharge static electricity and I have never had any components destroyed by static electricity.
Note that I have read How to Build a PC guides that recommend removing the plug from the wall socket. But as long as the computer is switched off at the wall socket, its contents will be earthed, because the earth wire remains connected and open when the wall socket is switched off. By removing the plug from the wall socket the earth link is broken.
You should work on a desk or table that is well lit. It’s not a good idea to use the sitting-room carpet, because you’re likely to suffer from aches and pains, such as sore knees.
3. – You have read through and understood this whole article. – You have accessed other sites offering the same information just in case I have left out something you need to know – or I have provided it inadequately. You have fitted the motherboard so that it does not make contact with the case anywhere other than at the stand-off screws. You have made sure that there are no loose screws or pieces of metal in the case that might short the motherboard.
NOTE WELL – BEFORE TURNING THE POWER SUPPLY ON, ENSURE THAT IF IT HAS ONE THAT THE VOLTAGE SELECTION SWITCH ON THE PSU IS SET CORRECTLY (230V in the UK -115V in the USA).
Failure to ensure this switch is set to the correct voltage will probably destroy your PSU. – And do not use the power supply unit unless it has a load attached to the motherboard, such as the processor, the processor’s cooling unit, and RAM memory. Turning the power on with only the motherboard attached to it could also destroy the power supply unit, which must have a load to function.
If necessary, visit YouTube for an illustrated guide on installing a power supply unit (or any other component). Other sites with this information can be found by using a web-search query such as: install psu or install power supply unit, etc.
4. – You have installed the processor in its socket and fitted the heatsink-and-fan unit or liquid-cooling unit over it according to the instructions that came with it or by visiting its manufacturer’s site.
Because of space considerations, you might prefer installing the processor, processor cooler, and RAM memory on the motherboard before you install it in the case. The way in which the processor’s cooling unit is installed can require installing the processor and cooling unit before installing the motherboard in the case.
If you work with electronic components outside the PC case be sure that you have them placed on cardboard or some other insulating material.
Note that in order to install a particular make and model of processor in a motherboard, that motherboard and its BIOS/UEFI setup program must support it. Updates to the BIOS/UEFI can be installed to add support. The motherboard’s manufacturer’s website should provide information on updates and what they support. If the processor you have bought for your build is not supported by a motherboard, you need to use a processor in it that is supported in order to be able to install the update. All of the recent and current processors made by Intel and AMD just have to be installed in a motherboard that is properly installed in a PC’s case with RAM memory, video/graphics card, etc., in order for the supporting BIOS to recognise and configure it for the operating system, which is usually a version of Windows, but could also be another operating system, such as a distribution of Linux, such as Ubuntu..
Make sure that you purchase a heatsink-and-fan or liquid cooling unit that is designed to fit the type of processor that you’re using.
Note that if there is a plastic covering over a sticky square of thermal compound in the middle of a heatsink unit where it fits over the central core of the processor, so be sure to remove it, because attaching the cooling unit with the film still in place will cause the processor to heat rapidly and it might burn out before circuit protection kicks in.
The the processor core is visible behind a perspex window in the centre of some of the older Intel and AMD socket processors. The cooling unit has to be fitted so that the groove in the heatsink fits over the core’s slightly raised window in the centre of the top of the processor. This is not the case with the earlier Socket 7 and Super-Socket 7 processors and later Intel and AMD processors. The chip’s processing core is hidden by the casing with these processors and the cooling units made for them fit flush over the top of them.
It is a good idea to have a spare cooling unit on hand, because they’re prone to break down. A high-speed processor with a failed cooling unit attached to it might lead to a fried processor – even with built-in overheating protection. So, from time to time, even if your motherboard has built-in overheating shutdown circuitry, which all motherboards have had for many years, and the motherboard’s BIOS/UEFI or a software utility is set to monitor the processor’s temperature and give a warning when it reaches a predetermined high temperature, it is a good idea to check if the cooling unit is functioning properly.
You could also have applied a thin layer of special heat-conducting thermal compound, available from most computer stores, to the top of the processor as a way of improving the conduction of heat between it and the heatsink.
It has to be a thin layer of this paste – otherwise the processor will overheat.
If the processor has been installed with its default settings, (at its specified voltage, and it is not overclocked in any way), I would only use thermal paste if there is none already on the heatsink and you experience heat-related problems, such as erratic fatal exception and page fault error messages, reboots, failure of applications to run properly, etc.
Do not overclock the processor (or graphics card or RAM memory) unless you have researched how to do it thoroughly. The degree to which overclocking succeeds varies from one make and model to another, sometimes to a huge degree. Some processors are locked and can only be overclocked by increasing the speed of the motherboard’s system bus, not by increase the processor’s clock multiplier setting. Often a locked processor can have the settings that overclock it unlocked. The more that the clock multiplier setting can be increased the more that a particular processor can be overclocked. The voltage at which a processor runs can also be increased in the BIOS/UEFI in order to stabilise an overclocking.
There is a huge amount of information and results on the web on processor overclocking.
Note that some motherboards now have the technology that allows the system to overclock itself automatically to provide it with extra power in order to cope with processing demands that are higher than the non-overclocked system can deal with.
The MSI K9A2 Platinum (AMD Socket AM2+) motherboard provides this technology, which it calls Dynamic Overclocking Technology.
5. – Preferably, you should have installed the processor and cooling unit on the motherboard before the RAM modules in order to avoid damaging the modules as you install the CPU. Having touched the metal case of a computer (connected to a wall socket that is switched off) to discharge any static electricity, you have fitted the RAM modules in the DIMM sockets in the order given in the motherboard manual. Some motherboards don’t mind what the order of installation is, but others require the banks to be filled in a particular order, starting with Bank 0.
DDR/DDR2/DDR3/DDR4 memory modules running on motherboards that support dual-channel DDR mode must be installed in pairs and must be installed in the DIMM memory slots that support dual-channel mode. See the RAM memory page on this site for more information on this.
6. – Depending on the methods used by the motherboard, you have set the correct motherboard jumper or BIOS settings for the hardware installed, as shown in the motherboard’s manual.
All new motherboards now use the BIOS/UEFI (instead of jumpers or DIP switches) to configure the following settings. The motherboard has a front side bus frequency (FSB) setting, which also sets the speed of the RAM, or the RAM can have its own frequency setting. The processor has a core-voltage setting and there will be a range of clock multiplier settings that increase the speed of the processor.
Most current AMD and Intel processors have the clock multiplier setting set within them instead of in the motherboard’s BIOS/UEFI, so that overclocking them by increasing this setting is made too difficult or obscure for most people to attempt. However, both manufacturers sell unlocked processors (usually the most exensive models, but not always) that are unlocked and that allow overclocking of the clock multiplier, which is done via the BIOS/UEFI.
As was mentioned above, the settings can be made by setting jumpers on the motherboard (or DIP Switches on very old motherboards), or by setting them in the BIOS/UEFI, which all of the current motherboards now use. The motherboard’s manual will have illustrated instructions on how to set the motherboard up to run a particular processor or type of RAM. A jumper on the motherboard is usually used to reset the BIOS/UEFI.
The availability of the settings depends on the motherboard, and, with regard to the clock multiplier settings, also on the type of processor. For instance, some motherboards do not have a range of processor core voltage settings; the motherboard sets the core voltage automatically. Another make of motherboard can provide a wide range of core voltage, bus frequency, and clock multiplier settings. Another make/model of motherboard can automate all or most of the BIOS/UEFI setup settings so that they can’t be changed.
Some motherboards provide only a very limited range of settings. – You have to read a motherboard’s manual to find out how the settings are set and what range of settings is available.
Most reputable motherboard manufacturers provide manuals for their boards on their websites. Unless you know how to set the variable inbuilt clock multiplier settings on the latest AMD and Intel processors, you will only be able to adjust the system bus frequency (FSB) and core voltage settings – if the motherboard allows it.
If they are set manually, you should have checked all of the settings again to make sure that they are correct.
7. – You have fitted the motherboard that was placed on insulating material such as cardboard into the case having previously fitted the processor and its cooling unit to the motherboard – as described in this article – and you have attached the heatsink and fan to a power point on the motherboard or to a plug from the power supply unit. If possible, you should buy a cooling unit that attaches to a plug from the power supply unit instead of to the motherboard, because the fan might draw more power than the motherboard connection can supply and short it.
Serial ATA (SATA) hard disk and SSD drives
8. – The following information applies to SATA hard disk drives (PATA IDE drives are no longer supplied in new PCs) …
Having fixed the hard disk drive into a suitable internal bay (invisible from the outside of the closed case) with four short screws, two on each side, you have installed the drive’s data cable on to the drive itself and to the first SATA connector on the motherboard. The SATA power cable from the power supply (added to a modular power supply unit) is connected to the correct SATA connector on the motherboard. Remember that a cheap conversion cable can convert an old-style Molex power cable into an SATA power cable.
How to mount a hard disk and SSD drive
To remind you, below are the kind of instructions that are provided in the manual that is provided with a retail boxed HDD, or that can be downloaded from the manufacturer’s website for OEM drives that are supported by the vendor instead of the manufacturer. These instructions were provided in the manual of a Seagate drive.
“You can mount the drive in any orientation using four screws in the sidemounting holes or four screws in the bottom-mounting holes. See Figure 4 on page 23 for drive mounting dimensions. Follow these important mounting precautions when mounting the drive: Allow a minimum clearance of 0.030 inches (0.76 mm) around the entire perimeter of the drive for cooling. Use only 6-32 UNC mounting screws. The screws should be inserted no more than 0.200 inch (5.08 mm) into the bottom mounting holes and no more than 0.14 inch (3.55 mm) into the side mounting holes. Do not over-tighten the mounting screws (maximum torque: 6 inch-lb). Do not use a drive interface cable that is more than 18 inches long.”
Installing an SSD drive
Installing a 2.5-inch SSD drive, which also uses the SATA data-transfer standard, is more or less the same as installing a hard disk drive except that it fits in a 3.5-inch bay in the case using a set of brackets that are screwed to it that fix it to the bay or a caddy is used instead. The brackets can be supplied with the case and the caddy with the drive. The cabling is the same involving a data cable to the motherboard and a power cable to the power supply unit.
9. – If you are going to use inbuilt graphics on the motherboard (only certain makes/models of motherboards have inbuilt graphics), all you have to do is plug the monitor into the graphics port port on the motherboard with a VGA, DVI, DisplayPort or HDMI cable that connects to the VGA, DVI, DisplayPort or HDMI port on the monitor. Adapters are available that make most of these graphics standards compatible with one another. For example, DisplayPort can be made compatible with VGA and DVI by using adapters. If, say, you want to use a graphics-to-monitor adapter for a graphics card with a DisplayPort connector and a monitor with a DVI connector use a web-search term such as: DisplayPort to DVI adapters.
If you have an old PCI or AGP graphics card, you have fitted it into its PCI or AGP slot. The redundant AGP graphics standard had its own AGP slot on motherboards that could not be used by any other type of adapter card. Most of the latest motherboards made in 2015 were still providing PCI slots that have been used for decades due to the availability of adapter cards for that standard. If you have a new PCI Express x16 graphics card, you have to install it in a long PCI Express x16 slot. Some PCI Express cards require one or two 6-pin or 8-pin PCI Express power connectors from the power supply to be connected to them as was discussed in the section of this article devoted to graphics cards. The power supply you have purchased or that came with the case must have the connector(s) required by the graphics card. If you want to install two PCI Express graphics cards using either SLI or CrossFire dual-card technology, you have to have a motherboard that supports that specific technology (CrossFire or SLI) and a power supply that has the extra power connectors. Refer to the user manual that came with the graphics card(s) or that you have to download from the manufacturer’s website to find out exactly what the requirements are.
If you have a sound card don’t install it for the time being. You can add it after the operating system (Windows, Linux, etc.) is installed. Many motherboards provide an inbuilt sound chip and external ports that provide good sound quality when connected to a set of speakers of quality. Most ATX motherboards with an inbuilt graphics chip also provide the graphics port(s) via their ports panel. Some motherboards provide both a standard analog VGA port and a digital DVI port that can run two monitors – one from the VGA port and one from the DVI port.
10. – According to the information in the motherboard’s manual, you have attached the collection of plugs (including the LED – light-emitting diode – plugs) to the motherboard that are on the end of the wires that run back to the switches and lights on the front of the case.
These plugs have to be attached to the motherboard so that the Power-on switch and light, the Reset switch, and HDD-activity light function or light up.
You won’t be able to switch the PC on unless the Power-on switch is connected to the motherboard, but the other LEDs provide nonessential features, and do not have to be connected to the motherboard for the PC to switch on.
The motherboard has been plugged into the power supply unit (PSU). – The PC has been plugged into a wall socket. – The monitor has been plugged into a wall socket, And the monitor’s other cable has been plugged into the graphics card’s port at the back of the PC’s case.
Note that you must have a power supply unit that has a connector that can connect to the motherboard’s 24-pin or 20-pin (old-technology) connector.
Testing: Assembling the components outside the case
If you place the motherboard on the anti-static bag it came in, or on a non-conductive material such as a cardboard box, for testing purposes, you can assemble all of its components outside the case. The hard disk drive should also be placed on non-conductive material so that its circuitry doesn’t come into contact with anything that conducts electricity. For this purpose, you can remove the PSU from the case. To start the naked computer all you have to do is place the head of a screwdriver across the pins that the Power-on LED cable in the case is connected to. I never do this myself, because I’ve seldom had any problems firing a system up successfully after I’ve installed the main components on the motherboard and then in the case. On the rare occasions I’ve had a problem, I’ve usually fixed it by simply swapping components, such as the RAM modules and the PSU, with known good ones.
How to install the operating system, which is usually a version of Windows
12. – With all of the components installed, you are ready to switch the system on and install the operating system, which is usually Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and Windows 10. Windows XP, still widely used, was first released in 2001 and had its final Service Pack 3 released long ago (Microsoft has dropped all support for it) and has been superseded by Windows Vista (2007), Windows 7 (2009), Windows 8 (2012) and Windows 8.1 (October 2013). Windows 10 was released on 29 July 2015.
Windows 7.0 SP1, 8.1 and Windows 10 can be clean-installed or upgraded from a qualifying earlier versions in 32-bit or 64-bit versions from a DVD or flash drive. It can be downloaded or purchased online or in a street store. A 32-bit version of Windows can only make use of 3.2GB or RAM memory. A 64-bit version can make use of all of the RAM that the PC’s motherboard supports, but twice as much memory has to be installed on a 64-bit system compared to a 32-bit system. If you have 4GB installed for a 32-bit version, to get equivalent performance on a 64-bit system requires using 8GB of memory.
Whichever version of Windows you are installing, there is plenty of information on the web on how to do so. All you need to do is enter a suitable search query in a search engine (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.) for articles and in YouTube for videos. You can use a DVD or a flash drive to do the installation or upgrade, both of which are bootable even if the first boot device is not set as the DVD drive or a flash drive in the BIOS/UEFI. A download is in the form of an ISO file that is burned to the DVD or a USB flash drive. I use CDBurnerXP from https://www.cdburnerxp.se/ to burn ISO files to DVD discs and WinToFlash from http://wintoflash.com/home/en/ to transfer an ISO file to a flash drive. Those free tools make both media bootable, so all you have to do is start the system with them inserted in the DVD drive or USB port, respectively.
A clean installation involves installing on to a formatted partition or on the hard disk drive or SSD (usually the C: drive the uses the whole volume) if it hasn’t been partitioned. If, say, you want to use a USB flash drive to install Windows 8.1, use those words in the search query (how to install Windows 8.1 from a usb flash drive). Note that there is an OEM version of all of the above-mentioned versions of Windows that is designed for self-builders, which includes you, if you buy a licence and you are building your own PC. The major PC manufacturers all use OEM versions, which can only be installed on one PC, unlike the retail version that can be installed an indefinite number of times as long as only one PC is using it at a time.
Note that Windows 10 is a free upgrade for all users who have a licence for Windows 7 SP1 and Windows 8.1 for a full year after its official release on July 29, 2015, but not for Windows 8.0, which has to be upgraded (free of charge) to Windows 8.1 to qualify.