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[ The PC Guide | Procedure Guide ]

New PC Assembly Procedure

This procedure describes how to build a modern, Pentium-class Windows 95 personal computer. Starting from components, the instructions here will tell you how to physically assemble the unit, get it running, test it, and even set up and optimize the operating system. My goal in creating this procedure was to make it simple and clear enough that virtually anyone could use it to make their own PC. To meet this goal I have provided a great deal of detail, far more than you will find in other similar descriptions. I have also distilled into these pages my experiences in building and rebuilding dozens of machines, so the common pitfalls are foreseen and you can better avoid the many mistakes that I made while building my first PCs without the benefit of a procedure such as this one. :^)

This assembly procedure is comprised entirely of subprocedures, to keep it to a reasonable length and to allow you to skip the details of any parts of the overall procedure that you already understand. The steps for the procedure are in the Index frame; each loads a subprocedure here, into the Contents frame. You can also use the links at the bottom of this page if you desire.

This procedure concentrates on the assembly and setup of the PC itself. It does not deal with any of the important pre-assembly work, such as planning a system, specifying and purchasing components, etc. These will be covered in future sections of The PC Guide, with links placed here as appropriate. It does, however, include the important steps after assembly is completed, which most other assembly procedures gloss over: testing the system, getting the CD-ROM drive running, and installing the operating system. I assume the installation of Windows 95 here, just because it is the most popular operating system right now.

Note: The procedure overview below applies to the whole build procedure. Each of the individual subprocedures also has its own overview, which you will see when you select one from the Index Frame.

Procedure Overview:

  • Difficulty Level: 4 (High).
  • Risk Factor: 4 (High). There is a slight chance of hardware damage with this procedure. There is no risk of data loss if a new, clean hard disk is being used, otherwise there is a remote chance of data loss as well.
  • Hardware Required: See procedure step 1.
  • Software Required: See procedure step 1.
  • Time to Perform: Typically two to three hours for someone doing this the first time. This depends a great deal on: the exact system being built, the builder's experience level, how many problems are encountered during assembly, and many other factors.
  • Preparation / Warnings:
    • Please be sure you have read these safety precautions before beginning a full system build.
    • If you have not already done so, please read this section on general installation and assembly tips.
    • Do not run the system with the power supply plugged in so you can use it to ground yourself to avoid static. Static is bad, electrocution is much worse.
    • I would recommend familiarizing yourself with at least the basics of how the PC works before starting. Try reading various sections of the Reference Guide for starters. It is especially beneficial to have a decent understanding of the PC's boot process when building a new PC.
    • This procedure is geared towards those creating a new, modern PC from scratch. Some of what it contains is not relevant for those building an older PC, performing upgrades, etc. I also do not cover the specifics of installing peripherals, esoteric things like RAID controllers, multiple-disk setups, and the like. You can easily extrapolate these from what is here, however.
    • I assume the use of IDE/ATA/ATAPI hard disk drives and CD-ROM drives, not SCSI. I may add steps for SCSI at a later date.
    • If the hard disk drive being used in the system was purchased new from a discounter or other company you don't have a lot of experience with, you should take whatever precautions you can to verify that it is legitimate and has not been resold to you after being stolen. Hard disk drive theft is becoming an epidemic, and some vendors are starting to crack down on it. For example, Western Digital Corporation is now refusing to provide warranty service on drives that have been reported as stolen. Unfortunately, most of these are resold to unknowing third parties who do not find out about it until they try to return the drive after they have a problem. Western Digital has a page on their web site that will let you enter the serial number from your drive to see if it has been reported stolen. If it has been, return it at once and take any other appropriate steps that you deem necessary. Make sure you always buy from a reputable vendor, and beware of any deal that's "too good to be true", because there is usually a reason. This sort of a problem is rare when you buy from an established dealer.
    • Some of the steps can be done in a different order with no ill effects. I have them in the order that I prefer them. Most of these are based on experience; for example some may find it odd to set the jumpers on the motherboard before installing it, but it's much easier to reach the jumpers that way. I also find putting the drives in before the motherboard makes it easier to reach the drives for mounting, especially on smaller cases. Finally, I have found it easier to put the heat sink on the processor after installing the processor in its socket.
    • There are millions of combinations of components out there. Please use discretion in following the instructions. I am not omniscient.
    • If you have problems getting the new system to work, try looking in the Troubleshooting Guide. I have references to more specific areas of the Troubleshooting Expert within the subprocedures themselves.
    • Some of the steps apply only to systems using the AT form factor, and not the ATX form factor. I personally have far more experience with AT and therefore the chances of errors in the procedure are higher in the areas that are specific to ATX. See here for more on these form factors.

Procedure Steps: Please use the Index Frame; the steps are repeated below for the benefit of those accessing the site without frames:

Note: The "Next" links at the bottom of each of the pages below follow the index structure of the overall site (as seen in the Topic Index.) They do not follow the sequence required to complete the New PC Assembly Procedure. Please use the links below instead of the "Next" links if you are using these procedures to build a new PC.

  1. Gather and Inspect Components and Tools.
  2. Remove Cover From System Case.
  3. Prepare System Case for Assembly.
  4. Plan System Layout.
  5. Install Floppy Disk Drive.
  6. Configure Hard Disk Drive and CD-ROM Drive.
  7. Install Hard Disk Drive.
  8. Install CD-ROM Drive.
  9. Configure Motherboard.
  10. Install Processor.
  11. Install Heat Sink (for processors without integrated cooling).
  12. Install Cache Module (for systems using cache modules only).
  13. Install Memory Modules.
  14. Install Motherboard.
  15. Install I/O Port Connectors (AT form factor only).
  16. Install PS/2 Mouse Port Connector (optional, AT form factor only).
  17. Connect Motherboard and Case.
  18. Connect Floppy Disk Drive to Motherboard.
  19. Connect Hard Disk Drive to Motherboard.
  20. Connect CD-ROM Drive to Motherboard.
  21. Install Video Card.
  22. Perform Post-Assembly Inspection.
  23. Connect External Peripherals.
  24. Perform Initial Boot.
  25. Perform Initial BIOS Setup.
  26. Perform Initial System Tests.
  27. Install Additional Peripherals.
  28. Partition and Format Hard Disk.
  29. Install CD-ROM Driver.
  30. Install Windows 95 (or other operating system).
  31. Complete Assembly.
  32. Document System.

Next: Configuration Procedures

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