Tech + Lifestyle

games, gear, and googleplexes (joke)

Computer Build Part Three: MOBO + CPU + RAM

Okay, check it out: you’ve already chosen the parts for your new computer build. You’ve prepared a nice, spacious work area, all static-free and well-lit and whatnot. Everything is ready. It’s finally time to get down to business.

First things first. After laying out the parts for the rig, I grabbed the motherboard, processor, and heatsink. Everything else I placed in a stack on the floor – I didn’t want to clutter the table I was working on anymore than necessary.

After carefully removing the motherboard from it’s packaging, I set it on the non-static foam pad that Gigabyte thoughtfully included in their packaging. If you haven’t built a computer before, I suggest taking some time to familiarize yourself with your motherboard. The P45-DS3R I used was a standard, ATX-style motherboard, but it is still a good idea to mentally go through the steps of putting your computer together – visualize how the parts will go together, whether or not any of them are big enough to conflict with other parts, etc. For my build, I realized that the Zalman 9700LED cpu cooler I was using would interfere with the use of the cooling fans packaged with the Corsair Dominator RAM. Granted, the active RAM cooling is wholly unnecessary and more for looks than anything else, but I wish I’d thought of it when I was ordering the parts.

The cpu has been installed

The cpu has been installed. There was much rejoicing.

Once you’re comfortable with the parts you’re using, go ahead and insert the processor into the cpu socket. Intel sockets are almost all LGA-775, and modern sockets are designed to be Zero Insertion Force (ZIF). ZIF sockets are incredibly easy to use – deceptively so. You need to be careful. The processor inserts so effortlessly (hence the name) that it is easy to think it hasn’t been seated properly. Don’t worry; as long as you’ve lined up the notches on the edge of your processor’s silicon with those on the socket, you’ve got nothing to worry about. Simply drop the processor in the socket and close the latching mechanism. The latch does require a bit of force, so go ahead and give it some strength.

Zalman 9700LED CPU Cooler

Zalman 9700LED CPU Cooler

Next up is the cpu cooler. If you aren’t aware, the Zalman 9700LED is absolutely massive. It weighs something around two pounds (I’m not positive, just a guess). The mounting bracket for coolers usually come in two varieties – either a push-pin design if it is lightweight, or a bracket system for the heavier ones. The bracket must be installed on both the front and back sides of the motherboard, so be sure to do this before you even think about installing the motherboard into the case.

Locate the four holes drilled around the cpu socket, and align the front and back portions of the bracket. I used help for this part – my friend Raymond, for whom I’m building this rig, was there to observe, to assist, and perhaps to even learn a little bit about building a PC. He helped keep the back mount in place while I inserted the screws. That sounds menial, but it made a huge difference. There were several instances where having someone else there helped out a lot.

Arctic Silver 5

Arctic Silver 5

After the bracket has been installed, it’s time to apply thermal compound – almost. First, inspect the surface of the processor and that of the cpu cooler for any dirt or dust. If there is any – and there shouldn’t be, as you’ve (hopefully) only just removed them from their packaging – use some alcohol wipes to clean both surfaces.

There are two different methods by which to apply thermal compound. One is to actively spread the compound before attaching the cooler to your processor. The other is to allow the pressure of the mounting system to spread the compound, which is what I decided to do. When you’re using a large, heavy cooler, there really isn’t much to worry about. Just make sure you follow the directions for whatever cooler you’re using – I went with Arctic Silver 5, which requires a certain amount of time to cure before use. Others have no such need, but also dry very quickly.

You’ll only need a drop of compound, as it will spread quite thin. Carefully seat the cooler on your processor and use the screws included with your cooler to firmly attach it to your motherboard. Check to make sure it has been installed satisfactorily – you don’t want it to be loose. That would be bad. You had an overheating cpu for one thing, and if a heavy cooler isn’t supported properly by it’s mounting bracket, you risk warping and damaging the motherboard.

Corsair Dominator RAM

Corsair Dominator RAM

Finally, grab your RAM from the stack of components you’ve got going. RAM install is straightforward, and a welcome break if you were sweating a bit over the cpu + cooler install. There is one main thing to keep in mind – if you aren’t using all RAM slots, ensure that you install pairs in alternating slots. For example, I used four gigs of RAM, two sticks of two gigs each. Since I was only using two sticks, I installed them in slots one and three. Typically, motherboard manufacturers try to make sure you don’t mess this up – they’ll color code the slots so that pairs are the same color.

RAM slots.

RAM slots.

On each side of a RAM slot, there is a clamp that will lock the stick in place once it’s been installed. Open them both, and align the notch on the bottom of the RAM stick with that of the slot. Apply firm pressure directly downward on the stick until you feel/hear a distinct click. If you aren’t sure whether or not the stick is properly installed, check the clamps. If they’ve locked into the RAM stick, it is correct. If not, push a little harder. PC components are fragile, but not that fragile. 😉

Congrats. You’ve successfully installed the most basic parts of a PC. Believe it or not, that was one of the most difficult parts of building a new PC (other than the software side of things).

In Part Four, I’ll be showing you how to install discrete cards onto the motherboard, and then how to install the board itself into a computer case. It’ll be tons of fun, I promise.

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October 18, 2008 - Posted by | Tech | , , , , , , , , , ,

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