mechBgon's guide to building your first PC from parts   : )
  1. Start

  2. Case prep 1

  3. Case prep 2

  4. Data and power cables

  5. Serial ATA stuff

  6. General motherboard/CPU info

  7. Testing & installing the motherboard assembly

  8. Installing the hard drive

  9. Final connections

  10. Security during Windows Setup

  11. Best practices for ongoing security

  12. Resources (drivers, diagnostics, links, online antivirus scans, antispyware resources)

  13. A brief visual glossary

Previous: Data & power cables or Serial ATA stuff

Concept break: what to know about CPUs in general

  1. Retail v. OEM  Retail-boxed CPUs come with 3-year warranties backed by the CPU manufacturer, and include a heatsink/fan and thermal-transfer material. OEM CPUs may come with a short warranty from the store, and don't include a heatsink/fan unit or thermal-transfer material.

  2. Asymmetrical pin patterns  CPUs only fit into their sockets in one orientation.

  3. Overheat protection  All the AMD and Intel CPUs now feature overheat protection. If your system's turning itself off soon after startup, there may be a heat-transfer problem.

  4. Some heatsinks fit both ways, some do not  SocketA heatsinks (AthlonXP, Duron, and SocketA Sempron) are directional. Athlon64, Pentium4, Core-series and all recent Celerons use symmetrical heatsinks so you can't put them on backwards.

  5. Thermal-transfer material  Thermal-transfer material is needed to bridge the microgap between the surfaces of the CPU and heatsink. Thermal grease and phase-change thermal compounds are the two common types.

  6. Electrostatic shock can harm your CPU  Be sure to ground yourself before and during the handling of the CPU and the other parts shown in the next pages.

Memory installation

Plugging in the memory module on my build here. Modern systems use dual-channel or even triple-channel memory layouts, where sets of memory modules work together as teams. Check the motherboard's owner's manual to determine which slots to put your modules in for dual-channel or triple-channel operation.

The edge of the module that plugs into the socket has a notch in it. The notch is off-center to prevent the module from being plugged into the slot backwards. Here is a very close-up view of the bars in the memory slots, and a memory module with its corresponding notch.

It can take a fair amount of pressure to seat the memory module(s)... push straight down evenly on the top edge of it with your thumbs. Here's an edge-on view showing the memory module fully seated in the slot. You can't see any trace of the gold contacts at the edge of the module now, and the white plastic retaining clips at the end are fully swung up-and-in against the ends of the module.

Specifics on popular motherboard/CPU types

  • SocketA (AthlonXP, Duron and Socket462 Sempron) click here for full coverage The build featured in my guide.

  • Socket478 (older Pentium4 and Celeron) click here for full coverage Thanks to Vegetto, I have great photos for the Socket478 folks too.  : )

  • Socket754 and Socket 939 (Athlon64, and Socket754 Semprons) click here.

  • LGA775 (pinless Intel processors, e.g. Core series) click here

Next: Bench-test & installation of the motherboard/CPU assembly