10 Common Mistakes Beginners Make When Building Their Own PC

Robert_Stark
edited August 2023 in PC Tech

Imagine the thrill of crafting a computer that lets you conquer virtual galaxies, design beautiful graphics, or crunch complex code - a unique machine crafted for an audience of one: you. That's the fun of building your own PC.

If you can assemble furniture from Ikea, with all its bits and cryptic instructions, you're ready to build a PC. If it's your first build or a while since your last, we've assembled a list of the ten common mistakes beginners often make.

1) Not correctly planning the build 

Building a PC without a plan can often lead to costly mistakes. Here's a quick guide to avoid falling into that trap:

  • Identify your requirements: Are you seeking high-speed processing for gaming or a powerful system for graphic design? Your needs will dictate the type of components you require. 
  • Research: Understand the functions of different components like the processor, graphics card, and motherboard. Ensure that the parts you select are compatible. 
  • Budget: Set a financial plan to prevent overspending. Focus on prioritizing the components that are most essential for your needs.

With a plan, you'll have a clear direction and avoid many common mistakes beginners make during their first PC build.

2) Buying incompatible parts 

Regardless of which PC you're building (gaming or office), the components you'll need will be the same:

  • Central Processing Unit (CPU): The PC's brain that processes software instructions and hardware commands. 
  • Graphics Card (GPU): The GPU renders images and video for your monitor, making it vital for gaming or graphic design tasks. 
  • Memory (RAM): Your PC's short-term memory temporarily stores data that your CPU may need to access quickly. 
  • Motherboard: The PC's nervous system that connects and communicates with all the other components. 
  • Solid-State Drive (SSD): Your PC's storage unit, where all your data, including the operating system, applications, and files, are kept. 
  • Power Supply Unit (PSU): Converts electricity into usable power for the components inside your PC. 
  • Case: The shell that protects your PC components from dust and damage.

When building a PC, a common mistake beginners make is purchasing incompatible components. To get a list of parts, no matter what your experience level is, use PCPartPicker. It outlines everything you need to buy, lets you virtually assemble your PC, and ensures all your hardware will play nicely together. It even has a few samples you can tweak to your liking. Here are some additional tips to avoid this pitfall:

  • Understand Compatibility: ​​Pairing an Intel® Core™ i7-9700K Processor with an LGA 1150 motherboard won't work as they're incompatible. Opt for an LGA 1151 motherboard instead. Use Intel's compatibility tool or AMDs to verify your CPU. Verify that your motherboard and CPU both support the same socket. 
  • Check RAM Compatibility: Buying DDR3 RAM with a motherboard that only supports DDR4 is another common mistake. Services like PCPartPicker or talking with a PC technician can prevent such errors. 
  • Verify GPU Compatibility: Ensuring compatibility between the GPU and the CPU is critical, as poor pairing could result in a bottlenecked system. If you pair a fast CPU with an entry-level GPU, one component significantly overshadows the other, impeding overall efficiency. For instance, pairing an AMD Ryzen™ 7 5700G CPU with a GeForce GT 720MN GPU won't run efficiently as the processor is much higher than the GPU. Check at GPU-Check
  • Avoid Bottlenecking: This occurs when one component slows the performance of another due to differences in capabilities. Using online PC bottleneck calculators can help ensure you're purchasing compatible hardware.

With these tips in mind and utilizing available online resources, you'll avoid purchasing incompatible PC parts.

3) Forgetting to install the I/O Shield before the motherboard 

It's a detail that's easy to overlook: the I/O shield. This thin metal plate provides a casing for all the input and output ports at the back of your PC. It's a crucial step that often gets missed in the excitement of the build. Those with pre-installed I/O shields can skip this tip.

Why does the order matter? Once the motherboard is installed, trying to fit the I/O shield can be frustrating — sometimes impossible, depending on your configuration. Remember this to avoid the pain of having to disassemble your PC build.

4) Missing motherboard standoff screws

Those tiny brass standoff screws? They're not optional. They're a barrier between your motherboard and metal case to protect against harmful electrical shorts.

But, in the thrill of building, standoffs are often forgotten. Missing them, however, can lead to malfunction or even damage your motherboard.

So, while it may seem small, you must install your motherboard standoffs so your new build doesn't short and ruin your motherboard. The last thing you want to do with your brand-new components is to destroy them and delay finishing your system.

5) Buying a low-quality and cheap power supply 

Skimping on your power supply (PSU) can lead to trouble. Here's how to navigate this: 

  • Balance price with quality: There's a difference between affordable and cheap. Buying the cheapest could end up being more expensive than buying something slightly more expensive in the first place, so while basic PSUs start around $70 and could work if your components aren't power-hungry, they may cost you more eventually if you need to purchase a more suitable PSU. 
  • Calculate power consumption: OuterVision's PSU calculator can estimate your build's power demands, helping guide your PSU choice. 
  • Use PCPartPicker: This site estimates your PC's power requirements and suggests suitable PSUs. 
  • Look for +12v railing rating amperage: This number shows your GPU's power consumption, which is generally the most power-hungry component. OuterVision can help you figure this out. 
  • Look for 80 Plus Certification: This certification ensures that the PSU operates at least 80% efficiency at specific load levels, contributing to overall power saving and system longevity. 
  • Quality check: Before buying, ensure you're getting a high-quality PSU. Review sites like Tom's Hardware can be valuable for unbiased assessments of popular PSU models. 

Don't forget a quality power supply is integral to your PC's performance and longevity. Making the right choice here can save you from potential troubles in the future.

6) Installing case fans incorrectly 

Like a city's traffic system, airflow within your PC case must flow seamlessly. This task falls to your case fans, either drawing air into your case as intake fans or pushing it out as exhaust fans.

An arrow on the fan's edge usually indicates the right direction for the air to be pushed. But if you're in doubt, the curve of the fan blades acts as a visual cue: if they're curving toward you, it's an intake fan; if they're curving away from you, it's an exhaust fan.

Incorrect fan installation can disrupt this airflow, and potentially lead to overheating. So, ensure your fans are installed correctly to avoid overheating. Also, check your motherboard owner's manual for the number of fans.

7) Installing the CPU incorrectly 

Installing the Central Processing Unit (CPU) is like placing the brain into your computer—it's delicate and crucial. There's a definite right way and a series of pitfalls to avoid.

For beginners, incorrectly placing the CPU could damage or even break its pins if too much force is applied. Here's how to avoid that:

  • All CPUs come with corner markings that match the motherboard's CPU socket. Line these up carefully before installation. 
  • Handle with care: Hold the CPU at the sides, not the top and bottom. Especially for AMD CPUs, bent pins on the bottom can render your entire system useless. 
  • If you're still unsure, plenty of instructional videos are available online for both Intel and AMD CPUs.

Remember, correctly installing the CPU is crucial for the smooth running of your system. Handle it with caution.

8) Applying too much thermal paste 

Thermal paste helps your CPU cooler dissipate heat; a cooler CPU means fewer performance issues, including throttling. It transfers heat away from the CPU and into the heat sink, which expels the heat from the hardware. 

This keeps the CPU cool even during intense processing tasks.

While essential, applying too much thermal paste is a common rookie mistake. You might think more paste equals a cooler CPU, but that's a myth. Excess thermal paste can actually hinder heat transfer. It can cause messy spills on your motherboard, potentially leading to short circuits.

For correct application: 

  • Start small: A rice-sized amount in the center of your CPU is generally sufficient. 
  • Spread evenly: Some manually spread the paste, but the pressure from your heatsink usually does this job just fine. 
  • Be neat: If it oozes out over the edge of the processor, you've overdone it. Clean with isopropyl alcohol and a lint-free cloth. Ensure everything is dry before retrying. 
  • Run a temperature check: Double-check your thermal paste application if your CPU's heat seems unusually high post-installation.

Mastering the art of thermal paste application can significantly enhance your PC's performance and longevity.

9) Neglecting adequate cooling system 

Your PC's cooling system is its personal climate control. To ensure top performance and longevity, your PC needs a cooling system that matches its heat output.

If underpowered, your PC can overheat, which slows performance, triggers crashes, and, over time, can severely damage components. Choosing a cooling system that fits your build's needs is essential.

To ace your cooling setup: 

  • Assess your needs: A standard office PC may be fine with stock coolers. Consider more robust options like higher-end air coolers or liquid cooling for a gaming or workstation rig. 
  • Room to breathe: Ensure your case has enough space for air to flow. Also, check that your chosen cooler fits within your case. 
  • Case fans matter: Install them correctly to facilitate optimal airflow. Remember, curving towards you equals intake, and away equals exhaust. 
  • Monitor your temps: Watch your internal temperatures using hardware monitoring software. It can help you adjust your cooling strategy as needed.

Thinking about your PC's cooling paves the way for optimal performance.

10) Overlooking cable management 

Clean cable management isn't just for a slick-looking build; it's also vital for your PC's functionality and longevity. However, newcomers often disregard this aspect, keen to get their rig running.

One of the first-time builder blunders is underestimating the importance of cable management. A haphazard wiring job can lead to problems.

So, to prevent a rat's nest in your PC, follow these pointers: 

  • Pre-planning: Before plunging into your build, familiarize yourself with your case's cable management features and plan your cable routing. 
  • Learn from pros: Check out high-quality cable management videos and tutorials. This will equip you with practical insights to approach your first build. 
  • Modular power supply: Opting for a modular or semi-modular power supply can drastically reduce cable clutter, making management smoother.

Remember, good cable management can significantly enhance airflow and simplify future upgrades. And it looks cool, too.

Dodge these common PC building mistakes 

As a soon-to-be digital mechanic, building your own PC gives you an intimate understanding of its inner workings. But, like any complex task, it can be fraught with potential missteps. No one's perfect, and despite the best-laid plans, things might occasionally go sideways.

But remember, knowledge is power. By familiarizing yourself with the pointers in this guide, you can drastically reduce errors and lessen the chances of hitting snags during your build. So, gear up and get set for a rewarding journey. Happy building! 

Robert is a Taiwan-based writer and digital marketer at iamrobert design. He has a passion for helping people simplify their lives through tech.

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