Building a PC: Safety tips and handy online resources

Finally, you've got all your components and you're ready to start building your PC. Before you dive straight in without reading the manuals for your products, let me just take a moment to laugh at you for being silly enough not to read the manuals. While I'm composing myself, here are key safety tips that everyone should know before trying to build a computer.

THE SCOOP: Building your first desktop PC

BUILDING A PC: My components

1.) Read the manual. Seriously. Particularly if you're new to building PCs, this is vital information that can prevent you from plugging something into the wrong place and screwing up the whole build. Your motherboard manual is particularly critical.

2.) Static electricity is bad. Very, very bad. A static spark can damage the fantastically complicated and very exposed circuitry on many of your key components, turning them into expensive, oddly shaped paperweights.

While you can use an anti-static wristband to ground yourself and minimize the risk of shocking anything, it's not required, as long as you are conscientious about grounding yourself by touching something metal regularly while you build. It's hugely important to ensure that your workspace is static-free as well -- don't do this on your thickly carpeted floor, it'll end in tears.

Realistically, you're not likely to wreck anything too terribly with a single tiny spark, but safe is definitely better than sorry.

3.) Don't touch the exposed circuitry. While, like static electricity risk, this danger is often oversold to newbies by experienced builders, it's still a bad habit. Just try to handle things like your motherboard and graphics card by the edges and you should be fine.

4.) Make sure you install the motherboard standoffs in the case! These are little spacers that prevent the board from touching the side of the case. Failing to do this can result in short circuits occurring where soldered parts on the bottom of the board touch the case. (Note: Your case may have some other mechanism to elevate the motherboard. Make sure you read the manual.)

5.) And oh yeah -- READ THE MANUAL.

A word on workspaces: Try for an elevated, static-free space, like a big, clean countertop or table. Emphasis on clean, as you definitely don't want any foreign materials to get into the case. The elevated part is for your own benefit. I built my computer on a hardwood floor, and my knees and back felt like I'd been behind the plate for both games of a doubleheader for days afterwards. Ouch.

I'm not going to give a complete building guide, however. While my machine -- spoiler alert -- turned out just fine with me muddling my way through the process, I don't want to inadvertently give bad or misleading instructions. For comprehensive advice, I'd try one of the following sites:

Resources

1.) PCPartPicker.com -- This site allows you to choose components, organize them into a discrete configuration, and even pulls prices from major retailers to allow you get a sense of what you'll likely spend on a given build. What's more, it performs some compatibility checking, alerting you if your chosen CPU doesn't fit into the motherboard, for example. I found it invaluable in tinkering with possible setups.

However, first-timers are still well-advised to have an experienced human look over a build before pulling the trigger. Fortunately, PCPartPicker has a Reddit markup option, allowing for an easy copy and paste to ...

2.) r/BuildAPC -- This community of enthusiastic, dedicated hobbyists will be more than willing to critique your proposed setup before you build it, give advice on alternative parts, and even help you figure out why your shiny new computer isn't turning on. Just make sure you read the right sidebar carefully for posting guidelines and give as much relevant information as possible. Also, be prepared for them to demand pictures of your finished build once it's up and running!

3.) Tom's Hardware -- This is, if anything, an even more comprehensive resource than r/BuildAPC, with active forums, articles, and a wide range of reviews and guides to help out new and experienced builders alike. Its basic guide is frequently recommended as a starting point for those in need of full instructions on a first-time build.

Email Jon Gold at jgold@nww.com and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold.

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