Building a personal computer – the grand finale

Building a personal computer is not quite as simple as building a house out of legos but in some ways it is similar. All of the parts are standardized and the parts are simply plugged together. The process can indeed take a while depending on any difficulties you encounter.

A lot of this time can be consumed while unpacking boxes, finding or selecting which parts are relevant for your build (AMD vs Intel) or even plugging together all of the cables. In my case I connected up the motherboard on the table and worked through all the issues (memory in my case) and then disconnected quite so the motherboard could be moved into the case.

Most of the cables are big and unambiguous when being connected up. However, this does take a while and can be difficult depending on the size of the case and the size of your hands.

The only big surprise for me was when trying to connect the last few tiny cables from the case to the motherboard. For reasons not known both the reset button and the power button cables were both labeled power button. It turned out that these are just for creating a temporary connection on the motherboard and it did not matter which was used.

The other big surprise was that the cables need to be connected with a specific orientation. The power cable contains a tiny triangle which represented the positive lead.

What parts did I eventually decided on?

PC CasePhanteks Luxe with tempered glass
MotherboardGigabyte x570 Aorus Master, with AM4 socket
CPUAmd Ryzen 9 3900x, with AM4 socket
CPU Coolerbe quiet! Dark Rock PRO 4
Graphic cardGeForce GTX 1650 SUPER OC
MemoryCrucial 32gb x 2
Disk drives4TB WD Black
Power supply650 Watt be quiet! Dark Power Pro 11
Case fans140x140x25mm Corsair ML140Pro red LED

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Building a personal computer – cable management

Cable management is just a term that means you will organize the cables as nicely as possible. If you are new to pc building you might think that means laying the cables between the graphics card and any other cards installed in the case.

This might also be the case but cable management usually takes place on the back side of the motherboard. All tower cases regardless of their size have two side panels. The main panel opens up to the main area where the motherboard is located and pretty much everything else.

It is the other side panel that is usually where most of the cable management occurs. The power, and other cables, are usually a bit longer than they need to be and this extra cable needs to be stowed somewhere.

This storage area is usually only a few centimeters deep but that is more than enough space to hold the extra length of cables. These cables might be attached directly to the case with zip ties or in some higher end cases there may be additional connectors or facilities.

PC Build and cable management

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Building a personal computer – thermo paste

I actually found this particular step to be the most intimidating. There are quite a few different methods for applying it.

  • Pea method
  • Line
  • Rice
  • X
  • Spread

Different paste methods

The process is simply applying a small amount of paste onto the top of the CPU before attaching the CPU cooler.

As long as you select the correct amount paste, then basically any of these methods will produce good results.

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Building a personal computer – about fans

There is actually more to fans than big ones can push more air. There are essentially two different styles of fan.

The first type of fan is PWM style. PWM stands for pulse width modulation which is a variable speed fan which is controlled by PWM. These fans have a four pin connection which is used for both powering the fan and controlling the speed. This types of fans can be controlled in a number of ways.

These fans can be controlled by an external switch on the case itself or it can be controlled via the motherboard. Controlled by the motherboard typically means the temperature is being monitored and the fan is being ramped up based on the temperatures received.

The ability to speed up the fans only when needed make them perfect to help have a cool system but also to have a quiet system.

The second type of fan is a static pressure fan. These fans run at a constant rpm and are good for pushing air with some force. This type of fan is typically used for pushing air through radiators where the extra pressure is needed to get through the aluminum fins. Because these fans only run at a specific speed they do not have the same PWM control so they only have a three pin connector.

Selecting a fan

RGB Fans

Up until now I have not been involved with RGB peripherals including fans. RGB fans behave similar to other fans except that they have another lead – a 4 pin connector which will control the colors. Only the colors are controlled by this cable.

This cable cannot be connected to a regular 4 pin fan cable connector but instead of a 4 pin RGB connector. This connector may be on a motherboard but may also be part of separate a RGB controller from another vendor.

Cooler Master


More about fans

I choose a system that was rather limited in the RGB and my motherboard actually does have RGB connections. I choose a few fans that were LED lit but not pure RGB fans. Perhaps in the future I will enhance this aspect.

My case choice was actually rich as far as airflow goes. My case choice, “Phanteks Luxe with tempered glass”, came with four 140mm fans, two in the front, one on top and one in the back. I decided to get a small bit of color so ordered a three led lit fans for on top

Note: These fans are obviously flat so how can you know which direction they are pushing the air? The answer is on the edge of the fan is an arrow showing the direction of airflow.

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Building a personal computer – cooling

The CPU is going to get hot, really hot and so you need to keep it cool. This was covered above under the topic of CPU Cooler. Yet that is not everything as the GPU will also generate heat and both the CPU and GPU will be inside a metal box.

All cases will have a case fan or two but quite a few of the larger cases have a few prepared locations for an extra fan or two (or five).

The question of how many to add depends on how you plan on venting the hot air. There essentially are three different situations in the case.

  • Positive pressure
  • Negative pressure
  • Neutral

Neutral pressure simply means that the amount of air coming in is equal to the amount going out. Positive pressure is when more air comes in compared to the amount going out and conversely the negative pressure is when more air is coming out compared to coming in.

It is impossible to be truly positive or negative pressure, in that situation the extra pressure will equalize via any crack or opening in the case.

Obviously the best case would be neutral pressure but failing that positive pressure would be the next best. The over pressure will escape via cracks. This usually means that the incoming air is filtered and then escapes but the negative pressure situation will have unfiltered air entering into the case via all cracks or openings. The unfiltered air means that dirt will begin to accumulate in your case.

There are different sizes of fans but the most common sizes are 120mm and 140mm. Larger fans will push more air which means that they can spin slower and will be quieter.

Air pressure examples

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Building a personal computer – power supplies

Selecting a power supply is somewhat anticlimatic in comparision to some of the other accessories. It is a matter of getting a supply that is big enough to support your accessories

Power supply calculator

Power supply calculator

Power supply calculator

I choose a modular power supply so I can connect only the cables that I need and specifically the Dark Power Pro as the cables were slightly longer than other bequiet power solutions.

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Building a personal computer – selecting a hard disk

Any computer needs a hard disk to hold the operating system and any other types of work that you do. As recently as a few years, ok perhaps 10, the only question was how large of a hard disk do you need and the only hard disks were mechanical.

There were a few different types, but basically the difference was how fast were the platters spinning which affects how quickly the data can be returned. For mechanical hard disk the data throughput rate was about 100mb per second.

The biggest advance was the invention of the SATA SSD which is a huge advance as the hard disk is just a bank of memory. The delays due to spinning disks is eliminated and the throughput skyrocketed to about 500mb per second. This transfer rate actually approached the limits of the SATA interface.

The most recent breakthrough was when the NVME M.2 SSD hard disks. The difference was the change of the electroncs from the SATA to the PCI bus. This resulted in another giant breakthrough to data transfers of from 2100mb per second.

History and comparison of hard disks up through NVME SSD disks.

Visual demonstration of different disk technology in load times

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Building a personal computer – selecting the ram

Selecting ram for the computer is actually very similar to deciding on a graphic card. You need to know what will you be using a computer for and how much memory is needed for that task.

Depending on your motherboard you will have 2 or 4 slots for memory. Picking which memory modules are appropriate are difficult unless you have a way to sell any used memory. It is possible to select 4 x 8gb modules and you then have 32gb of memory but if you need more you either have to replace some or all of the memory. It could be possible to remove two of the “8gb” modules and replace them with 16gb modules. This would change the memory from 32gb or 48gb.

As I am planning on running virtual machines lots of memory is advantageous.

In theory all memory is following the same specifications so you should be able to pick any module but the motherboard manufacturer does have lists of memory from various ram manufacturers that is supported.

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Building a personal computer – selecting a graphics card

Picking a graphics card depends on what you are planning on doing with your computer.

  • Play games
  • Mine bitcoin
  • Play super intensive fast pace games
  • Surf the internet
  • Watching youtube videos

Once you have answered which one or more of these you will need a graphics card most of the decision is done. The next question is do you or your games need cuda support. Cuda is a parallel programming library developed by Nvidia and runs exclusively on Nvidia. Thus if you need Cuda your decision of which GPU vendor has been decided.

An up and coming alternative to Cuda is Vulkan. Vulkan is a cross platform computing API which is intended to replace OpenGL or Direct3D and also offers parallel processing.

If Vulkan actually becomes more common it could allow more and higher quality games to be available on other operating systems than windows.

The final piece or the decision is how much money can you afford. Both Nvidia and AMD do have graphic cards that cover the price spectrum. Usually this is selecting either a slightly older model or the latest and greatest GPU. It is just a matter of getting the most GPU that you can afford that fulfills what you need a computer for.

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Building a personal computer – selecting a CPU cooler

I already discussed some about the CPU cooler. There are essentially three different choices you can make

  • Air cooled
  • All in one
  • Custom water cooled

The aircooled cooler is pretty much just as it says. It is a fan that is connected to a heatsink which is attached to your CPU and when it runs it keeps it cool. There are two other somewhat similar air cooled options

  • U-Type
  • C-Type

Both of these CPU coolers have some pipes full of liquid in a heatsink. Attached to this heatsink is one or two fans. The fanes pull the heat out of the heatsink and essentially into your case which is why your case needs to a way to dispose of this heat. The actual name “U” Type comes from how the heat pipes are relative to the rest of the heatsink. In the case of “U”, they are oriented like a U relative to the CPU.

An all-in-one cooler is actually similar to a air cooler on steroids. It has its own radiator full of liquid and pipes that lead directly to the pump which is connected to the heat sink that is mounted on the CPU. The pump pulls cool liquid to the CPU to cool it and sends off the warm liquid to the radiator. The radiator typically has multiple fans which will blow cool air over the warm radiator and thus draw the heat out so it can then return to cool the CPU.

There is really not much sense in me discussion a custom water cooled solution. This tends to be a highly customized solution that is built by the user. They select parts that will fit together and essentially assemble something similar to an all in one cooler. Yet this is only similar, the main difference is that custom water cooled solutions need to be monitored and maintained.

It is possible that an all-in-one solution, after a few years in service, may begin to evaporate. This is a slow process and over time and if this become a problem the entire all-in-one cooler will need to be replaced.

The air cooled solution may not be able to cool as high of a load (think bit coin mining or extensive video editing) but if the fan starts to go, it can be removed and replaced with a new fan. In this situation the heatsink will remain to cool the CPU although less effectively – you mileage may vary.

Dark Rock Pro 4 – installation and review

Note: Make sure that your cooler supports the socket type for your CPU. This might require purchasing additional mounting hardware.

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