The Do’s and Don’ts of PC Assembly

Part One: Setting Up

By Brian Lance, Tampa PC Users Group

First of all, collect all the parts you will need. Tools are just as important to the process as your components. A #1 Phillips screwdriver and pair of small needle nose pliers (for installing and removing jumpers) are essential. An anti-static mat or piece of non-conducting material, which sometimes comes with a new motherboard and/or a grounding "leash", are both good to have. I use a #2 Phillips to place and start screws that may need to be installed at odd angles or even upside down. Most of the time, the screws that come with your case will fit snugly on it. I do not recommend a magnetized screwdriver. Optional tools include: a two or three-pronged tweezer, for those screws that go astray... into the most inaccessible part of the case. A flashlight or penlight can be useful as can a few small containers, to store screws and jumpers.

Then, find an open area in which to work. A work area dedicated to the task is preferable, but a dining room table will do - put several sheets of newspaper down to prevent scratching it - and don't plan to eat on it until you're done with it. Make sure you are near as many outlets as you need. Use extension cords if you need them, and route them so they can't be stepped on or tripped over. Use outlets that are not on the same circuit as a microwave oven, air conditioner, or other high-amperage appliances.

Familiarize yourself with the task at hand. From removing a plate and installing an internal modem to assembly of a completely new system, you should try to know ahead of time what you need to do, and in what order. Having a checklist will help lessen the forehead-slapping associated with placing add-on cards into a PC and then realizing that there's a jumper on the inward-facing card that now could not possibly be moved, even with the help of trained fleas.

Bring together all the "manuals" and papers associated with your hardware. Some of it may appear to be translated from Companion to Martian to English. This seems to be the preferred dialect of non-branded components. If you have access to the Internet, check the manufacturer’s site to see if there are updates, or better yet, a nice readable Adobe .PDF to print.

Note the locations of any jumpers you may have to change, especially on the motherboard. Know where your cables will be attached, and in what orientation. Most cables nowadays are "keyed", that is, they can only be inserted in one direction. This does not prevent the attempt of incorrect insertion, including connecting two devices together (instead of to the motherboard) or the breakage of the connector.

IDE hard drives, floppy drives, AT or ATX power connections, parallel and serial connections are keyed or otherwise difficult to insert backwards. Always know where pin 1 is on your hard drives and floppies. It matches up with the red edge of either cable.

Next time: Part Two: Installation u