4 Stupid PC Build Mistakes I Made (and How to Avoid Them)

It’s confession time. Anyone who has built a few computers knows that the process is often not pretty and that small mistakes can have big consequences.

Over the years, I’ve been through every common PC build mistake you could think of – using cheap power supplies, applying too much (or too little) thermal paste, wiring everything incorrectly, and much worse. Here I want to cover the mistakes I made due to negligence, not because I was a beginner, so I hope you can avoid them.

Not fully mounting a CPU cooler

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

This is one of my most recent and embarrassing mistakes. I had just finished upgrading my personal rig, including a new 240mm EK all-in-one liquid cooler. I mounted it, the fans were spinning, and I booted into Windows like I had no problems.

The machine crashed within minutes and on subsequent restarts I saw temperatures close to 100 degrees Celsius. I tore everything to find that the AIO block was mounted above my processor – about half an inch from contact. I had been running my computer without any active cooling on the CPU.

It turns out that the motherboard I was using, the Asus Tuf Z490-Plus, is designed so that the RAM slots are slightly closer to the CPU socket. My RAM modules were preventing my AIO from fully reaching the CPU, so even though I lowered the mounting screws, I wasn’t thrown against the CPU.

I removed the cooler, saw a small dot of undisturbed thermal paste on my CPU, and replaced the cooler with another one.

The take-out sale

Know your components intimately. You won’t read a slight change in RAM slot placement – which is done to reduce the distance between memory and processor – on a spec sheet. You need to know not only any Z490 motherboard, but also the specific motherboard you are using. The same goes for your other components.

The other thing to remember is to check that your cooler is mounted correctly. Make sure it’s in contact, not just tight. I was lucky that the CPU didn’t fry after briefly running it without active cooling. It is better to avoid this risk by visually checking if everything is in conformity.

Rip a CPU from its socket

An AMD Ryzen 7 1700 processor sitting on a motherboard.
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

I have a mini ITX PC that I move between my living room and my bedroom. A few years ago I upgraded it to a Ryzen 7 1700X and used the stock cooler to keep everything as small as possible. A few weeks after the upgrade I went and reassembled the cooler with new thermal paste to help with the temperatures.

As I was dismantling the cooler, disaster struck. The cooler came loose with the CPU still stuck to the bottom, with several bent pins. It was ruined. I had to pick up an open box replacement from Micro Center to get my mini ITX build in order.

The take-out sale

The thin layer of thermal paste you find on CPU coolers usually isn’t great. In the case of AMD’s stock coolers, the paste tends to be stickier than using your own thermal solution. This was the problem with my Ryzen 7 1700X.

I was too impatient and applied too much pressure to remove the cooler. The solution is to be gentle until you are sure you have broken the link between the cooler and the CPU. Gently switch off between rotating the cooler and rocking it back and forth, never applying enough pressure to dislodge it completely. This gives you more control over breaking that link so you don’t accidentally rip your CPU with your cooler.

Break a USB header

A USB 3.0 header on a motherboard.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

The USB 3.0 header is a big beast. I was moving a version of an NZXT H510 to a Be Quiet! Dark Base Pro 900, and everything was fine. I completed the swap, but quickly discovered that the front panel USB 3.0 ports weren’t working, despite having the connector plugged in.

I removed the connector and found the problem – the USB 3.0 header on the motherboard was missing a pin that was lodged in the connector on the NZXT case. Unfortunately, there was no solution for this one. I continued without the USB 3.0 front panel until I finally upgraded the version.

The take-out sale

Building a PC is not a tricky process. In many cases, you need to apply pressure, tighten the screws, and route the cables through the routing channels. However, there are parts that you need to handle gently.

Take the USB 3.0 header as an example. It’s a chunky header with a big connector, but it has exposed pins. This is usually not a problem with other front panel connections, but the risk is always present. Whenever you’re dealing with exposed pins, be very careful not to bend or break them during construction.

Do not use an antistatic wrist strap

An anti-static bracelet on a man's wrist.
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

For this one, I confess, I make no apologies. I still don’t use an anti-static wrist strap. I have never. Static electricity poses a real threat to your components, but this threat is irrelevant if you keep a few precautions in mind. ESD wrist straps work, and if you’re worried about causing a short, you should use one. You just don’t need at.

The risk is that you build up static charge and transfer it to your components when handling them. If this charge is large enough and can move to the right point, it can short out your components. This is primarily a problem with motherboards, where you may need to touch exposed parts of the PCB.

The take-out sale

The purpose of an anti-static wrist strap is to ground you, which you can also do by touching any metal object with a path to the ground, including your PC case. Before that, there are many things you can do to reduce the risk of static charge building up:

  • Do not wear socks during construction.
  • Do not build your PC on a carpet or stand on a carpet.
  • Do not wear fluffy pajamas, sweaters, or clothing that can accumulate static electricity.

As long as you follow a few common-sense practices to reduce static electricity buildup, you can build a PC by grounding yourself to the case alone. I’ve done it countless times, and I know dozens of others who do the same. To be clear, I’m not saying that wrist straps don’t work. They do, and you should use one if you’re worried about shorting out your components.

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