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    Building a Basic PC  (1998)

The NOSPIN Group staff has discussed this basic article many times and we finally agreed that the best avenue is to write this article about a real computer during the assembly.   That is where I will begin. 

Today is November 18, 1998.   I am in the process of building a simple PentiumII-350 system for a client.  I will explain to you the simple steps involved, display pictures of what I am seeing and hopefully you as the reader will be able to use these steps in building your own system.   Not every component in this computer will be the same as your own and/or you may have more devices in your system.  You will need to use common sense in adding your additional components to this basic system.  This is a guideline to proper assembly.

Determine the Components of the PC

You will need to decide what devices your computer will contain and be sure to have them all on hand before you begin.  My client has requested a basic PII-350 computer for Internet use and as a home office.  We decided on the following components:

  • Intel PII-350 classic CPU chip with fan/heatsink

  • Microstar BX motherboard (model MS6119)

  • 64mg SDRAM PC100 ram chip

  • 8.4gig Fujitsu UltraDMA IDE hard drive

  • Samsung 32X CD Rom drive (model SCR3232)

  • Jaton 8mg AGP video card (model 1740)

  • Enlight mid-tower ATX case

  • Creative labs AWE64 sound card

  • 60watt speakers

  • 1.44mg Teac floppy drive

  • Jaton 56k ISA internal modem

  • Logitec 3 button mouse

  • 105keyboard

In other words I am assembling a basic PentiumII-350 with 64mg ram, 8.4gig hard drive, CD Rom, sound card & speakers and a modem.  A nice home office or Internet machine.

Preparing to assemble the system

Now that you have all the components together, you will need an area with electric power available and room enough to spread out your work.   You should only require two basic tools to assemble any computer:

1)  Pair of needle nose pliers
2)  Phillips head screw driver

I have assembled hundreds of computers and it takes me about 30 minutes to put one together.  If this is your first one, please allocate lot of time.  The last thing you want is to be rushed and create a problem from rushing.

This is an important tip:  It is nearly impossible to put the wrong component in the wrong place, unless you either force it or break it.   Use good judgment, take your time and get advice if you have a problem.  This is more a matter of common sense...  and should be fun, not a headache.

    The Assembly   (click on pictures for large image)

The first thing we need to do is open the case and prepare the base plane to receive the motherboard.   Each case is build differently, but in our case I removed the plastic front plate by prying it off with my hands.

I then removed three screws on the back of the case allowing me to slide off both side covers and finally removing the top cover.  Now the interior skeleton of the case is exposed.

*Note: The base plane is the plate inside the computer the motherboard is connected or screwed into, typically a large flat section the motherboard sets upon.


Now it is just a matter of releasing the base plane from the case and sliding it out off the case.

Removing the base plane allows for easier attachment of the motherboard.  If it is possible with your case, you should follow this step.  Not all cases allow you to remove the base plane, (especially the very inexpensive cases).  In using these cases you will be forced to seat the motherboard into the case.  This is more awkward.


Taking the motherboard and laying it on top of the case's base plane, I can see where I will need to have stand offs, (small metal studs or plastic nylon studs), to attach the motherboard to the base plane.  I placed two metal studs on the base plane, (one on either side of the motherboard), and the rest of the holes have corresponding nylon studs.  This provides for full support of the board and keeps the solder joints from touching any part of the case.

I do not use the fabric washers that come with the case.  I like a clean contact between the motherboard and case for electrical grounding.  If you have attached the motherboard properly, it align with the openings in the back plane of the case for your component cards and ports.

*note: The back plane is the area of the case to the rear of the computer that the video card, modem or other cards are screwed to and open out for access to the features of the cards.  Sometimes this is referred to as the rear slot area of the case.








The next step is very important.   Normally at this time I would set the jumpers on the motherboard for the speed of the CPU, (PII-350), I would be adding.  Always double check that these settings are correct.  In the case of this computer, Microstar uses CMOS settings, or Bios software to configure the CPU.  This saved me from digging through the manual for the settings and then pulling jumpers with my needle nose pliers.  This is a nice feature.

Then I take the CPU, locate the 'Slot One' slot on the board, (the slot will only accept the CPU and is nearly always turned 90s to the direction of the other board slots) and then slide the CPU into place, pressing down gently to snug it into the motherboard.   You will notice that the CPU and 'Slot One' have three separated sections and the CPU will only go into the slot one direction.  This is the first example of using common sense and not forcing the component.

With the CPU in place, I take the small electrical wire accompanying the CPU and connect it from the CPU to the motherboard.  It only attaches one direction on the CPU and the motherboard has a clearly defined set of pins marked: CPU FAN.  It connects easily.

The CPU comes with small additional braces to support the weight of the heatsink and fan.  I never use these for home systems.  A home computer does not have the motion abuse to require these additional braces.

I then take the 64mg SDRam module and press it into the 1st ram slot.  (If you are unaware which one is considered #0 or the 1st slot, consult your motherboard manual).    When the module is pressed into place the locks on each end of the ram module will snap into place.  You cannot seat a SDRam module backward, as the base only fits in one direction.  We are now ready to reattach the base plane to the case.


I now reattached the base plane of the case with the motherboard attached to the case.   Some cases require screws to hold it in place, but the Enlight case has a release handle that is pressed to hold it securely.

The next step is to connect power to the motherboard.  PentiumII motherboards are ATX by design and use a special power connector.  If you examine this connector, (the largest one coming from the power supply) and the motherboard's power connector, you will see it can only be plugged  into the motherboard one way.  DO NOT FORCE IT...   it should plug in easily.





The next step is the video card.   I am going to connect the video card next to facilitate a quick test of my work so far.

The video card I am using is an AGP card.  The AGP slot is the nearest slot next to the CPU on the motherboard.  You simply remove any covers on the backplane for the slot and then press the video card into the AGP slot.  Then use a mounting screw to attach the card to the back plane.  We are now ready to test the system.

I attached a power cord to the power supply, attached a basic PS/2 keyboard to the keyboard port on the outside of the back plane and then ran the video cable from the monitor to the video port on the back of the video card.  Then, it was a simple matter of pressing the power switch on the front of the case.  The computer flared to life, displaying the post or boot process on the screen.

If all has gone well, as in my case, the monitor will display the post process and allow you access to the CMOS settings using the keyboard.


It is time to connect the case wires to the motherboard.   These are the small wires running to the power switch, the reset switch, hard drive led light, power led light on the front of the case.

It is best to use your motherboard manual to determine the exact pins on the motherboard.  The wires in this case are each clearly marked for each connector.  In the case of this case the white wires are the negative wires, (this is not always the case).  If you connect a wire the wrong direction, nothing will happen except the light will not come on.  Just remove the wire and turn it around.




Now to the Floppy drive, hard drive and CD Rom drive.  I am going to attach the hard drive as a single drive on the 1st IDE channel and the CD Rom drive as a single drive on the 2nd IDE channel.  I then verify that the hard drive has the jumpers set to be a single drive and I set the jumpers on the CD Rom as a master drive also.   I recommend doing this before you attach the drives so you can more easily move and jumper pin covers.

The next step is to attach the drives.  I removed the 3.5inch drive bracket from the case by pressing the spring locks holding it in place and sliding it out.  Then I screwed the floppy drive and the hard drive into the bracket, so that the floppy drive would align with the plastic face plate and the hard drive would remain within the case.  

Now it was a simple matter of sliding the mounting bracket back into the case until the spring locks snapped into place.  These two drives are now seated tightly. 





Now for the CD Rom drive.  In this case it is only a matter of attaching the side rails that accompany the case to the drive.  This is done with two screws on each side of the drive.  One tip about CD Roms and screws:   there are two rows of screw holes on the sides of a CD Rom drive.  If the tray is on the top of the drive, put the screws into the bottom set of holes and vice-versa.   You do not want the screws to damage the inner workings of the CD tray.

Now it is just a matter of sliding the drive into the appropriate opening in the case, as the rails will snap into place with the spring locks when slid into place.

One more note:  most cases do not have nice slide rails to mount drives.   Usually you will need to slide the drive into the opening and then screw it into the case.  The is a nice advantage of the Enlight case.







It is time to attach the power wires to the drives.  This is really straight forward.  The remaining wires from the power supply have connectors that will only attach to the appropriate power connectors on each drive.  I attached a power wire to the hard drive, the floppy drive and the CD Rom drive.  I like a neat appearance inside, so I also used some small wire ties to bundle the wires together.

The next step is the ribbon cables to the drives.  First I attached the floppy drive ribbon cable.  I did this by determining the pin#1 on the motherboard and the floppy drive.  Then I attached the floppy drive ribbon cable to the motherboard with the red, (or any color), stripe toward pin#1 on the floppy connector and the same on the drive.  The connector on the ribbon cable that must be connected to the floppy drive has a 'twist' in the cable directly next to the connector.  This designates this drive as the "boot" floppy.  This is important.

I then took the IDE ribbon cable and connected it to the IDE-1 connector on the motherboard with the red stripe toward pin#1 and ran the cable to the connector on the hard drive with the red stripe once again toward pin#1.  I then ran a second ribbon cable from the IDE-2 connector on the motherboard to the CD Rom drive following the same procedure. 

*Note: Determing the pin#1 on the motherboard can be tricky.   Often you will see a number one, (1), to one side of the connector.  Sometimes it is easier to review your motherboard manual, (usually there is a drawing of the motherboard displaying which side is pin#1).  

Determining pin#1 on drives is far easier.  It is nearly always the pin adjacent to the power connector.  If a drive is not recognized by the system, try reversing the ribbon cable...  it maybe connected backward. 


The next step is to add in the remaining component cards.   First I took the Sound Blaster AWE64 card and pressed it into the first ISA slot.   This slot is the one adjacent to the PCI slots and if this confuses you, I recommend consulting your motherboard manual's diagram of slot configuration.   Typically the ISA slots are the last set, farthest from the CPU.  Since this is a plug-n-play card there are no jumpers to configure.  I then attached the card to the back plane with a mounting screw.
Now for the final card, the modem.   Once again this is also a plug-n-play card and I just pressed it into the next available ISA slot, then attached it to the back plane with a mounting screw.
My final item to attach is the CD Rom sound cable.   This small cable came with the CD Rom drive.  It attaches to the four prong slot for it on the back of the CD Rom drive and extends to the sound card.  The sound card has a small connector that this cable connects into.  This cable is important is you wish to play audio CDs in your computer, if not...  you can omit it.

Now for one final test, I inserted a Win98 boot disk into the floppy drive and booted the system.   During the post phase, I pressed the 'DEL' key and entered the CMOS settings.  In here I had the system auto detect the hard drive for the parameters.  I save the settings and rebooted.  The system fired up the first time, nice and clean.

Now it is only a matter of attaching the side & top plates to the case and then pressing the front plastic cover back on.   I am now ready to partition my hard drive and format.  Since I am going to load Windows98 and this is an 8.4gig hard drive I made one fat32 8.4gig partition and then formatted the drive.

Building a computer is really just this simple.  It is no mystery or secret.   The only thing left to do is actually load Windows98 and the other software the belongs on the system.












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