There are many guides and logs out there on how to assemble a computer, and I want to share my experience as well. However, when it comes to this job I was commissioned for, I find it more important to focus on some of the problems you are likely to encounter when building your own systems. There can be any number of problems, and I hope this article helps, even just a little.
After much thought the client settled on the following parts for the tower which are as follows:
- Processor: Intel i9 9900k
- Motherboard: Aorus Z390X Extreme
- Memory: 64GB (4×16) Corsair Dominator Platinum RGB
- SSD Storage: 2x WD Black SN750 NVMe 1TB
- HDD Storage: 3x WD Black 6TB
- GPU: ASUS RTX 2080 Ti STRIX
- PSU Seasonic 1000 watt Platinum
- Case: Corsair Crystal 680X RGB
Before we go any further I’ll provide a link to this build’s gallery where you can find more photos of the completed PC.
The great thing about building a PC yourself is the variety and customization that’s available. By mix and matching parts, you can really personalize the look and spec of your particular build. Manufacturers generally do a good job of making parts conform to a standard as to make them compatible across different makers.
However, there is always the off chance that you will face a compatibility issue, and in this case it was between the CMOS battery holder on the Aorus Z390 Extreme motherboard and WD Black SN750 NVMe SSD heat sink. The WD Black SN750 NVMe had a 3rd party designed heat sink who’s dimensions conflicted with the location of the motherboard’s CMOS battery.
Looking at the NVMe’s compatibility list, at the time, the motherboard we were using was not even listed in any of the categories found on the official documentation. The columns labeled Fit, Partial Fit*, or Does Not Fit did not show the motherboard listed anywhere.
What does this all mean? Well, despite researching thoroughly you may still encounter problems with hardware layout on components that prevent their installation. Furthermore exchanging items or getting refunds where you live can be difficult, if not downright impossible, which was the case in our situation. In these situations you may be faced with no choice but to come up with a remedy, which we did, by carefully altering the clearances on the motherboard, physically, with a blade, to make the NVMe SSD fit with the heat sink.
Nevertheless, modifying the CMOS battery holder’s shape to allow clearance of the SSD was the only way we could solve the issue. Modifying components to this extent is not for the faint of heart and should be avoided when possible. However these unexpected compatibility issues are a reality with custom PCs.
There are also times that manufacturers make decisions that contradict their product’s design language. We faced this when dealing with the rear compartment of the Corsair Crystal 680X pc case. By manufacturer’s design, The Corsair Crystal 680X has three 3.5″ hard drive bays oriented side by side and a stacked 2.5″ hard drive bay.
However, when we had populated the three 3.5″ drive bays with three WD black 6TB hard drives, the thermal sensors monitoring the hard drives, showed the drives reaching temperatures that were dangerously high.
In the end we had to take another trip to the PC parts store to source a fan that we could use to cool the hard drives. You would think that there would be convenient mounts to secure the fans that provide airflow the hard drives needed, but this wasn’t the case, and we had to secured the fan with zip ties to one of the free 2.5″ bays.
Shouldn’t Corsair have pre-built mounting points for fans to provide direct cooling to the hard drives in a situation where a user populates all the drive bays? In any case installing that fan helped cool the drives immensely.
What this reminds us is that despite a case’s feature list, they may come with caveats that are unexpected which you will need to deal with. So keep this mind and just be ready if things don’t sit the way you originally planned.
Installing Windows? DO THIS FIRST!
Watch out for this one! This is easy to miss given the right circumstances, and will cause GREAT frustration! We were nearly home free with the build when this happened, and we had to dismantle a good number of parts of the build to fix things. This could have been avoided if it was done right from the beginning.
Ok, this one I admit that I am guilty of complacency here. When dealing with software, follow the best practices. Specifically for the fresh install of Windows 10 operating system.
I had forgotten to disconnect all the drives apart from the intended boot drive and many times it was mentioned in the past by other builders to do so. Our build had 5 drives total. All of them were plugged in at the time of the operating system’s installation and windows kept distributing partitions with files in them across different drives. This is a known issue with windows installations when multiple drives are plugged into the motherboard during the operating system’s installation. Despite designating the drive to install the OS, for some reason there is no control over where the installer decides to place additional system partitions required by the OS. So I strongly recommend to disconnect additional drives prior to initiating the process.
Although the PC worked in this configuration, we wanted all OS installation files on a single drive for a clean install, and after much complication we had to strip out the vertically mounted GPU to get to the NVMe solid state drives and reach behind the case to get at the hard disk drives. This was a really frustrating situation we found ourselves in as it was getting pretty late in the day, having worked since the early morning to try and finish the build as quickly and efficiently as possible, and this roadblock meant we had to redo a lot of the work we already took a while to do.
To completely avoid this situation I recommend putting the motherboard in a breadboard configuration and install the operating system with just the board, processor, cooler, ram, and a single drive powered in place.
In case you have multiple instances of Windows OS installed across different drives I recommend that you use the Windows OS installer’s built in drive manager to clean out each drive first and delete all partitions before disconnecting the drives and trying the install process again.
This PC build has been a trip back to basics. Although it has been some time since my last paid commission build, and new technologies have become mainstream, the process and considerations has remained unchanged. As discussed earlier, once the performance level of the PC is decided upon, it is important to do your due diligence and check compatibility and while checking for incompatibilities could reduce the chances you will face problems during the build, it would still be wise to prepare for unexpected setbacks.
These setbacks can be undocumented in nature or a design oversight, in which case you will need to be creative with your solutions. Finally read documentations and manuals, and follow best practices to ensure that you won’t have to redo procedures.