Installing the Basic Components
We haven’t mentioned this in previous guides, but we might as well do so now: don’t bother buying the anti-static wristbands, anti-static mats, and 45-piece tool kits that vendors are all too happy to sell you. We’ve built a whole lot of PCs and never used any of these, nor have we ever damaged a component.
The only tool you need to build a PC is a single Philips-head screwdriver. We’d recommend spending a bit extra to pick up a high-quality screwdriver, like this professional-grade Klein Tools model, or this long-reach magnetic-tip model. Either would be useful for a whole lot more than just building PCs, making them great investments!
On this page, we'll go over what you'll need to do to set up your PC's case, power supply, motherboard, CPU, and CPU cooler.
To the right you can see our case ready for assembly, with the front panel set aside and the fan filter removed. Most cases use a friction method to attach the front panel, and unfortunately that means you’ll need to do a bit of gentle tugging to remove it. We recommend locating the plastic tabs that affix the front panel and pushing on them from the inside of the case while you pull the panel from the outside. That way you will limit the possibility of breaking a tab. Note that you need to remove the front panel on most cases to install an optical drive, but with the NZXT S340, external drives are not supported. Even so, we wanted to install an additional front fan, which also typically requires removal of the front panel. Note that if you’re using this case, we’d recommend either buying an additional fan for the front panel, or moving the top-mounted fan (visible in the photo) to the front panel. Honestly, the only reason NZXT positions it up top is because it looks great in photos. A case without at least one front-mounted fan will never provide optimal cooling.
The next step is to install the power supply. Installing it at this point helps you get the power cables set up the way you want them before everything else fills the case up. With the NZXT S340, however, it’s handled in a slightly different way. Unlike the typical case, which positions the power supply right above or below the motherboard and in the same compartment, the S340 uses a shroud to separate the PSU from the rest of the system. While this has certainly been done in previous designs to section off airflow, the main goal here is aesthetic. Because most modern cases, like the S340, are designed to have the power supply pull in air through the bottom of the case and exhaust it out the back, separation of the power supply physically isn’t necessary. The shroud certainly makes things look very neat, but it does make installing the power supply more difficult. It must be installed through a cutout in the back of the case, after being attached to a specialized bracket that affixes it to the case. You can see the power supply inserted in the photo to the right. Once the power supply is installed, the cables are neatly tucked away, but they are also very, very hard to sort through, so we recommend a modular power supply, and that only the necessary cables are attached to the power supply from the start.
The next step is to prepare the data drives for installation. Most new cases use a tray for solid-state drives, which you can see in the photo to the left. Sometimes these trays are designed to slide into a hard drive caddy, but given how small and light SSDs are, many new cases, like the S340, simply have you bolt the tray directly to the bottom or side of the case. Given that the “bottom” of the S340 is actually the top of the power supply shroud, that’s where the tray goes. Unfortunately, NZXT overlooked an important element of the S340’s design, in that there isn’t sufficient space to connect the SATA data and power cables with the drive flush against the shroud. We had to install it so only the front “hooks” of the tray were inserted, propping up the back of the tray to attach the cables
We're now ready to get into the "guts" of the system, meaning the CPU and motherboard. We covered CPU installation in detail in our Guide to Assembling a Basic PC, so we'll jump ahead here to the process of CPU cooler installation. This step is really what separates a “basic” build from a midrange build. You can certainly put together a system like this using the stock Intel cooler, which utilizes simple push-pins to affix it to the motherboard, but if you want quieter operation or higher performance potential, you need a larger cooler. And larger coolers are always a bit more complicated to install. For this guide, we chose the Noctua NH-U12S, which is one of the best 120mm-based coolers on the market (120mm refers to the size of the fan, by the way). As tower-style coolers go, it’s fairly straightforward to install, and it also performs better than every other 120mm model, despite slim proportions that make it easy to fit in any case. The first step, after carefully reading the instructions included with your cooler, will almost always be to fit a backplate through the back of the motherboard. We recommend doing this outside of the case, because while most new cases have a cutout behind the motherboard to allow for cooler installation, attaching the heatsink is always easier when you have more space to work with and aren’t bumping up against the side of the case. In the photo to the left, you can see the Noctua "SecuFirm" backplate in place
To the right you can see our motherboard with the heatsink bolted down onto its mounting bracket, ready to be installed in the case. Most CPU coolers, including this Noctua model, require you to remove the fan to access at least one of the attachment screws. The NH-U12S has two, one in front and one in back of the tower, but some coolers may have up to four. Always tighten them in alternating fashion, each screw a bit at a time. This helps to achieve equal tension and will also spread the TIM evenly under the heatsink’s thermal plate. And don’t forget to reinstall the fan and connect its power lead to the motherboard’s CPU fan header, or your CPU could get very toasty, very fast!Once the backplate is inserted through the motherboard, lay the board down flat so you can work with the CPU socket. In the photo to the left, we’ve compressed three steps into one. What you can see here is the CPU locked into place, the heatsink mounting brackets screwed into the backplate, and the thermal interface material (TIM) applied to the CPU’s heat spreader. The scariest part of all this is locking down the CPU, because it always feels like you might be crushing it! For Intel's socket 1150 CPUs, just make sure it's oriented with the yellow triangle in the lower-left corner (just barely visible in the photo). The step that takes the most skill is probably applying thermal paste, because getting just the right amount takes a bit of dexterity and patience. The method of application we show here, both in terms of quantity and location on the CPU, is what we recommend. You could call it “pea-sized,” but it’s actually a bit less than that, and over-applying will cause TIM to squeeze out onto your motherboard. It’s not dangerous, just messy. If you use too little, there will be gaps between the CPU and heatsink, reducing the effectiveness of heat transfer. Note that all heatsinks come with TIM, but if you want the best, use either Arctic MX-4 which is included with the very good, bargain-priced Arctic i30 cooler, or Noctua NT-H1, which is included with the full range of premium-priced Noctua heatsinks, including the NH-U12S features in this guide. If you buy a different brand of heatsink, consider adding a tube of one of these products to your order. Do us a favor, though: don't buy Arctic Silver 5. Yes, we know it outsells every other TIM combined, but trust us, we've used it, and it isn't very good. It's hard to apply, takes weeks to cure, and cakes up badly over time (you don't want to see what this stuff looks like when it comes time for your next CPU upgrade!). One last tip: to remove an incorrect or old application of TIM, use a lint-free cloth and standard rubbing alcohol.
OK, now we're ready to get everything installed into our case. Turn to the next page to see how it all comes together.