The next step is to lower the assembled CPU/motherboard combination into the case. Depending on the case you’re using, you may need to install offset stands for mounting the motherboard, which will come with the case. Our NZXT S340 had these conveniently pre-installed. Do not attempt to install a motherboard without such stands in the case, as you will risk short-circuiting the board if sensitive electrical components touch the case.
Note that due to the design of this case, connecting power cables and data cables is harder than with a more open-style case, but the result is much neater overall - you'll hardly see any cables at all! If you need help sorting through the various cable connections you’ll need to make, remember to flip over to our Guide to Assembling a Basic PC for assistance.
In the photo below, we’ve installed the motherboard in the case, connected all the power and front panel cables (including the all-important on/off switch!), and also positioned two SSDs into their holsters at the top of the power supply shroud.
The next-to-last step is installing the memory. There’s nothing too tricky about this, but amazingly, this is the step that most often causes issues for builders, and we’ve been tripped up by it more than a few times. The first thing to realize is that RAM sticks have a groove in them, clearly visible in the photo to the right, which is designed to fit onto a tab in the RAM slot. They can only be installed in one direction, so if your RAM isn’t snapping in, don’t force it - you probably have the RAM stick positioned in the wrong orientation. Once you’ve confirmed that the groove is correctly slotted in, press down firmly until the locking tabs on either side of the memory snap into place. Once RAM is full inserted, you should not be able to remove it with a simple tub – the locks must be manually disengaged. Test your RAM to make sure it’s locked in before you move to the next step. By the way, always install RAM as follows: if you have just one stick, use the second slot away from the CPU, with two sticks, use the second and fourth slots.
The final major step is installing the video card. In the photos below, we show two different video cards installed. The first is the midrange Sapphire Radeon R9 290 Tri-X, which is ironically longer than our high-end model, the EVGA GeForce GTX 980 FTW. Generally speaking, AMD cards tend to be larger than equivalent Nvidia cards, at least in the current generation, so simply buying a less expensive card doesn’t guarantee it will fit better than a more expensive card. Make sure to check dimensions (both length and height) before selecting your video card. You can see from the photos that the NZXT S340 has plenty of space for either card, although the Radeon does overhang the white cable routing panel, and in fact sits on top of it when installed. This isn’t a problem, just something to be aware of if you choose a card longer than about 10.5”. Once your card is locked into place and the rear PCIe slot screws are affixed, insert the PCIe power cables provided with your power supply (either 6-pin or 6+2-pin, or in our case, both). The system will not boot up unless you've inserted and properly locked in these power cables. Believe it or not, on our first attempt at powering up this system, we were greeted with a helpful message stating that a PCIe power cable was not inserted. Sure enough, we hadn’t locked it into place. Let this be a reminder to you not to make the same mistake!
Radeon R9 290 on the left, GeForce GTX 980 on the right, and both are great options for gamers!
OK, with all of our components installed, it’s time to power up the system! In the photo to the left, you can see our new system running, showing off the white LED lighting of both the case power button and the EVGA GTX 980, which just so happen to match here. Getting aesthetics in order makes a good PC look even better, so keep that in mind as you pick your components, considering size, color, and lighting, among other things. Unfortunately, the beige Noctua NH-U12S cooler we used crimps our style a bit here, but the performance more than makes up for it!
By the way, we haven’t covered installing the operating system in this guide, but you can find plenty of information on that in our Guide to Assembling a Basic PC. Once your system is loaded into Windows, don’t forget to install the drivers supplied on the CD included with your motherboard. The critical ones will be the INF (chipset) drivers, the audio drivers, and the Ethernet drivers. You’ll also need to install drivers for whichever graphics solution you’re using, whether it’s AMD Radeon, Nvidia GeForce, or the Intel HD Graphics built into the CPU. Once your software is installed, you’ll be ready to fully enjoy your new PC!
We're going to provide a few performance numbers to give you an idea of what you can expect with a system like the one profiled in this guide. The Intel Core i5-4690K quad-core CPU offers performance that will satisfy just about any user. You'll see more variation among various video cards on the market, including the Radeon R9 290 and GeForce GTX 980 we tested here. Just for the heck of it, we threw in a third card, the inexpensive Radeon R9 270X, to provide some insights on what you get for your money at the $150, $300, and $500 price points in today's video card landscape. All cards were tested at their as-shipped clocks - no manual overclocking was performed. While this is just one test, it shows that the $300 card is definitely in the sweet spot, offering about 85% better graphics performance for twice the price, which is nearly a 1-to-1 boost in terms of performance per dollar. Going up another $200-250 only gets you 34% more performance with the GTX 980, more like a 0.5-to-1 boost in performance per dollar. Diminishing returns are definitely kicking in, but for many gamers, the additional cost may be justified.
We hope you've found this guide useful...perhaps it will even inspire you to build your next PC! As always, to see our latest recommendations on component picks in every price range, check out our Do-It-Yourself Buyer's Guides, updated on a monthly basis to keep you up to speed on all the latest developments.