Prep Case

Preparing the Case

When getting ready to start build your new PC, the first thing you'll want to do is get familiar with your case. That means carefully unpacking it from its shipping box and setting it down in a location where you'll be doing your assembly. Lay out a towel or sheet underneath it to prevent it from getting scratched or damaging the surface of your work area.

At this point, you'll want to route all the major cables to the correct locations if they haven't been routed from the factory. They should all end up in the lower-right-hand corner of the motherboard mounting area, where you'll later find the motherboard headers to which they attach. We suggest you also map out where your components will go. Choose your hard drive and SSD locations wisely, in order to limit the length of cable runs while accounting for the fact that drives often must share a single strand of power connectors coming off the power supply. If you're using a liquid CPU cooler, you'll want to take note of the options you have for mounting the cooler. Ideally it can be affixed up top, but as we'll be discussing later, just because there are mounting holes available doesn't mean you can actually use them. The good news is that you can go back and correct any assumptions you've made without too much hassle later on.

Installing the Power Supply

Most new cases today use a power supply shroud, which lends the interior a much cleaner, more refined look, but also makes installing the power supply a lot more work than it used to be. In the photo below, you can see how we've pre-cabled our power supply with all the connectors we know we'll be using (and none of the ones we won't!). You'll want to take stock of the number of drives you have, as well as the number of power connectors that your video cards and motherboard require.

PSU

Note that the new Broadwell-E generation of motherboards have actually added a third power connector beyond the 24-pin cable and 8-pin cable that have been used for years. Specifically, they now include a 4-pin CPU power cable, allowing for additional amps to flow to the CPU, critical for overclocking Intel's new 10-core beast, the Core i7-6950X. Alas, that's one thing that couldn't be updated when we flashed the UEFI on our Haswell-E-era Asus X99-Pro, but luckily it doesn't matter at all for the CPU we chose, as it in fact uses less power than the Haswell-E-based Core i7-5960X, despite being faster.

When positioning your power supply, keep in mind that modern cases are designed to allow installation of a power supply with the fan facing down, so that it draws air from under the case and exhausts it out the back. The old rule of thumb was that running a power supply with a fan drawing air out of the case helped to cool the system. The new rule of thumb is that this is the wrong approach. Modern power supplies are so efficient that their fans rarely turn on, and it's really best not to fill them with cast off heat from the video card anyway. 

Once we've affixed the power supply using the four screws included in the box (note that you'll get PSU screws with both the power supply and case, and you can use either set), we can tuck all our cables in. This is the tricky part about having a shroud, but it also means that where once there was cable clutter, now there is none! As you'll see a little later on, eliminating the mess of power supply cables at the bottom of the main compartment makes new cases very much worth it from an aesthetic point of view.

Behind

As long as we're back here, we might as well check in on our drive mounting situation, as the case we're using in fact has no drive bays in the main compartment.

Installing the SSDs

As you can see in the photo above, we've slipped our 2.5" SSD onto a modular bracket, affixing it with the screws specific to 2.5" drives. We know that a lot of readers are familiar with 2.5"-to-3.5" bay adapters that used to be required to mount SSDs, but the good news is that those can now be relegated to the dust bin of history. There is no need at all to use these adapters in modern cases. In fact, many cases now have 2.5"-specific drive sleds, which you can see mounted above the power supply in the above photo. We chose not to use them in order to minimize cable clutter that could interfere with our side panel, but depending on the case you choose and the number of drives you have, you may find these sleds very useful. 

Also of note in this rear compartment is the fan hub, visible right next to the bundle of power cables snaking their way into the main compartment. We chose not to use the hub for most of our fans, and we encourage you to consider the trade-offs such hubs always require. Some are controlled by a 3-way switch, others by a PWM motherboard header, or in the case of our SilverStone PM01, have no controls at all. The truth is that no matter what, these options are going to be inferior to using direct motherboard controls via dedicated headers for each case fan, assuming you have a sufficient quantity of them. That's because once you attach a bunch of fans to a fan hub, you lose the ability to independently control them, and in most cases, you also lose the ability to monitor them. While a PWM hub will accept commands from a motherboard's PWM controller, you won't actually be able to see the RPM levels your fans are spinning at. All of this may seem a little over the top detail-wise, but if you're building a super-high-end machine, you'll probably want to tailor the cooling exactly to your specifications.

950 Pro

Now, while older case and drive designs would dictate that we'd be done once we loaded up our drive cages with all of our drives, a new SSD standard has turned that concept on its head. Pictured here is the Samsung 950 Pro M.2, exemplifying the new standard format for ultra-high-performance SSDs. In reality, the transition to a smaller form factor for SSDs has been a long time coming. The only reason the first widely-available consumer SSDs, released way back in 2008, even took on the 2.5" form factor was that this was the smallest standard then in use. But SSDs are just a collection of memory chips and controllers, after all, and certainly don't need as much space as a spinning platter, even the small ones  used for laptop drives. And while miniaturization isn't exactly a priority when building a PC in a big tower case, the M.2 standard has other benefits as well. First, it requires no additional cables, so the SATA power and data cables that every 2.5" SSD requires are avoided with an M.2 drive. Second, it makes it easier to move a motherboard from case to case, as the M.2 SSD comes along for the ride, just like the CPU and memory. It would seem pretty silly to have these components separate from the motherboard, and from our point of view, it's just as silly at this point to have your OS drive separate from the motherboard as well.

M.2 insert

As you can see in the photo above, Samsung has unfortunately affixed its label for purposes of marketing photos, rather than for getting just the right look once installed. Ah, well, you can't win 'em all! Luckily, it's pretty easy to install, but do take note: the tiny screw that you'll need to affix to lock an M.2 drive into place cannot be tightened with a standard #2 Phillips screwdriver. You'll actually need to use a smaller "jeweler's-type" screwdriver to secure your M.2 drive into place.

You can of course build a high-end system today using only traditional 2.5" and 3.5" drives in your system, but you'll be missing out on one of the coolest innovations in modern PC design!

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