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  1. Computer Skills
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Computers

How to Build a Steam Machine for $500: Part 2

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Difficulty:IntermediateLength:MediumLanguages:

The parts have arrived and now it's time to build! In Part 1 of How to Build a Steam Machine for $500, I chose the best components I could find (given the budget constraints) to create a lean, mean, living room gaming machine. In this tutorial, I'll show you how to assemble them into a working system, ready for the SteamOS installation.

All the parts have been purchased and now it's time to build.

Out of Body Experience

Despite some sage advice, I decided to assemble everything with no test boots along the way. I ended up with a non-functioning computer and had to practically start over. 

I could have prevented that unnecessary stress by assembling the core components outside the case for the first boot and then moving it to the case as detailed below. Save yourself some time by not making the mistake I made.

Step-by-Step

Motherboard

  • Place the motherboard on the cardboard box it came in or another clean, firm, and non-conductive surface. 
  • Move the processor socket arm out of it's clip by pushing it to the right. 
  • Open the socket by lifting the arm. 
  • Remove the socket protector and check for bent pins on the socket. Bent pins could spell a premature demise for the processor or prevent it from booting at all. 
Check your socket and processor for bent pins as they can damage the CPU or cause the computer to fail to boot.

Processor (CPU)

  • Handle the processor carefully and, as with the motherboard, investigate it for bent pins. Assuming all is well, locate the gold arrow on the back of the processor. 
  • Orientate the processor to line up with the gold arrow on the motherboard's socket. 
  • Holding the processor by it's edges, gently lay the processor into the socket. 
  • Lightly push down on the back to ensure it is seated in the socket properly. 
Here, the processor is seated correctly in the socket with the socket arm returned to the locked position. It does require a good deal of pressure to latch the socket arm.
  • Push the motherboard's socket arm back down and slide it left under the edge of the socket, thereby securing the processor. This may require a good amount of pressure.
  • Find the CPU cooler fan that came with the CPU and align its plastic legs with the four holes on the motherboard at the corners of the CPU socket. This Intel processor uses push-pins. 
  •  Once aligned, push them down through the holes in the motherboard, until you hear a click
  • Connect the CPU fan controller wires to the corresponding 4-pin circuit on the motherboard.
This is the underside of the CPU fan. The four plastic pins (highlighted in blue) will snap through the holes in the motherboard at the corners of the processor socket. Note, there is already thermal paste applied in the center of the heatsink.

Find the control wires from your case–these are isolated thin wires, pictured below–and connect them to the PANEL pins on the motherboard. 

Warning! The pins have distinct polarities so be sure to match them correctly. There should be an arrow on the wire connectors denoting the positive (+) terminal.

The panel wires connect the case's buttons to the controller on the motherboard so the case lights function and you can power on or reset the computer via the case's buttons.

Memory (RAM)

  • Locate the RAM slot on the motherboard. 
  • Ensure the slot's clasps are open by pushing them outward from the slot. 
  • Holding the memory stick by it's edges, orientate it to line up with its corresponding slot on the motherboard, as indicated by the notch on each. 
  • Insert the RAM stick perpendicularly to the motherboard. 
  • Apply a firm pressure and the clasps should spring up to latch the stick into place. If they do not latch, ensure the RAM is seated firmly and then fold the clasp on each side up to secure the RAM.
When you seat the RAM correctly in its motherboard slot and push down firmly, the clasps on each side of the RAM with snap into place.

Power Supply (PSU)

  • Organize the power supply cables so that none is tangled. 
  • Plug the 4-pin CPU plug into the corresponding port on the motherboard. 
  • Identify the 24-pin main plug and connect it to the motherboard. At this point, plug in the power supply to an electrical receptacle, flip the switch on the power supply, and press the power button on the case.
Once the power supply cables are in place for the main (24-pin) and processor (4-pin), you can power it on for the first time to ensure there are no system errors and that the fans work.

If the CPU fan does not spin within a few seconds, turn off the computer using the switch on the power supply and check for issue. If all is well, let the components run for 30 seconds as you listen for system beeps and ensure there are no oddities. Shut the computer off by holding the power button and then move to the next step.

Case Migration

  • With the power off, disconnect the power supply cables and case controller wires, but leave the CPU fan controller connected. 
  • Insert the metal port shield–packaged with the motherboard–into the opening in the back of the case. It should snap in with firm pressure along the edges. 
  • Screw in the brass standoff screws that keep the motherboard from resting on the case's bottom surface.
Lower the motherboard into the case by holding its edges or the CPU fan. Then, after aligning it with the port shield, secure it into the standoff screws.
  • Holding the motherboard by the edges and the CPU fan (since it is firmly secured through the motherboard), rest the board on the standoff screws, aligning it with the port shield at the back up the case. 
  • Once the ports are lined up with the port shields, you may need to push the board slightly toward the shield so the ports extend through the shield. 
  • Screw the motherboard into the standoffs with the screws provided.
Be sure to attach the cables that are deep in the case before securing the power supply in place so you have more room to work. Though it may look upside-down, the power supply is actually oriented correctly since it vents out the top of the case.
  • Attach the hard drive's SATA cable to the motherboard, but leave the other side disconnected for now. 
  • Reconnect the 24-pin power supply cable, the 4-pin CPU cable, the 4-pin case fan cabe, and the case controller wires.
  • You can also now connect the USB header cable from the case that will connect the case ports to the motherboard. 
  • Boot the system again to ensure everything still works. Finally, attach the power supply to the case.

Hard Drive

Because the power supply takes up a lot of space, it may be tedious at times to connect the remaining parts. To help mitigate some of these issues, pull the power cable for the remaining components (hard drive, video card, and case fan) through the top of the case so they are easier to access.

In this case, there were ample options to mount the hard drive. I mounted mine to the side of the case, just above the video card.

Connect the SATA cable to the hard drive and mount it to the case with the screws provided. My case had a few different options for mounting it, but I found the side of the case to be the best fit. If your build is different than mine, investigate these alternatives if they work better for your build.

Video Card (GPU)

  • Remove the PCI-E slot covers on the back of the case. I'm installing a double-stacked GPU so I removed both covers. 
  • Orientate the video card so the ports face the rear of the case and connect the PCI-E power supply cable to the card. 
Remove the port covers on the back of the case before installing the video card.

Holding the card by the top edge or by the plastic fan shield, lower the card into the PCI-E slot on the motherboard. This may require looking at computer from the side since your view from the top will be obstructed by the power supply and other components.

When the case is so compact, it sometimes helps to connect the component outside of the case before sliding it into place.

When the card is aligned with the slot, push down firmly. You can then secure the card in place with the screws at the back of the case that hold the ports firmly in the case openings.

Hot Mess

This case and power supply came with sets of cable ties for cable management. There aren't a lot of options for streamlining cable routes in this case, but I was able to group a lot of the cables and either tie them to the cases sides or bundle them away from the CPU or GPU fans. without blocking the case's vents.

The Cooler Master case came with all the hardware need, plus some cable ties to help with managing all the wiring.

Final Steps

Reassemble the case if you've removed any side beams or other components and then slide the case's cover back in place and secure it with the thumb screws. Flip the switch on the power supply and boot the computer one more time to make sure everything is spinning and churning along happily. To check the system temperature, you can boot into the BIOS by holding the F2 or Delete key while booting.

Assuming everything boots, consider it a job well done. Grab an HDMI cable and hook it to your television.

Conclusion

The Steam Machine build is a success! After investing time in researching the parts, it's great to see the project come together and to have a working system. 

In Part three of this series, I'll show you how to install SteamOS from a USB drive, test a few games, and examine the pros and cons. If you have any advice from a build of your own, please share it in the comments section.

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