How to Build a PC - Installing the CPU Cooler and Storage Drives

By Jeff Checchi, on December 13, 2013

At this point you have already installed the CPU into the motherboard socket and locked it into place; now it’s time to attach the CPU cooler.


There are many different types of CPU coolers, from the stock air coolers that Intel and AMD ship with many of their CPUs, to the large aftermarket air coolers and all in one liquid coolers like our Hydro Series coolers. Installation will be a little different from cooler to cooler, but there are some basics that will be good to know, no matter what type of cooler you plan to use.

First, you want to make sure that both the surface of the CPU and the surface of the cooler are clean. You can use a little bit of isopropyl alcohol on a paper towel to wipe down the surfaces.


If this is the first time you have mounted a brand new cooler, then you may already have thermal interface material (TIM) pre-applied to the surface of the cooler, which means it should already be clean and ready to be mounted.


Above: One of our Hydro Series coolers, with TIM pre-applied

If you are reusing the cooler from a previous build, or it does not have TIM pre-applied, then you will need to first apply the TIM before we can mount the cooler. The TIM fills in any microscopic gaps in the surface of both the CPU and the cooler to make sure that you have the maximum possible heat transfer from the CPU to the cooler.

When it comes to thermal interface materials, there is a lot of debate over both the best type of TIM and the best way to apply it. Typically, you want to place a small pea sized drop on the center of the CPU, but I would suggest following the specific instructions that came with your cooler or your TIM.


AMD and Intel both have different methods of securing the CPU cooler to the CPU since they have different socket types, but with most typical stock coolers that ship with the CPU, the installation process is pretty straight forward. With aftermarket coolers, there are usually a few extra steps to follow during the installation. Aftermarket coolers will usually have a separate backplate that needs to be attached before you can secure the cooler. With some coolers you may need to remove the stock cooling bracket that comes pre-mounted to the board, and with others you can leave it in place.

If you are using a Hydro Series liquid CPU cooler from Corsair, we have many “How to” videos on our Youtube channel which describe the installation process for most of our coolers:

If you have other aftermarket coolers, you will need to follow their mounting instructions since most coolers have their own specific installation methods.

Typically, storage devices come in 3 different form factors; 5.25in, 3.5in and 2.5in.


5.25in is the common form factor for optical media drives like DVD and Blu ray readers and writers.

3.5in is the common form factor for HDDs.

2.5in is the common form factor for SSDs and laptop HDDs.

In a modern system, installing these drives is a breeze, especially if you have a Corsair case. All of Corsair’s cases have tool-free installation for all drive types. For 5.25in and 2.5in drives, you just slide the drive into its slot and it will lock into place.

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There are release latches which will allow you to remove the drive if you ever need to. 3.5in drives will usually use a caddy type system where you remove the caddy, insert the HDD (or other 3.5in device) and then slide the caddy back into its slot which will lock it in place. With tool free caddies, they will have 4 pins which will fit into the mounting holes on the sides of the HDD.

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Once the drives are mounted in place, you will need to connect both a SATA power and data cable to each drive. Both SATA power and data cables can only be plugged into the drive in one orientation, so make sure you align the notch on the correct side.


The SATA connectors on your drives can be very fragile, so be careful not to apply to much vertical pressure near the connectors. The other end of the data cable will need to be plugged into a SATA port on your motherboard.  Many motherboards will have multiple SATA controllers associated with different ports on the board, so you will want to consult your motherboards manual to make sure you are plugging your devices into the correct SATA ports. For example you may have some SATA II ports, SATA III ports and possibly a pair of ports used specifically for RAID configurations.

If you have been following this "How to Build a PC" series, then you know there is only one thing left, installing the GPU! We will cover that in the next part to conclude the installation section. Following that we will talk about some of the basics of configuring your BIOS and getting Windows installed.