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How to Safely Take Apart a Desktop PC

written by: David Braun•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 11/7/2009

Taking apart your desktop PC computer shouldn't be a chore or anything to be afraid of. With a screwdriver, this guide, and a little patience, anyone should be able to do it with ease.

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    Getting Started

    PRINT THIS GUIDE BEFORE BEGINNING!

    Tools required: Small Screwdriver (usually a phillips type)

    Recommended: Static bags (for placing loose parts), Compressed Air

    Getting started is easy. Just shut off the power to your computer and unplug it.You'll also want to carefully detatch any other cables that are connected to your system. Some cables have tabs or screws that must be taken into consideration. Always make sure that you can see what you are doing, and never try to force anything. When in doubt, stop and use your resources to get help. Working with desktop computers can take a lot of patience, but in most cases, the answer is a simple one.

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    Breaking It Down

    Once you have the power unplugged to your desktop PC, you're ready to open the case. Most computer cases have a side panel that comes off, but there are still some machines where the entire outer shell of the case slides off in one piece. Look for a couple screws on the back of your case, along the edges, where it might be keeping your desktop case from opening up. When you've located the screws remove them and place to the side. Gently slide the cover open. It might stick a little, that's okay.

    Now that the cover is off, you can see all the internal guts of your computer. There should also be a sort of metal cage, protecting your hard drive. At the back, on the top, is the power supply. This is one of the most common pieces of a desktop PC to fail, rendering it inoperable. Take a good close look at it and locate the screws that hold it in place. Unless you have a bad power supply (PSU), you'll be leaving it in place.

    Along the back edge of the case will be some screws holding your video card and any other expansion cards you may have, in place. Choosing the card with the most exposure, remove the screw. The circuit board at the bottom of the case is known as the motherboard. Some video and sound cards have release clips that will need to be activated before it can be removed. Check the base of the card, where it connects to the motherboard, for a release, before attempting to remove it. Detatch any cables leading away from the card. Once you're certain it's safe, gently pull the card from its slot. Don't wiggle and don't force it. One by one, remove all your cards in this manner.

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    A Mess of Cables

    Now you're likely to have a bunch of cables and wires running all over inside the PC. Fortunately, these are often color coded or otherwise marked so they can only be used for the purpose which they are intended. Gently but firmly remove all these cables by gripping them at the connector and pulling them out. Never pull out a cable or wire by the wire itself.

    Once you have all the cables removed, locate the screws holding your hard drive in place. Remember, the hard drive will be protected by a sort of metal cage, which also serves as a rack. Remove the screw and slide the drive from its seat. Be extremely careful when removing this piece, as jarring physical damage can result in a loss of data. Place it inside one of the static bags. Do the same for any optical (CD/DVD) drives you may have. Often these will need to be removed from the front of the computer.

    The motherboard will be held in with a number of screws. Normally, these screws have slightly rounded heads. Locate them and one at a time, remove them. Make sure to note the locations you removed them from, as they can only go back into the same holes. Once you have all the screws removed, lift the motherboard from your case and place it on or in one of the bags. Be careful not to bend any pins or dislodge any resistors. Your desktop PC is now dismantled.

    In the next article we'll discuss removing and replacing a desktop processor (CPU) for an upgrade, followed by how to put it all back together properly.

    Wanting to disassemble a Laptop PC, read this three part series on How to Take Apart a Laptop - The Basics.