How to Replace a Motherboard

And How to Remove Old Hardware to Prepare Your Computer for a Motherboard Swap

What to Know

  • You must remove your old hardware and motherboard before installing the new one.
  • You may use your old hardware, such as hard drives and graphics cards, with a new motherboard.
  • You may need to acquire and install new hardware such as a new CPU or RAM compatible with your new motherboard.

This guide will explain how to replace the motherboard inside your computer, whether you’re upgrading or you need to swap out a damaged or broken board.

There is some prep involved, as you must remove the old hardware components and your old motherboard before installing a new one.

What to Do Before Installing a New Motherboard

New motherboard being installed into computer case

Getty Images / EyeEm

There are some steps you should follow before installing a new motherboard. Of course, if you have a brand new case that's empty, you may skip this section.

Here's what you must do to prepare for the new motherboard installation:

  • Disconnect all peripherals, including the mouse, keyboard, Ethernet cable, external hard drives, printers, and more.
  • Make sure the computer is off, and the power supply switch is set to 0. Then, unplug the power supply cable.
  • Lay the chassis or case carefully on its side with the right side facing up (right side while facing the rear, left side while facing the front).
  • Loosen and remove the thumbscrews at the back of the case, and then slide off and lift the side panel.
  • Disconnect all internal hardware, including the graphics card, internal hard drives, RAM, system fans, CPU fan, and CPU. If you have a water cooler or an aftermarket AIO, you will need to uninstall that first. Be sure to place all hardware somewhere safe and static-free.
  • Unplug the power supply cables.
  • Using a computer-safe screwdriver, remove the screws securing the motherboard to the case and the stand-offs underneath.
  • Carefully remove the old motherboard from the case and be sure to place it somewhere safe.

After following the suggestions above, you should be looking at an empty computer case. An alternative is to install your motherboard and hardware in a brand new case, which would mean you don't have to remove anything.

What Hardware Should Be Replaced?

Depending on the old motherboard and how it compares to the new board you will be installing, you may be able to keep your old hardware and reuse it. Sometimes, however, hardware is incompatible, which would mean you need to replace it.

Here are some of the hardware considerations you should make before swapping a motherboard:

  • Is the CPU socket the same? If the answer is no, or it’s a different brand entirely (AMD vs. Intel), then you will need a new CPU.
  • What are the RAM specifications of the new board? DDR3 RAM, for example, is not compatible with DDR4 rated slots.
  • What are the power supply requirements of all connected hardware? If you’re upgrading to a brand new GPU, you may need to install a more powerful power supply. On the other hand, if the power supply connected to your old motherboard is quite a few years old, you should probably think about upgrading anyway.

Hard drives occupy a middle ground, as they are universally compatible in most cases, especially if they are SATA drives. However, you might consider upgrading if you want a solid-state drive or a drive with faster performance.

How to Replace the Motherboard

Assuming you’ve already emptied your case by uninstalling the old motherboard and hardware unless you’re using a new case, it’s time to install your new equipment.

Here’s how to install your new motherboard:

  1. Ensure the case is open, which requires loosening and removing the side panel thumbscrews and taking off the side panel.

  2. If the case is new, remove everything inside, including loose cables, plastic, and so on. If the case is old, move any old cords out of the way, including power supply cables. Ideally, everything should be disconnected and uninstalled from the case.

  3. Taking note of the motherboard size, install your stand-offs at all four corners. You should also install stand-offs evenly throughout the middle, where the motherboard will be seated. Install enough stand-offs to suspend the motherboard and keep it from touching the sides of the case.

  4. Install the CPU by securing it in the socket and locking the clasp.

  5. Depending on the size of your CPU fan or water cooling system, you may consider installing that after you install your RAM. Follow the directions for the cooler and install it using the included brackets. Double-check to ensure you removed all plastic from your components, including the bottom of your CPU fan. Also, spread the right amount of thermal paste between the CPU and the fan.

  6. Install your RAM modules by pressing firmly at both ends until the clasps lock into place.

  7. Insert your motherboard’s I/O shield into place at the back of the case.

  8. Carefully slide your motherboard into place inside the chassis, ensuring the back panel is correctly lined up, and the screw holes are also lined up with the stand-offs below.

  9. Using a computer-safe screwdriver, secure the motherboard to the stand-offs with the appropriate screws.

  10. Install the power supply either at the top or bottom of the case and adjust the cables so there’s room to reach the motherboard and your other hardware. Don’t forget to secure the power supply using screws!

  11. Plugin the power connectors, including the 24-pin and the 8-pin connectors.

  12. Looking down from above, install the case controls to the appropriate headers on the bottom right of the motherboard. The cables vary from case to case, but the most important is the Power Switch and the Reset Switch, as well as the LED indicators.

  13. Install any additional hardware you have at the ready, including hard drives, expansion cards, graphics cards, and so on.

  14. Install your case fans, and carefully run the cables to a compatible fan header on the motherboard.

Turn on the computer and enjoy the fruits of your labor! If the computer does not power on, or it powers on but does not POST, you will need to do some troubleshooting to see where you went wrong.

Can I Swap Motherboards Without Reinstalling Windows?

The Windows operating system is stored on a hard drive, so swapping out motherboards or installing a new one should have almost no effect on your Windows experience. When you first boot up Windows, after installing the new motherboard, you may have to install related software drivers, but that process should not affect your existing install, including your data and applications.

You should be able to remove the hard drive from your old computer and plug it right into your new motherboard. When all of your hardware is installed, and you’re ready to start Windows, it should boot just like it did on your old computer. The exception is if there’s a hardware failure or problem with your new equipment. If you installed the hardware incorrectly or there’s a failure, the computer may not boot.

Can You Just Replace a Motherboard?

Yes and no. The answer is a little more complicated because it depends on what hardware was connected to your old motherboard. PCIe expansion cards and hard drives are almost always universally compatible. However, there are different types of RAM, CPUs, and sometimes even power supplies.

What that means is when you disconnect and uninstall your old motherboard, some of the hardware you have installed may not be compatible with your new motherboard. If that’s the case, you’ll also need to replace some of the other hardware—namely, your RAM or CPU.

For example, you cannot just install an AMD CPU in a motherboard with an Intel socket. They are different sizes and configurations, and the chipsets on the board are not compatible.

If all of your old hardware is compatible with your new motherboard, then yes, you can do a 1:1 swap. More often than not, you should plan to buy and install new hardware in addition to your motherboard.

  • Does a motherboard battery need replacing?

    A dead CMOS battery can cause errors about the clock or CMOS when starting the computer and a red light on the motherboard. To replace it, unplug the computer from the power source, remove the main battery if it is a laptop, and open the case or battery panel to remove and replace the CMOS battery. Refer to the manufacturer for assistance locating the battery, as every computer is different.

  • Can you replace the CPU on a motherboard?

    You can upgrade a CPU, and while it is not incredibly complex, you need to be careful as there is potential to damage the CPU and the motherboard. So first, be sure to select a CPU compatible with your motherboard. Then, before replacing the CPU, back up any critical data and prepare the surface, making sure it's clear of dust, dirt, and debris and is not a conductive surface.

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