How to Upgrade/Install a CPU

Ready to get started? It’s time to explain how to upgrade/install a CPU. Initially, it is not very difficult to upgrade/install a CPU. This will be a guide to give everyone the information and tools that are needed to get a new CPU into a computer. Upgrading or installing a CPU is something that many fear.

Especially if no one has never opened a computer before. Or it is a first time learning how to upgrade/install a CPU. So for this guide, it will cover all of the steps before, during, and after actually installing or upgrading the CPU such as pricing, and how to decide on which processor to go with. 

That includes the compatibility of a new processor with the already existing motherboard. Follow that with a quick reminder of what upgrading the current CPU will do for a computer and then getting into the actual steps for installing a brand new CPU. 

The good news is, installing a CPU isn’t too difficult. It just takes a little bit of patience and time as it’s the very center of the whole system. The main time spent will be preparing for the process of taking it out. Also, some good amount of time could be spent on making sure that all of the materials are in hand such as thermal paste, alcohol and paper towels, anti-static band, and a safe flat workspace. Finally!

Let’s jump into this guide to get in on how to correctly upgrade/install a CPU.

CPU Compatibility to Upgrade/Install into the Motherboard

Nothing will stop the CPU upgrade in its tracks faster than finding out that the computer cannot support the new processor. The bad news is that this requires a lot of research upfront to confirm what will and won’t work.

Ready for the great news? 

I have already done a substantial amount of research to help anyone with the compatibility issues between a CPU and motherboard. 

The Socket Type Needed to Upgrade/Install a CPU to the Motherboard

i9 processor
Image Credit: Intel

The general idea behind compatibility between the CPU and motherboard is the socket type. This is usually displayed when first looking at a part that gets an immediate interest. 

For example, let’s take this Intel Core i9-9900K 3.6 GHz 8-Core Processor – 16 MB – LGA 1151 Socket. As seen this Socket type is an LGA1151. That is the key. Now the only requirement is to find out the socket type that fits a motherboard. 

computer specs
Image Credit: Simple How To Tips

There are different ways to download and obtain information for finding what kind of socket type that meets the needs of a motherboard. I am very hesitant in today’s age to just start downloading things on a personal computer or even a laptop. 

So I found two ways to make things simple. The first approach is just simply googling a motherboard with a specific brand in mind and if already owning one it should show the tech specifications section. 

The second way includes using the Windows’ System Information utility. Windows 10 users can access this menu by going to Start and typing “System Information” and selecting the application. Alternatively, hit the Windows key + R to open the Run window, then type “msinfo32” and hit Enter.

Woah! Information overload, but stick with me here!

This is a model motherboard (ASUS ROG Strix Z390-E Gaming LGA 1151 (300 Series) Intel Z390 SATA 6Gb/s ATX Intel Motherboard). As seen in the example from above, this motherboard has the socket type LGA 1151. 

If wanting to know more about this topic, I have helpful guides on processors and motherboards. Now that all of the tools have been provided to check the compatibility of each part and hone in on the process of upgrading/installing a CPU. 

Upgrading to a new CPU

Are you ready?

Now that it’s known how to double-check if a CPU is compatible with the motherboard. It’s time to decide on upgrading to the new CPU. Before even starting the installation process, the decision to upgrade the processor or just get the same one is an influential choice. The idea is that there are two options. Get a new, more powerful CPU, or just get the same one just a newer version of it. 

Getting a new CPU includes making sure it’s compatible with the motherboard as talked about above. It also means a possible upgrade for the other parts of the computer such as the motherboard itself, the GPU, and the Power supply. 

It’s an option to upgrade the one part you need, but there are times when it is necessary to upgrade multiple parts of the computer. This can happen by upgrading the CPU and a week from then, that motherboard will go bad, and/or the GPU will be finished as well. These things can happen when considering what parts to upgrade. Just keep this in the back of your mind as we move forward!

Sometimes it is better to upgrade multiple parts at once as opposed to just one. However, like I said before, there is nothing wrong with just upgrading the one part. Especially if it is hindering a computer greatly.

The second thing to consider is getting the same version of the CPU that’s use currently. The method kind of ties into the above statement about upgrading multiple parts. 

This just takes the opposite approach to that method. I’ll admit it: I did this mainly for my computer so I figured giving you all the options would be best. Not only does this save money, but allows us to use skills that were just acquired. 
Also, it’s not needed to be certain if it’s compatible because.. Been there done that! Once you have made the decision, next is to begin the process of upgrading/installing the CPU. 

Steps to Follow When Looking to Upgrade/Install a CPU

  • Step 1: Find a work area that is safe for a computer
  • Step 2: Gather Tools Needed
  • Step 3: (Optional) Back-Up Files
  • Step 4: Removing Old CPU
  • Step 5: Installing New CPU
  • Step 6: Troubleshoot If Needed

Step 1: Find a work area that is safe for a computer

The first and presumably most important step is making sure there is a flat safe work area that will help out tremendously. Mainly when taking apart the entire computer. Organization is key when having tons of little screws, different parts and or cords. My recommendation would be a larger table or even a flat wooden floor. 

Why? Well, it’s easier to see and spread out while safely maneuvering around the computer without losing parts. Not only is having a work area that is secure and organized important, but this allows the layout to keep track of parts and to label them. 

From personal experience, this setup will help to not lose any screws and especially when ready to install the new CPU. It is almost like reverse-engineering the process of taking apart the computer. With any process, make assured to have the right accessories… 

Step 2: Gather Tools Needed

Gather all the tools that might be needed. It is a short list, but a must-have. This includes: a soft cloth or paper towels, rubbing alcohol and thermal paste. You’ll most certainly need a screwdriver, although what kind depends on how the heatsink and computer case are secured to the computer. 

Look, I got by just fine with a small Phillips head but it could be different for others for setup. I would also highly recommend an anti-static band if you want to play things safe. It has never happened to me when tinkering around with hardware, but you can never be too safe. Can you?I don’t think so. Just ground yourself every so often. You can do this with anything, from a sink faucet to the outside of your computer case, so long as it’s made of metal.

Lastly, a useful item to keep any space organized includes a bowl to hold loose screws or even a plastic tray. Also, something soft to lay the computer cases outside walls on. Are you looking for scratched glass? No.

I know because my case includes a glass wall and I don’t want that to be damaged or dinged. Hardwood floor is best to work on as you want to avoid rugs and carpets. Finally, take off socks if especially superstitious and don’t wear a fuzzy sweater.

Step 3: (Optional) Back-Up Files

This part is optional as some people don’t mind losing what they have on the computer. Maybe they don’t feel the need as they know nothing will harm the computer in the process of upgrading/installing a CPU. It is noteworthy though as you could hold on to valuables such as old family photos, important documents, etc.

The best way to back up your files is to have an external hard drive such as a USB. You could go as far as to have a larger 1 TB external hard drive so you can store ALL of the information you need to socket away.

Another way could be doing a backup in windows. You do this by selecting the Start button, then Control Panel System and Maintenance > Backup and Restore.

Do one of the following:

  • If you have never used Windows for Backup before, or you upgraded the version of Windows, select Set up backup, and then follow the steps in the wizard.
  • You could have created a backup before. If so you can wait for your regularly scheduled backup to occur, or you can manually create a new backup by selecting Back up now.
  • Finally, if you’ve created a backup before, but want to make a new one; full backup rather than updating the old one. Select Create newfull backup, and then follow the steps in the wizard.

The final way you could back up your files would be to create a restore point. You can use a restore point to restore your computer’s files to an earlier point in time. These are automatically created each week by System Restore and when your PC detects change, like when you install a new application or driver. 
Here’s how to create a restore point.

  1. Right-click the Start button, then select Control Panel > System and Maintenance > System.
  2. In the left pane, select System protection.
  3. Select the System Protection tab, and then select Create.
  4. In the System Protection dialog box, type a description, and then select Create.

Restore

  1. Go to the Start button and right-click, then select Control Panel > System and Maintenance > Backup and Restore.
  2. You can do one of these to restore:
  • To restore your files, choose Restore my files
  • To restore the files of all users, choose Restore all users’ files

No matter what way you choose to back up your files, it is completely optional. Now let’s move on to removing the CPU.

Step 4: Removing Old CPU

Being by removing all the outside frames of your computer case. Find a clear spot to lay them in, especially if they are glass. You are just trying to create a large workspace so you don’t fumble on something and end up breaking apart.

opening up computer to dirty inside
Image Credit: Pcsalesservice

You can keep things as clean as you can inside your computer. But at a certain point, you just accept the madness for what it is. Now that the computer has been opened, it never hurts to grab a can of compressed air and blow the dust out of everything. In another article that I wrote, keeping your computer clean should be the easy part!

keep inside of computer clean

Remove The Heatsink

remove heat sink
Image Credit: Banggood USA

The heatsink is the part of your computer that connects to your processor on one end, and your fan on the other end. The heatsink’s function is to collect and dissipate heat generated by the CPU. You will need to remove it before you can access the CPU. Exactly how you do this will depend on what kind of heatsink you have. But you will probably have to unscrew the harness that is holding it down on the motherboard. 

Make sure not to use too much force to pull it out. Hardware doesn’t usually require force to be removed. So if something doesn’t come loose at first, try looking into a video displaying how to remove said part.

Clean Off the Older Thermal Paste

clean older thermal paste
Image Credit: TehnoBlog

It isn’t the end of the world if you left the old thermal paste on the bottom of the heat sink. However, it is good practice to always clean off the old paste. It won’t hurt the hardware by not cleaning it off. But you don’t want a layer of thermal paste on top of another layer of thermal paste since this would reduce its conductivity and make the heatsink less effective.

It isn’t too difficult to remove as that’s why we included rubbing alcohol and a paper towel. Make sure to do this away from the computer so you don’t get any stray bits of paper towel or alcohol on the hardware. You can never be too safe!

Remove The Old Processor

remove old processor
Image Credit: HowToGeek

Once you fully remove the heat sink, you will see a harness housing the old processor. There should be a level somewhere around it to lift the harness off the processor. With this entire guide, make sure not to use too much pressure. You wouldn’t want to snap the lever or even harness off the motherboard. I couldn’t tell you how disastrous that would be. 

With all components in a computer, gently putting pressure is by far the best method. If you find yourself struggling, just take a second and then look for the reason you can’t seem to undo the lever. If you need to, watch a short guide on someone doing it to get a better idea of how to approach removing the harness.

Once the harness is off, there is nothing left holding the CPU in place and can remove it from the socket. Remember to wear an anti-static band while touching around it. 

I agree: Not wanting some random static to shock your prized motherboard!

Step 5: Installing New CPU

Secure the new processor

This is the easiest step in the whole process. Just take the new CPU out of the casing and gently put it into the motherboard socket. There will be small edges on each side that look like sliders to indicate that it is fully in position.

securing the new processor on the motherboard

Once sure it is in place, reverse the process and secure the house around the processor.

Apply thermal paste

There are as many ways to apply thermal paste as there are stars in the sky. Simply find a method that best suits you and go with it. Some different ways to apply the paste are as follows:

  • Drawing an X 
  • Making a cross
  • Spreading it in advance with a thing coat
  • Letting gravity do the work 
  • The old smaller than a dime method
  • The Grain of Rice
  • What I like to call the Hersey Kiss: a small dab of the paste and then slowly release the paste tube 

Put a personal twist on it!

Call the method whatever you like. Unless building some kind of supercharged monster of a computer, how the thermal paste is applied does not make or break it. 

I just use a tiny bit and spread it out thinly without going all the way to the edge. This gave the edges some breathing room and allowed the paste to spread after securing the heat sink. It helps with the heat if the thermal paste at the end of the process can always be redone. So if you don’t get it right the first time, it isn’t the end of the computer.

Reinstall the heatsink

install the heat sink back into the computer

Now it is time to reverse the process. Look for the screws set aside that secured the heat sink and put it back the way you found it. You don’t need it so tight that it will bend or break. Just enough to make sure it doesn’t wobble around inside the computer.

Close up the computer

That’s it! Finally, a nice huge sigh of relief. 

Boot up the computer and make sure everything is working as intended. The goal here is to make sure the computer recognizes the new CPU. The BIOS should see the presence of a new CPU and go through a short setup wizard. Follow the prompts, and do a reboot of the computer. I would wait just to make sure everything is working before closing up the computer completely. Might save you some time when you are troubleshooting.

Give the computer a few hours being on to spread the thermal paste more to help with the heat. While this is going on, try to tax the computer CPU by playing a game or running a lot of applications at once. There are many ways to see how hot the computer gets. 

The way I check is usually through the motherboard’s system that allows me to control fan speed. This is a tool that’s found in a computer set up; it should be viewed after the session then choose what your preference is.

Step 6: Troubleshoot If Needed

Well, we aren’t done just yet, let’s finish strong! 

The last and final part of this process is troubleshooting. I agree: It can be aggravating but trust me, this is where the problems usually come in to play if there is any. Just do some testing and make sure the system recognizes the processor; or doesn’t affect the daily activities on the system and no parts are tinkering around the inside of the computer. 

As with all guides, you are officially done upgrading/installing a CPU and I congratulate you. I bid you the best.