How to Upgrade/Install a Motherboard

I’m sure you’ll agree: The installation process of a motherboard is challenging that comes with some complications. A motherboard is the most complex component of a computer as it’s the core of a PC. This is your guide on how to upgrade/install a motherboard.

Modern operating systems have taken a great deal of heat out of changing the PC component. The more annoying aspect of this process is the software activation. I will address all the issues at hand to safely upgrade/install a motherboard for your computer. 

Before choosing a motherboard, understand the purpose of the system you are upgrading or building; complications exist within this specific piece of hardware. It will make things confusing for anyone. 

Issues to upgrade/install a motherboard

Socket Type of Motherboard

For example, there are motherboards with different CPU sockets that everyone should be aware of. Take Intel-based motherboards for instance. They have four active socket formats: LGA775, LGA 1156, LGA 1366, and LGA 1155. If in the market for a motherboard, these socket formats might seem familiar to you.

Upgrade/Install a Motherboard based on Form Factors

Another complication is the size of the system. If a case only supports ATX motherboards, anything that indicates ATX or smaller will fit. What does the title ATX mean for a motherboard? Advanced Technology Extended; The PC motherboard that took the place of the Baby AT design. 

The ATX layout rotated the CPU and memory 90 degrees; This allows full-length expansions to be plugged into wall sockets. The power supply blows air over the CPU rather than pulling air through the chassis. That means ATX could be considered the larger motherboard compared to others. 

That plays a little bit into compatibility as the case can be just as important as say the motherboard. Motherboards come in three traditional sizes: ATX, micro-ATX (mATX), and Mini-ITX. More on that topic in a guide on motherboards I wrote. 

It could help you decide on what kind of motherboard and even the case. Once a motherboard has been determined upon that is likewise compatible, the following action is moving onto the steps listed below on how to upgrade/install a motherboard. 

Steps on How to Upgrade/Install a Motherboard

1: Find a large flat work area that is also safe for a computer
2: Gather Tools Needed
3: (Optional) Back-Up Files
4: Disconnecting everything plugged into the Motherboard
5: Uninstall the CPU 
6: Uninstall the GPU
7: Uninstall RAM
8: Removing Motherboard
9: Installing New Motherboard
10: Reinstall CPU and GPU
11: Reconnect everything to the Motherboard
12:Troubleshoot If Needed

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

large work area for upgrading installing motherboard

The first step is creating a flat workspace that is safe for a computer; it could be a table or a hardwood floor. This is the foundation for any computer work. When you upgrade/install a motherboard or any computer part; you want a nice large workspace. This honestly helps everything so you don’t lose parts and to help stay organized when taking apart the computer. The steps it takes to upgrade/install a motherboard is a lengthy manner. We don’t want to miss anything when it comes to this piece of hardware.

Make sure to have a safe flat surface to work on, by doing this it will help out tremendously. Organization is key when there are tons of little screws, different parts and or cords. I used a larger table along with a level wooden floor. This method helped me spread out and safely maneuver around the computer without losing any parts.

Not only is having a work area that is safe and organized important, but this allows you to save time when you go to put it all back together. I think we can all agree: That the frustrations when losing the screws that hold your heat sink to the motherboard.

YEAH! No thanks.

So with keeping things organized; it is almost like reverse-engineering the process of taking apart the computer. With any process, you need to make sure you have the right tools…

Step 2: Gather Tools Needed

Gather all the tools that might be needed. It is a short list, but a must-have. This is only if you are also replacing the CPU along with the Motherboard. The items include a soft cloth or paper towels, rubbing alcohol and thermal paste. 

The list of parts to upgrade/install a Motherboard is as follows: a Phillips screwdriver, multiple small bowls or trays for the screws, and an anti-static band or grounding mat. Not a super long list, however, taking apart the computer is a process you want to come prepared for! 

anti static band to prevent shocking the motherboard

You can use an anti-static band, or just ground yourself every so often. This can be utilized with anything, from a sink faucet to the outside of your computer case, so long as it’s made of metal. I have never had my hardware fail on me due to not using one while tinkering with the hardware, but you can never be too safe. 

plastic trey to hold screws that secure motherboard

Lastly, a useful item that I mentioned earlier to keep a space organized, like a bowl to hold loose screws. For example, you could even be using a plastic tray. I found that a tray was more versatile as it was flat and didn’t force the screws to go to the middle of the bowl; while using a bowl does help to contain a mess it’s harder to see all the loose screws and smaller hardware, while a tray allows us to see every piece while containing that mess. It is all preference, but at the end of the day, it is what you feel works best for you!

Also, something soft to lay the computer cases outside walls on. This is because I know my case includes a glass wall and not wanting that to be scratched or dinged. Hardwood floor is best to work on, it’s better to avoid rugs and carpets.

If superstitious stay tuned: Take off socks and do NOT wear a fuzzy sweater.

Step 3: (Optional) Back-Up Files

I cover this part in my other article when upgrading or installing the CPU. This step is identical to that guide. It is a highly used method when considering to update any new part in a computer. Especially when you upgrade/install a motherboard. So if you already know how to complete this step, skip step 4! This is optional as some people don’t mind losing what they have on the computer.

Some folks are not as partial to losing documents, pictures, or overall apps on a computer. But if like millions of others out there who store and hold on to valuables such as old family photos, important documents, etc. This will be the most useful information to use!

Hard Drive

The best way to back up your files is to have an external hard drive such as a USB. Anyone could go as far as to have a larger 1 TB external hard drive to 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 to back up any files would be to create a restore point. You can use a restore point to reclaim a computer’s files to an earlier point in time. These are automatically created each week by System Restore; when the PC detects change, like when installing 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 the files, either option is perfectly fine. Now let’s move on to unplugging everything.

Step 4: Disconnecting everything plugged into the Motherboard

So to begin with this daunting task, the first task is to make sure everything is unplugged and completely turned off. If you have a larger setup this could take a bit of time so make sure to double-check if cords are unplugged. Be careful to not rip a cord that’s still plugged into the motherboard.

Begin by removing all the outside frames of the computer case. Find a clear spot to lay them on, especially if they are glass. By expanding into a larger workspace it is not as likely to fumble on something or end up breaking a piece by accident.

Unplugging Every Cord Connecting to Motherboard

motherboard with everything plugged in

You can do this!

I would start with the basic plugs and start in a corner that best suits you. This might include the fans or the exposed plugs that are easiest to reach. Just make sure not to get lost in all those cords. This is the most difficult part to upgrade/install a new motherboard.

Follow the cords leading from all the fans depending on how many that connect to the case. My setup on the case includes 3 fans and then the fan on the heat sink. 

So look for those cords and unplug those fans.

After the fans have been unplugged now there should be a larger cord coming from the power supply. To make things easier, most of the cords that are plugged into the motherboard usually hang around the outside. 

Once the cord from the power supply is found, next is to unplug the GPU. Not only do you want to unplug the GPU from the motherboard, but also the power supply. Disconnecting everything will make things more manageable later.

Next are the hard drives that are plugged in by the SATA cords. This could be the hard drive, solid-state drive, and even disk drive if you still use one of those!

Last but not least, is to unplug EVERYTHING that’s plugged into the back of the computer. That includes the monitors, keyboard, mouse, speakers if you use those, headset, and wifi connector(only if you use an external). 
Once all of these devices are unplugged, make sure to go back and double-check that EVERYTHING is unplugged and disconnected. 

The idea behind this action is to essentially rebuild the computer. It will help to keep track of all the moving parts that are included within the computer. 

What’s next? 

Step 5: Uninstall the CPU 

Remove The Heatsink


The heatsink is a part of the computer that connects to the processor on one end, and the fan on the other end. The heatsink’s function is to collect and dissipate heat that’s generated by the CPU. 

The heatsink must be removed before you can access the CPU. This following step depends on what sort of heatsink you have, but it’s more than likely to unscrew the harness that is holding down the motherboard. When pulling out the harness make sure not to use too much force. Hardware doesn’t usually require force to be removed. So if something doesn’t come loose at first, try looking into a video displaying on how to remove said part.

Easy enough, right?

Clean Off the Older Thermal Paste

Cleaning off Older Thermal Paste on CPU to upgrade install a motherboard
Image Credit: Aron on Technology

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. 

However, you don’t want twenty layers of thermal paste on top of each other either 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. When removing build-up 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 CPU

removing the CPU by releasing the tab holding down harness
Image Credit: HowToGeek

Once the heat sink is fully removed, there you will see a harness housing the old processor. There should be a level somewhere nearby that enables the harness to lift 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 finding 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 processor from the harness.

CPU without the harness locking it in place
Image Credit: PCWorld

Once the harness is off, there is nothing left holding the CPU in place and you can remove it from the socket. Not fancying a random static to shock your prized motherboard! Remember to wear an anti-static band while touching around it. 

Related: Upgrade/Install CPU

Step 6: Uninstall the GPU

GPU or graphics card

The graphics card should be pretty visible at this point. It’s plugged into one of the slots on the motherboard. Usually, the GPU is the furthest unit if facing the underside of a computer, it has the monitor connections sticking out from the PC. 

It may or may not have cables from the power supply plugged into it. Just make sure to double-check this, as not wanting to pull out the graphics card only to rip the cord going to the power supply.

location of GPU in computer
Image Credit: Computer Hope

The picture above indicates the usual location where the GPU is placed. Just make sure to be looking at the GPU and not another part of the computer. I would assume if anyone is upgrading/installing a GPU, wanting to know what it looks like would be a great way to start. If not, I have placed a few pictures to get a good grasp of the location of where the graphics card is. 

where power supply plugs into GPU
Image Credit: Nvidia

First, look for a power connection on the installed graphics card. There’s a black plug with multiple pins, linked into either the top or tail end of the card. Unplug the cable and set it aside; if not able to see one, don’t worry about it. 
It just means the existing card doesn’t need separate power. Just make sure to double-check before moving on. The cord could just be hiding and it needs to be unplugged, otherwise, it could be ripped out the cord and ruin the pins on the hardware. 

Checking is key! Do it to be safe.

Now, look at the metal piece where the graphics card touches the back of the PC. There as seen above are one or two screws (depending on whether it’s a single or double slot card) securing it to the case. Remove these screws and set them aside they will be needed for the new card.

Removing GPU from computer

screws holding the graphics card onto the computer case
Image Credit: Digital Trends

This graphics card has two screws holding it into place on this case. They both will have to be removed.

hinge holding graphics card in place in the PCI-E socket
Image Credit: PCWorld

Now, this next part can get a little tricky, depending on how crowded the case is. The card likely has a little plastic tab that holds it securely into the slot on the motherboard. 

Following that last step will be reaching under the card and pushing that tab to release the card. Sometimes, shifting the tab down; sometimes to the side. And with bigger cards and more crowded cases, the harder it is to reach that tab.

If having trouble with this, just be patient and make sure not to force anything. Also, check out YouTube videos of people demonstrating this on different types of rigs. Again, do not force anything! It could break the hinges that secure the graphics card then leads to buying a new motherboard!

Push down on the plastic tab to release the card from the PCI-E slot.Now, be ready to pull the card out by gently grasping the card with the right (or left if left-handed) hand and pull up; start with the side closest to the back of the case. It should come free easily. If it doesn’t, it’s more than likely that the plastic tab didn’t get pushed down all the way. Just try the steps above again till the hinges get the card to be released. 

Sounding like a broken record, but please be patient with it. Do not try to rush and force the card out. I can’t begin to explain the horror of realizing of needing to upgrade to another motherboard because patience was not performed.

Related: Upgrading/Installing a GPU

Step 7: Uninstall RAM

picture of RAM

Last but not least is having to uninstall the RAM. This is close to the same process as removing the GPU by the small little plastic tab at the end of where the RAM is socketed. Put as much pressure that is needed, remember you don’t need too much. Once the tab unlocks the socket, you should be able to gently remove the RAM sticks from the sockets on the motherboard.

RAM socket location
Image Credit: Bleuwire

Once the RAM is removed we can finally move on to the step you have been waiting for! It is time to remove the motherboard.

Step 8: Removing the Motherboard

picture of motherboard
Image Credit: MSI

Removing Screws Securing Motherboard

Remove all the screws holding the motherboard in place. The normal spots that have screws are usually in the corners. A number 2 Phillips screwdriver will fit the screws majority of the time. There are a few cases of motherboards using different screws. However we will assume it is just a normal Phillips screwdriver needed. Place the old board in an anti-static bag. These usually come in packs from stores such as Frys or even Best-Buy possibly. The bags are not expensive and can hold old computer parts that could be used at a later time.

Check to confirm that all of the mounting nuts are firmly screwed into place onto the case. Sometimes, these nuts will come out or become loose when removing the motherboard screws. It can make things difficult if upgrading and installing a motherboard and the mounting areas aren’t holding the motherboard in place. In this instance, it might be a good idea to go find a new computer case.

Removing the ATX I/O Shield from Motherboard

IO shield for motherboard
Image Credit: Asus

Remove the ATX I/O shield, and store it with the old motherboard. This is the metal piece on the back of the computer where it’s usually plugged into all the accessories such as the monitors, keyboard, mouse, etc. Just remember once you remove the old I/O shield to install the new one in its place.

Finally, double-check that all the screws are out and nothing is holding the motherboard into the case anymore. Gently lift on the motherboard to get it out of the case. 

However, if it still won’t budge, just see the areas where it won’t move and repeat this process until the motherboard is free from the computer case; again, if you have those anti-static bags from before. Try to get the motherboard into one of those as it can protect it very well. If however, you are planning on getting rid of it, then don’t worry about the anti-static bags.

Step 9: Upgrade/Install the New Motherboard

Now’s the time to upgrade/install the new motherboard that you have chosen. I will happily assume that you have measured it all out and did the homework before getting to this step.

Basically you just need to repeat the process from which you uninstalled the old motherboard. Make sure you remount the motherboard until it is fully secure in the computer case. It should mount the same way as the old motherboard.

Install the ATX I/O shield for the new board

I’ll admit it:
It’s frustrating to have screwed in a new motherboard than just realizing that you forgot to install the I/O shield. Which means having to undo all the screws then taking out the motherboard again. All this just to get this I/O shield secure on the case which could be A LOT of wasted time.

Line up the I/O ports with the holes in the ATX I/O shield. Then align the screw holes with the motherboard mounting nuts on the interior of the case.

Carefully twist in the mounting screws. Do not over tighten them. If you have an electric screwdriver equipped with an adjustable clutch, set the clutch to the minimum setting. If the electric screwdriver doesn’t have a clutch, use a hand screwdriver instead.

Once the shield is in place, go ahead and remount the motherboard then get all the screws in place. Again, you don’t have to over tighten anything as it will hold together nicely. Now that everything is screwed into place it’s time we can move onto the easier steps of the whole process! 

Step 10: Reinstall CPU and GPU

I included both steps from earlier because at this point the hard part is complete. All you have to do now is reverse the entire process. So beginning with the CPU make sure to get the piece into the socket and secured by the harness. I will assume you made sure it is compatible however if not, the piece will not fit. Do not try to force it to fit otherwise things won’t be looking good for that newly purchased motherboard.

Once the CPU is secured, go ahead and add a tiny bit of thermal paste. Remember, less is more! Follow that up by grabbing the heat sink if you use that and mounting it on the processor. Once that is in place we can move on to the GPU.

Grab the GPU and look for the PCI-E port that you used in the old motherboard. If unsure just double-check through a video on where that specific motherboard should be placed. Remember, a little force goes a long way. Gently push down to make sure it is locked in place. You should hear a slight “pop” or even feel a click on your hands that it is in place.

Step 11: Reconnect everything to the Motherboard

Probably the most important part of all. Upgrade/Install the motherboard by reconnecting EVERYTHING. It is very easy to forget the cords in the process of taking the computer apart. There are two ways to go about this process either remembering the method that was used or organizing everything in a way to where you could just take each cord or part and put it back. 

Make sure the following is plugged back into the motherboard. 

  • Power Supply to the motherboard
  • SATA cords 
  • Hard drive or solid-state drive
  • All the fans your computer uses from the heat sink to the case fans
  • All the multi SATA cords are plugged back into the hard drive/ solid-state drive 
  • Disk drive if you use one
  • Power supply to the GPU
  • All the RAM sticks are secured back into the motherboard

After you have plugged everything back in, I would just double check if they are indeed plugged in. Going back and double-checking your work will make the last step of this process so much easier and take way less time.

Step 12: Troubleshoot If Needed

Finally! Almost done!

The last step of the process to upgrade/install a motherboard. This part is purely derived from how well you checked your work and plugged everything back in. Granted it doesn’t stop hardware malfunctions, you will save yourself a lot of time not having to go through figuring out why the monitor isn’t displaying images. Even the computer not fully turning on. I had this happen to me and it was something simple like the power button I have on the back of the power supply. It won’t turn on if it’s switched off.

If any issues have occurred past the simple ones that are named above, this could be where some research will need to be done. Some problems can arise such as the hard drives not recognizing the computer anymore and you need to set the partitions up.

Even your computer not going to windows and only opening in BIOS. With all this said, I wish you the best of luck with the troubleshooting. I am glad you made it through this article on how to upgrade/install a motherboard. I hope this has helped and wish you the best of success with your possible upgrades or installations you make in the future.