It’s the most essential part of your system, so what happens when it goes wrong? John Gillooly shows how to swap your motherboard
Changing a motherboard can be one of the most annoying parts of PC upgrading. Unlike drives, or expansion cards, which have been designed to be easy to remove from cases, motherboards are bolted in underneath everything else. In order to remove them you’ll need to take most of the parts of your PC out, and deal with the removal of a bunch of cables and other fiddly bits and pieces.
The corollary to this is that when you install a new motherboard you want to be prepared. There is nothing more frustrating than getting halfway through installation and realizing that you need to go back to square one. If you follow some simple steps, however, you can minimize the hassles inherent in this process.
You’ll need to first unplug everything from your PC, and find a clear workspace to lay it on. Any kind of internal tinkering is best done with the system laid flat, and having some flat space to lay out any components that you remove makes life a lot easier. When you take the side off your PC you’ll likely be faced with a daunting task.
You effectively need to clear out any obstructions over the motherboard before removing it. This will usually involve removing your video card (remember to detach any power cables before removing it) first. Most motherboards will have some sort of latch to hold the video card securely in the PCI-Express slot. This will either involve downwards or lateral pressure to remove it, and sometimes can be quite hard to access. A flat screwdriver can help here, as it saves trying to wedge fingers besides heatsinks and the like.
Once the video card is out you’ll need to remove the assorted cabling hooked into the motherboard. This will involve at least two power connectors, drive cables and front panel connectors. This can actually be quite difficult if the internal cables have been tied together for neatness – invariably the lengths won’t work with a different motherboard, so cutting the cable ties often becomes necessary. Don’t be afraid to undo bundles if it makes life easier. Any cabling that has been unplugged from the motherboard can be pulled out over the side of the case to ensure it wont get in the way while you remove the motherboard itself.
Don’t worry about removing the heatsink or RAM unless it somehow obscures the screws attaching the motherboard to the case. The fiddly nature of heatsink attachment means that it is just plain easier to do it outside the case. Make sure that any drives in the system aren’t going to obscure the motherboard, (remove them if they will) and you should be clear.
Removing the motherboard
The actual process of removal should be quite simple. The motherboard should be attached to the case via three horizontal rows of screws. With the system lying flat, carefully remove each screw (a magnetic Philips head screwdriver is invaluable here, as it ensures the screws don’t end up rattling around in the bottom of the case).
This is the stage in which you’ll come across the most common annoyance in the process. Sometimes screws just don’t want to be removed. You’ll sometimes even find that your efforts will result in not only the screw but the ‘riser’ that it attaches to coming out. This occurs when the screw gets cross-threaded during installation, and happens quite commonly. If you do get this happening, then you can fix it once the motherboard has been removed from the case.
Once all the screws have been removed from the motherboard gently lift it up and away from the back of the case. The expansion ports slot into what is known as an I/O shield, which is a rectangular piece of metal with holes cut for the ports. Because they poke through you cannot just lift the motherboard straight up, you’ll need to ease the ports out as you lift.
The design of I/O shields vary depending upon motherboard make and model, so you will likely need to replace this as well. The easiest way to remove it is to press the middle of the shield from the rear of the case until it pops out. Be careful though, because the sharpened cheap metal edges of I/O shields are one of the most common causes of self injury when working with PCs – they can take a chunk out of one’s fingers quite easily.
Installing the new motherboard
Once you have everything out of the case you’ll need to assess the situation. If you are lucky you won’t have any cross-threaded risers (if you do then carefully but firmly hold the hexagonal riser in some plyers while you unscrew the screw from the other side of the motherboard). If you do have risers that have been cross-threaded don’t bother reusing them (you’ll just end up with the same problem). If you still have the parts that came with your case then put a new riser in, if not then you can get away with one missing, just ensure that it is somewhere that won’t be stressed when plugging things in, such as the middle bottom of the motherboard.
Before you install your motherboard you’ll want to add the I/O shield first. This will be floating around the motherboard box and its orientation should be fairly apparent. You need to install the shield from inside the case, carefully pushing it until it clicks into place. Try and avoid the finger slicing edges and push from the centre. You’ll also want to double check your motherboard in case there are optional holes in the shield. Some motherboard manufacturers will use on shield design for multiple models, so you may need to bend back flaps to access slots like Ethernet.
Once the I/O shield is in place you can install the motherboard itself. First install the CPU and heatsink on the motherboard and then gently hold it above the case. Double check that the risers are all in the right spots, and move them if the holes through the board don’t align. Once the I/O shield is in place and you are happy with the risers, gently lower the motherboard into the case. Your main concern should be to line up ports on the I/O shield and make sure they are poking through, you can then position the motherboard properly by using the small amount of lateral movement that the shield allows.
We recommend first screwing in the top left-hand corner screw, close to the I/O panel. Don’t bother tightening it yet, just get the screw properly located. Then screw in the bottom right hand one. This should position the board properly and ensure that the other screw holes line up. Then attach the rest of the screws, tighten them and plug all the cabling back in to the correct spots. Once this is done you can add your video card and replace any drives that you had to remove. Plug everything back in and start enjoying your new motherboard.