Breathe new life into an aging system with a new motherboard: Do-it-yourself
In most cases, upgrading a desktop computer is a relatively easy task. Do a little research, pop in your new drive or card and – bang – you’re up and running. Then there’s the mother of all upgrades: the motherboard. I recently upgraded my mobo from a slowly dying Asus M2N-E to a new Biostar TA 970 and I’ll walk you through my process to give you an idea of how to do your upgrade.
Why upgrade your motherboard?
I had plenty of reasons to upgrade my board. Mainly, many of the on-board components were no longer working properly or not working at all. The sound and NIC were dead, and the USB was very sketchy. I had cheap add-on cards to get by, but when a good board came through on a deep discount I jumped on it. In doing so I also doubled the number of available on-board USB ports, added support for USB3, added support for AM3+ processors and DDR3 RAM – all faster than my current configuration – and upgraded my PCI-E graphics slot as well. So this was an across the board win in my book.
Before you begin!
You absolutely need to do your homework before you attempt this upgrade. You may find that some of your components may not be compatible with the motherboard that you want. This is especially true for your RAM and CPU. Before buying a new motherboard, check the manufacturer’s site to make sure your CPU is supported or if you will need to do a BIOS upgrade from the get-go. In my case, my old system’s DDR2 RAM was not going to work with my new board, so I factored that into the total cost of my project and purchased 8Gb of DDR3 Kingston HyperX RAM. Also make sure the board will fit in your case. If you have a computer by a major manufacturer like Dell or HP, I wouldn’t even attempt a motherboard upgrade unless you are really confident it will fit.
The other thing you should do is backup your data. Weird stuff can happen in an upgrade like this, as everything is getting detached and reattached. I’ve read cases where people had to do a complete reinstall of Windows because it wouldn’t boot.
Oh, and once you have your new motherboard READ THE MANUAL BEFORE YOU DO ANYTHING. This will keep you from making installation errors and make the whole process less painful.
So here’s the process:
1. Disconnect your computer from power and unplug all peripherals, mice, keyboards and so on. Put your unplugged computer on a clean, flat surface. Ground yourself or touch a metallic object to discharge any static electricity. Make sure you have plenty of room.
2. Open your case and detach all cables and connectors from the motherboard and drives. Unplug all SATA cables, IDE cables, power connections, fan connections and so on from the motherboard. Don’t forget the little wires going to the front panel on/off switch and so on. It will also help to disconnect your drives from their respective cables as well, as you will want as much room as possible to get stuff done in your case. You don’t necessarily need to take all your drives out, but it won’t hurt either.
3. Remove all add-on cards from the board. Set these aside in a safe place if you are going to re-install them. The only thing left on your board should be the RAM and CPU.
4. Find and remove the screws holding the motherboard to the case stand-offs. Put the screws in a safe place as you will most likely need them again.
5. Gently and carefully remove the motherboard from the case and set on a static-free surface. This is the best time to remove your RAM and CPU as well. After this is done clean your case of all the dust-bunnies in there and move any remaining cables out of the way.
6. Take your new motherboard and test fit it in the case. Do this to see if there is anything that will need to be moved like drives or stand-offs. Make sure that your case stand-offs (little screw-in brass or plastic risers in the case) line up with the screw holes in your motherboard, or else it won’t be properly supported and may crack under pressure.
7. Install the backplate and screw the motherboard to the case stand-offs. The screws should be snug but not overly torqued as you might crack the board by over tightening them.
8. Reconnect the wires to the front panel (power, HD light, speaker and so on). This can be tricky as visibility and space are limited, so doing this first before other stuff is in the way is highly recommended. You can also reconnect any case fans, audio or USB connections that go directly to the motherboard.
9. Reconnect drives and add-on cards. You may find that you’ll need to move your drives to new locations if cables and cards get in the way of each other. I found that my video card was now too close to one of my hard drives and I couldn’t connect the power and SATA cables to it, so I moved it down to an empty slot below it in the case and it worked fine. Be patient and don’t try to ram or jam things into place. You may find that you’ll need power or SATA cables that go at a 90° angle so you have proper clearance.
10. Install CPU and RAM. Once everything is in place, install your RAM and CPU. Make sure to connect your CPU fan to the proper header on the board.
11. Plug in your power cord and other peripherals, including your monitor, and boot it up. Hopefully, your system will boot right up. If not, check your motherboard’s manual to see what beep codes might be (provided it’s beeping). Also make sure all connections are snug and all your cards are seated firmly. In most cases something is not quite in all the way and this might keep your computer from booting or POSTing. If it boots but can’t find your operating system, go in to the BIOS and make sure it is booting to the proper drive first. If it can’t find your drive, it likely isn’t plugged in properly somewhere. Recheck all your connections once the system is off and try again. If it powers on but can’t find Windows you may need to do a system repair or reinstall. Thankfully mine booted right up.
12. Install drivers using Windows and your installation CD. Even if your motherboard came with a driver/software CD, let Windows find them first and then update them if necessary. I tried installing them from the CD while Windows was installing drivers on its own and the whole thing locked up. I cancelled my own installation and let Windows run first. Be patient as this can take several minutes. Avoid the temptation to think that it’s hung up and doing a hard reset, as this can mess your system up. You will need to reboot a few times once the drivers have installed. If drivers can’t be installed directly from Windows, go to your manufacturer’s CD and install the drivers from there. I had to do this with my Network driver but that was it.
13. Troubleshoot any remaining system issues. You will likely need to adjust sound and video settings to get them back where you want. Getting my sound to work took a little while but after playing with the plugs I finally found which ones went where and was soon back in business. Check your Device Manager tab in Windows Control Panel to see if there are any errors due to missing drivers. Install these drivers from your installation CD if needed.
14. Clean up your Windows system and enjoy your new board. You may want to uninstall programs that were associated with your old motherboard like BIOS update programs or system monitors, as well as applications associated with add-on cards you are no longer using. Finally run Windows Update to see if it catches any updates to your software.
In a worst-case scenario, your motherboard will not work or be DOA. You’ll then need to go back and reinstall everything you just took out, unless you can afford to be PC-less for a several days as you send it back and get a new one. But when it all goes well you’ll have a system that will be ready to handle future upgrades easily.