Upgrading the ‘Scooter’ – Part 5 – Replacing the ‘Engine’

AMD FX processor (CPU)

AMD FX processor (CPU)

Well here we are at the final installment of upgrading the scooter. We’ve covered RAM, hard drives and video upgrades, even how to replace your power supply unit, but what about the ‘engine’ of your PC? Is that something you too can do without the help of a geek?  Assuming you can change a tire or an oil filter, replacing the mainboard and CPU/Processor (central processing unit) usually requires roughly the same skill level.

Choosing a new processor and mainboard can be the most daunting of the process. What do you go for, Intel or AMD? What brand mainboard should you choose? Lets leave the brand advice for a moment and attempt to simplify the process right here: You need to know only two things; your requirements (i.e what you’re wanting to use the PC for) and your ‘available credit’. I’ve leave the latter minefield for you to figure out on your own with or without your significant other. Lets concentrate here on your requirements. We can break this into a few simple areas.

Compatibility

asus motherboard

Note the on-board graphics ports; you need this if you don’t have a separate graphics card

If you’re starting from scratch you can ignore this step. Assuming you’ve got reasonable newer technology in the way of the case, disk drives and power supply; (i.e. it’s not prehistoric – in computer parlance that equates to anything over 5 years!); the only real compatibility issue then is whether or not you’ve got an external graphics card and what size the case is.

  1. If you’ve not got an external graphics card you need to ensure the mainboard has on-board graphics. (i.e. a graphics system integrated into the board by the manufacturer – see the illustration)
  2. If your case is anything smaller than a standard ATX size you will need to match it with an appropriate mainboard as previously discussed in step 2 of this series.

(Power supplies and hard drive connections were changed about 5 or so years ago. An older PSU might not plug into a newer mainboard and older disk drives used the now obsolete IDE (integrated drive electronics) interface and there’s little hope a new board will cater for it. If your disk drives use the SATA (serial advanced technology interface) interface you’ll be fine) There’s a slim chance that the current RAM will work on the new board either, so just assume when you replace the mainboard and CPU you’ll also replace the memory.

Use

If you’re intending to play the high-end graphics type games now available or run a server or similar, you’ll need a high-end system upgrade which will cost more. Otherwise you can get away with about $300 (which includes board, CPU and RAM).

Brands?

The only CPU brands to concern yourself with are either AMD or Intel. Each is as good as the other but I prefer AMD for two reasons. You tend to get more bang for your buck with AMD than Intel and the AMD processors usually have a much easier cooling system to install.

With mainboards; experience has taught me to trust ASUS and ASROCK only. The ASUS boards are fantastic quality and rarely fail.

Fitting

installing a cpu

Installing an AMD CPU into a ZIFF socket

I fit the CPU, fan/heatsink assembly and RAM to the new board while still out of the case as per the manufacturers instructions. It’s easier to check everything first before installing. The only tricky thing is the CPU installation, but if you follow the instructions that come with the CPU or mainboard it’s not rocket science. Be sure to earth yourself, by keeping the case plugged in (PC not on), nearby and touching the metal from time to time. (CPUs like RAM are sensitive to static electricity) Don’t forget to attach the CPU fan plug into the mainboard, or your CPU will have no cooling, and only produce a brief burning smell before becoming completely useless.

Installing the heatsink and fan onto the CPU.

Installing the heatsink and fan onto the CPU.

Remove or disable all the existing mainboard drivers in windows before you pull out the old mainboard from the computer. (This prevents windows next starting with the new board installed and trying to start incompatible drivers.) You can open the device manger by first tapping Win + Pause/Break then selecting ‘Device Manager‘ from the list on the left of the window. Scroll down the items and remove things like on-board graphics drivers, USB and sound drivers etc.

Remove the old board, CPU and RAM all at once. Begin by disconnecting all the cables and hanging them outside the case. Remove any peripheral cards fitted into the mainboard sockets. Next remove the screws that attach the mainboard to the case and lift it slightly forward and then up and out. Pop out the back panel that sits around the plugs on the mainboard. (Each mainboard has a specific back panel) Depending on the case, there may be hard disk drives in the way that will also need to be temporarily moved.

Removing old mainboard assembly

Removing old mainboard assembly

Note the screw positions existing in the case and those on the new board and adjust if necessary. As a rule you’ll need at least 6 preferable 9 screws to secure it. The screw system is usually a two part affair with a brass collar called a standoff that screws into the case, the board sitting on top of these and a screw fixing the board to the collar. Fit the new back panel (ensuring correct orientation) by pushing it into the case. Carefully maneuver the new board into place and secure with the screws. Attach the cables and boot the computer.

screwlocationsetc

If all goes well, you’ll need only to install the new mainboard drivers from the disk that should have came with it. If something goes wrong…panic!  Well don’t really panic, the technical issue is just not the sort I can cover in a post like this that’s already exceedingly long. I suggest if you get this far and something is not working or worse the computer is madly beeping at you, it’s probably best to turn it off and call a geek like me to come and save you.

Hope you enjoyed this 5 part series, found it informative and not too boring. Please remember to like the posts. See you next week with something completely different.

 

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