Upgrade your motherboard the easy way

Here's how to upgrade your motherboard, swap your hardware, and prep your system

The Upgrade

For this article, I picked a pretty straightforward project. The system to be upgraded had an Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 CPU running on an Intel DX48BT2 motherboard, which uses an Intel X48 chipset. Though it was already a fairly fast system, it served my purposes, as it consisted of a last-generation CPU running on top of an older chipset.

I replaced the DX48BT2 with an Intel DX58SO motherboard, plus a Core i7 930 processor (2.8GHz) and 6GB of DDR3 memory from OCZ.

The original system had a few games, Microsoft Office, and Windows 7 Professional 64-bit edition. Office, of course, required activation, as did Windows itself.

To swap in the new gear, find a good work space that's flat, dry, and free of static electricity. If you live in a cold, dry area, running a humidifier in the background may be worthwhile. If possible, ground yourself with an antistatic strap; if you don't have one, be sure to touch bare metal to ensure that you've discharged static electricity before proceeding.

First, remove the old motherboard. You need to be careful when removing the CPU cooler and, in particular, the tiny connectors that run to the status LEDs, as well as the power and reset buttons. In fact, make sure to disconnect all wiring and cables before you start pulling out mounting screws. You'll probably want to remove the old memory and CPU, as well, storing them in appropriate, static-free containers. (Note: Tupperware and similar containers are not a good idea.)

You'll need a number 2 Phillips screwdriver, and possibly some fine needlenose pliers. Once you've disconnected all the wiring, take out the mounting screws and set them aside, and then wiggle the motherboard out carefully. Store the board in an antistatic envelope. Be sure to remove the ATX I/O plate, too.

Motherboard Installation

Before you drop in the new motherboard, check the standoffs that accept the mounting screws. Make sure they're installed--some may have come out when you removed the original board. Also confirm that they're properly aligned vertically.

Unpack the new motherboard, making sure to remove the CPU socket protector before proceeding with CPU installation.

Don't forget to install the ATX I/O back plate, or you'll find yourself removing the motherboard to install it.

Now it's time to prep the new motherboard. Just to make life interesting, on my system I decided to use a high-end CPU cooler, the Thermalright Ultra120. That requires the installation of a mounting plate on the backside of the motherboard.

If you're using a stock Intel cooler, you can skip this step; the Intel cooler uses expansion pushpins to lock down the cooler, so no mounting plate is necessary. Just be certain that the pushpins line up properly before you press down.

The Thermalright mounting plate fits snugly; but don't push too hard, as the motherboard itself has a mounting plate for the LGA1366 socket.

Flip the board over, making sure the cooler mounting plate doesn't fall off. Now gently insert the CPU into the socket, confirming that the notches on the side of the CPU circuit board align with the tabs on the socket.

Attach the heat-sink mounting brackets, screwing down gently--don't screw the brackets too tightly. Then spread a thin layer of thermal paste on the surface of the CPU heat spreader to ensure robust thermal contact with the heat sink.

Prior to installing the cooler, install the DDR3 memory modules into the appropriate sockets. I chose my specific set of DDR3 modules partly because they're relatively low profile, and don't have extra-tall heat sinks of their own; otherwise, the Thermalright heat sink wouldn't have fit.

The Ultra120 heat sink attaches with two spring-loaded screws. Make sure the center pin on the screw mound nests into the dimple on the upper side of the heat sink.

This image doesn't show the 120mm cooling fan that attaches to the heat sink; that part just slides on with a simple plastic clip.

Making the Connections

After you've installed the motherboard, CPU, memory, and cooler, it's time to attach all of the connectors. Your motherboard documentation will show you the layout for these, so consult that before proceeding. Here are the basics you'll need to connect.

Finally, install the PCI Express graphics card and make sure to attach the PCIe power connectors to the card.

Okay, now it's time to boot the system, right? Well, not quite...

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