3.3 Installing a Motherboard

Installing a motherboard for the first time intimidates most people, but it's really pretty easy if you do it by the numbers. Before you get started, prepare a well-lighted working area, ideally one with all-around access. The kitchen table (appropriately protected) or a similar surface usually works well. Have all tools and parts organized and ready to go. Open the box of each new component, verify contents against the manual or packing list to make sure no parts are missing, examine the components to ensure they appear undamaged, and do at least a quick read-through of the manual to familiarize yourself with the products.

See also Chapter 28 for photographs of this process.

3.3.1 Removing the Old Motherboard

If you are replacing a motherboard, you must remove the old motherboard before installing the new one. The exact steps vary according to the motherboard and case, but use the following general steps:

  1. Power down the PC and all attached devices. Disconnect all external cables other than the power cord, noting which cable connects to which port. Then move the PC to your work area and remove the cover from the case. We can attest that one wayward case screw can destroy a vacuum cleaner, so put the screws safely aside. An old egg carton or ice cube tray makes a good parts organizer.

  2. If the PC power cord is connected to an outlet strip, surge suppressor, or UPS, turn off the main power switch on that device, and turn off the main PC power switch as well. This removes power from the PC, but leaves the PC grounded.

    With nearly all AT form factor power supplies and motherboards, turning off the PC power switch actually removes all power from the motherboard. With ATX (and variant) power supplies and motherboards, turning off the main PC power switch leaves some power flowing to the motherboard, which supports such features as Wake-on-Ring (WOR), Wake-on-LAN (WOL), and Suspend to RAM (STR).

    Although the voltage present is much too small to cause personal injury, working on a powered ATX motherboard may damage the motherboard, CPU, memory, or other components. Best practice when working on ATX motherboards is to use an outlet strip or other device to remove power from the PC entirely. If you must work on an ATX motherboard and have no such device, disconnect the power cord from the wall receptacle before beginning work. To avoid damaging components, touch the power supply to ground yourself before handling the motherboard, CPU, memory, or other static-sensitive components.

    Even if you follow these procedures, defective wiring or other components could cause a high-voltage shock. For absolute safety, disconnect the PC power cord from the wall receptacle. (Our lawyers made us say that.)

  3. Note the position and orientation of each internal cable connected to an expansion card. If necessary, sketch or photograph the connections to make sure you can reconnect the cables as they were, and then remove those cables on the expansion card. Remove the expansion cards and set them aside, preferably on an antistatic surface, although a plain tabletop also works well. Alternatively, you may be able to leave the cables connected to the expansion cards and simply place the cards out of the way, perhaps balanced on top of the power supply.

  4. Label and disconnect each cable that connects to the system board, including those to the power supply, to the front panel switches and LEDs, to back panel I/O ports, and to fans. When you complete this step, the motherboard should not have any obvious connections other than the mounting screws.

  5. In most cases, the motherboard mounts directly to a fixed part of the chassis. In some cases, the motherboard mounts to a removable tray. If your motherboard uses a tray, remove the screws that secure the tray to the chassis and then lift the tray out carefully, watching for overlooked cable connections. Depending on the motherboard form factor, there may be from three to a dozen or more screws securing the motherboard to the chassis or tray. One or more screw holes may be occupied by nylon spacers that snap in from the bottom of the motherboard and slide into slots in the chassis. If the motherboard is secured only by screws, remove all of them and then attempt to remove the motherboard by lifting gently straight up. If one or more nylon spacers are present (visible as small white nubs sticking up through screw holes), rather than lift the mother board straight up, slide it gently a fraction of an inch toward the left side of the chassis and then lift straight up.

  6. Place the old motherboard flat on a antistatic surface. Lacking that, put it on the tabletop. If you are salvaging the CPU or memory, ground yourself and remove those components. In any case, store the old motherboard in the antstatic bag that the new motherboard arrived in, once that bag is available.

3.3.2 Installing the New Motherboard

To install the motherboard, take the following steps, observing antistatic precautions throughout the process:

  1. Touch the PC power supply to ground yourself, and then open the antistatic bag that contains the new motherboard. Remove the new motherboard from its antistatic bag, place the bag on a flat surface, and place the motherboard on top of the antistatic bag.

  2. If you haven't done so already, read the motherboard manual to determine how to configure it. Verify each diagram in the manual against the actual motherboard to ensure that you can identify the important switches, jumpers, and connectors.

  3. Configure the motherboard according to the instructions in the manual. Recent motherboards may use only one or a few configuration jumpers. Older technology motherboards may use jumpers to set numerous options, including CPU speed, host bus speed, CPU voltage, etc. Make sure to set all of these jumpers correctly, especially those that control voltage, before you apply power to the board.

  4. After you have set all configuration jumpers properly, install the CPU and memory according to the instructions supplied with the motherboard and/or the components.

  5. Determine how the motherboard mounts to the chassis. Old motherboards often used several snap-in nylon stand-off spacers and only a few screws to secure the motherboard. Modern motherboards use all or mostly screws, which secure to brass stand-off spacers. The important issue is whether a given hole location in the motherboard is designed to be grounded. If it is, it will mount with a screw to a conductive brass stand-off spacer. If it isn't, it will mount using a nonconductive nylon stand-off spacer. Using a conductive brass connector where an insulating nylon connector was intended can short out and destroy the motherboard. Using a nylon connector where a brass connector was intended can cause the motherboard to operate improperly or not at all, or to radiate excessive RFI. New motherboards come with a plastic bag that contains screws and stand-off spacers of the proper type. If yours does not and you are not sure which type is required, refer to the motherboard documentation or contact technical support. If the connectors supplied with the motherboard do not include any insulating stand-offs, it's generally a safe assumption that all mounting holes are designed to be grounded to a brass stand-off connector.

  6. Hold the motherboard over the chassis in the position that you will mount it. Typically all or all but one of the holes in the motherboard align with a stand-off spacer installed in the chassis. The motherboard is secured to the chassis by passing a screw through each of the motherboard screw holes and into the matching stand-off spacer. The final hole, usually the one nearest the back left corner of the motherboard, may use a slide-in spacer rather than a screw, which makes it easier to line up the motherboard with the other stand-off spacers. Most cases have many more mounting holes than are needed to secure any particular motherboard. Visually align the holes actually present in the motherboard with the chassis to determine which subset of the chassis mounting holes will actually be used. If you are building a new system, thread brass stand-off spacers into the appropriate chassis mounting holes. If you are replacing a motherboard, spacers may already be mounted in most or all of the necessary locations. Add or relocate spacers as necessary to ensure that each hole in the motherboard has a matching spacer. Don't leave any motherboard mounting holes unused. It's not that the motherboard is likely to go anywhere if you don't use all the screws. Each of those mounting holes provides support for the motherboard at a key location. If you leave one or more of the mounting holes unsupported, the motherboard may crack later when you are pressing hard to seat an expansion card, CPU, or memory module.

    When installing a Slot 1 motherboard that uses an old-style retention mechanism that must be installed before the motherboard is mounted in the case, now is the time to install it. Most new-style retention mechanisms can be installed either before or after the motherboard is mounted, and many Slot 1 motherboards come with a folding retention mechanism already installed, which requires only raising the arms to vertical and locking them in place.

  7. After you've installed all necessary stand-off spacers, slide the motherboard into position, aligning all holes with their matching spacers. Secure the motherboard using the screws provided with it, or the screws that secured the original motherboard.

  8. Reconnect the cables, including power supply cables, ATA cables, floppy drive cable, the cables that link the motherboard to front panel switches and LEDs, and the cables that link the motherboard I/O ports to the back panel connectors.

    The motherboard package should include cables for the hard drive and floppy drive. Always use these new cables rather than the old cables. Not only are the new cables likely to be more reliable, but also they are certain to be electrically and physically compatible with the interface connectors on the new motherboard.

  9. Reinstall only the expansion cards needed to test the system (usually just the video card), reconnect any cables that connect to them, and then reconnect the external cables that link the system unit to the monitor, keyboard, mouse, and so on.

  10. Verify that everything that needs to be connected is connected, that everything is connected to the right thing, and that you haven't left any tools where they might short something out.

  11. Time for the smoke test. Turn on the monitor and then turn on power to the system unit. The BIOS boot screen should appear on your monitor. If no video appears, or if you hear a beep sequence other than the normal single startup beep, you have something misconfigured. Turn off the power immediately (or just pull the power cord) and recheck all connections and settings you've made.

  12. Once you're satisfied that the system is working properly, shut it down, remove power from it, reinstall any additional expansion cards, and restart the system.

  13. When the system begins a normal boot sequence, press whatever key the BIOS boot screen prompts you to press to enter CMOS Setup. If you have jumpered the motherboard in configuration mode, special CMOS Setup options (e.g., setting CPU speed or voltages) may be available now that will no longer be available once you re-jumper the motherboard for normal operation. Configure and save the CMOS Setup options, and then turn off power to the system.

  14. If necessary, re-jumper the motherboard for normal operation and then restart the system. Verify proper system operation, particularly that the system recognizes the hard drive(s) you have installed. Once you are sure that the system is working as expected, shut it down, reinstall the case cover, restart the system, and begin installing your operating system and applications.

If you replace the motherboard on a Windows system, don't try to use your current Windows installation unless you replaced a failed motherboard with an identical model. At best, if the new motherboard is similar to the old model, your existing Windows installation will almost work. If the new motherboard is significantly different, Windows may not boot. Even if it does boot, it will be unreliable. The best practice is to format the hard drive, install a fresh copy of Windows, load the chipset drivers for the new motherboard, install drivers for video, audio, and other hardware devices, reinstall all of your applications, and then restore your data. If you run Linux, you can avoid all this. Linux generally takes motherboard upgrades in stride.

3.3.3 Configuring CMOS

Each time a system boots, the BIOS boot screen appears momentarily. While this screen is being displayed, pressing a designated key runs the CMOS Setup program, which resides in firmware. CMOS Setup is used to configure CMOS and chipset settings ranging from those as obvious as the Date and Time to those as obscure as memory timings and bus settings.

Recent Intel motherboards replace the standard BIOS boot screen with an Intel-logo splash screen. Display the standard BIOS boot screen on such systems by pressing the Esc key while the logo is visible.

To invoke CMOS Setup, you normally press F1 (AMI), the Delete key (Award), or F2 (Phoenix). Other BIOS manufacturers use different keys, and some system and motherboard manufacturers modify a standard BIOS to use another key. The key that invokes CMOS Setup nearly always appears on the BIOS boot screen, but if your BIOS boot screen doesn't show that key, try the Delete key, F1, F2, F10, Ctrl-Alt-S, or refer to the documentation.

The exact appearance of CMOS Setup and the available options depend on the chipset, the BIOS make and version, and changes made to the BIOS and CMOS Setup programs by manufacturers. For example, two motherboards may use the same chipset, processor, and BIOS, but one may give users complete freedom to configure chipset options, while the other allows users access to only some of the settings and uses hard-wired values for other settings.

All BIOSs default to a reasonable set of CMOS settings, one that allows the system to boot and function normally. Beyond that, it's up to you to choose settings to configure the system as you want it and to optimize its performance.

Some CMOS Setup options, the so-called basic settings, are pretty obvious?things such as time and date, hard drive parameters, power management, boot sequence, and so on. Others, particularly those segregated as advanced settings and chipset settings, are anything but obvious. The brief help descriptions provided with them are usually not much help unless you already understand the issue. The primary rule here is if you don't understand what an option is for, don't change it.

That's easy to say, but it ignores the fact that accepting default settings for obscure options can result in a PC that performs significantly below its potential. PC and motherboard manufacturers differ in how "aggressive" they are in choosing default settings, particularly those for such things as memory timing and wait states. Those that tend toward slower, more conservative default settings say, with some justification, that they cannot predict what components (particularly what speed and quality of memory) a user will install. Choosing conservative settings allows them to be sure that the motherboard will at least work, if not optimally. Those who are more aggressive (often, PC vendors, who have control of which memory and other components will be installed) assume that users want the highest possible performance level and use components that support those aggressive settings.

The first place to look for detailed CMOS Setup instructions is in the manual that came with the computer or motherboard. Some manufacturers provide detailed explanations of general CMOS Setup and Chipset Setup options, but many cover only basic CMOS Setup options and ignore Chipset Setup completely. If that's the case with your manual, you may be able to download detailed instructions from the BIOS manufacturer's web site.

  • AMI does not provide end-user documentation, leaving that to the computer and motherboard vendors that use AMI's BIOS.

  • Award Software, now a part of Phoenix Technologies, provides very detailed documentation (down to the level of different documents for different chipsets) in HMTL and .zip format for CMOS Setup and Chipset Setup, POST codes, beep codes, and so on (http://www.phoenix.com/en/customer+services/bios/awardbios/).

  • Phoenix Technologies provides some information in its BIOS FAQ (http://www.phoenix.com/en/customer+services/bios/bios+faq/).

For a comprehensive treatment of configuring and optimizing BIOS settings, order The BIOS Companion, by Phil Croucher. It's available in printed form, or as a PDF file at one third the price (http://www.electrocution.com/computing/book_bios.asp). Another useful reference is Wim's BIOS page (http://www.wimsbios.com/).