If the processor is the brain of your computer, the motherboard is the heart — it’s the place where the different parts of a computer connect and talk to each other. So if your motherboard has a problem, it’s a bigger issue than just replacing one part.
Usually motherboards are sturdy enough to take the ravages of daily use. But there are some things you can do to make sure it keeps running right. Protecting the motherboard from damage is paramount to protecting every other component.
Avoid some of these common mistakes that damage a motherboard, and you’ll save yourself from headaches.
1. Check for Short Circuits
This problem is more prevalent in desktop computers, but also (yet rarely) occurs in laptops. If you like to build your own PC or you’ve got one assembled from somewhere, there are chances of a short circuit if it hasn’t been assembled properly.
The motherboard conducts electricity and passes it to other components, so it can’t come into contact with any metal, like the case itself or a badly fitted component. Loose CPU coolers often cause irreparable damage to motherboards. Also check for loose cables, a common PC maintenance mistake.
In the course of assembling your PC, you need to fit the motherboard properly in the case. The motherboard has a few screws that you use to attach it to the case. Make sure you use every screw and that it is tight. As one user at Tom’s Hardware forums found, a loose screw can cause a short circuit, frying your whole motherboard.
In short, the inside of your computer should be neat and organized. If the motherboard ends up getting into contact with an unintended object, it can cause a short circuit.
2. Protect Against Power Surges
The motherboard is where your computer’s power supply unit (PSU) is connected. It’s important to buy the right PSU for your needs — if your components need more power than the PSU can provide, it will cause the components or the motherboard to fail.
But the more frequent problem for motherboards is power surges. Some electronics in your home are power-hungry, like air conditioners or refrigerators. Have you ever seen your lights flicker when these devices turn off? That’s because they needed to draw more electricity and caused a surge.
When they switch off, the current takes a few seconds to adjust. And in those few seconds, it gets redirected to other electronics, like your lights or your computer. This is the most basic explanation of a power surge. It happens more often than you think, depending on your power setup, your locality’s power grid, and even weather conditions (like lightning).
Most power supply units and motherboards can adjust their voltages to accommodate small power surges. But if it’s a big one, it can fry your motherboard and all the components connected to it. It’s a big issue, and one of those that we never tend to adequately account for. The only solution is to buy a surge protector for your computer.
3. Clean the Ventilation Outlets
Heat is the enemy of electronics. Computer components need to stay cool to run properly. But they generate a lot of heat themselves. That’s why heat dissipation is crucial to computers, whether it’s in the form of fans or heat sinks.
If your laptop is running hot regularly, you need to clean its ventilation outlets. Heat can cause the motherboard to warp. Now, we aren’t talking about it getting fully bent out of shape. But even small bends can affect stress points like where the screws are, or connectors. Remember, a loose or improperly fitted connection is a ticking time-bomb for your motherboard.
We’ve shown you how to check PC temperatures and what the ideal is, so keeping an eye on that is the next step. If you’re worried about it running too hot when you aren’t around, there are some tips to reduce computer heat.
How to Check for Motherboard Damage
A damaged motherboard isn’t as simple to diagnose as other parts of a computer. Generally speaking, it’s apparent when your computer has a hardware error, like not booting up. But you can’t narrow it down to the motherboard immediately. That said, there are a series of steps you can take to figure out motherboard damage.
- Switch on the PSU and check for a green light on the motherboard. If there is no green light, then the problem is with either the power supply or the motherboard. Check with a different PSU, and if the motherboard still doesn’t light up, then it’s probably damaged.
- If the green light is coming on, then check the bare basics of your PC components, i.e. the CPU and RAM. Connect only these two components and see if the motherboard is booting into the BIOS or UEFI.
- If it is still not booting, check the CMOS battery on your motherboard. If your computer is over a year old, chances are the battery may need to be replaced.
The Beep Codes
All motherboards are built with a self-diagnostic tool. If there is an error, the motherboard will sound out a series of beeps. These “beep codes” can vary by manufacturer, but are largely the same. A series of repeated long beeps, for instance, indicates a RAM problem.
You can translate these “beep codes” at your motherboard manufacturer’s website, or use Computer Hope’s beep code guide. It should let you quickly diagnose the motherboard problem and hopefully solve it.
In Case of Damage…
If the motherboard has been clearly diagnosed to be at fault, then you have two options. You can repair it, or you can buy a new one… but do yourself a favor and just buy a new one. Any experienced computer user will tell you that if a motherboard has already developed one problem, it is likely going to get several new ones soon.
You should upgrade your motherboard to get new tech, like faster USB standards, built-in Wi-Fi, or the latest PCIe standard, PCIe 4.0. If you plan on using the same components like CPU or RAM, make sure the new motherboard is compatible with those. We’ve shown how to find out what motherboard you have if you’re not sure.
Share Your Motherboard Woes
Those who have used a computer for many years have experienced a motherboard fault at some point or the other. Tell us your sorrowful stories of motherboard mishaps in the comments!
And if you’re considering building your own computer, take a look at how to build a PC with the Mini-ITX form factor.