Hardcore Hardware Upgrades: How To Install Or Replace Your Own CPU

Matt Smith 07-08-2012

how to install a cpuThe processor remains one of the most important components in a modern computer. Upgrading it can provide significant benefits in certain games and applications, particularly if you are switching from a dual-core or quad-core model, or upgrading from some older processor architecture.


It’s also not that complicated a project for a geek to tackle, but it can seem daunting. You have to handle some of the most important components in your system, components that may be worth some money. Here’s how to install or replace your computer’s processor the right way.

Pre-Installation Preparation: Check Your BIOS

how to install a cpu

This is not a hardware buying guide, so I am going to assume you’ve selected a processor and completed the basic research required to know if it will fit in the motherboard you already own or are planning to buy. However, there is one other thing you should check that many people forget about the first time through – BIOS compatibility.

You might run into this issue if you are installing a new processor in an older motherboard. Some older motherboards won’t recognize the newest processors even though the socket is physically compatible.

Upgrading your BIOS to a new version is (usually) the fix. Before installing any processor, check the manufacturer support page for your motherboard. You should be able to find a list of compatible processors and determine if you need to upgrade.


Removing Your Motherboard

install cpu

This step assumes you are upgrading. If you are building a new system, you can skip to the next step.

It may be possible to install your new processor without removing your motherboard, but this often can’t be done. To remove your motherboard, turn off your computer’s power supply and unplug it from your wall socket. Move your computer to a level working space and grab a Phillips head screwdriver as well as some masking tape.

Open your computer. You will note that there are a lot of wires connected to your motherboard. You’ll need to disconnect them all. Do this one at a time and, each time you disconnect a wire, wrap masking tape around it and label it. If you want to further clarify matters, you can draw a diagram of your motherboard and indicate where each labeled wire should physically connect. This may sound silly, but it’ll save you a world of trouble if you forget where a wire goes.


After removing all wires, unscrew the motherboard from the case and pull it out. This shouldn’t require much effort – if it does, check to make sure you haven’t missed a screw and that nothing is obstructing the board.

Once the motherboard is removed, you should also remove the cooler from the processor. Different colors use different attachment mechanisms, but most are removed either by turning some pins, opening a latch or removing some screws.

Installing The Processor

Important Note: The photos below show an AMD socket AM2 processor. Modern Intel processors do not have pins on them – instead, the pins are on the motherboard. This does not change the instructions below, but the exact appearance of the processor and motherboard socket will differ.

install cpu


Now the processor socket is visible. If you are upgrading, your old CPU will be there. If you are installing into a new motherboard, there may be a plastic shield or place-holder.

In either case, open the socket by lifting the metal bar or bars beside it. This will loosen the attachment mechanism. Intel sockets usually have an additional metal guard that must be flipped up and out of the way. AMD sockets usually don’t.

install cpu

Now remove the old processor (if one is there) and place the new one. If you examine the socket and the processor, you will notice a pattern that is the same on both or a little notch or knob that lines up with the motherboard sockets. This prevents you from installing the processor in the wrong direction.


The picture below, for example, shows four blank areas on the bottom of the processor that lack pins. These same areas can be found on the motherboard socket in the picture above.

how to install a cpu chip

You should be able to just drop the new processor into the socket – if it doesn’t lay flat you haven’t lined it up with the socket properly. It is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT that you install the processor correctly. Trying to force it into the socket when it’s not lined up will just bend a pin. That’s one of the few ways you can permanently ruin a motherboard or processor during installation.

how to install a cpu chip

Notice how the processor is resting flat in the socket. There are no gaps and any side. This is how your processor should look if it is properly installed.

Once you’re sure the processor is seated you can lower the metal bar that secures it. Do this gently, but firmly. It is normal for the bar to provide resistance as you lower it. It should click into place and lie flat.

Apply Thermal Compound

how to install a cpu chip

If you removed an old processor you will notice that your cooling solution has some residual thermal compound on it. Wipe this off with a sturdy cloth that doesn’t have a habit of leaving behind lint, then give the cooler a blast of compressed air, just to be sure.

Hardcore Hardware Upgrades: How To Install Or Replace Your Own CPU installcpu6

Now apply a blot of thermal compound to the center of the processor. The amount you apply should be about the diameter of a pencil and will hopefully look a bit nicer than my example above (the thermal compound I have on hand is apparently a bit old).

It won’t look like much, but it will spread out nicely after you have attached the cooler. More is not better – the example above is as large as you need to go, and that’s only because the compound pictured isn’t the best. Thermal compound of better quality can be applied in smaller amounts because it will spread better when you install the cooler.

Re-Install The Cooler

Hardcore Hardware Upgrades: How To Install Or Replace Your Own CPU installcpu7

Speaking of which, do that now. As I said earlier, I can’t tell you the exact steps because they vary significantly between different coolers. Refer to the cooler’s manual. Once the cooler is installed take a look around the edges to ensure that no thermal compound has been ejected out of the sides. If you do see this, remove the compound with a dry rag (you may need to remove the cooler). Once again, give the area a spray of compressed air to banish any lint.

how to install a cpu

Now attach the cooler’s CPU power cord to the appropriate pin on the motherboard. Most are three-pin but you may also see four pins. The fourth pin is for a fan speed management feature called Pulse-Width Modulation. Don’t worry if your fan and motherboard don’t have the same number of pins. Just make sure the pins line up correctly – refer to this Intel guide for more information.

Wrapping It Up

Now that you’ve installed the processor you just need to re-install the motherboard. Screw it back into the case and re-attach all the wires that you removed. Hopefully you followed my earlier advice and labeled them.

Now plug your computer back in and turn the power supply back on. If everything went well, your computer should boot without any trouble. You do not need to install drivers to make a processor work (and we already covered the BIOS upgrade).

If you run into trouble, or have advice, leave a comment. You can also seek help by visiting MakeUseOf Answers.

Explore more about: Computer Maintenance, CPU.

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  1. Shavenix
    August 10, 2012 at 3:49 pm

    This article reminds me of when I putting together my first pc back in 09.. I was ready to have a non name brand company computer. Things were going well until I used the compound that came with my 3rd party heatsink fan it was one with the paint on brush. I had brushed on the top silver portion from end to end and if that wasn't bad enough I didn't have the heat sink fan sitting in its bracket holder properly. Which caused a lot of crashing on me, it wasn't until I was told it was possibly my thermal paste must be cracked that I decided to buy Arctic Silver kit that came with its own brand of paste (with the same finger push bottom as shown in the article). After the change of paste I haven't had any trouble with crashing like it did when I put the parts together.

  2. Kevin Vaillant
    August 8, 2012 at 1:50 am

    Thanks Matt, I'm currently upgrading my MOBO, PSU and case of my computer to escape Dell's ecosystem and their use of proprietary parts. This article is and will be a big help in this upgrade.

  3. Doc
    August 7, 2012 at 10:25 pm

    I've built so many computers over the years (starting with 386 CPUs that didn't have ZIF sockets) that this old hat. A micronized silver compound (such as Arctic Silver) used in *much* smaller amounts than pictured does wonders.

    The most recent PC I'm working on is a Phenom 9600B, which runs at 20C at idle, using the thermal tape supplied on a stock AMD cooler.

    I have had a few mishaps...while trying to restore a HP computer that had been through a fire, I attached the power supply (which tested out fine with an ATX power supply tester) to the motherboard (which had been moved into a new case); there was a "pop" and both board and power supply died instantly; I'm thinking a capacitor had been damaged, and took both out. The CPU, memory, video card, etc. - everything but the case and dead components - went together and are currently working fine. Assembling and upgrading PCs is like any other skill - you learn how things go together and get experience by working on old or discarded PCs until you learn how things go together. I seriously can't remember how many different PCs I've had my hands inside, or how many I've built from new and/or used parts, for myself and others...

  4. Achraf Almouloudi
    August 7, 2012 at 9:52 pm

    Use Cttrl + F then write "colors" so you will notice you did write "cooler" as wrong .

  5. Jon Smith
    August 7, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    Well I guess I'll pay a few bucks so I won't break my computer trying to do this

    • Achraf Almouloudi
      August 7, 2012 at 9:50 pm

      But better to not trust the person as it only want the bucks and not to do quality job for you, if you do it yourself you'l feel that you paid $300 for that processor and handle it with care .

    • Shakirah Faleh Lai
      August 8, 2012 at 6:55 pm

      No need to waste your money by paying someone to do a simple job like that, just be careful with what you do.

  6. fizzbin88
    August 7, 2012 at 4:58 pm

    Interesting article.... but I have to say that, having been a geek for over 30+ years, I have never even thought of doing this... IMHO, it is better just to buy a new MB !

    • Shavenix
      August 10, 2012 at 4:47 pm

      Um why just buy a new or another motherboard? Wouldn't the process be the same, but waste of money if nothing is wrong with the motherboard?

      • fizzbin88
        August 10, 2012 at 7:01 pm

        By the time it comes time to upgrade the Processor Speed, usually a totally new product line is available and the new processor cannot be used on the motherboard. And newer motherboards tend to have newer features that take advantage of newer processors. If you are upgrading to a faster CPU shortly after buying a motherboard, then it is probably not cost effective... the replacement CPU will be too expensive and... what do you do with the replaced CPU ? Sell it, I guess ?!?!? Anyway... this is a good article, but I don't see that I would ever do this, and I have bought many systems... just my opinion, but it IS from experience !

  7. Gideon Pioneer
    August 7, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    That is a lot of compound. Half of that would do.

    You really don't want to put too much because remember (or FYI), thermal compound is used to cover microscopic bumps in the CPU so that hot air doesn't get trapped between the CPU and heatsink. If CPUs were perfectly flat you wouldn't need thermal paste at all (that's why enthusiasts lap their CPUs). But if you put too much you're basically insulating the CPU from the heatsink, and thereby not allowing the heatsink to do its job properly. So keep it to a minimum. If you have quality paste put just a grain or two of rice worth of paste on there.

    • Matt Smith
      August 7, 2012 at 5:21 pm

      Believe me, I agree. This cooling paste, which was bundled in with a heatsink I bought for another PC, was not spreading well. I had to douse it, let it sit with the cooler flattening it out for a few hours, then come back and clean up the excess.

      • Paul-G
        August 7, 2012 at 11:09 pm

        Wipe a Credit Card (lightly) to spread and remove excess paste. Look at the underside of the Heat Sink to determine the size and shape of the area to cover. Done correctly it will leave a thin and even film.

        • Shakirah Faleh Lai
          August 8, 2012 at 6:51 pm

          Yeah, you're right. I use a folded paper to do so.

    • Elijah Swartz
      August 7, 2012 at 8:24 pm

      Most thermal past vendors have done research showing which method is best on which CPUs using their product. Just go to vendor's website and they'll tell you which method and how much to apply.

      If you are going to use the same fan heatsink, you should remember to remove your old thermal paste before putting it back on the CPU with the new thermal paste. You can do this vendor created cleaners or with 90% isopropyl alcohol would work too. The higher the percentage of the isopropyl alcohol the better. Lower percentage contains less alcohol, so it will be less efficient at removing the old TIM(thermal interface material) and take longer to dry. You can use paper towel and/or q-tips to remove the old stuff. Make sure nothing is left on the surface and that it looks shiny and very clean and not wet at all.

    • Gideon Pioneer
      August 7, 2012 at 8:53 pm

      I meant people lap their HEATSINKS, not CPUs, by the way :P Some do lap their CPUs as well but that's quite a risk