Your computer’s motherboard is a critical component that places many boundaries on what upgrades you can and can’t install. Motherboards have a reputation for being finicky to troubleshoot, however, which keeps some PC enthusiasts fearful of ever touching it.
Not to worry though, because five of the most common problems that you can run into while upgrading your motherboard can be fixed. All you need is a little patience. We’ll show you how here.
Not enough power
Yes, listing “check the power” as the first step in any guide is a bit cliché, but it’s an absolute must here, because motherboards have not just one power connection, but two. There is a main 20-to-24-pin connector, and a second 4-pin connector hidden away by the processor socket, though the 4-pin may instead be an 8-pin, particularly on mobos built with overclocking in mind. Many people forget the second connector. We’ve done it before in our early PC building days, so you should check to make sure that both are in use.
Make sure both plugs are fully seated, and properly matched with the correct power supply cords. This will solve many issues, particularly those that crop up when you’re installing a new motherboard for the first time.
Improperly installed components
Components can cause a motherboard to malfunction if they’re not properly installed. In some cases, your computer may not even get through POST (a self-testing mechanism employed by PCs during boot-up), or even turn on. Potential culprits include the processor, video card, and RAM.
Improper seating of the video card and RAM are the most likely sources of your problems, because issues in those areas are easy to overlook. Examine the video card, and make sure that it’s evenly seated across the width of the PCI-Express slot. Then, give it a firm downward push, just to be sure.
The RAM slot has two plastic wings that should snap over the sides of each stick of memory. These should be standing upright 90 degrees from the motherboard’s surface, and securely inserted around the tabs found on each side of your RAM sticks. If one or both wings are slightly askew, the RAM isn’t properly installed.
Improperly installing a processor is much more difficult, but worth checking if you’re really stumped. The pins and the slot on the processor and motherboard must be properly lined up. Once inserted, the processor should sit flat in the socket’s surface. The processor’s heatsink should also attach firmly.
A short circuit
Motherboards are filled with capacitors and soldered connections that route data and power from one part of the board to another. As you may have noticed, the motherboard is held aloft from the PC case by a series of screw-in “standoffs” that are about a quarter-inch thick. These exist because the motherboard can short if it makes contact with other metallic components.
A motherboard experiencing a short may not get through POST, may complete POST but then behave erratically, or may boot but then crash at random. A failure to pass the POST process is the most frequent symptom, but the other situations can occur even if only occasional contact is made between the motherboard and the case.
Examine how your motherboard is installed. Check that you used the stands that keep the mobo above the case, and ensure that any un-supported portions of the motherboard haven’t bent towards the case’s interior. Also, check that all internal wires are properly shielded with a rubber or plastic exterior.
No case power button connection
The power button on a computer’s case connects to the motherboard through a small, thin two-pin wire. Without this important, but easy-to-miss connection, your computer won’t start. That’s because the motherboard never receives the command to do so if you press the power button when the wire isn’t connected to the proper pins on your motherboard.
Connecting the power button can be difficult. Unlike so many other motherboard connectors, which are designed to make improper installation impossible, the power button connector usually is labeled only with plus and minus symbols. Lining these up with the plus and minus printed on the motherboard should be easy, except most motherboards print their labels in hilariously small text. Matters are made worse by the fact that the front power button’s connection is part of a cluster of connections, so accidentally connecting power to pins that control the reset button or hard drive light are easy mistakes to make.
You’ll need your motherboard’s manual, and possibly a magnifying glass to solve this issue. You’ll need the manual to confirm where the power button connector goes, and you (might) need the magnifying glass to properly align the connection with the pins. If you can’t find your manual, your motherboard’s manufacturer should have a PDF version of it on the company’s site. Just search for your motherboard’s model number.
BIOS hardware incompatibility
Motherboards ship from the factory with a BIOS or UEFI operating system that can handle modern hardware, but any hardware released after it ships is not guaranteed to work. Even new processors that fit into the motherboard’s CPU socket may not be compatible out of the box.
If this situation occurs, your computer may not POST, or it may POST, but refuse to boot your operating system. The fix to this situation is simple, but a bit frustrating.
You’ll first have to re-install whatever old hardware you removed, both to confirm the issue, and to boot your computer. Once you do so, you can boot your computer, go to your motherboard manufacturer’s website, and find the latest BIOS/UEFI version. Install it, and then try installing your new hardware again.
While motherboards can be difficult to troubleshoot, they’re far from impossible to handle. Learning to handle them is an important skill for any PC builder. The experience you gain by replacing your mobo gives you the potential to use the same computer for a decade (or more) by replacing the internals when necessary. Don’t be intimidated; the problems above, though far from uncommon, can be handled with a little patience.