Wisdom of technical doofus upgrading a PC motherboard

FTR, I am a techno dummy, bordering on idiocy. Sure I’ve added RAM and swapped modems, but the rest of a PC’s innards boggles my mind and when people start talking about the BIOS and jumper settings, my mind fogs over and I start looking for an exit.

My (second) PC’s specs are these: Compaq 500 mghz with 192 megs of RAM and 10 gig HD (half full). I’m thinking of a 2 gig processor and double the RAM. I don’t play games, just MS Office apps., but I hate a sucky system. And though I don’t need the PC for work, I also don’t want to ruin the damn thing.

I know how to remove the PC case and get to the motherboard. (I once took it out, just for kicks, but put it back before a panic attack set in.)

How much more work is involved? Is this just your basic snatch and jerk operation?


Just take it out, and put in the new mobo (put the new chip on it first).

Then connect everything back properly.

You may have to upgrade your RAM dependiong ont he type of RAM you currently have and your new mobo.

As long as you make an effort to bleed any static off you before you touch any component, it’s pretty simple. Just don’t force anything. Lining up the standoffs to attach the new MOBO to the case may be the toughest thing you need to do.

You’re probably being too modest - if you’ve gone as far as removing a motherboard that probably puts you at the upper end of the scale of PC geekdom. Replacing the motherboard and CPU might involve fiddling with BIOS settings, and naturally you’ll need to plug all the leads into the correct places, but the manuals are quite good these days. Have you fitted a heatsink to a CPU before? You’ll need to ensure a good thermal contact between the two. Should all be spelt out in the instructions. Handle everything with care, obviously.

My tips would be to buy mainstream stuff, and if at all possible have a spare PC with an internet connection to hand while you’re doing the upgrade. That way, if you run into trouble you can consult the motherboard manufacturer’s website, or just Google. It’s unlikely that you will be the ony person in the world to have encountered the problem. For example, I had a problem with the (at the time quite new) chipset on my current motherboard - I had to download a newer driver than the one supplied in order to get the Windows installation to work.

It’s probably cheaper just to buy a new computer. Look around for deals, there are sites on the internet that specialize in finding good deals on things. I’ve had good luck with www.dealcatcher.com, but there are many others. A quick check in the computers category shows that Dell is selling 2.4GHz celeron + 256MB RAM + 80GB hard drive + palm zire for $359, shipped to your door.

Actually, my main PC is a 2 gig, 512 meg Dell. I just want to test the waters of geekdom and upgrade the old jalopy before it becomes totally useless.

Quote from USRAM: “You’re probably being too modest - if you’ve gone as far as removing a motherboard that probably puts you at the upper end of the scale of PC geekdom.”

Hmmm. I think an impartial observer looking at me holding the motherboard would have instantly flashed back to that hairy ape vacuously staring at the monolith in “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Surprisingly, it helps a lot to read the manufacturer’s directions before you go messing around with that sort of thing. It is pretty simple, but you should make sure that you’re taking care to line everything up, and get a feel for how much resistance you can expect from the various types of slots. Both times I’ve purchased a new motherboard, I’ve assembled the motherboard and RAM and all PCI/AGP cards before attempting to do the same inside the case; usually you can leave the mobo, RAM, and CPU+heatsink all together once you’re sure it’s a good fit.

If you’re still really nervous, ask a friend who’s done it before to demonstrate the whole process using all your old parts while you follow along with the new ones.

FYI, a jumper just connects two pins to close a circuit. As long as you only move them as specified by your manual (and with the power turned off) you should have no problem. For practice, try slowing down your (current) motherboard’s bus speed.

Oh, and by the way, Usram is right. The fact that you’ve taken your case off shows that you’ve got the geek gene. My dad won’t open his case unless I’m at home, and my mom won’t even swap out a mouse or a keyboard without me on the phone to talk her through it.

…and now that I’ve seen your reply (damn me for not previewing!), the fact that you want to “upgrade the old jalopy before it becomes useless” is a good sign.

Consider just buying a CPU and more RAM for your junior varsity box. I don’t know what your motherboard is (look all over it for serial numbers, and Google those numbers along with the word “Compaq” to find out) but once you know, you can figure out what the fastest CPU it will take is and go get one for ~$30. My fiancee’s machine still runs WinXP and Diablo II just fine with a 900MHz processor and 256M of RAM.

And then there is the other side:

Some makers, like Compaq, throw out little annoying curve balls. E.g., they might have the power connector wired differently. Works fine with a Compaq MB and Compaq PS. Put in a non-Compaq MB and blammo. Dead MB and/or PS.

Fun right.

Step 1 is always find out everything about everything your are plugging in to make sure it’s compatible. Swapping out a PS is even easier than the MB, but you might have to do both.

Then they sometimes also make the cases a little non-standard, the new MB may not fit. Since a case+PS is just as cheap as a good PS alone, that’s no big deal. Etc.

Note: I am quite heavily in favor of incremental upgrades. They are cheaper over the long run and you get to stay more current instead of waiting for the wad of cash to be saved up. If you plan on upgrading again, then upgrade now. It will pay off.

I will 2nd ftg’s point in that I doubt that you will find a motherboard that will fit in the Compaq case. Also new motherboards need a bigger power supply generally speaking so you may have to get a new case. Its the best anyway. The components will transfer but you may have onboard video which needs to be considered in the purchase.MWave sells bundles in which the CPU is installed and tested which is pretty nice if you are uncertain. I installed a Shuttle MN31N board in my daughters computer which is a great board with lots of features and dual video if you want it. You just need a hard drive and CD-Rom to complete the basic machine. There are several Forums in case you have questions or run into a problem. It’s fun… go for it!!

If you are going to rip out everything anyway, you might as well go with an entirely new rig. You can check www.pricewatch.com for good deals. For example the $160 deal for a mobo, Athlon XP 2800 plus fan. You probably need a new power supply and a new case as well, but can salvage the rest from the old system.

A little tip - if there’s any onboard peripherals (video, sound, LAN etc) on the old motherboard, remove the drivers before dismantling, otherwise they will (or at least might) conflict with the new setup.

Get a new case. Doesnt cost all that much.

Carnac, I have just replaced my motherboard and CPU and found it to be reasonably painful, but rewarding. I’ll share my hard-earned wisdom:

The actual physical replacement of the motherboard went well, but then when I tried to start up the PC it kept crashing. Blue screen messages appeared for a fraction of a second before rebooting, and of course I couldn’t read them in time.

In the end I found that it was an incorrectly seated heatsink (this is a device with a fan which sits on the CPU to keep it cool). the CPU was overheating and crashing the system.

Despite my experiences, I recommend you give it a go. Here are some tips to add to the others already mentioned:

  1. Have a web-connected PC to hand if possible. I had to swap back to the old motherboard whenever I needed to diagnose anything or look anything up.

  2. Find a good techy discussion site - I found hardwarecentral.com and got good some good responses there.

  3. Before removing the old motherboard:

  • use the File and Settings Transfer wizard or back up preferences, etc manually
  • Set Windows not to reboot on failure (Control Panel/System/Advanced/Startup and Recovery)
  1. Make sure you have an install CD for your OS.

  2. After you have installed the mobo, attach the bare minimum of peripherals (i.e. one RAM chip, keyboard, and video card). You will get a disk failure but at least you can see the BIOS is working. Then reattach the peripherals one by one starting with the hard drive.

  3. You may need to boot from the install CD, which involves changing the boot order in your BIOS (are you still with me?).

And yes, you probably need a new case. I know that Gateway cases don’t work with other mobo’s and assume the same is true for Compaq.

Good luck!