Upgrade your motherboard the easy way

Here's how to upgrade your motherboard, swap your hardware, and prep your system

Review: Things to Check

Always go back and review what you've done before booting up the PC--I always forget something.

  • Is the memory seated properly?
  • Is the CPU cooling fan connected to power?
  • Are the mounting screws screwed in properly?
  • Is the ATX I/O back plate installed?
  • Are the power and reset switch connectors attached?
  • Are the IDE and power LED connectors attached?
  • Is the case-fan power connected?
  • Are the storage data and power cables connected?
  • Are both the main and ATX12V power cables connected?
  • Is the PCI Express power connected to the graphics board?

Now that you've double-checked all the connections, you need to attach the external cabling, namely the power, keyboard, mouse, network, and video cables. Next, you'll power up the system.

Post-Upgrade Follow-Up

Before you attempt to boot into Windows, get into the BIOS setup program by pressing F2 (Intel motherboards) or Del (most other motherboards). You want to check the boot order, particularly if you have more than one hard drive--you need to make sure that the Windows boot drive is the first drive the system sees. Most modern motherboards allow you to specify which SATA drive is the boot drive.

Also check that you have the right storage type specified for your configuration: IDE, AHCI, or RAID. (Note: If you're using a solid-state drive, don't enable AHCI.)

Once you're confident that the correct boot drive is specified, boot up the system.

Assuming you've connected everything properly, you should see the Windows 7 boot screen. You'll then need to wait as Windows enumerates all the new hardware. Since I installed the latest Intel motherboard drivers prior to taking out the old motherboard, this process went smoothly for me.

After all the devices have been enumerated and the drivers updated, you'll need to reboot the PC.

Once you've rebooted a second time, check to see if Windows thinks it needs to be activated. You may get a warning to this effect. You can just bring up the system property sheet (in the System control panel) and look at the bottom. There you'll see an 'activate windows now' query, along with an expiration period. I've encountered grace periods as short as three days in a motherboard upgrade; in other instances, Windows doesn't need reactivation. It seems to be something of a crap shoot, but the majority of the time, you'll need to reactivate the OS.

In my particular case, activating over the Internet worked fine. Bear in mind, however, that you may have to resort to contacting the Microsoft activation hotline via telephone if activation over the Internet is denied. The process takes only a few minutes, and requires entering codes into fields. If the automated system asks you how many computers this copy of Windows is running on, make sure you answer "1".

Cross-Chipset and Cross-CPU Upgrades

If you're moving from AMD to Intel or vice versa, or if the new motherboard uses a chipset from a different manufacturer than the old one, you need to do a little more work.

First, grab your Windows setup disc and your Windows CD key. If you're upgrading a Windows XP installation, boot from the Windows XP CD. Follow the normal instructions for installing Windows XP, but do not reformat or perform a clean install. Instead, follow the prompts for a repair install. What that will do is update the storage driver to one that Windows will recognize when it boots.

This also works with Windows 7, using the 'Repair My System' option. In both cases you'll need to reenter the Windows key.

Windows Vista makes the process more painful: Vista has no repair option, a serious oversight on Microsoft's part. What has sometimes worked is to boot into safe mode, install the new storage drivers (from the motherboard maker's CD or floppy disk), and then proceed with the boot. But if that doesn't work, you may find yourself performing a clean install after all--which is why backing up your system prior to an upgrade is critical.

Final Thoughts

The upgrade path I present in this article is simple and straightforward, but lays down the groundwork you'll need if you have a more-complex setup. I've performed this type of upgrade several times now with Windows 7, and the machines all continue to run trouble-free.

Even if you think you might need to perform a reformat and a clean install, try running your existing Windows installation first. You might be pleasantly surprised at the result.

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Loyd Case

PC World (US online)
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