Install a motherboard

For novice system builders, motherboard installation may look like a daunting task. However, it is quite a straightforward process that can be accomplished quickly and successfully with a little foresight and preparation (as well as a comprehensive once-over of the supplied documentation).

The case

The first step is to prepare your case. Make sure your case is of the ATX variety and that it contains a power supply of the ATX12V specification, which is required by most new motherboards. Also, ensure your case is clean. Place all the power cables to one side so they won’t impede the main chassis area when it comes time to position the motherboard. The rear of the case will accommodate an I/O shield, which is used to outline all the ports of the motherboard. If your case already has one installed, you will need to remove it by popping it off. I/O shields are always provided with new motherboards and you will need to attach the one that came with yours in order for all the ports on your motherboard to be accessible properly. It is just a matter of snapping it into position.

Next, identify all the mounting holes on your case and screw stand-off nuts into all that are required for your motherboard (see Motherboard section for more). A stand-off nut has a long hexagonal head and a thread at the bottom and is used to give the motherboard clearance from the chassis (of 6mm). A number of stand-offs are provided with cases, but if you don’t have any you will be able to pick some up at any good electronics store. Some cases do not require them, as their mounting holes are already elevated to provide the required clearance (FIGURE 1).

Next, sort the wires that will be used to connect to the front panel connectors on the motherboard. Your case should have wires for the power switch, reset button, speaker, hard drive and power lights. The wires are colour coded and each one is labelled. The wires have polarity, and in order for them to work you must connect the wires the right way around. The coloured wire is the positive wire, while the white one is the negative.

The motherboard

Identify the number of mounting holes your motherboard has and place stand-offs in all the corresponding holes on the chassis. Usually, a motherboard will have three or four holes along its left edge, three holes in its centre section and three holes along the right edge.

If you have a motherboard that does not extend all the way to the third column of holes on your case, you may need to install plastic stand-offs. These clip into the mounting holes of the board and are flat on the bottom. Refer to your documentation to see if they can be accommodated.

If you have an AMD motherboard, before inserting it ensure that you will be able to install the CPU heatsink comfortably. This is especially true if the CPU slot on your motherboard is placed vertically rather than horizontally, as the power supply will get in the way of the heatsink installation. If you think you will not be able to install the heatsink once the board is mounted, place the motherboard on a flat surface on its antistatic bag and carefully mount the heatsink according to the instructions in your documentation. This is not an issue for Pentium 4 motherboards due to the design of their heatsink retention mechanism, so their CPU installation can always be done when the board is secured in your case.

While the board is out of the case, check your documentation for any jumper settings that need to be manipulated, as this will save you having to fiddle in a cramped environment later. Also, identify where the front panel connectors are and refer to the documentation and circuit board markings to identify which is which. This way, once the board is in place you will be familiar with each connector’s location and polarity.


Once you have identified the correct alignment and all stand-offs are in place, hold the board from the sides and angle it down into the case. You may find the I/O shield awkward to work with, as it has little tentacles that brush up against the ports. You will need to push the board up against these until all the mounting holes are correctly aligned and all ports are easily accessible through the I/O shield. Screw in the middle hole first, using the rubber washers and Philips head screws that came with your case, and then proceed to all the other holes on your board.

Hardware installation

Before you install the graphics card, CPU and memory, install all your drives. Then proceed to install the CPU (and heatsink), memory and graphics card in that order. Now connect the case wires to the front panel. The power connectors are the very last connections to be made.

Upon bootup, if you encounter any strange beeps or there is no video signal, check that the AGP card and memory are correctly seated and that all jumper settings (if any) are correct. If you can’t get your board to power up at all, make sure your front panel connectors are all correct.

The top down
Experience level: Intermediate-advanced
Time required: 1.5-2 hours for full system installation
Tools required: anti-static wrist strap, Philips head screwdriver
Price: $130-$500

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Elias Plastiras
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