Article 12: Replacing your CPU

Welcome back to the Modern Nerd, glad you are reading. My name is Aaron, and today I’ll be focusing on what you need to know to upgrade your processor. Please be aware, that most of what this blog is focused around is Windows operating systems and PC’s; get professional advice if you are more of a Mac person. So without delay, let’s dive right into it. 

The Heart of the Operation

We looked at the processor in conjunction with the motherboard when I did my article on building your own rig. It really is the heart of your PC, because for the purposes of the argument, all calculations have to pass through it. If you want more power, upgrading your processor is a great place to start.

You need to know some very crucial information before we go forward. You need to know what your motherboard is, what your current processor is, and the socket type.

Your motherboard’s socket and the processor have to physically fit together, so the sockets are labeled with LGA and some numbers. This is not true for all motherboards though, laptops and servers have different designations. For example, by current processor type is an LGA775, and the motherboard that I have chosen to build my next computer around is an LGA2011. If you don’t have the socket type handy, there are a number of free tools online that will scan your hardware and allow you to get this information.

Can I upgrade?

Now that you have your CPU, and what socket the motherboard has, you can see what you would need to upgrade the system. Hardware suppliers online have search filters that let you look at only the processor type you specify, so check out your socket type and see if any of the new CPU’s for sale have a faster speed than your current setup, or more cores. It may be that you are maxed out if the socket type has been discontinued by manufacturers for their latest lines of processors. If that’s the case, you would need a whole new motherboard and processor to upgrade, and that’s a blog for another day.

All Systems Go

So your CPU is slow, you can find a faster one that fits your motherboard, the price is right, it sounds like you are all set. When you purchase a CPU you usually get the physical processor, a heatsink, a fan, and some thermal paste. The chip is the expensive part but all four are essential to the upgrade process. It is generally good practice to ditch your current CPU cooling fan when upgrading, if it’s worn down and not as efficient as a new one, a faster CPU that generates more heat could cause stability problems. When you pull your PC apart to start replacing, unplug it. Unplug it. UNPLUG IT. If it’s unplugged, you don’t need to worry about accidentally pushing buttons. I will also advise that you work in a well-lit space with plenty of room, and a cloth work mat to prevent tiny screws from rolling off of the table. God, I hate that.

You will need to remove the fan and heatsink from the motherboard to access the CPU socket. They can either be attached by plastic clips or by screws. If it is plastic clips, then they will have a release that can be accessed fairly easily. If it is attached with screws, then there may be a plate underneath the motherboard that houses the screw receptors, so if your new setup doesn’t have screws you may need to remove the motherboard to access it. Just use good judgment and remember that if something isn’t going smoothly, don’t force it. The equipment gets expensive to replace if you try to brute-force it into place.

The CPU socket is usually accessed by popping open a catch, and then opening a tiny door. You can remove the old CPU and place the new one in. Please be aware that if your old heatsink had thermal paste applied to it, that paste is toxic. Take care when handling it and don’t get it on anything you like. Once the new processor is in place and the door secured, apply some fresh paste to your new heatsink, if it hasn’t been already. Use a generous amount, but not so much that it will overflow onto the motherboard. The goal is to make sure that no air is trapped between the heatsink and the processor’s socket, because that air can heat up much more rapidly than the usually aluminum heatsink. If that happens, you could have the system automatically shut down to protect itself, or worst case scenario; you’ll burn out the CPU. Fasten the heatsink and fan to the socket, and make sure that it’s tight. This is the second step in making sure the processor will be cooled properly, so it’s important that there is no slop in the attaching of the two. If you get stuck with something, don’t hesitate to ask for professional advice. Better a cheap consultation than a 250 dollar replacement CPU.

Once everything is back together, plug in the computer, and boot it up. If all goes well you should see the normal startup screens and you’ll be able to identify the processor through normal Windows utilities, and notice a big jump in your performance.

Thanks for reading this week everyone; I wish you the best of luck in all of your computing endeavors. Check back for more from the Modern Nerd.

Aaron Krick
Blog Contributor at The Computer Fixer

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