CPUs are one of the most commonly upgraded components of a PC and it’s always difficult to know exactly what to go for and how to install it. To make matters worse there are a plethora of socket formats across Intel and to a lesser extent AMD processors, making it difficult to know what is compatible with what.
When upgrading be sure to check thoroughly that the CPU you’re buying is compatible with the socket formats on your motherboard. GD's compatibility tool can help you in this area, checking the compatibility of boards with processors. You will find a link on all GD CPU pages. If it needs a new mobo then that adds an entirely new and considerably more expensive problem to the equation, which we won’t go into here...
For the upgrade you may need a couple of screwdrivers, as well as some thermal paste for your new CPU; a lot of processors come with thermal paste packed in or even thermal pads. A thermal pad is just a little sticker of thermal paste that you apply instead of adding a blob and having to manually smear the thermal paste onto your CPU.
Thermal paste/pads are used to help conduct heat away from the CPU. It sits between the back of the CPU and your cpu cooling fan's metal base.
Earthing Tip: you may want to remove any latent static from your own body by earthing yourself. You can buy special earthing wires that you can wear during this process. They are not always necessary but if you accidentally fry your own hardware, because you have static build up, before getting to use your hundreds of bucks worth of CPU, then you will be very upset, so its better to be safe than sorry. Some people touching the outside of their metal case, which can help to ground yourself.
Once you know what’s what and you’ve bought your shiny new CPU and it’s arrived at your house,
it’s time to get your hands dirty.
MAKE SURE YOU POWER OFF YOUR PC and unplug everything. Even after doing that there is often residual amounts of electric stored up in your PC, power supply, motherboard, etc even after it has been turned off and unplugged, so proceed with extreme caution.
Opening your PC case. This is different for each case but it should be fairly obvious, you may need a screwdriver though.
Now get that case open so you'll have access to all of the internal components that keep your machine ticking over.
Now that you're inside you’re going to want to remove any components restricting your access to the motherboard; this will usually be the PSU and heat sink cover.
If possible, try to remove the motherboard completely from the case, as this will help provide better access when you come to swap out and replace the CPU and heat sink. This is not always possible though.
Next you are going to need to need to remove the heat sink itself, which is attached to your current processor, and it is used to cool down the processor. It’s usually a grilled metal block with a fan attached to it.
Underneath the heat sink is your current CPU. There should be a little latch on the side (depending on the motherboard/CPU you have, but they are all pretty similar); raise this up slightly and it will lift up the CPU, allowing you to remove it.
Take out your new CPU and place it into the socket, making sure that the corner with the fewest pins goes into the upper-right corner of the socket. Make sure you push down on the latch you used to raise it out to ensure that the processor has been attached firmly to the socket and the motherboard.
if you are reusing your heat sink, as opposed to adding a new one, make sure you clean any old residual thermal paste off the bottom of the heat sink, fan cooler. There are liquid solutions you can find that are specifically designed for removing thermal paste.
Now you’ll need to get out the thermal paste, ensuring you put on enough to cover the surface of the CPU. However, if you put too much thermal paste onto the back of your CPU then instead of helping transfer heat away from your CPU and onto your fan coolers metal base, it will instead act as a barrier and cause heat build up on your CPU. This could cause damage to the CPU and stop it working prematurely. The thermal paste should only be about 2mm thick all over. Use something like an old credit card to help you smooth it out so it is very even all over. Then carefully replace the previously removed heat sink or fan cooler. Lower the fan cooler's metal base slowly onto the thermal paste that is on the back of your new CPU.
Note: try to make sure you have not accidentally got thermal paste anywhere else inside or around the other PC components. Doing so could cause damage and other issues to your hardware. Dont let the thermal paste spew over the edge of the CPU either, which could happen when the heat sink is lowered back down and if you had added too much thermal paste.
Tip: Every 2 years it is probably worth cleaning and replacing your thermal paste and this can help extend the performance and lifespan of your CPU.
Now everything else you took off the motherboard needs to be put back on. Replace the heat sink on the new CPU and plug the fan back into the mobo. Then pop the PSU back and any other cables that you had to remove to get access. Once you’re sure everything is back together, pop your case back together and job done!
Before purchasing a new CPU, dont forget that you’ll need to check that your next processor is going to be compatible with other parts of your rig as well as the motherboard. Check that your power supply will offer up enough juice to run your new processor, and again the info is in GD pages and of course you can just ask one of our members too if you need help. Also make sure your rig cooling components and options are suitable as well. Often a CPU will come with a stock CPU cooler, which can be upgraded to a custom solution, fairly easily, but we can cover installing a cpu fan in another article.
Obviously this is the basics of physically upgrading/replacing your CPU in an existing rig, but we wanted to help demystify the upgrading CPU process. It doesnt have to be considered to be some overly complicated dark art that only a few people can do. Swapping out your CPU can be a great way to get a better rig without having to completely replace your ageing rig.
But definitely ask around here at GD for peoples opinions to get a better understanding of other things that you might like to know about when upgrading your hardware, especially when it comes to selecting your next CPU.
Have you had a go at upgrading your CPU before and if so did you find it straightforward to do? Do you have any tips and tricks you would like to share? Let us know below!