Motherboard testing

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Setup

Before testing...

  • Ensure the workspace is clear and that the underside of the motherboard will be resting on a soft, non-conducting surface.
  • Double check for loose screws or metallic pieces in the workspace. These could short out the motherboard.
  • Check the inventory of used processors. You will only be able to assemble motherboards if there are CPUs and heat sinks in-stock.
  • If there are motherboards assembled with CPUs and heat sinks waiting on the workbench, consider working on them first. The processor speed is likely already matched to the motherboard's abilities.

Select a motherboard to test

Identify the processor brand

Every motherboard has an area where the CPU will be inserted. This location should also have hardware to install the cooling mechanism on top of the CPU.

There are AMD-based and Intel-based motherboards. Over time (or this page!), you will learn which cooling bracket mechanisms indicate which brand of processor is being used.

Contemporary Intel boards tend to use plastic snaps with plastic arms to secure the heat sink to the board. Slightly older Intel heat sink brackets are hooked onto the plastic arms and then lowered into position by these levers.

Currently, AMD is transitioning from plastic snap/plate/lever systems and is producing more boards that use metal screws to attach the arms to the board.

Determine the board specifications

The manufacturer model number is usually printed in-between the card slots or stamped on the CPU holder. Search online for the CPU limitations of the board; not all CPUs work with all boards. Make sure the board features are sufficient to warrant spending time on.

Desired features

  • Usually, the presence of SATA connectors for optical and hard drives are indicators of a newer board.
  • Multiple RAID connections are other indicators of a high-end board.
  • A plug-in cluster with a variety of USB, LAN, sound connections, etc. tell how versatile the board is.
  • PCIe video card slots are an indicator of a newer board.
  • Higher end boards utilize more elaborate cooling structures, e.g. larger heat sinks.
  • DDR2 ram is the choice of faster boards.

Find a CPU for the motherboard

For AMD motherboards

K7 socket A or Socket 462 motherboards

The motherboard will be stamped 462. K7 processors are usually a combination of fiber board and metallic connections, green, or brown in colour.

  • Brand, model numbers, and processor speed are etched on the composite core on top of the fiber board.
  • Duplicate information is written on a label on the fiber board.
  • Use CPUs ranging from XP 1500+ to the XP 3200+ level, 1333 to 2333Mhz.

Install instructions: Socket A Processor Installation Guide

Socket 754 motherboards

Athlon 64 CPUs utilize a solid, stainless plate over a fiber plate.

  • The brand, model numbers, and power ratings are etched onto the stainless plate.
  • Use AMD 64 or K8 Sempron processors starting at the 3000+ level.

Socket 939 motherboards

These boards look identical from the top as the Athlon 64 units, except the number of pins has been increased to 940 pins.

  • Brand, power ratings, and numbers are etched into the stainless plate.
  • Use Athlon 64 processors rated 3000+ to 4000+.
  • These boards also accept Athlon 64x2, dual-core CPUs, but it would be not be beneficial to install one since the board will not utilize the CPU's full potential.

Socket AM2 motherboards

AM2 boards look identical to the 939 boards, except they use CPUs with two or more processing cores.

  • Use Athlon 64x2 dual-core CPUs ranging from 3800+ to 5000+. Some Athlon 64 and Sempron CPUs will fit, but are not a good match for the board's performance ratings.

For Intel motherboards

We do not install Intel CPUs with speeds less than 2 GHz.

Socket 478 motherboards

The CPU speed will be etched on the stainless plate, along with its production data.

  • Use Pentium 4 R CPUs ranging from 1.5 GHz to 3.2 GHz.

Socket 945 motherboards

These boards use CPUs with a stamped metal cover over fiber board and a no-pins configuration. All of the pins are built into the receiver socket on the board.

  • Use Pentium 4 775 CPUs with speed ranges from 3 GHz and up.

Testing Process

  1. Check the board for blown capacitors and any overheating discolourations.
  2. Select a CPU to match the performance of the motherboard using the guide above.
  3. Clean any residual thermal paste off the selected CPU and heat sink.
    1. Make sure the heat sink fan is free of dust and contamination.
    2. Check to make sure all pins are straight on the CPU.
  4. Gently drop the CPU into the socket. Check it is inserted fully before pressing the CPU in place. If not, lift and check for bent pins. Straighten if possible.
  5. Squeeze a thin, circular line of thermal paste on the contact surface of the CPU. Lower the heat sink onto the CPU. Gently press the heat sink to squish the paste across the CPU surface. (I lift the heat sink up to double-check for an even, complete contact of the CPU to the heat sink.)
  6. If the contact is satisfactory, lock the heat sink in place, and plug in the fan connector to the CPU fan pins.
  7. Select a stick of tested ram for the motherboard. Insert one stick (256 MB of ram is sufficient) in whatever style needed (could be SD, DDR, or DDR2 ram).
  8. Connect the power supply to the board. Remember to connect the 4-wire, yellow/black plug to power the CPU. Make sure you are using either 20-pin or 24-pin power supply connections.
  9. Check the CMOS battery for adequate remaining power. Test the battery voltage with the Fluke test meter. Voltage should be about 3 volts DC + or minus .25 volts. How?
  10. Connect the mouse and keyboard plugs.
  11. Connect the on-board video or select an appropriate video card for the motherboard. (AGP or PCI express)
  12. Turn on the power supply. Note if the motherboard LED comes on, indicating power.
  13. Find the panel pins on the motherboard and the PWR pins. Temporarily connect them with a piece of conductive material. Ensure the CPU fans and any video fans power up.
    1. These pins are not always marked. Pairs of red or green pin bases are sometimes an indicator of a set. Sometimes guesswork is required and “stroking” the pins will accidentally cross the connecting pair.
    2. It is also possible to search online with the motherboard model number and see if the pin configurations can be retrieved.
  14. Watch monitor for images of POST details. Check there are no CMOS error messages, e.g. CHK SUM errors (could be a incorrect date/time in CMOS), etc.
    1. Verify that POST is recognizing the CPU speeds. If the POST information does not correlate with the installed CPU speed, try resetting the BIOS to default settings.
  15. Power down the power supply and remove all cable connections, video card, and ram.
  16. Attach the motherboard sticker with all relevant data filled out.
  17. Bring the board to store!

Troubleshooting

If there is no POST or power, then try:

  1. checking all the connections.
  2. a different stick of tested ram.
  3. checking the power supply and secondary connections.
  4. checking the CMOS battery voltage.
  5. checking for a possible faulty CPU or video card.
  6. checking for overheated components.
  7. clearing the CMOS memory by removing the CMOS battery for twenty seconds.
  8. begging for assistance… Ask a friend or staff member!