Do It Yourself Computer - Installing the CPU - A Guide for the Do-It-Yourself PC Builder

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Installing Your CPU

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Step 3: CPU Installation

<< Step 2: Computer Case
>> Step 4: Install Memory (RAM)

Installing your CPU before mounting your motherboard into the computer case will likely make your job a little easier. Mainly because you'll have better lighting and more space available to move around.

Installing your CPU is a fairly simple task, but don't get careless. Your cpu is a very fragile piece of equipment. Even though it's easy to install, it's equally easy to damage during the process. Keep your processor in its packaging material until you're ready to install.

Regardless of the processor brand (AMD or Intel), most modern chips use a ZIF (Zero Insertion Force) socket. You can identify it on your motherboard as a blank socket that's roughly the same size as your CPU. Attached to the side of the socket, you should see a small lever. When the lever is up, you can insert a CPU chip (or remove an existing one). When the lever is down, the CPU is locked in place.

Component Where to Buy Description Comments
Cost Varies
AMD Socket FM1 Processors from TigerDirect
Compatible with the ASUS F1A75-V Pro Motherboard I use in my standard and bargain PC builds
These are mostly retail versions (i.e., shipped in a box with heatsink/fan included)... very convenient for an experienced or first-time PC builder. Be aware that any OEM versions of processors/CPUs will likely NOT include a heatsink or fan.

Installing the CPU

When you're ready to begin installing your CPU, remove your processor from its packaging and inspect it. If your processor has pins, check them all to verify that none of them are bent. If so, inserting the chip into the socket will likely damage them (or the socket) further. If 1 or 2 pins are only slightly bent, then you can try to straighten them using a small screwdriver. If the chip has been banged around enough to bend several pins, then it's probably best to get a replacement. If your CPU doesn't have pins, then you don't need to worry too much about this part of the process.

Now, whether your processor has pins or not, you'll need to ensure you line the chip up correctly before inserting it into the ZIF socket. You need to locate "Pin #1" before you continue. Take a close look at the chip, and look for notched or angled corner. If the chip is square, look at the chip's pins or contacts for a tapered corner. With Pin 1 identified, take a look at your ZIF socket. You should notice where the Pin 1 corner of your chip should be inserted. Raise the lever on your ZIF socket (you may need to pull it out from the side before it will lift up). Make sure you raise the lever all the way. It should be pointing at the ceiling if your motherboard is lying flat. Gently insert the CPU into the ZIF socket. It should drop in completely with very little or no help.

The chip should be lying flat on the ZIF socket with no space in between. If it isn't, check to make sure the lever is all the way up, and gently nudge the chip from side-to-side to see if it will drop in. If you're still having difficulty, remove the chip and make sure that it's aligned properly with the socket. You should never need to apply downward force to get the chip to fit into the socket.

Installing your CPU Heatsink

If the fan isn't already attached to your heatsink, attach it now. Use the four screws provided with your CPU fan.

If you're working with a new CPU and heatsink, your heatsink will likely have a little (usually gray) patch that comes into contact with your CPU core when it's mounted. This little patch is extremely important as it helps to conduct heat from your CPU to the heatsink. It may be covered with a small plastic film to protect it during shipping. This must be removed before it's installed. If you're installing a used heatsink or one without a pre-installed thermal pad, then you'll need to add a little heatsink compound (thermal paste) bewteen your CPU and heatsink.

If your heatsink is used and has remnants of an old thermal pad or paste, you'll need to clean. If you try to reuse what's left of the old pad, you'll run the real risk of damaging your CPU due to overheating. A little isopropyl alcohol and an old credit card should do the trick. Use the credit card to scrape away as much as you can, then finish up using the alcohol.

After you've cleaned the old pad or paste from your heatsink (and CPU if necessary), wipe each surface using an alcohol wipe to ensure that any dust or finger oils are removed. The attach your new thermal pad or apply your new thermal paste. An easy way to apply the thermal paste is to gently apply a few drops across the surface area of your processor core that will come into contact with your heatsink. Use a clean plastic bag to cover your finger and evenly spread the paste across the surface. Be careful not to use too much paste. If you do, installing your CPU heatsink will cause the paste to ooze from in between, and you'll need to remove the heatsink, clean up, and start over.

When you're ready to attach your heatsink, pay close attention to its orientation. Before applying your heatsink compound, it's probably a good a idea to do a "dry fit" beforehand just to make sure everything fits together properly.

Line up your heatsink and place it on top of the CPU. Don't twist or slide the heatsink--you'll displace the heatsink compund. With the heatsink in its proper location, attach the clips to the sides of your ZIF socket and lock them into place. If your heatsink attaches using screws, finger tighten the screws, then use a screwdriver to finish the job. Be careful to to overtighten the screws, you could damage the heatsink or motherboard.

Attach the fan's power cable to its power connector on the motherboard. The connector is usually a 3-pin type which is labeled "CPU FAN." In some case, the fan uses a standard power supply connection. In this case, be sure to connect it to your power supply after you mount the motherbaord in the case.

The steps outlined above should be adequate for installing your CPU in most cases. However, you should always consult the manual for your specific hardware to ensure you have all the necessary information to safely install and configure your components.

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