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How to remove old CPU or processor and install a new one [tutorial]

If you noticed that the old processor in your system appears to be not up to the job lately, replacing it may be a wise option. This guide will give you the general  steps on how to remove the old processor and how to install the new one. If you think you have a processor problem, don’t forget to visit our post that can help you troubleshoot it.

  1. How to remove a CPU
  2. How to install a new processor

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How to remove a CPU

This portion of this guide is obviously for those wanting to remove an old processor so a new one can be put in place. We are assuming that you’ve already prepared everything we outlined above.

Turn off the computer. Never touch the internal components of a running computer. This may sound obvious but we do hear anecdotal reports of some users forgetting to power down their PC when trying to implement repair tasks. Make sure that you unplug the power cord from the computer’s power supply unit (PSU).

Let the computer cool off for at least 2 hours. If you used the computer before attempting the CPU removal, give it enough time to fully cool off. The CPU can’t dissipate heat fast enough so a minimum of 2 hours should be good. Make sure that you also unplug the power cord from the PSU during this time.

Unplug all peripherals. Disconnecting other peripherals is the next thing that you want to do once the computer has fully cooled off. Peripherals include the power cord (if you haven’t initially disconnected it), mouse, keyboard, monitor, and other external connections there are in your rig. Once you’ve done that, place the tower in a well-lit area or table where you can open it.

Clean the inside. Remove the case and clean the internal system as best as you can. You want to minimize the dust that remains inside before you physically remove the CPU for good. Dust settles everywhere so you want to clean the system thoroughly before working. Working on a dirty system is an unpleasant experience.

Decide whether or not motherboard needs to be removed. We highly suggest that you remove the motherboard before the actual removal of the processor but if there’s enough working room in the case and you’re positive that you can do the job that way, then leave it in place. Some technicians prefer to work with the motherboard inside the case but if you doubt you can work comfortably with limited space, simply take the motherboard out. If you want to remove the motherboard, make sure that you know how to reconnect ALL the cables connected to it. If this is your first time work on a motherboard, we suggest that use your phone to take pictures of all cable connections before unscrewing the motherboard from the case. Again, you want to ground yourself before touching the motherboard to avoid damaging components with static electricity.  If you don’t have an antistatic device (grounding wrist band), simply touch the metallic case or the power supply with your hands. For proper grounding, try to remove wooly clothing that usually tends to keep static energy around you. If possible, try to work without shoes and socks on as well. After removing the motherboard from the case, place in on a nonconducive surface like a wooden or plastic table.

Disconnect the CPU cooler. Separating the CPU cooler from the motherboard is ideally done before unscrewing the motherboard but if you haven’t done it yet, make sure that the clamps putting it the CPU cooler in place are released. Be gentle when lifting the CPU cooler from the motherboard. Depending on the cooler, you can also try to slide it back and forth to dislodge it. Be sure to this maneuver gently though to prevent damaging it. Sometimes, thermal compound between the CPU cooler and processor can settle in like glue so be sure not to yank the cooler. Pulling the cooler too hard can yank the CPU out of its socket, damaging itself and the socket. If a pin remains inside a socket, your motherboard becomes permanently damaged as you won’t be able to replace the socket itself.

If you want to keep the old CPU cooler and the old CPU for whatever reason, make sure to remove the remaining thermal paste from the base of the cooler. You can use a knife if the compound is not easily removed by rubbing your finger on cooler base. Be careful not to scratch the base of the CPU cooler. Clean the base of the cooler as thoroughly as possible as even a tiny piece of metal that remains can short the processor or motherboard when you connect it to a system later.

Clean the processor. Once you’ve removed the CPU cooler, you will then be able to see the processor itself. This is a good opportunity to clean the remaining thermal paste on the CPU. In this situation, the CPU is still well grounded so touching it won’t cause harm, in case you are not properly grounded yourself. Just like what you did in a CPU cooler, use a knife or a credit card to remove remnants of thermal compound. If the thermal is too thick and difficult to remove, try using a hair dryer to heat up the processor slightly. Doing so will make the thermal compound softer and easier to remove.

Remove the processor. After cleaning the processor, gently lift the Zero Insertion Force (ZIF) lever to unclamp the processor and lift it out. The processor should separate cleanly from the socket without any resistance. If this does not happen, you can apply very gentle pressure to lift it up. Keep in mind that the processor is connected to the motherboard by very delicate pins so make sure that you don’t break any one of them. Breaking a pin can render the old processor totally useless so if you plan on using it in the future, be very careful when lifting it out.

After you’ve successfully lifted the processor up, place it on a nonconductive surface. Later on, after you have placed a new CPU replacement on the system, you can use its antistatic bag to keep the old processor safely.

How to install a new processor

This guide assumes that you have already did your homework such as checking motherboard, CPU, and CPU cooler compatibility. If you haven’t, make sure that your new CPU and CPU cooler (if you’re not using the stock CPU cooler that usually come with AMD or Inter processors) are compatible with your existing motherboard by consulting a professional.

The steps in installing a processor is generally the same. Some slight variations may occur but mostly it’s due to the type of CPU cooler you have. Don’t worry though as most processors and non-native CPU coolers come with documentation how to install them. This guide aims to provide general directions on what to do but you should consult your CPU cooler documentation on how to secure it properly later.

Clean the motherboard. We assume that you’ve already cleaned your motherboard before you took the old processor out but if you haven’t, make sure to do it now.

Ground yourself. Don’t forget to ground yourself again. Refer to the instructions above on how to do it.

Take out the processor from its antistatic bag. After properly grounding yourself, gently remove the processor from its protective bag. Be sure to handle the new processor with care by gripping it by its edges. Do not touch the contacts or pins!

Lift the ZIF lever up. Once the processor is taken from its bag, lift the arm of the ZIF lever so there’s no clamping force in the socket holes. This will allow you to insert the processor pins without any resistance at all. Consult the documentation of the processor to know how it’s properly oriented relative to the holes. In some processors, it’s as simple as lining up the notches while in others, you may have check the small triangle in one corner.

In inserting the pins of the processor, there shouldn’t be any pressure at all. Never apply pressure to properly seat the processor. If you do, you are either doing it wrong, or the processor is not properly oriented. Simply align the processor with the socket and drop it into place. Gravity should take care of seating the pins. If that doesn’t happen, something must not be aligned properly. Remove the processor again and recheck that it’s properly oriented.

Press the ZIF level down. If you’re positive that the processor is now seated properly, press the ZIF lever down. Closing down the ZIF lever may cause the processor to rise up from the socket. In this case, simply lift the lever down again to reseat the processor. Again, never apply pressure in seating the processor down although a tiny tap to keep it in place before finally closing the ZIF lever can be done.

Clean the top of the processor with soft cloth. This is necessary before applying the thermal paste or compound. This compound may be purchased separately depending on the product you have. Most Intel processor packages include their own thermal paste so make sure you have it handy before attempting to install a new CPU.

Thermal compound is needed to allow heat from the processor to travel up to the heat sink efficiently.

Clean the contact surface of the heatsink or CPU cooler. Just like in the processor’s contact surface, you also want to make sure that the heat sink’s contact surface is perfect. Be sure not to leave any debris, lint or old thermal paste (if you’re using a preowned cooler) on the contact surface.

Some heat sinks need not be polished as they’re designed to have a material that melts as the CPU heats up. The said material then solidifies once the CPU cools off so make sure to know your CPU cooler system before installing it.

Apply the thermal compound. After making sure that there no dirt, small pieces of metal, or any imperfections on top of the processor, you can now apply the thermal paste.  The amount of ideal thermal paste depends on the product you have but most Intel processor package come with premeasured thermal compound in a syringe. Too much thermal paste is not recommended, so is too little. Again, consult the documentation that comes with your CPU to know the ideal amount. Usually, 0.1 cubic centimeter is the recommended amount but more may be required depending on the processor type. Applying too much paste can cause excess compound to spread between the CPU surface and heat sink base. Make sure that you remove excess paste from around the socket, if possible.

The heat sink’s thermal mass forces heat away from the processor but it has to be done by dissipating the heat. This will prevent the CPU from being damaged or overheated as the heat sink suck the heat. Most CPUs utilize a muffin fan to get air constantly through the fins of the heat sink in order to get dispose of heat build up.

Secure the CPU cooler. Once you’ve put the right amount of thermal compound, you then need to secure the CPU cooler properly. This is done by keeping it as horizontal to the motherboard as possible. Securing the CPU cooler depends on your product. Some coolers are installed at an angle in metal tabs while others are connected using prongs or lock tabs. Before locking the CPU cooler in place, you can gently press it down in a small circular motion to spread the thermal compound evenly. Once you’ve placed the cooler in place, do not forget to connect the cooler to the CPU fan connector on the motherboard. Doing so will allow the cooler’s fan to receive power once you turn the computer on. This will also allow the motherboard to control the CPU fan for optimum use. Most motherboards today lets a user customize processor fan speed when it’s under light load, thus generating less heat. Most importantly, the motherboard can alert the user if the fan fails or if it behaves erratically.

Connect all previously disconnected cables. The last thing that you must do is to ensure that all connections are reseated before you eventually close the case. If you can’t remember where all the connectors go, simply refer to the pictures you took with your phone while removing the old CPU. Once that’s done, power on the computer and see if everything works normally.


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