How to install a CPU on the motherboard: A beginners guide

How to install a CPU on the motherboard: A beginners guide

You just bought a new processor, a shiny new motherboard, and you were also lucky enough to get your hands on a new graphics card in 2021 amidst what’s probably the worst GPU shortage in history. Great! What’s next? Grabbing all the new components and putting them together to build a new computer. The first thing you need to do is toss that CPU on the motherboard to bring your PC to life. Installing a CPU is like putting the brains into your computer. Fortunately, it’s a fairly simple task and there’s no need to stress. We’re here to guide you through the process to make sure everything’s in place. In this guide, we’ll take you through each step and explain how to install a CPU on the motherboard.

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Prerequisite: Everything you need

If you’ve decided to begin your PC build, then there’s a very good chance that you’ve already picked up all the essential parts. If not, then now is the time to do it. You really only need just the CPU and motherboard to perform the steps mentioned in this guide, but we’re going to take a look at a couple of other things that you might want to grab before beginning this step of PC building:

  • Thermal Paste: You’re going to need a thermal paste after installing the CPU, but it’s good to have it next to you in the process.
  • CPU Cooler: It goes without saying that you need a CPU cooler to make sure the thermal output of the CPU is maintained. This isn’t optional and you need some kind of a CPU cooler — either a fan cooler or a liquid cooler. This is regardless of the CPU manufacturer, its performance, or the generation of the CPU. A CPU will not work without a cooler and it will almost immediately crash due to the high thermal output.
  • A compatible motherboard: Not all CPUs work with all the motherboards on the market. A lot of CPUs drop into different CPU sockets on the board, and they need dedicated and compatible chipsets to work too. The Intel Core i5-12600K, for instance, will only work with one of the Z690 motherboards on the market. These Z690 motherboards have the new LGA 1700 CPU socket and they also carry the new Z690 chipset for the new chips. AMD Ryzen 5000 series chips, for instance, demands an AM4 CPU socket and they only work with X570, B550, B450 chipset, etc.

And that’s pretty much it for the pre-requisites. Installing the CPU is a toolless operation, so you don’t need any tools, just yet in the process.

How to install a CPU: Step-by-step guide

Note: The whole process of installing a CPU on the motherboard is a lot easier if you do it outside the PC case. That gives you more space to work with instead of having to restrict yourself with the limited space inside the chassis. If you’re installing a new CPU to an existing build, then we recommend taking out the motherboard first.

  • The first thing you see once you locate the CPU socket on the motherboard is the metal arm next to the socket that’s attached to the socket enclosure. Pull this arm slightly away from the socket to lift it up. The arm will lift up or free the metal enclosure or the frame along with it to reveal the empty socket.

Intel Core i5-12600K being installed on a Z690 motherboard

  • The next step is to drop the CPU into the CPU socket on the motherboard. It’s best to only touch the sides of the CPU while holding it. Avoid touching the underside or even the metal lid. Fortunately, there’s almost always an indicator on both the CPU as well as the socket that’ll help you align them properly. Look for a small triangle indicator on the corner of the CPU and the socket and align them properly.

Intel Core i5-12600K being installed on a Z690 motherboard

  • Once correctly inserted, the CPU should lay flat on the socket, without having to apply any force or pressure whatsoever.
  • The next step is to lower the metal frame over the chip. You’re essentially pushing the metal arm back into its original position now. This will require some force, but be careful with it. Press the metal arm back down and tuck it in. This will lock your CPU in place. And that’s it!

Intel Core i5-12600K sitting on LGA 1700 CPU socket

  • For AMD CPUs, the process is essentially the same. However, there’s usually no enclosure or metal frame in AMD motherboards. Lifting the metal arm, however, will slide the socket a little. You will then carefully align the CPU on the socket to drop it in. Push the metal arm and tuck it in to secure the chip in place.

How to install a CPU: Final Thoughts

Once you’re done installing the CPU and all the other core components on the motherboard including the RAM, the SSD, the GPU, etc, drop the motherboard inside the case to continue the process. You will eventually have to apply the thermal paste and install the CPU cooler before finishing the build. You can check out the essay on how to apply thermal paste to a CPU to get a detailed understanding of it.

We explained the steps using an Intel Core i5-12600K CPU, but the process is very similar for almost all the mainstream chips. It’s a little different for enthusiast chips like the AMD Threadripper and Intel’s Xeon CPUs, but you probably already know how to install a CPU if you’re dealing with those chips, to begin with. We hope this beginner’s guide helped you understand how to install a CPU on the motherboard. We suggest you join our XDA Computing Forums to learn more about PC building, parts, and just computing in general.

About author

Karthik Iyer
Karthik Iyer

Karthik covers PC hardware for XDA Computing. When not at work, you will find him yelling at his monitors while playing video games.

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