How to Install a CPU and Heatsink

This guide was developed to instruct readers on the proper procedures for installing a CPU onto a motherboard and properly attaching the heatsink fan on top of the processor. It includes step-by-step instructions for the physical installation of the CPU onto the motherboard along with the cooling solution. The guide is based on the pin-grid array processor design used by most companies. It is meant to instruct on how to install a processor onto a new motherboard rather than replacing an existing processor. The steps for an upgrade are similar to that of installing but require that a processor is removed first by reversing the installation instructions.

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Intro and Opening CPU Socket

Open the CPU Socket
Open the CPU Socket. ©Mark Kyrnin

Motherboards only support specific brands and types of processors. Please read all documentation for your motherboard and processor before proceeding. In addition, please refer to the documentation for the motherboard, processor and cooling solution for the proper location of the processor slot, heat sink mounting clips and CPU fan header locations.

These instructions assume that you are installing the CPU onto the motherboard before installing the motherboard into the computer case.

Locate the processor socket on the motherboard and open the processor slot by lifting the lever on the side of the slot to the open position.

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Align the Processor

Align the CPU to the Socket
Align the CPU to the Socket. ©Mark Kyrnin

Locate the keyed portion of the processor that is signified by a diagonal corner of the pin layout. Align the processor so that this corner matches up between the processor and the socket.

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Insert the Processor

Insert the CPU
Insert the CPU. ©Mark Kyrnin

With the processor aligned based on the key, make sure the pins are all lined up with the socket and gently lower the CPU into the socket so all the pins are in the proper holes.

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Lock the Processor in the Socket

Lock the Processor Down
Lock the Processor Down. ©Mark Kyrnin

Lock the processor in place to the motherboard by lowering the lever on the side of the processor slot until it is in the locked position.

If the processor or cooling solution came with a protection plate, align this over the processor as instructed with the product documentation.

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Apply Thermal Compound

Apply Thermal Compound
Apply Thermal Compound. ©Mark Kyrnin

Apply a thermal pad or several rice grain size drops of thermal paste to the exposed portion of the processor that the heat sink will be in contact with. If using paste, be sure it is spread in an even thin layer across the whole portion of the processor that will be in contact with the heat sink. It is best to spread the paste evenly by covering your finger with a new clean plastic bag. This prevents the paste from being contaminated.

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Align the Heatsink

Align the Heatsink
Align the Heatsink. ©Mark Kyrnin

Align the heat sink or cooling solution above the processor so that the clamps are in line with the mounting points around the processor.

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Attach or Mount the Heatsink

Attach the Heatsink
Attach the Heatsink. ©Mark Kyrnin

Clamp the heat sink in place using the proper mounting technique required by the solution. This may be lifting a tab over a mounting clip or screwing down the heat sink to the board. Please refer to the documentation for the heat sink to ensure proper installation.

It is important to be careful at this stage as a lot of pressure will be placed on the board. A slip of a screwdriver can cause a lot of damage to a motherboard.

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Attach the Heatsink Fan Header

Attach Heatsink Fan Header
Attach Heatsink Fan Header. ©Mark Kyrnin

Locate the power lead for the cooling solution's fan and the CPU fan header on the motherboard. Plug the cooling solution fan power connector into the fan header on the board. It should be keyed, but make sure it is properly plugged in.

Once these steps are taken, the CPU should be physically installed into the motherboard for proper operation. When all the remaining parts necessary for operation are installed, it will be necessary for the motherboard BIOS to either detect or be told what type and speed processor is installed on the board. Please refer to the documentation that came with the computer or motherboard on how to configure the BIOS for the proper CPU model.