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My computer is an older computer and I have thought of upgrading my computer for some time now yet it is old enough that it would require replacement of the motherboard to do much of an upgrade. And in looking into this I have a few questions:

  • When you purchase a motherboard do you buy them with the CPU already installed or are they separate?

  • What components do I need to check for compatibility? I assume power supply, hard drives, sound card, video card. And how do I check to ensure the components are compatible? (I know how to check the video and sound card but not sure on the rest)

  • What specs make a good motherboard? Meaning what are the important specifications to check for on a motherboard? (I want to note here that I am doing graphic editing and will need some speed preferably)

  • Will I need to do anything special to windows when upgrading? I plan to upgrade from XP to 7 during this process, should I do that before or after upgrading the motherboard?

  • Any general advice in upgrading a mother board?

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+1 for managing to post a question about hardware upgrades without asking for product recommendations. – Daniel Beck Oct 23 '11 at 20:53
up vote 2 down vote accepted

If you have an older motherboard an upgrade is effectively going to be a complete new system.

Firstly, you will need a new CPU. Some suppliers will sell you both together, others will sell you them separately.

Secondly, you will more likely than not need new memory as the modules in your current board won't be compatible e.g. DDR2 vs DDR3 modules.

Thirdly, you may need new hard drives as the current standards is SATA connections not IDE. You can get converters but SATA has a higher transfer rate.

Fourthly your graphics card might not fit if it's an AGP card - you don't say how old the current computer is. Current motherboards have PCI Express slots for graphics cards, though the higher end boards do have decent graphics built in. It depends on what you want to do whether you need to install a separate card.

The network connection and sound are also on the motherboard.

The power supply will probably have the same connections for the motherboard power, but might not have the right connectors for the hard drives. You can get mole to SATA converters, but you need to check it's output against the consumption of all the components. Again, it might be simpler to buy a new PSU as well.

So, all in all, you might be better off buying a whole new computer! You can find companies selling compatible components as a package - though as with all these things check out the specs first. You can then fit all of these as a single unit into your existing case. I had to do this last year as my old motherboard failed and I couldn't find one compatible with the CPU and memory that I assumed was still working.

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Depending on the age of the power supply it may completely lack the "extended" 20+4 pin power connector and may also lack the 6-pin PCIE power or even SATA power connectors... – Mokubai Oct 23 '11 at 21:29
@Mokubai - I forgot about the different hard drive connections. Though you can get mole to SATA converters. – ChrisF Oct 23 '11 at 21:30
As far as sound cards are concerned, if there's a discrete sound card, then it's most likely compatible. Most motherboard still have at least one PCI slot, so even older sound cards may be used. Interesting point would be to determine which is better: the old sound card or the one integrated on the motherboard (if there is one). – AndrejaKo Oct 23 '11 at 21:32

I think, you try to solve incorrect task - MB will have low priority in the upgrade-list (but it can be required by other components).

If you want upgrade, you have to anser "Which box I want to have and how much money i have for this task" and after it only determine, which part must be replaced, which - can be, which you can continue to use

About you questions

  • MB rarely can be sold with CPU - only for some non-standard systems and MB (namely, barebones)
  • All components really (depending on age of you current system): Bus of extension slots for NIC-Audio devices, bus of videocard, CPU socket, max power (real) for PSU and cables, interface of used HDD
  • Good MB is a good manufacturer and good chipset first of all (IMNSHO), everything else is largely subjective preferences. For graphic editing memory amount and speed and good videocard have more value, than any up-to-date MB on market
  • About SW upgrage - I hear, Win7 can survive after the upgrade of HW, where it worked before, XP will died 100%
  • Do it without haste and bustle, solving the problems in the correct order
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