Motherboard Physical Installation Procedure

This procedure describes how to install a motherboard into a system case. I have taken great pains to be excruciatingly detailed in this procedure, for one simple reason: physically installing the motherboard is probably the trickiest part of building a new system or performing a motherboard upgrade. It's not that the actual installation is all that difficult, it's just that it is a process that requires more experience, you might even say "finesse", than many other installation or configuration jobs. I have not found any other procedures on the 'net that really address this procedure at the level of detail that someone needs when they've never done this before. One reason why this is hard to do is that there are so many different combinations of motherboards and cases...

Note that this procedure covers installation only; you should in most cases configure the motherboard before installing it.

Procedure Overview:

Difficulty Level: 4 (High). As I state above, it can be tricky to get the motherboard installed properly. Be patient with this one. It's worth taking a few extra minutes to get this correct.
Risk Factor: 3-4 (Moderate to High). It's pretty easy to not install the motherboard properly, which can result in spurious operation or even hardware damage.

Hardware Required:

Phillips head screwdriver.
Motherboard mounting hardware: brass and/or plastic standoffs, screws, and sometimes paper washers. These should come in a small bag with the system case. See this page for a full description of this hardware.
Wire snips, knife or scissors.
Recommended: 3/16" hexagonal nut driver. This corresponds to the size used by the metal spacers that go between the motherboard and system case. Otherwise, you'll need a pair of needle-nose pliers or similar.

Software Required
: None.
Time to Perform: 10-20 minutes, assuming that you don't have too much trouble getting the board to fit.

Preparation / Warnings:

The instructions in this procedure are derived primarily from my experiences installing AT form factor motherboards. ATX motherboard installation will require some improvization; I will change the procedure when I have more experience with ATX.
There is a very high degree of variability in motherboards and cases. It's not too likely that your hardware will match exactly what I describe in this procedure, and in particular, there seem to be no two system cases that are alike. So stay on your toes in following these directions.
Be very careful when physically manipulating the board not to bang it or any of the components on it, into anything. Handle the board by the edges.
If the system case has a removable motherboard panel (and most newer tower cases do) then remove it before beginning this procedure; it will make your life a lot easier. The steps below are geared toward either a direct case installation or installation to a removable panel.
I would strongly recommend against installing the motherboard into the case if when you are finished, the board is not firmly supported in at least six places around the board, including at least one point in the center. If the board is not supported properly, the chance of damage later on is very real.
When you are finished with the installation, check under the motherboard for loose screws or other hardware; you definitely do not want these left inside the case!


Procedure Steps:

Orient Case or Mounting Panel: Arrange the case (or removable motherboard mounting panel) so that the the expansion card slots and keyboard and other connectors are farthest away from you. For the rest of this procedure, I refer to the the edge of the motherboard where the connectors go as the "back" of the motherboard.

Find Motherboard Mounting Holes: Examine the motherboard and locate its mounting holes. These are usually found as follows:
One row of three or four holes along the back of the board, where the expansion slots are.
A second row of either two or three holes somewhere in the middle of the board. These may not all be in a straight line.
A third row of usually two holes, but maybe three, along the front edge of the board.
Find System Case or Mounting Panel Holes: Examine the system case and see what types of mounting holes it uses. You will generally see the following:
Threaded screw holes: These are small screw holes that are intended to take screw-in metal standoffs. All cases have at least a couple of these; some have more than others.
Eyelet holes: These are large, oblong holes about an inch or so in length that take the sliding plastic standoffs. They are narrower at one end than the other. Some cases no longer use these at all.

Orient Motherboard and Match Motherboard Mounting Holes to Case Mounting Holes: Take the motherboard and physically locate it in space a few inches over the case (or removable case panel). Orient the motherboard so that it is approximately where it will be when installed. Any integrated connectors on the back of the motherboard should line up with the holes in the case designed for them, especially the keyboard connector. Then take note of the following:

Determine which motherboard mounting holes line up with threaded screw holes on the case or mounting panel. There must be at least two of these or you cannot properly secure the motherboard to the case. These will usually be found in the back of the case near the expansion slots (if nowhere else).

Determine which motherboard mounting holes line up with eyelet holes on the case or mounting panel. They should line up with the narrow end of the eyelet hole.

Determine which motherboard mounting holes line up with no holes at all on the case or mounting panel. This is quite common and nothing to be concerned about as long as most of the holes do line up. It is most common for the holes along the front of the motherboard to not line up with the holes along the front of the case, because the size of motherboards varies from the nominal standard. The holes along the back and middle will almost always line up.

Install Standoffs: Attach the mounting hardware, following these specific instructions for each of the different case hole types mentioned in the step above:
For those motherboard holes that line up with screw holes in the case, screw a metal standoff into the case (or mounting panel). Use a 3/16" nut driver if you have one.
For the motherboard holes that line up with eyelet holes, insert a plastic slider standoff into the motherboard. Push the pointed end into the appropriate hole from the bottom, until it pushes through the top of the board.
For the motherboard holes that do not have a matching case hole, take one of the plastic slider standoffs mentioned just above. Using a pair of wire snips or a knife, cut off the small plastic disk at the end of the standoff opposite the pointed end. Then push the pointed end into the hole from the bottom as for the eyelet holes. Cutting off the disk at the end will allow this modified spacer to support the motherboard without having to insert into the case in the location where there is no matching hole (a little trick I discovered).

Slide Motherboard Into Place: Follow the appropriate directions depending, again, on the type of holes being used:
If there are eyelet holes in the case, then place the motherboard so that the round plastic parts at the end of the plastic standoffs are inserted into the wide part of the eyelet holes. Then slide the board so that the standoffs move toward the narrow part of the hole. When you have completed doing this, the other mounting holes should line up with the metal standoffs they are mated with.

Double-check that the alignment is correct. Be careful when sliding the board not to rub the bottom of the board against anything, including any metal standoffs in the case.
If there are no eyelet holes, then you can just put the motherboard down directly into the case.

Double-check that all of the holes line up with the metal standoffs underneath them.

Determine If Washers Are Required: Examine the heads of the screws that you will use to secure the motherboard to the metal standoffs under the screw-in mounting holes. If the head of the screw is large enough that after tightening the screw the head might make contact with the circuitry on the motherboard, you must use a plastic or paper washer under the screw head to prevent accidentally shorting out the motherboard. Most motherboard manufacturers are smart enough today to leave a little extra space around the mounting holes.

Screw Motherboard Into Place: Using washers (if necessary), screw the motherboard into the metal standoffs underneath it. First insert all the screws and hand-tighten them, then tighten them all using a screwdriver (not too tight).

Replace Removable Panel: If your case uses a removable motherboard mounting panel, replace it into the case now. This basically just means undoing whatever you did to remove the panel in the first place; most cases either have a pull-down, spring-loaded "handle" that loosens the panel, or they use screws to secure it. Be careful to make sure that the bottom of the panel is in the right place where it fits into the bottom of the case; in most cases there are metal guides or tabs that the panel must align with in order to be reinserted properly. Also be careful not to damage the motherboard in this step by banging it (or anything inserted into it like the CPU or memory modules) against anything else in the case.

Test Motherboard Installation: An incorrectly-installed motherboard can be the bane of any homebuilt PC; strange and unpredictable behavior will result that can be very hard to diagnose. I would therefore take the time to check the following after installing the board:
Level: Check the board to ensure that it is flat in the case. All parts of the motherboard should be the same distance from the case.

Contact: Make sure that no part of the motherboard is touching anything that it should not be. Look under the board too, if possible.

Fit: Check to make sure that the board is not loose. You should not be able to move it around in the case.

Alignment: Double-check that the motherboard is in the correct position. The expansion card slots should line up with the expansion slot holes in the case. The keyboard connector should line up as well.

Rigidity: This one is important, and is not addressed sufficiently by enough homebuilders in my opinion. The motherboard must be adequately supported to ensure that it can take the biggest torture test that any motherboard goes through: insertion and removal of expansion cards. Test the installation of a video card, for example. Start trying to insert the card into a slot; if the motherboard starts bending more than a tiny amount, stop right away! This means that the board has not been properly supported and you will need to address this before proceeding. The motherboard should not flex under the pressure of inserting or removing the card.

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