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How To Test a Motherboard Properly?

by  Jone -  Last updated on July 11, 2022
Man testing a motherboard

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When you’ve got a motherboard that’s acting up, it can be really challenging to figure out what’s your problem. The motherboard is the heart of the computer, so to speak. It routes all the power from the PSU to all the components connected to it – which is basically everything.

To increase the difficulty further, there’s not just one symptom of a failing motherboard. You could have blue screens, freezing and stuttering performance, beeps, failure to detect USB devices and other hardware, and so on.

A well-made, high-quality motherboard should serve your needs for many years without needing a replacement. But sometimes things happen, especially when you’re not paying much attention to the airflow in your machine.

Let this article be your guide to diagnosing your motherboard problems and hardware failures.

Tools You’ll Need

There are a few things you’ll need to do a thorough test on your motherboard. These items include the following:

  • Philips head screwdriver or power switch jumper
  • Multimeter
  • Working PSU (power supply)
  • New CMOS battery if needed
  • CPU thermal paste

Symptoms Of A Failing Motherboard

Before you start to test your motherboard, you’ll first need to know if it’s acting up or not. There are a few symptoms you can look out for that can indicate you’re having motherboard problems.

1. Damaged Parts

You can perform a visual check on your motherboard by turning off your computer and opening the back or side of your case. There are a number of things that can cause damage to your motherboard, including overheating, material defects, and just being old. These all can lead to leaking or bloated capacitors. If your visual inspection turns up a bloated capacitor, it’s time to repair or outright replace your board.

2. Burning Odor

One of the most obvious symptoms of a dying motherboard is an odd burning smell. This typically means that one of the components is overheating. This can sometimes be caused by an incompatible component, such as the graphics card or RAM. Trying to use incompatible components with your motherboard can lead to some pretty extensive damage.

3. BIOS Menu Appears At Startup

In order to reach the BIOS menu normally, you’ll need to press certain buttons or follow the manufacturer’s guide. If it appears on its own while you’re trying to access your computer, this is a pretty sure sign something has gone wrong.

The BIOS menu manages all the hardware connected to your system. If there’s a communication problem between your motherboard and a recently installed component, you’ll likely be seeing this menu instead of your computer logging into Windows. This is a clear indication that communication between a component and the motherboard has been interrupted or is faulty.

4. Application Malfunction

When your motherboard starts to break down or fail, it’ll start having a harder time managing all the hardware components you’ve got installed. This can lead to random shutdowns and frustrating lag in applications you’re trying to use.

5. Random Lag and Freezing

When your motherboard starts to die, one of the earliest symptoms you’ll get is random issues with your computer running. There’ll be random freezes, glitches in programs and functions, and seemingly random locking up.

It’s an easy process to troubleshoot and figure out if it’s a hardware or software issue causing these problems. If the software has been ruled out, you’ll need to go down the list of physical components until you find your culprit. It’s not always going to be the motherboard, but it definitely could be. It’s worth checking, just to be sure.

6. Other Symptoms

  • USB peripherals aren’t recognized, or they suddenly stop working for a few seconds
  • Boot time is longer than usual
  • PC won’t recognize new storage devices
  • Strange lines or flickering on the monitor, especially if you’ve installed a graphics card
  • Motherboard fails a Power-On Self-Test

How To Tell If Motherboard Is Dead

When you press the power button on your PC and nothing happens, you can definitely blame that on hardware failure. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s anything wrong with your motherboard. A lot of components can cause this to happen, and a thorough check is worth doing to rule out any other potential options.

1. Visual Check

The first thing you should do is pop open your system and take a look. If there’s a blown or bulging capacitor on the motherboard, there’s your culprit. You can choose to replace the whole board or solder on a new capacitor.

If you smell burning inside at all or see any bent pins, this is another indication something has gone wrong with your motherboard. This would also be a good time to check if all the components are connected and seated properly.

2. Power On Self Test

The power-on self-test is the fastest way to check a motherboard for failure. Take the individual board and lay it on a flat surface. Install the processor onto the board and attach it to a CPU cooler and at least one stick of RAM, along with the GPU and a display.

Once you’ve got it all organized, you can plug the PSU into a power outlet and flip the temporary build on with a power switch jumper. A screwdriver also works if you don’t have one of these. If it boots to the BIOS, you’re good to go — that’s a good board. If not, reseat everything and try again. If it still fails, it’s time to get a new board.

Diagnosing Motherboard Failures

A man testing a motherboard with a tool

  • The Power-On Self-Test is performed automatically by your computer every time you turn it on. If it powers on normally, you’re good to go. If it encounters a failure, proceed with diagnostics.
  • Check to see that your motherboard isn’t shorting out and that you’ve correctly installed all the screws in all the correct screw locations.
  • Check the system for signs of possible overheating. Clean out all the dust inside the case, if there is any, using a can of compressed air.
  • Pay attention when you boot your pc, and listen for any beep codes. These will give you hints about the problem. You’ll need to look up your computer’s manufacturer for their unique beep codes.
  • Enter the BIOS menu to check for updates. If there aren’t any, revert all settings to default and restart the computer.
  • If your computer is stuck in a restart loop, just replace the CMOS battery.
  • If you’re still having problems, remove all the components other than the CPU, the CPU cooling fan, and the RAM. If it starts up okay now, you’ll need to reattach each individual component to locate the troublemaker.

Other Questions

1. Can You Repair a Motherboard?

If you’re experiencing problems with a laptop’s motherboard, it’s not at all worth it to repair the motherboard. Laptop computers have a lot of components soldered onto the board, such as the CPU and memory. You’d have to buy all these components on top of the replacement board. With a desktop computer, this isn’t the case, and you can often repair your motherboards with little issue.

2. When to Replace a Motherboard

This depends entirely on the manufacturer, but a motherboard can last up to 20 years. A high-quality premium board can serve you for half of your life, up to 40 years, even without problems. Low-quality boards will likely cost a significant penny to constantly repair and replace.

How much use you get out of your board depends on how often you use the computer and how well you have everything set up. But if you’re experiencing issues, it might be about time to consider replacing it. Depending on the age, the motherboard could be causing some seriously frustrating issues in your OS, such as randomly freezing, software glitches, odd screen markings and tearing, the dreaded blue screen of death, and other annoying symptoms.

If you see any physical damage to your board, such as leaking or swollen capacitors, it’s time to replace it without question. A bad board can extend damage to some of the attached components and can even fry your CPU or overheat your graphics card.

3. Is it Worth it To Replace Your Motherboard?

If you’re having annoying symptoms or problems with your PC and you’ve diagnosed the motherboard as the problem, it’s definitely worth it to consider a replacement. While it can be a bit pricy to replace, a new motherboard can bring you a whole host of new features and advancements in computer performance.

If it’s a pretty old board, chances are it won’t be able to keep up with your blisteringly fast new CPU. Even the best CPU on the market can get bottlenecked by an old, slow motherboard. Upgrading to a newer, faster motherboard will deliver some seriously impressive performance gains.

Relating to the previous point, an old slow board can affect the performance of new, faster RAM. There can even be issues of compatibility, for example, if you’re got a DDR3, there’s no way for you to upgrade to DDR4 or DDR5 without replacing the board in favor of a newer model. Your PC performance is greatly enhanced with newer and better RAM iterations, so it’s definitely a good idea to get yourself an upgrade as soon as you can.

If you’ve gone out and upgraded your graphics card, you’ll probably need to follow suit with a new motherboard eventually as well. A new motherboard/GPU combination can increase the performance of your new GPU and make the whole computer feel and run like an entirely different machine.

You’ll experience fewer lag spikes and higher FPS even in the most recent AAA titles while running your favorite games at their highest graphical settings. Even non-gamers can benefit from upgrading their GPU and motherboard together. If you do a lot of video editing, for example, you’ll get all those awesome computer performance boosts and enhancements, which you can enjoy for years before you’ll need to consider replacing anything again.

Another reason to consider an upgrade is if you’re looking for new features. While the motherboard may not be the first thing you think of when you want cool new high-tech features, the latest advances in computer technology will have you chomping at the bit to experience the benefits of an upgrade.

In Conclusion

If your PC is having a lot of problems with glitches, freezing, and weird lag seemingly out of nowhere, it could very well be time for a motherboard upgrade. The price doesn’t have to be wallet-destroying either, as many boards run considerably lower than the GPU you’re likely to upgrade to.

The motherboard is the heart and soul of a PC build. Making sure it’s running as well as it could, without any defects or damage, is a great kindness you can do for yourself and your machine. While it can be difficult to diagnose, it’s often worth the effort.


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