How to Install a CPU

Your system’s CPU or processor may be powerful enough to keep your games running smoothly and chew through productivity tasks with ease, but it (and the CPU socket that it drops into on the motherboard) are surprisingly easy to damage if you aren’t careful and don’t know what you’re doing. 

So whether you’re building your first PC, upgrading an existing system, or you’re a DIY veteran confused by recent socket changes, it’s essential that you handle your processor with care and install your CPU correctly in the motherboard socket. If it’s clamped into the socket wrong, you can damage the CPU, your motherboard, and even other components if you power the system up with the CPU installed incorrectly.

The good news is, aside from general patience and care, there are only a couple of key steps to keep in mind. Follow our instructions below for a simple, successful CPU install.

Be careful with the pins!

Intel’s LGA 1700 socket (Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

Older AMD AM4 processors use a Pin Grid Array (PGA) with hundreds of tiny pins on the bottom of the chip. Newer AM5 CPUs and all of Intel’s consumer CPUs are the Land Grid Array (LGA) type, with pads on the bottom of the CPU and the pins in the socket. Whichever you’re using, you need to take care not to bend the pins by dropping or banging the CPU or socket.

Bent pins can be extremely difficult to recover from – especially if it’s more than just one or two near the edge. These pins and pads are where the CPU and motherboard meet to exchange data and power, so even one broken or bent pin can keep your system from booting or disable some important feature like USB. Keep your CPU in its plastic or cardboard tray until the minute you’re ready to install your CPU. And don’t drop it!

Prep your motherboard

A good way to start the CPU installation process is to place the motherboard on top of its box. (Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

You can wait until your motherboard is screwed into your case to install your CPU, but it’s generally easier and safer to do so with the motherboard still outside your case. This isn’t the easiest option, though, if you’re upgrading a CPU in an existing desktop.

If you’re building a new PC, first place the board on top of the anti-static bag that it came in and/or on top of the motherboard box to give the bottom of the board and your table or desk some protection from each other.

Open the socket

Intel’s LGA 1700 Socket closed (Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

Next, you’ll need to open the socket. For the most recent Intel and AMD platforms, that’s done by pushing down on the metal lever on the right side and moving it slightly away from the socket. You’ll need to move the lever out from under the piece of metal holding it down, and slowly lift the bar all the way up and away from the socket. On older AMD AM4 motherboards, the bar is smaller, held down by a plastic clip, and has less resistance. But the bar-lifting process is similar.

On Intel and current AMD boards, you’ll then need to lift the silver metal CPU retention plate up and away from the socket, the same way you lifted the metal bar but on the opposite end of the socket. Note that, if your motherboard is brand-new, there should be a plastic piece in the center of the retention plate, designed to protect the socket. You can pop this out now or leave it in until you actually install the CPU, when it will be forced out by the CPU. Hang onto this protective cover if you think there’s a chance you might want to store, sell, or give away the motherboard at some later date because it’s important to protect those socket pins.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

AMD’s AM5 socket fully open

The retention plate and the bar should now be past vertical, allowing the socket to remain open for the next step of placing the CPU in its new home.

Line up the triangle arrows

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

Don’t mess this bit up unless you want to destroy your components! Before grabbing your CPU, look on the socket or the retention plate for a small triangle / arrow in one of the corners. Usually, it’s in the upper left (image below, AMD) or lower left (Intel). Once you’ve located the arrow indicator for the socket, check your CPU for a matching arrow in one of its corners. 

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