How to check if your motherboard is dead


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Modern motherboards are fairly resilient, but they’re not impervious to damage. So when your mobo appears unresponsive upon powering your system, it can cause momentary heart palpitations. Some mobos are pretty expensive, and even when they’re not, replacing one is more time consuming than other components.

Usually if you’re having problems with your motherboard powering on, you should look at the rest of your setup to see if there’s an issue. The following steps guide you through the troubleshooting process, starting with the easier and more common suggestions.

(And for anyone wondering: No, a CMOS battery can’t prevent your motherboard from powering on. Not with modern motherboards, anyway. That coin battery just ensures that your BIOS settings, such as boot order, fan curves, and the like, remain saved. It can’t hurt to replace it if you truly think it’s the source of your problems, though—they only cost $3 or so.)

1. Check power cables

atx 87972 1920 power supply cables Emilian Robert Vicol / Pixabay

A dead motherboard can sometimes be one lacking a conection to the power supply.

Make sure all of your power cables are properly seated: the 24-pin connector as well as the CPU power cable and any extra power cables your system might call for, like when you’ve done a sizable overclock on the processor.

Why check the CPU power cables when many motherboards show visible lights or LED readouts after powering up? Or even after you’ve gone to the trouble of testing the CPU separately? Some motherboards lack those visual cues. It’s worth verifying that your problem isn’t the CPU not getting juice from the power supply and thus preventing POST.

2. Remove RAM and discrete GPU

dsc01780 Brad Chacos/IDG

An improperly seated GPU can sometimes interfere with a motherboard’s ability to power on.

If you know your motherboard has working power indicators (i.e., lights or an LED readout), try pulling the RAM and GPU to see if the motherboard will power on without those components. You want to eliminate these as potential issues. An improperly seated GPU can interfere with a mobo’s ability to power on, for example.

For motherboards that lack indicators of power on, you may have to go through additional steps of reseating GPU and trying out different slots for RAM—plus trying different sticks one at a time—to see if your issue is instead a system failing to POST, rather than a dead mobo.

3. Check the power supply

power supply Thomas Ryan/IDG

A faulty power supply cable (or power supply) can make a motherboard seem dead.

Make sure your power supply is actually providing electricity to your motherboard. You can pick up a PSU tester ($15) or a multimeter ($10) for this purpose, or if you have a spare power supply on hand, you can swap it in instead. You don’t have to actually install the alternate power supply into the case—just connect it to the motherboard instead of your original PSU.

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