How to Find Out Which Part Is Bad: the CPU or the Motherboard?


The CPU (central processing unit), or processor, performs the arithmetic and logical operations required to process data and carry out instructions. The motherboard, on the other hand, provides all of the connections to which the internal and external hardware components are installed.

A computer will fail to function without a working motherboard or CPU. Motherboard failure is relatively rare, and CPU failure, much rarer, but if your computer does not power on, or powers off intermittently, either of these components could be defective or improperly configured. To determine which component may be at fault, troubleshoot your computer systematically.

Things You'll Need

  • Phillips screwdriver

Troubleshoot the Motherboard

  • Reset the BIOS. Turn on the computer and press the key as displayed on the boot screen to access BIOS setup.

  • Review the shortcut menu located on the top, bottom or side of the screen. Press the key as indicated on the screen to reset to defaults. Save your settings and exit from the BIOS.

  • Confirm the power supply cable is connected to the motherboard. Locate the 20-pin P1 connector leading from the power supply and confirm it is plugged into the appropriate slot on the motherboard.

  • Confirm all the devices needed to boot the machine (the hard drive, power supply, processor, video card and RAM) are correctly seated and installed. Confirm all connections are secure.

  • Swap out the current memory modules with new ones. Defective RAM can sometimes manifest the same symptoms as motherboard failure.

Troubleshoot the CPU

  • Check the temperature of the CPU. Turn on the computer, boot to Windows, open a relatively memory-intensive application and leave the PC running for at least an hour.

  • Turn off the computer, remove the power cable from the rear of the PC, and unscrew and remove the cover.

  • Place your finger on the heat sink. If the component feels very hot to the touch, the CPU may be overheating. Confirm that the thermal grease between the CPU and heat sink is properly applied. You may need to replace or upgrade your processor fan.

  • Consult your motherboard and processor's manual to confirm the jumpers are set to the correct CPU voltage, type and speed. The settings differ based on make and model.

  • Swap out the processor. If another compatible processor works with the motherboard, the old CPU may have been defective or improperly configured.

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  • Photo Credit garysludden/Photodisc/Getty Images
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