How To Upgrade A CPU

Not satisfied with your current CPU? Here's a simple guide on how to upgrade a CPU or processor and get a better and faster PC!

The processor in your computer is the brains of the entire operation. Over time, games and even basic tasks such as running Chrome become more and more demanding which places a greater strain on your CPU.

Fortunately, CPUs can be replaced and upgraded. We know that this can sound like a daunting task, as the CPU is an expensive and fragile piece of hardware. Do you need to leave it to the pros?

Well, not really. It’s not that complicated and, if you read this article, we will guide you through every step of the process.

Let’s get right into it!

Table of ContentsShow

Choosing The Right CPU

AMD Ryzen versus Intel

Before you open up your computer case and start pulling out parts, you will need to figure out exactly which CPU you should get.

Choosing a processor might even be more difficult than performing the physical upgrade. Don’t worry; we will explain all the aspects that need considering.

Forming A Budget

First, figure out how much money you want to spend. This is an important step because Intel and AMD processors can range anywhere from $100 up to $800. Of course, second-hand processors are also available which should be cheaper.

Either way, it’s a good idea to define your budget by considering a couple of factors. The most important one is performance. What are your performance expectations from your new processors? Do you want to game on your computer or do productivity work?

For example, if you want to do high-end gaming on your new CPU, you can grab an i5-12600K or a Ryzen 5600X which both cost around $300. These are mid-range prices and you get enough cores/threads to handle gaming and some light productivity work too.

For productivity work like video or photo editing or even more demanding tasks, you will need something with more cores such as the 5900X, 5950X, or 12900K which are all above $500.

For the people that do only light gaming on their computers (Fortnite, CS: GO, League of Legends, Dota 2), we recommend processors around the $200 price range (or less). Check out CPUs such as the 3300X, i5-11400, i3-11000.

The CPUs we mentioned above are just a fraction of what Intel and AMD have to offer. Check out the current CPU market status to get a good idea of what you can get with your money.

Motherboard Compatibility

After you have determined your budget, it’s time to find out which motherboard you currently have on your computer. This is an important step of the process because different CPU generations fit into different sockets, meaning different motherboards. If you skip this step, you might get a CPU that doesn’t fit.

The easiest way to get this information is with CPUz. Just download CPUz (zip), extract and start it and then access the Mainboard tab. This is where you can see the manufacturer and exact motherboard model.

CPU Z Mainboard tab
In our case, we’re using a B550 motherboard which is an AM4 AMD socket.

Alternatively, you can right-click Start Menu, select System, and check the processor model under Processor. You can then use this model number to find the socket, but that also opens up more compatibility issues, especially you have an Intel system.

Instead, we recommend using CPUz.

Use the table below to find exactly which processors your motherboard supports.

Motherboards  CPU Series AMD Motherboards/Sockets CPU Series
Q57, H57, O55, H55Intel 1st GenAM1Sempron 2650, Athlon 5150, Athlon 5350
Z77, Z75, H77, B75, Z68, B65, B61, H67Intel 2nd and 3rd GenFM2+A4-5300 through A10-7890K APUs
Z97, H97, Z87, H87, B85, H81Intel 4th and 5th GenAM3+ SocketAthlon II, Phenom II, Sempon, FX 4000 to 9000
Z270, B250, H270, Z170, H170, B150, H110Intel 6th and 7th GenA320, B350, X370, B450, X470Ryzen 1000 (Zen)
Z390, Z370, H370, B360, H310Intel 8th and 9th GenA320, B350, X370, B450, X470Ryzen 2000 (Zen+
Z590, B560, H570, H510, Z490, B460, H470, H410Intel 10th and 11th GenA320, B350, X370, B450, X470, A520, B550, X570Ryzen 3000 (Zen 2)
Z690, B660, H670, H610Intel 12th GenX570, B550, A520, X470, B450Ryzen 5000 (Zen 3)

Note: A320, B350, and X370 may have unofficial/beta support for Ryzen 5000 Series.

This table can be a bit overwhelming, but if you already have your motherboard model number, it should be easy to figure out which CPUs you can upgrade to.

For example, if you have a B360 motherboard, you can get yourself either an Intel Core 8000 or 9000 series CPU. Anything newer or older than that will not fit into the socket.

BIOS Support

The final thing you will need to consider before you start working on your computer is the BIOS. A BIOS is essentially a motherboard’s software/operating system. The BIOS gives users control over their computer’s hardware and also helps regulate it.

This is why it is very important to figure out whether your BIOS version supports the new CPU you want to upgrade to.

Return to CPU-Z and the mainboard tab, check the BIOS version, and compare that information with the specifications available on the motherboard’s official product page.

If your BIOS is outdated, you will need to flash a newer version. We suggest referring to the official motherboard manual/guide for flashing a BIOS to ensure you don’t brick your computer.

With this information in mind, we can finally explain what you came for: removing the CPU and upgrading to a new one.

Removing Your CPU And Adding The New One

You have a new processor, so what now? First, you will need to remove the CPU before you can add the new one.

To do that, you will need a few items:

  • Phillips screwdriver
  • Thermal paste
  • 90%+ proof alcohol
  • Toilet paper/coffee filters/paper towels

Once you have these things to hand, it’s time to open up the case’s side panel. To make it easier for you, we will explain this in a step-by-step process.

  1. Unscrew the two screws on the back of your case holding the (left side from the front) side panel. For older cases, you will need a screwdriver. Newer ones usually have thumbscrews. If you aren’t sure how to do this, refer to the case’s manual.
    side panel thumbscrews on NZXT H500 case
    (Side panel thumbscrews on the NZXT H500 case.)
  2. Once you have the side panel off, the next step is to remove the cooler. Both air and liquid coolers are attached to the motherboard with four screws, so simply unscrew those. You might have to remove the other side panel to hold the backplate while unscrewing.
    4 screws on 4 corners of Cooler Master air cooler
    (Four screws on the four corners of a Cooler Master air cooler.)
  3. When the screws are unscrewed, slowly pull the cooler/pump away from the motherboard.
    NOTE: If you are having trouble pulling off the cooler, boot the PC for a few minutes to warm up the CPU (thermal paste) slightly and try again.
  4. With the cooler removed, you can take out the CPU. To Remove the CPU, you will need to pull the retention arm (small metal bar) outwards and then up towards you. Both Intel and AMD sockets have a retention arm that works similarly.
    Intel socket AMD socket
    (Intel socket (left) and AMD socket (right) retention arms.)
  5. Gently pull the CPU upwards. Be careful not to drop it onto the socket because Intel’s pins are right on the socket and they can easily break or bend. AMD’s pins are located on the bottom of the processor. Hold it by its sides and put it somewhere safe.
  6. It’s time to install the new CPU. First, ensure the retention arm is open at all times. Next, align it with the socket with the corresponding symbols. There is usually a small golden triangle or a dot.
    Ryzen golden triangle at bottom left
    (Ryzen’s golden triangle is usually at the bottom left.)
  7. Once aligned, slowly put it into the socket and it should fit snugly. Give it a few soft wiggles to ensure that it is positioned properly.
  8. Push the retention arm down and lock it in place.
    You’re almost done!
  9. Now, to wipe off all of the old thermal paste. Take a paper towel, add a bit of alcohol to it and wipe the thermal paste off the coldplate (the part touching the CPU). While you’re at it, clean the old CPU too.
  10. Once the coldplate is clean, add a pea-size dot of thermal paste onto the CPU and screw back the cooler. This is a vital step of the process to maintain normal CPU temperatures.
    adding thermal paste onto CPU
  11. Put back the side panels, flip the power on and turn the computer on. It will probably take a few seconds longer than usual, but it should boot up and the BIOS will report a new CPU in place.

That’s it! You now have a new processor inside your computer ready to tackle any task you throw at it.

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Branko Gapo
Branko Gapo

Keeping up with the incredibly fast evolution of computer technology is almost impossible. That's why Branko will be using his knowledge on this matter to share news and information on all the latest essential technological innovations and advancements related to CPUs.