Installing/Upgrading A Processor

Installing a processor is a fairly easy procedure. It can be done in just a few minutes. The procedure itself depends on the processor being installed and what type of processor interface is being used on the motherboard. The most time consuming part of this procedure is mounting the CPU fan.


Sockets & Slots

Most motherboards today and in the past use socketed processors. Both Intel and AMD went through a time of using processors than use slots like Slot 1 and Slot A, so you might be using a processor like this and we will cover this, but chances are you will be using a socketed processor.

When it comes to a socket processor, the two main socket types are the ZIF socket (zero insertion force) and the LIF socket (low-insertion force). LIF sockets are sometimes called Standard sockets. LIF sockets are not common anymore, and are usually only seen on older systems. ZIF sockets have been in use for some time now and will be seen most of the time. On these, a lever arm holds the chip in place when closed. When the lever is raised, the top of the socket moves over slightly to allow you to lift the processor out of the socket. On a LIF socket, there is no lever. Installing a CPU on a LIF socket requires force pushed straight down as to avoid damage to the pins underneath. Removal requires a chip removal tool, similar to a little crowbar.


With the releases of the Pentium II, Pentium III, certain Celeron processors and the original Athlon, we also have the slotted processors. These slots look like a card-like interface which looks kind of like an AGP slot. With these, you will find that the edge of the processor has a single edge connector (SEC), like an expansion card, which is just plugged into the slot on the motherboard. Slot A, for the AMD Athlon, looks identical to the Slot 1, but it is electrically different.

For more information on the different types of slots and sockets, check out our article on this topic.

What You Need 

Let’s put together the tools you will need to install your processor.


  • Processor – Well, this is a no-brainer. If this is an OEM processor, keep it in the static-proof casing until you are ready to use it. If it is a used processor, check the pins to make sure they are not bent. If they are, you may be able to gingerly straighten the pin. If you are using a slot processor, this is an an issue for you.

  • CPU Heat Sink/Fan – You need to have a heat sink and fan combination that is rated to handle the type of chip you are installing. You cannot get a modern processor like an Athlon XP and install a dinky little fan that would be more suitable for a K6. If your processor is retail-boxed, it llikely has a heat sink and fan pre-installed and attached to the processor. If this is the case, your job just got a lot easier. Otherwise, do your research and be sure the fan you choose is designed to cool off the processor you intend to install.

  • Heat sink compound – On some older processors, you can get away without using any heat sink compound, but for most modern processors, it is a necessity to ensure trouble-free operation. Some times you will get a small sample of compound when you buy a heat sink or sometimes even in the motherboard box. But, if not, you can get yourself some good stuff over the internet from a company like Arctic Silver, or you can even buy some generic stuff from your local electronic or PC repair shop.

  • Screwdrivers – When installing a socketed processor, it may prove helpful to have a flat head screwdriver on hand. Sometimes this is useful to help you manuver the heat sink clips so as to clip onto the ZIP socket. On slotted processors, a crosspoint screwdriver may be needed to install your guide rails or retention mechanism.. 

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