If we think of a computer as a living being, the motherboard would be the nerve centre that connects everything else together. These components include the processor, storage, video card, and so on. The brain of the computer, the Central Processing Unit (CPU) then decides what to do with all the information and signals passed along through the motherboard.

So a motherboard failure would mean problems with other components connected, thus harming the entire performance of the computer. With the nerve centre down, the brain cannot work properly to send signals to the rest of the system.

Such failure will usually cause the computer to stop working suddenly and can be very frustrating to test and repair as well. Motherboard repairs or replacements are known as the hardest repairs to perform. For most laptops, the entire board including the CPU will need to be replaced if any faults are found on the motherboard. These faults may range from overheating damage or blown capacitors.

With that said, any suspicions about motherboard failure should be tested thoroughly to make a diagnosis. By testing, you may conclude that the motherboard is indeed faulty. Or, you may find that it is completely fine and that you have other hardware issues that is the actual cause of your problems.

Before we start with how you can test for motherboard issues, let’s find out what usually causes these failures and what you can do to protect it. Understanding why these things happen can be helpful to find the right solution to the issue.

What is a motherboard?

Motherboard

A motherboard (known as logic board for Apple devices) is a crucial part of a computer. It is the circuit board where all components of the system is plugged into. As an input / output system, the motherboard is where interactions within the computer happens. Each motherboard model may differ from each other, from its form factor to where each component is fitted.

The three main components that makes your computer work is the processor (CPU), storage (hard drive and RAM), and the motherboard. All three parts must work together to create a smooth computing experience for the user.

The processor and storage, along with other components such as the keyboard and video card are connected via the motherboard. Then the CPU works out how things interact, and the motherboard passes along this information to each component. So without the motherboard, things can’t work together, and nothing will end up operating.

What happens when a motherboard stops working

With a motherboard failure, components can’t interact with each other. This generally leads to unexpected system crashes, or complete computer failure. There usually aren’t many early warnings to prevent such faults, as your system will just stop working without a functioning motherboard. The main thing you can do is to find out what’s really causing your issues, and then get a repair.

Causes of motherboard failure

Overheating

A desktop computer fan as part of the cooling system

All components, including the motherboard, need to be cooled consistently to work properly. Components like the CPU and video card generate a lot of heat. If this heat is not dispersed, it will create significant damage to the motherboard. The cooling system of your computer keeps the temperature at the right limit. This prevents further damage from overheating.

So if the cooling system is unable to work properly, the motherboard will be at risk of overheating. Overheating can occur from faulty cooling fans, or from dust buildup that traps heat. This can cause connecting points or parts of the board to warp.

Liquid spill

Spilling liquid onto laptop

How you should not be drinking tea.

Knocking over a drink on a laptop is surely one of the greatest human fears of the modern age. While other components can suffer damage from a liquid spill, the motherboard will be the first thing to go. Liquids can cause significant damage to the intricate connection points of the motherboard and cause eventual failure.

If you find yourself in this situation, the first thing you should do is to remove the laptop from its power source. Unprofessional treatment and cleaning like using a hair dryer to dry the laptop can cause further unwanted damage.

Natural wear and tear

Laptops can generally last pretty long, until any one component starts to fail. Long term use can affect the condition of the motherboard, but the actual failure of it is quite impossible to predict. Still, considering the lifespan of other components, long-term use can cause a motherboard to fail.

How to protect motherboard from damage

Keep ventilation outlets clear

Fans can only work properly with clear ventilation outlet for proper air flow. Using your laptop on top of cloth surfaces or with any blocked ventilation can escalate the heat buildup. Keeping the outlets clear and clean of any dust that can block airflow can promise proper laptop cooling.

Bust the dust

A dusty motherboard and laptop fan

Fans that need some cleaning.

It’s safe to say that dust in any situation is not ideal. Dust that is collected inside your computer can trap heat. This trapped heat means extra work for the computer fan that it may not be able to handle.

Not to worry that much though, you don’t need to clean your computer too often. Cleaning your laptop or desktop computer once a year should be sufficient to prevent excessive dust buildup.

Make sure your cooling system is in shape

Having an efficient cooling system means that your computer can work properly at the right temperature. Having a laptop or desktop computer that is always running too hot might mean that your fan can’t keep up with the heat.

You can run diagnostics to check on the status of your cooling system. You can do this with built-in system diagnostics or pre-boot diagnostics. This can help you keep everything in tiptop shape.

How to test for motherboard failure

Unfortunately, the motherboard is one of the hardest components to test and repair. There’s no specific test to directly find motherboard failures. The only way is by eliminating other possible hardware issues. By doing a little sleuthing, you’ll be able to find out whether the motherboard is the culprit behind your hardware issues.

Before we begin

Depending on the status of your computer, there are a few steps you may be able to skip, or will still need to do. This includes whether or not your computer passes POST, and whether certain components are built into the motherboard or not.

Computer POST

POST (power-on self test) is a test that a computer performs to make sure everything is working fine before booting up. If the computer passes POST, then boot up will continue, where the logo splash screen will appear. The computer will not start up at all if it doesn’t pass POST.

After your computer passes POST, you’ll need to test your hard drive, RAM, and GPU. If not, you’ll only need to test your RAM and GPU.

Built-in components

Most laptops these days have built-in GPU, some also have built-in RAM chips. These are built-in onto the motherboard. If you are able to diagnose issues on the built-in components, it’s almost certain that the motherboard is also faulty.

Now we can begin testing for motherboard failure by eliminating other hardware issues.

Testing for hard drive issues

A laptop hard drive HDD

Considering that your computer passes POST, you’ll need to run tests on the hard drive. When you reach the splash screen during boot you can run diagnostics by pressing a specific key to your computer’s brand. That’s “Esc”  for HP, “F12” for Dell, “Enter” for Lenovo, and “D” for Apple. Be sure to use the right key to your system.

Boot diagnostics will run tests on hardware components to find any problems. You’ll be able to find potential problems with your hard drive, along with other components too.

If your computer boots successfully to Windows, you may use chkdsk or dedicated hard drive analysis software. Apple Mac users may use Disk Utility First Aid or specific hard drive analysis software for Mac.

Chkdsk / First Aid

chkdsk and disk utility first aid

Both chkdsk and First Aid can attempt repairs or mark bad sectors to be skipped. Even if your hard drive isn’t the root of your current problem, these disk checking tools can be useful in preventing premature disk failures. So it may be a good idea to keep regular disk checking practices.

Dedicated hard drive analysis software

Software like SeaTools for Windows and WD Drive Utilities for Mac is used to perform quick or extended tests on hard drives. These free tools can diagnose and attempt repairs on issues found on the hard drive.

To use this test method, you’ll need to connect your hard drive to another desktop computer via a SATA to USB enclosure box. Then, the enclosure powers the hard drive from a separate power source to keep the drive isolated for thorough testing.

If you find that your hard drive is working fine, you may check it off the suspect list and move on to the next component. However, if you do find issues on your hard drive, we can also help you find the right repair solution. Read our guides on how to test and repair a hard drive for Dell, HP, or Apple laptops or desktops.

Testing for RAM issues

RAM computer memory on desktop motherboard

RAM comes in two forms on a computer. It can come in stick form that is connected to the motherboard, or as built-in chips on the motherboard. Depending on the model of your laptop or desktop computer, the RAM test method can vary.

For desktop computers both Windows and Apple (iMac and Mac Mini), RAM can be removed and tested for issues. Most Windows laptops have removable RAM as well. Most Apple laptops from 2012 and onward have their RAM chips built-in onto the motherboard. You can check whether your RAM is separate or built-in on the motherboard by looking up the specs of your device, or simply open your computer to take a look.

Built-in RAM computer memory on motherboard

What built-in RAM looks like on the motherboard.

Testing RAM when your computer passes POST

Both separate and built-in RAM can be tested with boot diagnostics if your computer does pass POST. You may also run RAM test software like MemTest86 if your computer boots up successfully. Both methods can find possible issues with your computer memory.

You may move on to the next component test if you do not find any issues with your RAM. If you do find issues with your built-in RAM, then you can conclude that you have a motherboard failure. This is because the built-in RAM is part of the motherboard.

Testing RAM when your computer does not pass POST

If your computer does not POST at all, you’ll need to test for RAM issues with a spare stick of RAM. This involves checking to see whether the problem remains even with a different RAM stick put in. If your computer passes POST with this other RAM, then you’ve got a RAM failure. Otherwise, you might have a motherboard issue if the computer still doesn’t pass POST. Note that you can’t use this method for built-in RAM.

Testing for GPU issues

A laptop video card GPU

Most laptops and Apple desktop Macs have their video cards built into the motherboard these days. Windows desktop computers do have separate video cards.

If your video card is built-into the motherboard and your computer does not POST, there’s no way to test it. If it does POST and you do find issues with the built-in GPU, then there is a problem with the motherboard.

How to test for GPU issues

To test your video card, you can use boot diagnostics and analysis software like FurMark (Geeks 3D). This is for situations where your laptop or desktop does successfully boot.

The only way to test the video card if your computer does not post is when it is separate from the motherboard. You can do this by testing removing the GPU and testing it on a different desktop computer.

Two outcomes will conclude that you have a motherboard failure: All other components other than the motherboard have passed their diagnostic tests; or you diagnose issues with a component built into the motherboard. Now you can start thinking about a repair solution.

Replacing a faulty motherboard

Now that you’ve confirmed that your motherboard is faulty, you’ll need a replacement.

Buying a motherboard replacement

Motherboards are complex pieces of hardware, and different models of motherboards only fit specific computer models. Because of its form factor and configurations, you can’t necessarily “upgrade to a better motherboard”. Each motherboard essentially works the same as a circuit board for your system. So you may want to buy the exact same motherboard model as a replacement for the faulty one.

You can find the motherboard model number in the specs of your device, and look for that exact same model in-store or online. Branded ones like Apple, HP, Dell, and Lenovo have universal model part numbers that you can look for online. For brands that do not have specific part numbers like Acer and Asus, you’ll need to do a little close searching to find the right motherboard replacement.

Replacing your motherboard by yourself?

For the technologically-adept, replacing a motherboard by yourself can be the repair solution for you. However, a motherboard replacement is one of the most complicated computer repair jobs to do, and a DIY solution can be very tricky. This is true even for us, as experienced technicians.

Due to the intricate parts and connecting points of a motherboard, everything on the computer will have to be taken out and put back in for this repair. Such a challenging repair usually has a 70-80% success rate. So even if you are keen on DIY projects, you might still want to put this in the safe hands of professionals.

Still, for the ones confident in a DIY repair, you can find motherboard replacement guides online. Popular tech site ifixit offers repair guides for specific computer models, you’ll surely find the right guide for you there 👍

Professional repairs

Dell laptop motherboard repair replacement

Don’t want to do all this work? Leave it to the professionals. You might not have all the tools needed, or even the time to go through all the steps. That’s where a professional repair technician can help you. It’s still a good idea to have an understanding of the entire test and repair process though.

You can get specialised professional support and repair at an an authorised service centre for possibly no fee, if you are still under warranty or accident care cover. For this reason, you may want to check your warranty before you take your computer there. You might still be able to get support with an expired warranty for a fee. If not, a third-party repair service is your only option. Apple users with computers from 2012 and before will also need to seek advice third-party repair services, as Apple may not provide support solutions for them.

As an established computer repair service in Inner West Sydney, we at Safemode Computer Service can help you with your motherboard problems 🙂 With 20,000 repairs under our belts, our experienced technicians understand how difficult motherboard repairs can be, and treat them with precision and care. Situated in the vibrant Inner West suburb of Enmore, surrounded by Marrickville and Newtown, we could be a closer option for you if live in Inner West Sydney. We can help you thoroughly test your laptop or desktop computer and offer the right repair advice and solution.

Got any questions for us? Call us to make an appointment or come by our Enmore store today.