Knowing how to tell if motherboard is dead is an important skill that every PC user should learn for the sake of troubleshooting.
The motherboard is one of the most critical components of any PC as it connects everything together. It is also one of the most finicky parts of the PC since it has so many functions relating to different devices.
You should also know how to diagnose a dead motherboard, as it is possible that a brand-new motherboard may arrive to you in dead condition.
Of course, one should also be able to tell all the signs of the dying motherboard in order to take initiative before further damage to the board.
We will walk you through all the steps of diagnosing and testing a dead motherboard in this guide.
How to tell if motherboard is dead?
A dying motherboard shows several signs and symptoms that can let the user know of its condition. If you’re facing frequent BSOD errors, freezes, hard locks, forced restarts, the motherboard’s power light isn’t on at all or generally unstable performance then your motherboard may be dying.
You can check a dying or dead motherboard by performing the POST process, or by using diagnostic information provided by codes and lights. Physical damages and a faulty PSU can also be the causes of a dead motherboard.
Signs of a dead or failing motherboard
When somebody is sick, they show signs and symptoms that let others know of their ill health. Similarly, a computer motherboard shows several signs when its health is deteriorating, and these signs can let you know the condition of your board.
Keeping an eye out for these signs and symptoms is quite important as it allows you to apply fixes in time that can save your motherboard. Moreover, you can replace a dying motherboard before it causes further damage to your other components.
One of the most obvious signs of a dying or malfunctioning motherboard is physical damage. You can quite easily evaluate a motherboard for physical damage by looking closely at certain parts.
Physical damage in a motherboard often presents itself in the form of burnt transistors, bulging or blown capacitors, or chipped circuits. One of the key indicators of physical damage can be a burning smell when the motherboard is turned on.
You should also keep an eye out for signs of smoke, or listen for sounds that may resemble a short circuit. These signs can help you identify a motherboard that may be dying due to physical damage.
Of course, physical damage can also mean damage to the PCB on a macro level due to being dropped or shipping damages in general. All of these signs fall under the umbrella of physical damages and can indicate a dead motherboard.
Blue Screen of Death (BSOD)
The Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) is an infamous Windows error message that is usually displayed on a bright blue screen and forces a hard restart of the PC. It is usually due to a critical error in the system and is not to be taken lightly.
Random BSOD messages are common and can appear due to a host of different reasons. It is rare for a regular PC user to have not come across the BSOD screen at least once. However, if the error becomes frequent and follows a similar pattern, you definitely have cause for concern.
Since the motherboard is the junction of all the components in your system, a malfunctioning motherboard also affects the regular functionality of other components. Therefore, your PC can spit out frequent BSOD errors which can be an indicator of a dying motherboard.
Of course, BSOD errors do not necessarily mean that your computer motherboard is dying or malfunctioning, but it is one of the strongest signs of this issue.
BSOD screens also show particular error codes, but those can be wildly different depending on which part of the board is not functioning properly. Therefore, you can’t pinpoint a dying motherboard to a particular error code.
Another sign to look out for is general slow performance or sluggishness when using your PC. If you feel like your PC does not feel as fast as it used to be in day-to-day operations, then it might be down to a malfunctioning motherboard.
This is certainly not a definitive indicator of a dying motherboard because a slow PC can be caused by several factors. However, a malfunctioning motherboard can certainly contribute to this as well.
On a technical level, the overall sluggishness or slow speed of the PC may be caused by the CPU not performing to its optimum level due to unstable power delivery, or your SSD/Hard Drive suffering from slowdowns due to an unstable SATA connection.
Freezes and Hard Locks
If you encounter regular freezes and hard locks when using your PC, then it is very possible that your motherboard is dying. This sign is actually one of the more definitive ones for this issue and should be taken seriously.
A hard lock or freeze can be identified as a state of complete unresponsiveness of the PC, where you cannot even move your mouse or input any keyboard commands. Essentially, all the input/output functions of the PC are locked, and the PC needs to be restarted to regain control.
These locks and freezes can be caused by other reasons also, but a failed motherboard is certainly one of the more common culprits for this problem. You should also note the pattern of the freezes to rule out any link to the graphics card for example.
A dying motherboard can also manifest itself in the form of force restarts. You may be playing your game, or just browsing the web, and then all of a sudden the entire PC restarts without any input from you. This is a force restart.
Usually, a force restart is a sign of a power supply issue, but it can most certainly be related to the motherboard as well. It is the computer motherboard that is responsible for distributing the power from the PSU to the various onboard internal components.
Keep an eye out for frequent force restarts, and whether or not they have any pattern to them. It is also wise to rule out the PSU as a problem by plugging a different PSU into the PC and using it for a bit. You can also use the PSU in a different system to see if it works correctly.
This is a general sign of malfunctioning hardware, but it can also be attributed to a dying motherboard. If your PC is exhibiting signs of instability, then it may be experiencing problems related to the motherboard.
Common signs of instability include glitches and momentary freezes, inconsistent performance from the CPU and GPU, inconsistent cooling performance, momentary slowdowns, extremely high input lag, general instability with I/O devices, and so on.
There is a large number of problems that can be grouped under this umbrella, but one should keep an eye out for any behavior out of the ordinary. It may be linked to the motherboard’s health and it may be wise to do further testing.
One of the most surefire ways to identify a failing motherboard is to look out for unrecognized computer hardware. Suppose you boot up your PC one day and one of your hard drives does not show up! The same may happen with your mouse one day, then your keyboard, then maybe one of the SSDs, etc.
When a motherboard has trouble recognizing and remembering connecting hardware, then it is surely malfunctioning and possibly dying as well. It is best not to ignore the problem if your motherboard fails to recognize a piece of hardware that you regularly use.
This can also happen with external hardware like flash drives, SD card readers, external hard drives, and so on. Whenever your motherboard fails to recognize a regularly-used component, you should be attentive to the situation.
Reasons for motherboard failure
So what causes a motherboard to die? Well, there is a multitude of factors that may contribute to the deterioration and death of a motherboard. It is a pretty fragile component and essentially the hub of circuitry in your PC, therefore it is exposed to a lot of risk factors.
Some of which are discussed below.
It is common knowledge that heat is the enemy of electronic components and the same holds true for the motherboard. Overheating is one of the primary reasons for a motherboard being damaged or dying.
There are not a lot of areas on the motherboard that are exposed to overheating. However, two main components that certainly get very hot are the VRMs, and the actual chipset itself.
You can find the VRM components on the top and left side of the CPU motherboard socket, and the chipset usually sits on the bottom half of the PCB.
The VRM in modern motherboards is usually covered with multiple heatsinks, and for good reason. Voltage Regulator Module components can get very hot since they are tasked with the provision of power to the CPU, therefore a VRM heatsink is necessary.
Prolonged overheating can damage the VRM components and lead to malfunctioning or death of the motherboard in extreme cases. The same is the case with the chipset heatsink but to a lesser extent.
Damaged Power Supply
Since the motherboard acts as the junction for all the components in your PC, it is possible for other components to affect the board in a negative way. Unfortunately, damage to a component connected to the motherboard can also kill the motherboard.
One of the most common culprits for this issue is the power supply. Since the PSU is directly connected to the motherboard in multiple ways, it can cause a lot of damage to the motherboard.
If a PSU malfunctions or blows up, it can take the motherboard with it as well as other components. A spare power supply can come in handy while diagnosing this problem.
Modern PSUs are becoming a bit better in this aspect and manufacturers are installing protection mechanisms in the PSUs to avoid damage to the motherboard.
Of course, physical damage to the motherboard is one of the primary reasons for a dying motherboard. This can present itself in several ways, but the damage of any kind is usually pretty bad for the motherboard since it is so fragile.
Shipping damage is one of the leading causes of a motherboard being DOA (dead on arrival). It is a very fragile piece of hardware and needs proper care and handling in order to avoid these issues.
Most motherboards have exposed capacitors, regulators, and other electronic components right on the PCB. Moreover, there are multiple connectors and wiring points that are usually exposed. Physical damage to any such component can cause catastrophic damage.
A short circuit can be defined as an electrical circuit that allows the current to travel along an unintended path with very low electrical impedance. If this sounds dangerous, that’s because it is.
Short circuits in motherboards can be caused due to several reasons, but one of the most common is due to the negligence of PC builders. If you do not install motherboard standoffs properly to lift the board from the motherboard tray, then it can very easily cause a short circuit.
A short can also be caused by loose screws on the back side of the motherboard between the PCB and the motherboard tray. Basically, any unintended bit of metal can lead to a short and ruin your day.
This problem is becoming less common in modern Power Supplies, but it still exists in a large portion of PSUs out in the wild. Unstable voltages and sudden power surges can travel through your PSU to the motherboard and cause catastrophic damage.
Manufacturers of PSUs are now installing surge protection mechanisms to avoid such mishaps, but they are not present in every power supply yet. In fact, only high-end PSUs come with surge protectors that actually do their job properly.
Just like overheating, dust buildup is also the enemy of electronic components. Excessive dust buildup in the PC can cause multiple problems for your components, including the motherboard.
Dust is essentially a risk factor for overheating, so it makes its mark by raising the overall temperature of your system components and blocking the cooling mechanisms. If your motherboard is covered with dust and your PC’s fans are choked with it as well, then you can expect damage to the board down the line.
A quick and easy solution for this problem is to perform regular maintenance on your PC and blow out the dust thoroughly.
Bad BIOS Update
A BIOS update by itself cannot really kill a motherboard, however, it is certainly a risk point. Your motherboard can certainly be bricked if a BIOS update is interrupted while being installed.
You absolutely need to have a battery backup or UPS for your PC when updating the BIOS of the motherboard. It is a really sensitive process and you can actually kill your motherboard if the power is interrupted while the installation is still incomplete.
Nowadays, motherboard manufacturers are working around this problem by incorporating features like BIOS flashback.
How to test a motherboard
If you suspect your motherboard is malfunctioning or may be dead, you need to know how to test a motherboard. You can do that yourself by following these procedures.
Disconnect all components
The first and foremost thing you will want to do is to isolate the motherboard from the rest of the PC.
Disconnect all the components and the wiring attached to the board and remove it from the case. Place it on a flat, anti-static surface so you don’t have to worry about electrostatic discharge.
Now you can proceed with the other steps of testing.
Check Physical Damage
Once the board is out of the case and isolated, check carefully for any signs of physical damage that may have caused the board to die. You should look for these specific signs:
- Bulged capacitors
- Bent capacitors
- Burn spot
- Water damage
- Short circuit signs
- Broken or cracked PCB
- Broken connectors or pins
Each one of these signs is an indicator of a malfunction that has happened with the motherboard in the past. While some of these may be minor and you might be able to use your motherboard, it is best practice to err on the side of caution and replace the board.
Check CMOS Battery
While the motherboard is out of the case and isolated, now is a good time to check the CMOS battery as well. This little cell is responsible for powering up the BIOS and maintaining your system settings even while the system is off.
A dead CMOS battery can cause the motherboard to fail the POST test and refuse to boot, so you may think the board is dead. If this is the case, replace the coin battery with an appropriate battery.
POST (Power On Self Test) is basically a self-check performed by the motherboard after you press the power button. A failing motherboard will most likely fail to POST. This is quite a simple way to know if something is wrong with your board.
Connect all the necessary wiring to the board, install the CPU, install the memory and try to boot it up using the onboard power button. If it does try to boot up, pay close attention to the diagnostic lights or codes that it may show during the POST process.
It is important to rule out other causes of POST failure such as DRAM problems or undetected GPU, which can also cause the system to fail this process.
Diagnostic Lights and Codes
There are four diagnostic lights on the PCB, usually found on the right edge of the board just to the side of the DIMM slots. You may also hear some beeping sounds when these led lights are active.
Each light is dedicated to a specific error category.
- BOOT – Represents an error in the boot device or sequence
- DRAM – Represents an error in the memory configuration
- VGA/GPU – Represents an error with the video card or GPU
- CPU – Represents an error related to the processor
You can also take help from the diagnostic codes that may appear on a small screen on the motherboard PCB itself. However, this feature is only present on premium motherboards.
Some motherboards come with an integrated motherboard speaker and a beeping system that is used for diagnostic purposes. It is a very rudimentary system that can let you know about what may be wrong with your motherboard.
Here are the beep codes:
- 1 Beep: BIOS waiting for keyboard input
- 2 Beeps: GPU error
- 3 Beeps: Memory Issue
- 4 Beeps: Timer Failure
- 5 Beeps: Processor problem
- 6 Beeps: Keyboard controller Failure
- 7 Beeps: Virtual Mode Exception
- 8 Beeps: Display Memory Error
- 9 Beeps: ROM error
- 10 Beeps: Cache failure
- 11 Beeps: Memory or video failure
Although these beep codes are quite generalized, they can help guide you in the right direction when diagnosing the cause of motherboard failure.
What to do if you have a dead motherboard?
If you have a dead motherboard, immediately get in contact with the motherboard manufacturer and notify them about the issue if it is still in warranty. You will need to file an RMA claim to get a replacement. In the case of a DOA motherboard, contact the seller and ask for a replacement.
Can I fix a dead motherboard myself?
You cannot fix a dead motherboard yourself if you are not properly trained. A motherboard can be repaired, however, it is not something that is recommended to be done by users. Damaged or faulty motherboards should be returned to the manufacturer or to a trained professional.
How to test a motherboard without a CPU?
You can test a motherboard without a CPU by plugging in the power cables and connecting the peripheral devices like fans and RGB lights. If the devices work correctly, then the motherboard is certainly not DOA.