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If you are building a new PC, you might be wondering what are motherboard standoffs.
These tiny little parts are quite essential in the process of mounting your motherboard, and they can even cause catastrophic damage to your PC build if you’re not careful with them.
Even though motherboard standoffs are not functional in the technical sense of the word, their absence can lead to a really bad experience down the line.
In this guide, we will tackle the importance of motherboard standoffs and answer all your questions about them.
What are motherboard standoffs?
Motherboard standoffs are the brass pillars that separate the motherboard from the PC case itself, and they have the threading for the motherboard screws as well.
This means that you don’t directly screw in your motherboard to the case itself, and the standoffs act as a sort of bridge between the two.
One side of a motherboard standoff has regular threading just like a screw, but on the other side, they have a hole with threading on the inside. They are a sort of double-sided screw, which can be confusing to first-time PC builders.
Why do you need standoffs?
As we have established that motherboard standoffs are metallic spacers, their function is exactly what it says in the name.
They go between a motherboard and the computer case to ensure that there is no direct contact between the motherboard and the metal case.
This is important because motherboards are full of complex circuitry, and any unintentional contact between the motherboard and the metal case directly can lead to malfunction.
Every motherboard has electrical connections (mostly solder points) on the rear as well as the front, so you need to separate both surfaces from the metal of the case.
The standoffs lift the motherboard so that there can be no such contact.
Why are the standoffs metallic?
You might be wondering why the standoffs are metallic if the motherboard is one giant circuit. Wouldn’t there be electrical conduction between the motherboard and the metal?
Well, the reason for the standoffs being metallic is that they act as a grounding point between the case and the motherboard.
They are strategically placed across the motherboard where needed, and they direct any unusual electrical discharge away from the components and into the ground.
The standoffs do so by directing the current away from the sensitive motherboard components to the PSU, which then transfers the current to the ground.
Types of motherboard standoffs
While most motherboard standoffs are made of brass and around 1cm long, there are certainly other types out there. You can find standoffs made of plastic, nylon, bronze, steel, or even colored ones.
Standoffs, however, are standardized. The consumer motherboards on the market stick to the UTS Standard #6-32 UNC or ISO M3 standard.
According to the UTS standard, the base of the standoff (the pillar) is 6mm long, and the threading is 4mm long. In the ISO M3 standard, the base is 6mm long, and the threading is also 6mm long.
This standardization helps to achieve a level of consistency in the consumer motherboard space, so they can be installed in multiple different cases without any issue.
One should be careful about the type of standoff they have as the two standards are not interchangeable. You cannot screw an M3 screw into a UTS standoff.
A very easy way to check which type of standoff you have is to look at the length of the threading in comparison to the length of the base. If they are (visibly) equal in length, then you have an ISO M3 standoff. If they are unequal, it is the UTS standoff.
There are also several motherboard standoffs that use a clip that can snap into the motherboard tray. These standoffs do not need to be screwed in and are thus more convenient.
What are integrated standoffs?
Many modern cases completely bypass the process of installing standoffs manually. They use integrated standoffs that are basically extensions of the case itself, and cannot be removed.
These little nubs of metal are usually pushed out from the case sheet metal, and they are becoming more and more common nowadays.
Some cases may come with pre-installed standoffs that can be removed. You can reconfigure the standoffs based on your motherboard size and screw placement.
There is also a centering standoff in most modern cases. This is used as a reference point to align the motherboard when screwing it into the standoffs so that all the screws line up exactly where they are supposed to be.
How to install motherboard standoffs in a case
The process of installing motherboard standoffs is fairly straightforward in most PC cases. The following step-by-step guide outlines the process nicely.
- Lay your case flat onto a surface such as a table.
- Make sure that there are no cables plugged into the case.
- Take your motherboard and lay it in the case to see where you need to install the standoffs.
- Note the positioning of the screw holes of the motherboard.
- Take your standoffs that came with the case.
- Install the motherboard standoffs one by one into the mounting holes.
- You can use your hand to tighten the motherboard standoff, there is no need for any tools.
- You can also use a hex driver to install the standoff.
- If your specific standoffs use a clip mechanism, just push the standoffs into the holes and clip them in securely.
- After all the standoffs are installed, line up the motherboard again.
- The mounting holes should line up with the standoffs perfectly.
You have successfully installed the standoffs in your case. You can now test the motherboard to see if it works properly.
Can you install a motherboard without standoffs?
You absolutely should not install a motherboard without standoffs, unless you plan to use the motherboard without a PC case.
Motherboard standoffs are not only a structural component of the PC, but they are also functional and protect your system from electrical malfunctions.
Motherboards not only have circuitry on the front but also on the rear in the form of solder points. Current does flow through these points, and they are typically raised a bit from the surface.
If the rear of the motherboard comes in direct contact with the case, it can cause a short circuit and damage your motherboard directly.
This can lead to even more complications as most of your components are directly plugged into the motherboard. You can get errors like red light on the motherboard.
You can lose your graphics card, CPU, PSU, and memory if the short is powerful enough and travels through the circuitry of the board.
It is, therefore, crucial to install motherboard standoffs and screw the motherboard into the standoffs.
Precautions while installing motherboard standoffs
When installing the standoffs, one should be careful of the following factors.
- Do not over-tighten the standoffs. They will be almost impossible to take out.
- Do not install a micro ATX motherboard into ATX standoffs.
- Always install all screws into the motherboard.
- Avoid scraping the motherboard on the case when installing it.
- Make sure that the space underneath the motherboard is completely clear.
- Do not route any cables behind the motherboard.
- If you lose any screws in the case, be sure to take them out before booting up the PC.
- Use the standoffs in the mounting holes that correspond to your motherboard’s form factor.
- Make sure that all the standoffs are completely secured and tightened.
If you keep these factors in mind when installing motherboard standoffs, you should encounter no problems down the line as well.
How to remove motherboard standoffs?
In order to remove motherboard standoffs, you can use the same hex driver that you used to install them in the first place.
If the standoffs have become over-tightened over time, you might need to use tools such as needle-nose pliers to loosen the standoffs before removing them manually. You can just use your hand to remove the standoffs after loosening them with a tool.
How many motherboard standoffs do you need?
In a normal ATX motherboard, you need to install nine motherboard standoffs corresponding to the nine screws that hold the motherboard in place. This number is not fixed and can vary if you have a micro ATX or mini ITX motherboard.
Some cases also have a fixed standoff in the middle so you will need to install eight standoffs in that case.
Do standoffs come with the case or the motherboard?
Motherboard standoffs come with the PC case and not with the motherboard. It is a common misconception, but they can be found in the accessory box of PC cases.
Many cases nowadays come with integrated standoffs that you do not have to install yourself. Standoffs come with the case to guarantee compatibility with the specific case itself.
Where can I buy motherboard standoffs?
You can buy motherboard standoffs from online retailers like Amazon or Newegg. It may also be possible to find them at a local hardware store, but that may or may not be compatible with your case.
You find out the specific standoff information for your case by going through its official documentation.