• Paul Isaacson

7 Reasons a Motherboard Fails - How to Prevent and How to Repair

Updated: Apr 20

The motherboard is the backbone of a computer. As long as your computer’s motherboard is intact – when things go wrong – your computer is often repairable at a reasonable cost. Motherboard repair or replacement, on the other hand, is usually very expensive. Specialized tools including Microscopes, Digital Oscilloscopes, Digital Multimeters and Hot Air Reflow Stations are required to repair Motherboards. These tools are the bread and butter of someone who specializes in micro soldering.

Motherboard Repair Micro Soldering Tools
Motherboard Repair Micro Soldering Tools

Component level repair on a Motherboard makes since when the replacement cost of the motherboard is high and smaller items soldered to the board like capacitors, resistors or BGA Chips can be obtained for considerably less money. The caveat is not just having the right tools for the repair but also have board schematics from the manufacturer to determine what is faulty. Obtaining board level schematics is becoming more and more difficult as manufacturers are turning their nose up to right to repair. Truth be told <Insert Computer Company Here> doesn’t make any money when you have your device repaired. The right of repair may not rank up there with the “unalienable rights” to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness mentioned in the Declaration of Independence. But for modern consumers, it’s meaningful on multiple levels — for the concept of ownership and for privacy, personal economics and environmental sustainability.

Laptop Motherboard Replacement
Laptop Motherboard Replacement

Hopefully your stumbled across this blog before you need a System Board replaced or repaired, because there are several things you can do to prolonging the life of your motherboard. Here is a list of different reasons your computer’s motherboard might fail and suggestions to prevent failure.


1. Electrical Spikes and Surges

An electrical spike or surge is a short-lived burst of energy in an electric circuit. This can be the result of power-hungry appliances, problems with electrical wiring, problems with the power service outside the house, or the result of a lightning strike. Lightning is the #1 culprit of spike/surge motherboard failure we see — and it will often go in through the Coax Cable / Phone Line / Ethernet Port and bypass a surge protector!

Motherboard Damaged by Lightning
Motherboard Damaged by Lightning

This sudden change of voltage can cause damage to the delicate circuits in a motherboard. Remember that Motherboards rely on Direct Current (DC) Electricity. Connecting your computer to a power outlet that has frequent fluctuations in electrical output may also cause damage to your motherboard. Though at times immediate damage may not be visible, it may harm the motherboard over time. To protect your motherboard from electrical spikes, use a high-quality surge protector that can neutralize the effects. We personally recommend APC Branded Surge Suppressors. Honestly, it’s a no brainer to purchase a $30 to $40 surge suppressor to protect a device that is a few hundred dollars.

Surge Suppressor for a Computer
Surge Suppressor for a Computer

Surge Suppressors should be replaced every five to ten years depending on the brand and model you install. It is also important that you register the warranty to cover your electronics in the event of damage. When it comes to lightning strikes… well there isn’t much you can to protect against the pure power of Mother Nature. In the event that damage does occur you can fail back on the registration of your surge suppressor and make a warranty claim. APC usually offers anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000 worth of protection. However, if you didn’t read the fine print and register your product that benefit goes out the window.


2. Dust, Pet Hair and Debris

Dust, pet hair and foreign debris can be a sure motherboard killer. At our shop in King, NC I can’t tell you how many times I see fans and heatsinks clogged with dirt, dust, and debris. When these things collect in your machine, they start blocking the air circulation that keeps the machine cool. It is like harmful fat that blocks your arteries that cause a heart attack.

Desktop Computer filled with dust
Desktop Computer filled with dust

Most computers cool themselves down by intaking cool air from around the computer and exhausting the hot air out. If fans are unable to move air the inside of your device is going to cook your components like hot dogs on the grill during 4th of July. If you have a Desktop PC it is advised to have it installed on top of your desk rather than on the floor. If your desk has a cabinet built in for the computer to be installed make sure it is well ventilated.

Laptop Computer filled with dust
Laptop Computer filled with dust

3. Cigarette Smoke, Aerosols and Perfumes

Tar from cigarette smoke is not good for your health and also for the health of your computer. Cigarette smoke, when combined with dust produces a sticky gooey substance inside a computer. In addition to cigarette smoke other aerosols like hair spray or perfume can have the same effect. Remember anything floating through the air will end up inside your device if it is turned on. All these items leave a sticky residue which allows dust and other foreign debris to accumulate. and is also very difficult to remove. It is recommended that you have a periodic schedule of cleaning the interior of your computer (at a qualified shop) and try and keep it away from these items.

Cigarette Tar Build Up on Desktop Fan
Cigarette Tar Build Up on Desktop Fan
Cleaning of Cigarette Tar from Desktop Computer
Cleaning of Cigarette Tar from Desktop Computer

4. Heating Issues

Overheating of the motherboard can occur if multiple operations are performed simultaneously and the power supply is continuously running at maximum output. It is advised to give your computer a periodic rest if gaming, rendering video, watching videos, etc. In some cases, overheating may also occur due to fluctuations in power supply or in one of the parts of the motherboard circuit. Ironically using a laptop in your lap or on another soft surface can cover up intakes and exhaust fans. Overheating can be prevented by keeping the fan basins clear, giving your computer a rest after heavy use, using your laptop in the cooler rooms in the house, and using it on a cold hard surface. Temperature monitoring software can be installed to monitor the temperature of your computer internally. A few freeware applications that we recommend are Speccy, HW Monitor and Core Temp. If your device is overheating it may be time to have internals cleaned and, in some cases, have new thermal paste applied to CPU or GPU to allow heat to transfer from the chips that generate heat to the heatsink.

Laptop Heatsink blocked with dust
Laptop Heatsink blocked with dust
Power Supply Overheating
Power Supply Overheating
Thermal Paste Application to CPU
Thermal Paste Application to CPU

5. Impact or Spill

An accidental impact to your motherboard can cause severe damage to the circuits which may cause motherboard failure. I have seen motherboards fail immediately due to impact from drops. Usually, an impact causes component to touch areas of the board that it was not designed to, thus creating a short to ground. Spill damage is also quite common. We’ve seen every type of liquid under the sun come into contact when system boards including Sweet Tea, Pepsi, Wine, Energy Drinks, Mountain Dew as well as Fresh and Salt Water kill a motherboard instantly. Thicker liquids (e.g., milk) seems to be the worst. Spills can cause your motherboard to short out instantly. Water can also cause damage to the different chips on your motherboard causing your motherboard to fail. If you do spill something into your laptop do NOT turn it on again, instead take it to a qualified computer repair shop immediately for cleaning. Remember the rice trick may absorb moisture but it will not absorb containments that are conductive.

Desktop Motherboard Damaged in Shipping
Desktop Motherboard Damaged in Shipping
Liquid Damage on Laptop Motherboard
Liquid Damage on Laptop Motherboard

6. Manufacturer Design Defects

Motherboards are mass produced and there are chances that manufacturing defects occur. Cheap motherboards also tend to fail more quickly. The capacitors installed may be faulty and may cause problems. The bus architecture of the board may have been engineered incorrectly and there might be cooling issues. Most motherboards come with a warranty so it should take care of expenses if problems arise during the warranty period, but that is often only a year and doesn’t cover user generated problems, of course. Sometimes the manufacturers admit to the faulty designs but usually not. Usually, computer repair shops can tell if there is a “known issue” because we see the same problems occurring over and over with the same make and model of computer. We see some trends related to certain generations of computers and it’s not with only one manufacturer. Sometimes these manufacturer defects aren’t “known” for years but becomes more obvious based on discussions on the internet.

Known Manufacturer Defects of Macbook
Known Manufacturer Defects of Macbook

7. Normal Aging and Wear

Your motherboard will eventually fail (if something else doesn’t fail first.) This is a fact. It is an electric circuit board and has a finite life span. Some good motherboards will give you around fifty thousand hours of work time or even more if taken care of properly. Once they have reached their useful life span, they do fail and you may have to replace it or replace your computer. The good news is when you are aware of the reason’s motherboards fail preventative and preparatory actions (see my article on backing up important files) can be taken to minimize the negative impact.

Overheating Desktop PC
Overheating Desktop PC
Overheating Laptop PC
Overheating Laptop PC