I love building PCs from used parts. Whenever I hear of an old rig being given away, I always go pick it up, and start pulling it apart and testing it out. While sliding an old motherboard out of its case the other day, it got me thinking…
How long do motherboards actually last?
After all, they are the most important component inside a PC. If your motherboard suddenly stops working, your computer stops working. It’s as simple as that.
The only answer to a failed motherboard is usually to buy a new one. And if your computer is old, buying a new motherboard can mean burning extra cash on a new CPU, RAM, and even coolers. Yet, for all my experience of tearing old PCs apart, I had no idea how long a motherboard lives for.
Determined to find an answer, I slid out my iPhone and started an investigation.
This is what I found…
So, how long do motherboards actually last? Motherboards, if looked after, can last for 5-10 years. There are reports of motherboards over 40 years old! However, it’s far more likely that the “life” of your motherboard will come to an end, not because of failure, but because it becomes obsolete.
Ok, now you’ve got a basic answer, I’ll dive deeper into what faults can bring your motherboard’s life to an end, the harsh realities of technological obsolescence, and what you can do to increase how long your motherboard lasts. Let’s get started…
How long do motherboards last?
How long your mother board lasts really depends on how you treat your board.
But, in most use cases, most motherboards will last at least 5-10 years if maintained correctly.
However, many motherboards can last much longer. It’s not unheard of for 40 year old mainframe motherboards to still function.
Another aspect you need to take into account when calculating roughly how long your motherboard will last is: how many hours per day the motherboard is active.
If you only turn on your motherboard for a couple of hours a day then your motherboard will likely last a lot longer than a motherboard that is left on 24/7.
Another variable to take into account is the level of performance being extracted from the motherboard. A gaming motherboard will likely have a shorter life span than an office PC motherboard because a gaming PC demands more of the components installed. Basically game playing is more demanding than just creating documents!
One other thing to keep in mind when calculating how long your motherboard will last is technological obsolescence. This is when the motherboard, over time, becomes technologically outed to the point where it’s incompatible with modern hardware and software.
Technological obsolescence will likely claim your motherboard long before it physically fails.
I’ll take a look at technological obsolescence in a later section.
What causes a motherboard to fail?
Heat is the single biggest cause of motherboard failure.
Your computer generates a huge amount of heat. If you have a 500 W PSU inside your computer, more than half of that power will be turned into heat energy by the components.
If that heat isn’t removed from the computer, it can slowly overwhelm components on the motherboard. As these components become overwhelmed by the heat they start to bleed electrons into other parts of the component. This bleeding of electrons degrades the transistors and electron pathways in chips eventually leading to failure.
As a motherboard ages certain components on the motherboard actually wear out just because electricity is constantly passing through them.
A good example are capacitors.
Capacitors are designed to hold small charges of electricity for short periods of time then discharge. This is called a cycle.
Unfortunately, they only have a limited number of cycles before they start to degrade and fail.
Depending on the quality of the capacitors on your motherboard, your motherboard could live for decades. However, as motherboards and PC components have dropped in price over the last few decades, so too has the quality of the electronics and capacitors.
You shouldn’t expect a $50 motherboard to last as long as a $400 motherboard. As the $50 motherboard likely uses far lower quality electronic components and they will not last as long.
Impacts or physical damage
Needless to say any large impact has the potential to damage and destroy any of the components in your computer. They should be avoided at all costs.
However, large impacts aren’t the only problem.
If you have a gaming PC that you often move, say to take around a friends house, that constant movement can dislodge components. Eventually soldered joints will come loose, or heat sinks will separate from the chip surface, and these problems can lead to other failures.
Also, the vibration from large fans can also damage components over time if not properly mounted.
Water can kill a motherboard instantly. If you spill a drink over your pc, the chances that it’ll ever switch on again are pretty much zero.
The reason for this is that salts dissolved in the water make the fluid electrically conductive. So when water suddenly floods across the surface of an electronic board, such as a motherboard, nearly every conductive surface is in contact with each other. This instantly shorts out the entire motherboard and effectively fries it.
Aging, Wear, and PCB Degradation
All good things come to an end, and motherboards are no different. Sometimes, just through general wear and tear, a motherboard will eventually die.
This can be a combination of all the above problems.
Humidity in the air over the years can even cause certain types of bacteria to grow on the PCB, this bacteria then slowly eats away at your PC’s components, including the motherboard!
How Long Your Motherboard Lasts Is Largely Based On Technological Obsolescence.
Technological obsolescence is when a piece of technology, for example a games console, becomes so old that newer hardware and software is no longer compatible with it.
Motherboards suffer from this fate.
Motherboard’s are usually only compatible with 2 generations of CPU. New CPUs often use a new type and shape of socket to attach themselves to the motherboard which is incompatible with older motherboards. Which means new CPUs will not actually physically fit into an old motherboard.
This isn’t a problem at first because software happily runs on older CPUs.
But eventually older CPUs are not fast enough to run the latest software and so your motherboard and it’s CPU become obsolete.
Additionally, your old motherboard may not support newer faster hard drives, such as PCIe 4 SSD drives. Again, this wouldn’t be a problem at first. But eventually, games and other software might require newer hard drive technology.
Also, old connections such as USB 1 or VGA can become obsolete.
Things You Can Do To Increase The Length Of Your Motherboard’s Life
Don’t Overclock Everything
Overlocking is when you increase the frequency of your components in an attempt to increase performance. For example, you can overclock your CPU’s frequency from 3.0Ghz to 3.5Ghz for greater performance.
But overclocking can decrease how long your motherboard and other components last.
Simply put, overclocking creates more heat and puts more electrical strain on your components. If you can avoid overclocking, you’ll greatly increase the lifespan of your board.
Keep Your Motherboard Clean
Don’t let dust and other detritus build upon your motherboard. Dust acts as an insulating barrier, like fur, between the hot components of the motherboard and the cool air circulating inside your case. This puts more heat strain on the components which will lead them to fail quicker.
To clean your board, simply open the case up and give it a blast with a can of compressed air to remove any build-up of dust.
You shouldn’t blow into your case, and your breath contains moisture that is even worse than water for destroying electrical components.
You can buy cans of compressed air cheaply off Amazon here.
Have Good Airflow
Good airflow is key to keeping your computer and therefore your motherboard cool. A good rule is, is to remember hot air rises, and that hotter components are toward the back of your case.
So place fans that pull in fresh cool air toward the front and bottom of your PC’s case. And place fans that suck the air out of the case toward the top and back.
Take a look at some of the best fans available on Amazon here.
Use A Good Quality PSU and Surge Protector
Low-quality power units can lead to electrical surges that can damage your motherboard. So always opt for a good quality PSU such as this one from EVGA.
Additionally, your computer should always be powered up by using a search protector multi-plug. These protect your computer from electrical surges that can be caused by anything from lightning strikes to solar flares.
In the event of a surge, a protector could save your thousand dollar gaming PC from frying. Seriously, I’ve had a surge in the middle of a storm before, and it killed my TV – smoke billowed out of it – and my lights popped! After that, everything was plugged into surge protectors!
Moral of the story: Do not skimp on surge protectors, they will save you in a thunderstorm!
Check out this great surge protector made by Belkin. It’s the one I use, or at least I use the UK version, and it’s superb.
Keep It Away From Moisture Of All kinds
Obviously, keep your drinks away from your PC. Also, if you live in a high humidity climate such as Florida, the water content in the air can cause a motherboard to fail over time. The best way around this is to place moisture absorbing crystals near your PC’s air intake fans. That way, the air that’s pulled into the case is dry and moisture-free.
Check out some of these motherboard saving moisture absorbers here.
Ok, so we’ve looked at how long a motherboard can last and come to the conclusion that an average motherboard should last you at least 5 year if not a decade.
We then took a look at some of the reasons why motherboards fail and how a motherboard is likely to be obsolete well before it fails.
Finally we took a look at some of the things you should avoid doing to help increase how lying your motherboard will last.
I think my motherboard is fried, what should I do? If your motherboard has died, it’s very unlikely you’ll be able to get it fixed. You’ll have to look for a new one. Which will often mean buying new RAM and a CPU to go with it.
I think my CPU has died, what should I do? If your CPU is the problem, you’ll need to find out what CPUs are compatible with your motherboard and then buy a new one.
My motherboard seems fine, could it be my RAM? If you think that your RAM is the problem, you should try taking out one stick at a time then testing to see if your computer boots. Often only one RAM stick fails.