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How to Use Your Old Hard Drive With a New Motherboard

written by: •edited by: M.S. Smith•updated: 5/25/2010

Here's what you can expect when trying to upgrade or replace the motherboard in your PC while keeping your old hard drive. You may or may not have to reinstall Windows, depending on what kind of system you have.

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    Replacing Motherboards

    On a PC, motherboard failure can be a real pain. Not only are they expensive to replace, but the process gets a lot more complicated if your replacement motherboard isn’t the same kind as what you had before. Whether you are replacing or upgrading, this article offers some pointers on what to expect if you plan to keep your old hard drive with the new motherboard.

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    Best Practice

    If you are replacing a motherboard with the same exact model, then you shouldn’t have any major problems. In fact, your computer shouldn’t even notice the difference. When replacing the boards, just make sure you have all the jumper settings matched up, then check the BIOS version to see if it needs to be updated. Beyond that, the process should be relatively painless.

    If you are upgrading the motherboard in your computer, the best practice is to do a fresh install of Windows. The reason behind this is that Windows will still be loaded up with drivers from the old motherboard as well as the new one, and sometimes there may be conflicts with the way other hardware is configured. You’re system might work just fine like this, but I still think it is best to do a new install of Windows just to keep things clean. The downside to reinstalling Windows and all your other hardware and software is that it can be very time consuming.

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    Factory Motherboards

    Motherboard You can’t upgrade the motherboard in a factory brand computer, at least not that I have seen. If you have a computer made by Dell or HP, for example, then you will need to replace the motherboard with the same exact model as what you had before. Otherwise, it won’t work. The reason is that companies like Dell and HP set up Windows XP to work specifically with their hardware. Sometimes you can’t even take a hard drive out of one HP computer and stick it in another model HP machine – I know because I recently tried. That’s how locked down they are. In this case, your only option is to reinstall Windows. If you’re PC has a recovery/restore partition on the hard drive, it will at least make the reinstall process much easier.

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    Custom PC Motherboards

    Hard Drive If you have a PC built using custom parts, like one you put together yourself or had made at a PC shop, then changing motherboards and keeping your old hard drive and configuration is something you can do. I still think it is best practice to reinstall Windows, but you don’t always have to with a system like this.

    Before you begin, make sure you have all the proper drivers for your new motherboard. If you purchased it new, then it should come with a CD. If possible, copy the contents of the driver disc to the hard drive before you swap motherboards, because I’ve seen computers where it couldn’t load the CD/DVD drives without some kind of motherboard interface drivers. It will also help make the drivers load faster from the hard drive as opposed to the CD. You should do the same thing with your Windows install disc, and copy the entire disc to a folder on your hard drive.

    The first time you boot up Windows with your old hard drive and the new motherboard, you should expect it to go a little crazy. The video might only be 16 colors, your mouse may not work right off, and who knows what else. This is because the system will boot expecting to have the old motherboard and won’t yet have the drivers for the new motherboard. Just follow the on-screen prompts for driver installs and be ready to reboot a couple of times before it is finished.

    After rebooting, be sure to check the Device Manager for any hardware that might not be working properly. Sometimes you have to manually install drivers for certain hardware. It all depends on the manufacturer. If for some reason your system just won’t work with the new motherboard, you may still have to reinstall Windows.