If I decide to switch out my processor, what compatibility issues will I need to look out for? As long as the processor and motherboard are compatible, am I ok? Is it just switch out and go, or will I have to do some setup/configurations?
As long as the new CPU uses the same socket as the old one, you're fine. There are three main types of CPU sockets in common usage these days: LGA775, LGA1156, and LGA1366. Find out which one you've got and that will define what kind of processor you can get to put it in.
Swapping out a CPU is pretty straightforward. There are no screws mounting the CPU to the motherboard and the sockets are designed so that you'd have to try really hard to put the CPU in wrong. Most newer motherboards have a little metal arm that you unclip and swing up and it lifts the load plate holding the CPU in place. Take out the old CPU, put in the new one, swing the arm back down and clip it in place and voila. You'll have to take the old CPU heat sink off the motherboard to get at the CPU socket, but that's usually pretty easy.
If, on the other hand, you're switching out the CPU and
motherboard, it's a little more involved. You'll need to make sure that your old RAM is compatible with the new board unless you get new RAM along with everything else. You'll also need to make sure that your power supply comes with enough connectors to power the new motherboard. Worth noting is that most new motherboards come with their own custom IO port backplate. You should
be able to just remove the old motherboard backplate (once the motherboard is out), put in the new one, secure the motherboard into place, plug everything in and go. A new motherboard should come with all the documentation that shows you where to plug in your power switch, reset button, any front side IO devices you might have, etc. The BIOS will automatically detect and configure the new CPU for stock operation as well.
Replacing the CPU/motherboard might flag Windows to require reactivation. Worst case scenario, you call their automated activation line, try activating with the automated system and if that doesn't work it will put you through to a person. I had to do that with my latest build and the person I talked to didn't even ask why I was reactivating. If they had, I would have just told them I had done a major upgrade of my system (which was technically the truth...the only thing I kept from the old system were the hard drives :P). Edited, Apr 15th 2010 8:01am by AureliusSir