26 February 2017

You’ve upgraded to Windows 10. All is well.

But then one day, you decide to upgrade your motherboard, processor, and RAM…

With Windows 7, you didn’t have anything to worry about. Most likely, Windows would reactivate after your upgrade, and if it didn’t, an automated phone call to Microsoft was all it took to get back up and running.

But then came Windows 10: You now have a digital entitlement, which then changed to a digital license, which means… ??? Furthermore, until recently your ONLY option was to reinstall everything.

So how the heck do you reactivate Windows 10 after a major hardware upgrade?

The Basics

First of all, before you upgrade your puter, you should probably read my post from 2010 entitled Upgrade Your Motherboard Without Reinstalling your OS.

The simple trick in the above post still applies. In some cases, if you are also going to upgrade your graphics card, it’s a good idea to change the Display Adapter driver to the “Standard VGA” one, just in case.

Otherwise, it’s a piece of cake.

The Windows 10 Re-activation Trick

It’s pretty simple:

  1. If necessary, change your Win 10 account to a Microsoft Account instead of a Local Account
  2. Upgrade, and tell Win 10 to re-activate
  3. Change your Win 10 account back to a Local Account if you want

DONE!

Let’s break each step down with some extra details…

Step 1: Change your Windows 10 account to a Microsoft Account

This just means that instead of logging in to Win 10 with a local account and password, you’ll be logging in to Windows using your online Microsoft account. That means you’ll need to either use your Microsoft online password to sign in to Windows (temporarily), or you can set up a 4-digit PIN code as the password.

The key here is that when you link your copy of Windows 10 to your online Microsoft account, they store your “activation key” so to speak. After your hardware upgrade, and because your copy of Windows 10 is linked to your online Microsoft account, you will be able to re-activate without reinstalling everything.

To switch to a Microsoft Account, just do the following:

Click Start (windows logo) and then click Settings. Click the Update & security item. On the next screen, click Activation in the left-hand column:


Then, you just click the Add an account link, and sign in to your online Microsoft Account:


You’ll need to enter your Local Account password. From this point on, you’ll need to sign in to Windows itself using your Microsoft account password. You can change this later after your upgrade and re-activation is complete.

So, when you’re done, you’ll see this:


Step 2: Upgrade and tell Windows 10 to re-activate

Now you can do your fancy motherboard upgrade. When Windows 10 boots up again, go back to the Update & security screen in Settings as described above.

You’ll see that Windows is not activated:


Not to worry: Just click the Troubleshoot link. When the troubleshooter is done, you can click on the link at the bottom: I changed hardware on this device recently:


Next, sign in to your Microsoft Account again as shown in the screen capture above.

On the next screen, you’ll need to pick your puter and click the Activate button:


That should be it!

Windows 10 should grab the “activation key” from your online Microsoft account, and re-link it to your puter with its freshly-upgraded hardware.

At this point, you can keep logging in to Windows using your MS account if you’d like, or revert back to a Local Account.

Step 3: Change back to a Local Account in Windows 10

If you just want to stick with a Local Account, you can follow the quick instructions from my previous post, 10 Fixes for Common Problems in Windows 10:

To switch back to a local account:

  1. Click Start
  2. Type: account
  3. Click: Your account picture or profile settings
  4. Click the link: Sign in with a local account instead

You’ll need to enter your Microsoft online password, and enter a Local Account password – which can be the same one you were using before your upgrade.

Voila! You just upgraded your puter without reinstalling Win 10 + everything else!

Upgrade your motherboard without reinstalling Windows 10
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46 thoughts on “Upgrade your motherboard without reinstalling Windows 10

  • 9 August 2017 at 03:14
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    Thank you so much for this. Does it work for an upgraded version of Win 10 from Win 7? Cheers

    Reply
  • 21 August 2017 at 10:00
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    Thanks for this well written article. Just finished a motherboard and CPU swap with windows 10 (version 1703 I believe) and didnt have to reactivate or tell it i made hardware changes after completion! It seems it figured it out on its own. I did get a notification about an update or something but it just asked for my Microsoft pin and then did the troubleshoot all on its own. Had my doubts about windows 10 originally -since its an OEM version that was tied to my old mobo- but this is a fantastic feature. Thanks again for the info, I was gonna uninstall drivers or do a clean install but didn’t really want to redownload my games and apps and go through all my settings, etc. You made my life much easier.

    Reply
  • 24 September 2017 at 21:00
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    Scottie,
    I am much encouraged to try this out after reading your method and the positive experiences of the few that have gone ahead and tried it. Like others here, I also upgraded from Windows 7 Ultimate to Windows 10 Pro 2 months ago and then added a lot of other software including changing MS Office 2013 to MS Office 2016. After all this I found out yesterday (9/23/17) that my desktop with an ASUS M5A78L-M LX PLUS Motherboard and a AMD FX(tm) 6300 Six-Core Processor is not Windows 10 compatible (even though made in 2014) and ASUS has not released any driver upgrades for Windows 10 compatibility for this MOBO and my computer has not been upgrading Windows updates like it is supposed to. My question is, if I changed login to my Microsoft Account as described by you and then changed/upgraded my MOBO and AMD chipset to something newer from either ASUS or Gigabyte and I log in with my MS Account for a swap, will my desktop still have all the other software I uploaded recently AFTER upgrading to Windows 10 Pro, do I have to reload all the other softwares again? Thanks in anticipation!

    Reply
    • 24 September 2017 at 21:37
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      Yup. As long as you do not reinstall Windows 10 and you just upgrade the hardware (doing the MS login trick before/after the upgrade), all your software should still be there after the upgrade.

      Reply
      • 24 September 2017 at 21:49
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        Thanks my man! You are a savant!

        Reply
      • 4 October 2017 at 19:47
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        Does step 2 (upgrade motherboard) simply work as plug-n-play without reinstalling Win 10? Wouldn’t this lead to conflicts with drivers (processor, chipset, bios, etc)?

        I’m switching from an Intel Kaby Lake CPU (B250 chipset) to AMD Ryzen CPU (X370 chipset) and am concerned that the change in chipset & bios could lead to blue-screen and failure to boot the OS.

        Reply
        • 4 October 2017 at 21:48
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          Yup, it works. You still have to watch out for the default disk controller driver, and sometimes uninstall your graphics driver before the hardware swap. Otherwise, it works perfectly. Of course, you have to install all your new drivers after the hardware upgrade, but that’s easy.

          Reply
          • 18 October 2017 at 20:56
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            You’ve really saved me a big headache (I hope!) with all your information. Thank you so much.
            I’m actually doing the upgrade this evening so here’s to hoping it goes well.

  • 8 October 2017 at 11:16
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    Good article, I’m still in the process of trying this method.
    wouldn’t the old motherboard drivers conflict with the new ones?

    Reply
    • 8 October 2017 at 11:59
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      Usually not. Windows actually “sees” the new hardware at boot and just plops default drivers for some things, and specific drivers for other components if it has them.

      Reply
  • 20 October 2017 at 04:50
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    Just leaving an update that this did NOT work with my machine that I had upgraded from windows 7 back when that was a free upgrade to a full licensed windows 10 copy. I chaneed the mobo last night and the trick here just threw an error that I didn’t have a license. I definitely linked the account beforehand. I contacted support and they gave me the motherboard spiel, and implied I was out of luck without a product key. Of course I didn’t have a proper W10 product key cause I upgraded from 7. They asked me to provide my W7 key, which took me forever to dig up, and then were only able to use that as evidence for building the case of just giving me a brand new W10 key, which they did thankfully after much troubleshooting and deliberation. Mileage may vary.

    Reply
    • 20 October 2017 at 11:23
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      Hmm… I did the exact same thing: Puter with Win 7, updated to Win 10, then changed the hardware (mobo, processor, RAM) and linked to MS account beforehand. After the upgrade, it said Win 10 wasn’t activated until I logged in with the same MS account, tried to activate again, and POOF!

      I have read many cases of people having to jump through the hoops as you did, but that’s supposed to be less frequent now. It may just depend on quirks in the MS activation system, or maybe they just randomly say, “NO ACTIVATION FOR YOU!” and make you call.

      I will add that if you do have to call MS, insist that they activate. Especially now with the MS account linking, your PID is stored with them, and they can easily see if you’re using the key on multiple machines (if they wanted to, anyway). I had to call them once for a Win 7 upgrade that was totally legal, and they kinda gave me a hard time. I got shuffled up the chain, finally explained AGAIN that it was an upgrade, the old hardware is sitting in a pile next to me, blah blah blah… They activated! Didn’t have to do that again ever, actually, for any machine.

      Oh well – at least you finally got it all sorted! πŸ˜€

      Reply
  • 28 October 2017 at 12:35
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    Hi there!
    I have a prebuilt pc. Its not from a company like msi, my computer is from a company that buys pc parts and build your computer using them.
    But that means that the only thing I have is a product key, my windows 10 is not lnked to my account.
    When I bought my pc, I started it and it was windows, I mean, the background was the windows logo and in the settings it was the windows settings. But apparently windows wasnt “activated”.
    It took an hour for microsoft support to fix it, and as long someone can fix it, i’m happy.
    But all of these tutorials say “without reinstalling windows”.
    Does this mean “without having to activate windows again”?
    If it does, then im cool.
    But if I legit have to reinstall windows, i want to fix that.
    So two questions:
    1. Does “without reinstalling windows” mean “without having to activate windows again”?
    2. Can you swap motherboard and have windows if you got a windows product key, not windows linked to your account?
    Thanks for help, as I have never changed motherboard before! πŸ™‚

    Reply
    • 28 October 2017 at 12:38
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      One more IMPORTANT thing, i DONT have a windows 10 key, I have upgraded from windows 8.
      Thx for help

      Reply
      • 28 October 2017 at 12:41
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        Of course, that means that I have a windows 8 key. I just dont have a windows 10 key.

        Reply
    • 28 October 2017 at 13:05
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      You won’t actually have a Win 10 key. If you ever need to reinstall Win 10, you should be able to use the Win 8 key.

      But in the case of this upgrade, you’ll need to switch from a Local Account to signing in to Windows with a Microsoft Account – just temporarily. Windows WILL need to be reactivated once the hardware upgrade is done.

      So by logging in to Windows with an MS account instead before the upgrade, your Top Secret Windows 10 key will be recorded by MS and associated with your MS account.

      Then you do the hardware upgrade…

      And then, when it comes time to activate Windows, you’ll still be logged in with your MS account. The activation should then get your Top Secret key from MS, activate Windows, and Bob’s your uncle.

      Once activated, you can then switch back to a Local Account instead of using your MS account to sign in to Windows (which is annoying).

      I can really say if you’ll have trouble re-activating, but technically it’ll be the reactivation of Win 10, so it should have little to do with your previous mayhem when trying to activate Win 8.

      Well, only one way to find out! :O

      Reply
  • 7 December 2017 at 19:03
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    Please, excuse my skepticism, because it seems too easy! I’m curious if this will work in my case. I am upgrading my motherboard, CPU, CPU cooler and RAM from a GIGABYTE GA-990FXA-UD3 AM3+ AMD 990FX + SB950 SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 ATX AMD Motherboard to a ASRock Fatal1ty X370 GAMING X AM4 AMD Promontory X370 SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.1 HDMI ATX AMD and from a AMD FX-8150 Zambezi 8-Core 3.6 GHz Socket AM3+ 125W to a Ryzen 7 chip.

    Will this method work in this case?

    Thanks a lot!

    Reply
  • 12 December 2017 at 23:33
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    So, what if you are in a situation where you can’t get anywhere because the MOBO is failing, so you can’t get into Windows. Is there any option in this case? Thanks!

    Reply
    • 13 December 2017 at 12:12
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      Ah, yeah, that’s tricky… If the replacement mobo is the same or even similar, it should just work. If not, I’d prolly just stick the new stuff in and let ‘er rip. If Windows wasn’t happy, then I’d try a “repair install” via recovery options/boot disc… And choose the option to “keep all my files and settings” or whatever they call it. That’s pretty much a re-install though, and you’d have to reinstall all your other software. But at least all your files and data will still be there.

      Reply
  • 7 January 2018 at 01:16
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    I upgraded from OEM windows 7 pro to windows 10 pro a few days before the free offer expired. I then linked the windows 10 upgrade to my online MS account before changing out some hardware – mobo, cpu, ram. Everything booted up fine, but when I tried to activate windows 10 in settings following the procedures described above, it would not activate. I contacted MS windows support for assistance, but after several attempts to activate, including using the license for my OEM windows 7 pro, they were unable to activate windows 10 with the new mobo. Further, they said if I had upgraded the hardware before upgrading to windows 10, I would have had not problem. They offered to sell me a new activation key for $199. So much for the free upgrade.

    Any suggestion how to resolve the activation issue without buying a new key?

    Thanks!

    Steve

    Reply
    • 7 January 2018 at 12:30
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      That’s ridiculous. I’d call them back and complain. And repeatedly state that you are not using the legal copy of Win 10 on multiple machines. Don’t take “no” for an answer. Ask for supervisor, and get pissed off if necessary.

      Something like this: “Look, this is pissing me off now. I’m not pissed at you because I know it’s not your fault. But I’m an enthusiast, I decided to upgrade my hardware, and I even linked the activation to my MS account before the upgrade so that this wouldn’t happen. So, certainly that means you KNOW that I can’t activate 1 copy of Win 10 Pro on multiple machines. I mean, if you need some kind of proof, I can send you some photos of the new build and my old components sitting on a table next to it.”

      Emphasize you aren’t doing anything wrong, so why does “free” now mean $199? You might even mention that you’re the kind of person who would be an “Insider” tester to help them debug their software for free, but this experience is leaving a bad taste in your mouth. Threaten to buy a Mac. πŸ˜‰

      Eventually, they should activate it for you for free. The lower-tier support people will just try to take the easy way out and hoover up money from you if they can. That’s just not right.

      Reply
      • 7 January 2018 at 18:33
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        WOW! Awesome response, Scottie!

        After spending several hours on the phone last night with an MS tech, my knees began to buckle and my will to go on weakened. I was just about to shell out 200 bucks to get windows 10 reactivated when I received your response, which restored my faith and gave me the necessary boost to fight on… for justice!

        I just got off the phone with Sentosh, MS tech in India. I even used some of the language you provided. It worked! All he needed was evidence, in the form of an invoice, that I had purchased a new mobo and voila! Windows 10 pro was reactivated in less than 5 minutes. I could not be happier!

        He also gave the new license number and a direct phone number for tech support. Fantastic!

        I can’t thank you enough for posting the excellent procedures for restoring windows after a hardware upgrade and your support to rage on against the machine! Thanks, brother!

        Best Regards,

        Steve

        Reply
        • 7 January 2018 at 19:09
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          WOOHOO!!! Glad to hear it’s all straightened out. πŸ™‚

          Reply
          • 18 January 2018 at 02:32
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            I’m switching mobo’s and nothing else. Going from Asus to MSI. I checked your guide and in device manager under IDE ATA/ATAPI controllers, I have “Standard SATA AHCI Controller”.

            Am I good to just swap boards without doing anything or do I have to uninstall the controller mentioned above and then swap boards? I have already switched from local to Microsoft account with Windows 10.

          • 18 January 2018 at 12:16
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            Nope, that’s perfect. You should be ready to rock!

  • 28 January 2018 at 19:15
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    Scottie, I’m so glad I found this post, man! I was researching the internet for a solution to upgrade my Motherboard without having to reinstall Win10 and all the software I use in my recording studio. (I’d have to sit for one whole day for that).
    To be specific: My actual Mobo MSI Z170-A Pro should be replaced by a Gigabyte GA-Z170X-UD5 (because of the Thunderbolt capability). From what I learned so far from your post, that should work fine. I’m not computer expert, but I understand that the mobos are similar. Can you give me your blessing on moving on with the upgrade? Thank you and best regards, Luci

    Reply
  • 5 February 2018 at 20:00
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    Thank you! I am upgrading my Asus Pro Gaming H170 Motherboard to a Maximus VIII Code motherboard (to future proof my PC) and this helped me a ton! I have seen many guides where you pretty much lose your copy of Windows, and everything registered to your computer, but this is so much easier! It would also be great if you could make a guide on setting up the BIOS (I built my PC but my friend did most of the Windows/BIOS stuff, so I’m clueless about that) Thanks again!

    Reply
  • 17 February 2018 at 00:32
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    Holy crap, Scottie! This is some of the best information/guidelines I have ever come across in regards to upgrading comp parts! I was getting discouraged seeing all these random forums suggesting I needed a clean install. This way I can simply keep my work, save a ton of time, and with minimal switch over too! You sir are a digital saint!

    Reply
  • 19 March 2018 at 20:33
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    Nice post Scottie….I wanted to verify a couple of things before I got started…..
    I have an old Dell Studio that came with Windows Vista about 7 years ago.
    I upgrade to Windows 7..(not sure of the type…will that matter)
    I stayed with Win 7 until December of last year when I upgraded with the Win 10 Assistive Upgrade..(visual impairment)
    I have decided that my system is too slow so I bought a barebones system off of Ebay to run my system.
    Will your process still work given my background??
    If not, is there anything I can do short of purchasing a new license??
    thanks
    Mark

    Reply
    • 19 March 2018 at 23:28
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      It should work fine, but you may have to call MS if it doesn’t activate.

      Reply
      • 20 March 2018 at 03:43
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        thanks…I just checked my copy (via the command line) and it shows as Retail….Hopefully it will work w/o the phone call

        Reply
  • 1 April 2018 at 04:12
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    Greetings, i’ll have an old (considering old to the actual standards) an Gigabyte GA-Z77DS3H with 2Β° Gen i3 processor, 8GB of ram and am thinking to upgrade my mobo, ram, cpu to the 7Β° gen, an Gaming B8 B250 of gigabyte are tempting me to purchase the new gen parts for the upgrade, to note also i’ll updated to 10 from 7, ΒΏit’s Still possible to upgrade parts and don’t have any issues about the activation?

    Reply
    • 1 April 2018 at 10:37
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      Yeah, should be okay. I would upgrade to Win 10 first on the old puter, do the Microsoft Account thing to store the “key” online, and then do the hardware upgrade. Win 7 can be a bit of “fun” on newer hardware sometimes due to driver issues.

      Reply
  • 11 April 2018 at 14:39
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    Hey,
    I’m curious if this will work in my situation. My motherboard completely died, computer won’t even POST. I had an asus z170 mb, and I’m upgrading to a Gigabyte Aorus Z370 Ultra Gaming, and upgrading my CPU to the i7-8700.

    I can’t access the old drivers to uninstall because the computer won’t turn on, but I’m 90% sure step 1 is already done and I have my Windows 10 installation USB. Should I just swap the parts out, and try the repair boot to save data? I have a password folder that I’m really concerned about saving, other than that I don’t care if I have to reinstall some software and games.

    Reply
    • 11 April 2018 at 15:07
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      Yeah, that should be okay. Worst case, you can fire up the Win 10 recovery tools and access the password folder to back it up. You may not even need to do boot repair.

      Reply
  • 12 April 2018 at 17:19
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    Hi Scottie, I’m not sure if my initial post was actually sent, so here goes. I have an Asus oem laptop that originally came with an i-3 cpu. I have another oem motherboard the same model as the original with the exception that it has an i-5 cpu and the gpu is upgraded; the amount of ram will be unchanged. I want to change out the motherboards. My OS is Win 10 Home, build 1709, and I log in as Administrator. My questions are: 1) Should I follow your procedure as outlined in your article including setting up a Microsoft account, 2) How should I handle my Administrator account/login if I set up a Microsoft account ? I have not been able to follow you clearly through that section. Any advice would be much appreciated. Please disregard this post if the first one has come through. Regards.

    Reply
    • 12 April 2018 at 17:38
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      1. Yes

      2. You’ll just change your Administrator login to an MS account (temporarily), and then you’ll log in to the machine using the MS account (which still means you’re the same user on the puter, but you’re logging in with your MS account password or a PIN instead).

      Then when the upgrade is done, you switch back from an MS account to Local Account, and you’ll be just Administrator again. It’ll ask you to set a new password for the Administrator user, so you can just use the same one as before.

      Reply
  • 12 April 2018 at 22:25
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    Hi Scottie,

    And thanks a lot for the detailed article and valuable comments – this is exactly what i was looking for

    I have 2 additional questions if you don’t mind:

    1. Do you know how this exact same thing can be accomplished on a Windows2012ServerR2 instead of Windows10 ?

    2. Lets imagine now, the case of a Windows7 machine, upgraded to Windows10 during that grace period, followed by a hard-drive crash – how would one install Windows10 on the same machine with a new hard-drive

    Cheers,
    -Chris

    Reply
    • 13 April 2018 at 12:31
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      Windows Server: No idea! πŸ™

      For Win 7 -> Win 10 and then a crash, you’d just have to reinstall Win 10 on the same machine, and it really should re-activate okay since only the hard drive changed. If not, then it would mean a call to MS support to get them to activate it.

      Reply
  • 14 June 2018 at 07:02
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    Hey I am going to upgrade a prebuilt gaming pc with a new GIGABYTE mobo and an intel cpu from a old msi mobo and amd cpu, I just swap mobos and cpu’s with some coolers and ram ofcourse and i’m good to go using this 3 step process?

    Reply
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