Even after you’ve finished learning how to build a gaming PC, there might be little things that trip you up while building, such as installing motherboard standoffs.
These kinds of things are easy to overlook but knowing what standoffs are and how to install them is crucial. If you’ve bought one of the best motherboards and best PC cases for gaming, you need to know how they fit together.
Motherboard standoffs are what your motherboard rests on inside your case to keep it from lying flat on the case’s motherboard tray. They slot through holes in the motherboard to keep it raised from the case and are screwed in to keep it steady.
Standoffs are necessary for all PC builds and, while they’re easy to install, they need to be seated in the correct slots for your motherboard to be safe and secure.
What are Motherboard Standoffs?
Motherboard standoffs are metal or nylon spacers that separate the motherboard from the PC case’s motherboard tray. Every motherboard needs standoffs to keep it secure and elevated above the case’s motherboard tray.
Motherboards are circuit boards that have an electric current flowing through them. If they touch the motherboard tray this current might flow into the case and short the motherboard or other components.
Motherboard standoffs prevent this by lifting them to leave space between the motherboard and PC case. They also keep your motherboard secure, once you screw them in.
Your motherboard will have specific holes for standoffs to fit into, and these holes are designed to be safe points of contact for the standoffs. Standoffs sit on your motherboard and slide into these holes on the motherboard. Screws are screwed into the standoffs’ mounting holes from above, securing the motherboard in place.
Standoffs often also act as grounding points, so that if there’s a build up of static on the motherboard, it can discharge safely through the standoffs, into the case, and down to ground via the power supply.
Are Motherboard Standoffs Necessary?
Motherboard standoffs are necessary to keep your system electrically safe and to keep your motherboard secure.
If you don’t use standoffs, you risk shorting and damaging—and potentially even bricking—your motherboard or other components should the PC case have points of contact between it and the motherboard.
Using the correct number of standoffs and making sure they’re properly secured prevents your motherboard from bending or sagging and keeps it and its attached components stable inside the PC case.
Do Motherboard Screws come with your Case?
While your motherboard might come with screws for M.2 and other drives, it won’t come with standoff screws.
This is because which standoff screws you should use depends more on the PC case than the motherboard.
As such, motherboard standoffs usually come with the PC case, not the motherboard. After purchasing a PC case, you’ll likely have a dozen or so standoffs and corresponding screws inside a bag or box stored somewhere inside.
These should be either ‘6-32 UNC’ or ‘M3’ screws—if you aren’t sure which your case ships with, and you need to buy replacements, your case’s manual should tell you.
How to Install Motherboard Standoffs
Installing motherboard standoffs is simple, but doing it correctly is crucial for your system to remain safe and stable, so it’s important to get it right.
1. Check your Motherboard’s Form Factor
Before doing anything, you might want to check your motherboard form factor, which will usually be Micro-ATX, Mini-ITX, or ATX.
Your motherboard’s form factor will affect where your case’s standoffs should be installed. Thankfully, these are standardised, and the most common PC case sizes will have standoff options for all common motherboard form factors.
The standoff locations on your case’s motherboard tray are usually marked to designate their form factor—e.g., ‘M’ for Mini-ITX. Your case’s manual should tell you where standoffs should be installed for different motherboard form factors.
2. Screw in the Standoffs
If you’re still not sure which standoff locations to use for your motherboard, clear away all cables to leave room for the motherboard. Align the motherboard above the case’s motherboard tray and look at where the standoff holes in the motherboard are located.
Compare the motherboard’s standoff holes to the potential standoff locations on the motherboard tray to see where to place the standoffs.
To screw in the standoffs, simply place them in the respective standoff holes on the motherboard tray and screw them in with your fingers.
3. Mount your Motherboard
Once the standoffs are screwed into your motherboard tray in the correct places, you can mount your motherboard onto them.
First, make sure there are no obstructions, clearing all cables away from the motherboard tray. Then, align your motherboard with the alignment pin, which should be a part of the motherboard tray that acts as a central standoff for your motherboard’s central standoff hole to slide onto.
Gently lower the motherboard down onto this pin, ensuring all other standoff holes are aligned with the standoffs that you’ve installed. Once the motherboard’s fitted onto all standoffs, give it a gentle wiggle to ensure it’s secure.
4. Screw the Motherboard Down
Once the motherboard’s mounted on the standoffs, use a screwdriver to screw the included 6-32 UNC or M3 standoff screws into the standoffs, ensuring the motherboard is secure.
Ensure the screw heads are flush to the motherboard and tight enough to prevent the motherboard from moving, but don’t make them too tight, as screwing standoff screws too tightly risks damaging the motherboard.
Summary: Motherboard Standoffs and How to Install Them
Motherboard standoffs are metal risers that keep your motherboard elevated from your PC case’s motherboard tray.
Standoffs are necessary to prevent damage to your components, because if your motherboard touches your case, electric discharge could short the circuits on your motherboard, or even your RAM or CPU.
Installing them is simple. Once you know which form factor your motherboard is, you should know where to screw the standoffs into the motherboard tray. Once the standoffs are installed on the tray, slide your motherboard on top of them, threading them through the respective holes, then screw the standoff screws into them—firmly, but not too tight.