|by AkG | September 13, 2017|
Fixing Bent Pins on AMD's Ryzen PGA CPUs
If you follow Hardware Canucks on Twitter (and you should!) you’ll know that a few weeks ago I shipped a Ryzen 7 1700X processor to Anthony –aka AkG- and let’s just say that things didn’t quite go as planned. Even though it was securely packaged in a padded, form-fitting box and then packaged in another secondary motherboard box, the darn thing opened, spilling its precious cargo directly into harm’s way.
Long story short, the processor came out of the incident looking like it just got into a fight with Floyd Mayweather and was knocked out in the first round. Its pins were bent beyond recognition and it looked as dead as any processor had a right to be. However I was determined to get some content out of the newly minted paperweight.
Many of us old timers who have experience with AMD’s processors have undergone the heart stopping moment when the CPU slips out of your hand and crashes into a hard surface. Like butter always lands bread-side down, the same old adage has been applied to AMD PGA CPUs too; if it drops those pins will hit first. But all is not lost since years of handling PGA processors has led to enthusiasts developing some pretty effective ways to repair bent pins and potentially restore and otherwise bricked processor to perfect working order. So what follows is his journey into the world of fixing the unfixable. -Ed.
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Fixing a PGA processor with bent pins may seem like a tall order at first but it is actually quite straightforward: use patience, determination and a steady hand without snapping anything off. But let’s first discuss what PGA really is and why some were surprised that AMD decided to go this route with their Ryzen processors rather than LGA.
Without getting into a heated debate on the merits of Pin Grid Array vs Land Grid Array, the arguments for and against each of these two connector types boil down to one simple choice. Do you want the 'pins' on the motherboard or the CPU itself? Basically a PGA processor has its interface pins mounted in a pretty vulnerable position, right on its exposed underbelly. In AMD’s case those pins then slide into receptacles on the motherboard socked and are then lucked in place with a simple lever. LGA on the other hand boasts a completely flat CPU surface whereas the pins are recessed within the motherboard’s socket area.
Since system builders always manipulate the processors more frequently than the motherboard it seems logical that LGA-based designs tend to be “safer” solutions. This is why AMD’s move to retain a PGA design for Ryzen came as something as a surprise when we first saw it. Nonetheless, here we are with a ton of work to do.
Recently I had a perfect example of the inherent weakness of Pin Grid Array in action as it appears that UPS used our Ryzen 7 1700X's shipping container in a weekend Rugby tournament. Yes, it is pretty much toast. Or is it?
The main proponents of PGA state that re-bending pins into proper alignment is easier when they are on the CPU rather than part of the motherboard itself. Of course, LGA proponents point out that damaging pins on a motherboard but not causing any damage to the motherboard itself is a lot more difficult. Both sides of this argument do make good points, but as the old saying goes: the proof of the pudding is in the eating. So with such a golden opportunity presented to us, a more in-depth investigation is warranted. After all, this chip is a write-off so before we throw it in the trash bin or use for target practice let's walk you through the method of straightening those pins in an effort to get this little guy working again.
Straightening Pins the HWC Way
The first time anyone is presented with a damaged CPU can be rather scary. They have just spent a boat load of their money and now are facing the prospect of having to spend even more to fix their mistake. This certainly could be called a 'learning experience' but maybe things are not as bad as they first appear. Maybe spending double what they had budgeted for the CPU is not necessary. Maybe only a little bit of time and effort is all that is needed.
Over the years I have straightened dozens of bent CPU pins. Maybe even hundreds. Like anything practice does make perfect, but this experience may have colored our opinion of PGA so please take that into consideration when reading this article. I'm biased towards consumer-friendly devices and this certainly isn't the case with a PGA processor. You may feel differently. Some people love collecting stamps, others love spending an afternoon fixing tenth of an inch thick pins, one by one, by one. I would rather be using the CPU for something more constructive.
So these are the parts you will need. They will not cost a fortune, and are easily sourced out. If you plan on seriously getting into PC building they are good to have in your tool chest. Please consider these recommendations based on experience rather than being absolutely necessary since the same job can be done with a sewing needle or any other small device. I say this as there are numerous methodologies out there showing how to do this. This is simply the fastest, easiest way I have found through hard won experience. Your experiences may prove to be different than mine.
The list of parts you will need is:
- One pair of thin tipped tweezers
- One metal spudger used for 'iPhone' screen repairs
- One dual sided wooden cuticle pusher
- One bottle of aspirin
- One small magnifying glass (optional)
- A lot patience
- Enough adult beverage of choice to keep you calm and carrying on
- Even more patience
- A busted CPU
- The ability to resist the urge to throw the CPU in the garbage
Most of these parts are fairly self-evident on why they have been included but let's run down why I feel they are important. You will notice no credit cards, no mechanical pencils, nor even tooth picks in this list. This is because while all those methods and tools do work they are not as optimal a solution as the method I'm going to outline.
Before I do though, let's say I'm going to use a scale of 1 to 10 to describe how damaged pins typically are. This scale ranges from minor (aka 'no problem, be done in a jiffy') to major (aka 'you got to be kidding me, why god why?!') with '5' being the most common level of damage (aka 'mostly dead'). The more pins that are bent the lower your chances of success, but one '10' is not the same as a half a CPU of easy fixes. Your success will vary greatly depending on the level of damage done to each pin. This particular processor was a solid 8 in my books.
Generally speaking however, the more pins bent the worse the odds of finishing with a working CPU are. All it takes is one broken pin to turn a mostly dead CPU into a truly dead trashcan item. If you do not feel comfortable taking this chance bring it to an expert who has experience in these kinds of fixes.
The tweezers are mainly used only in cases of extreme damage. Consider them the weapon of last resort in your repair kit. If you have to break out the tweezers the chances of success are low. Based on personal experience you will have about a 60/40 chance of not breaking a pin but the chances of success are actually higher than with the other methods. Not any pair of tweezers will do. They must fit in between the pins and yet still be strong enough to avoid flexing at the tips. This is because they are used to straighten extremely bent pins without putting too much strain on the pin's base structure.
These pins are somewhat malleable but their tensile strength is about the same as a thin reed – they will flex and bend somewhat but can break on you at the worst possible time. This is especially true when the pins have already received a rather significant trauma.
To minimize unneeded stress, place the tips of the tweezers directly over the epicenter of the bend and gently straighten the pin. This is a delicate operation you are performing. Do not do this quickly or forcefully. Take your time and gently coerce the misbehaving miscreant back on the straight and narrow path.
The spudger on the other hand is your go to weapon of choice. We recommend a metal spudger instead of the plastic ones as they are thinner (so they fit between the rows easier) and yet not as flexible as the plastic models. This tool can easily fix minor damage to pins all on its own but it is mainly used in conjunction with the cuticle pusher as a support tool. Nevertheless, the spduger's role is vital and the three dollars it costs (via Amazon) is money well spent.
To use this tool on its own, for minor bends only, simply place it in a row of pins and move it up or down the row. When you come to a pin that is bent you will feel the resistance increase. Angle it up while moving forward and this will get underneath the bend in then pin and straighten it. After you have done every row rotate the chip 90-degrees and repeat the process. Even on a Ryzen CPU with 1,331 pins this will only take you a few moments, but do not rush things. If you go too fast you may notice the increase in resistance and actually make a slightly bent pin worse.
When dealing with severely damaged pins you do not use the metal spudger on its own. Instead when you come to a bent pin and try this trick you will find that the misbehaving pin simply will not straighten. It may bend somewhat but not enough to be considered straight. This is fine so don't panic.
Take a close look at this bent pin, preposition the spudger into your non-dominant hand and place the spudger so that it is directly behind the damaged pin – with the bend pointing away from the spudger. As the spudger covers many pins we recommend placing the bent pin in the middle. While doing this grab your wooden cuticle pusher with your dominant hand and gently -using a slight lifting motion - bend it back into alignment while using the spudger for support. Based on experience this two-step process results in very high chances of success. Nothing is a guaranteed success though.
A wooden cuticle pusher can be purchased at any beauty saloon or major store that carries beauty supplies. Your significant other most likely already has one their medicine cabinet / beauty chest so you may not even have to spend any money. Look for one that is double ended and is fairly thick. One end should be narrow down to a point much like a pencil. The other should be flattened as if it was whittled to a point with a knife. The knife cut end is perfect for end pins that are bent, whereas the narrow pencil end is perfect for navigating the middle of the array.
The reason we recommend a cuticle tool instead of a toothpick is that a toothpick may be thinner but is also more fragile. They also have a tendency to bend so knowing how much force you are placing on the pin is more guesswork that science. It does not take much pressure to bend a PGA pin. More is not better. Just use enough force to get the job done as any additional force just translates into more stress on the point of failure – the bend in the pin.
A small magnifying glass can help you see these little pins more clearly but is not absolutely necessary. Before finding a pair of tweezers that come with a magnifier I actually used to use a 3x Magnifier attachment from one of my Red Dot Sight equipped rifles. So do not be afraid to think outside the box – as a magnifier is a magnifier. You can obtain these specialty magnifier tweezer combos at Lee Valley here in Canada but they do cost more than a hand-held magnifier and separate pair of tweezers. So unless you plan on doing this more than once it may not be worth the extra investment. Or, once again head over to Amazon.
As I already mentioned, the CPU I have here is almost beyond help in some areas and some pins were bend so badly their chance of recovery was basically nil. Remember, all it takes in one broken pin to ruin the CPU.
I started with the easy ones first to show you that it can be done. One hour and about hundred pins later you can see that, with the exception of a couple minor pins left, the end results are very encouraging. If it was only those 1-5's pins that needed some TLC the CPU would have been up and running with no long-term repercussions.
Unfortunately, I was not that lucky and had a corner of about 10 pins that were all pretty much begging to break – and break they did – with another 20-30 that were fixable if gentle persuasion was used and luck was on my side. But no luck and in this case the processor is toast.
As you can see it really will come down to luck when dealing with badly damaged pins. Some will indeed bend back into a resemblance of normality whereupon you can then spend more time making them perfectly straight, but some simply are too damaged to salvage. It really will depend on where the bend occurs. The higher up on the pin the less the chances are that it will break. The closer to the CPU substrate the lower the chances of success.
I've had numerous pins that bent right at their base and unsurprisingly they snapped off at the base. This is because the stress placed on them when they were damaged was almost too much for the pin to survive. If just a few grams of extra pressure had been at work while the CPU was in transit the blunt force trauma would have broken them off – and saved us a lot of time. Needless to say, if the CPU has pins that look like this when you start we would recommend not even bothering. It’s a dead CPU that simply too far gone to be brought back. You may get lucky and it certainly will be a great learning experience but do not expect success. The chances of success are simply too slim but there's not much to lose anyways.
A Few Last Thoughts
As I have clearly shown in this article proponents of PGA do indeed have a – limited – point when it comes to the ease of fixing a bent pin. Due to the ease of unencumbered access to the entire Pin Grid Array, minor repairs to just a few slightly bent pins is a relatively simple undertaking. The same cannot be said of LGA socket pins which are recessed in a socket housing, and are part of the entire motherboard. This to us makes PGA the superior choice when dealing with minor damage.
The above statement is indeed 100% factually correct, but does not necessarily tell the full story. The real world is simply too messy to be boiled down to a single data point. This is why LGA fans have an equally good point when they state that PGA pins may be easier to fix than an LGA motherboard's pins but the chances of damage are greater. Dropping a LGA CPU rarely results in damage to the CPU, and dropping a motherboard with a LGA socket rarely results in damage to the socket pins (that is unless you somehow manage to drop the processor ON the motherboard socket). This is not the case when dealing with PGA components. Minor falls can and will cause one or more pins to bend. So while it may be easy to fix a minor ding on a PGA CPU the chances of having to do so are dramatically higher than with an LGA configuration.
So with all of that being said, is trying to fix a Ryzen processor with bent pins worthwhile? Well that depends on how you approach it. If the CPU was damaged in shipping from the retailer to you, then by all means you shouldn't go any further and request a replacement. However, mistakes do happen and as we've seen damaging a pin grid array is certainly possible due to its very nature. If inadvertent damage does happen then you have nothing to lose so go ahead and try to salvage the situation like I did.
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