In This Article
What is Motherboard Standoff?
A motherboard standoff refers to the small specially designed object that looks like a screw on one end and has threads to fix it on the computer case. The other end of it has a cavity with threads inside it to screw the motherboard onto it.
Placed between the motherboard and the plate, the standoffs act as the threaded separator that raises the board to prevent electrical shorts and at the same time holds it securely in place on the base plate of the computer case.
- A standoff looks like a screw on one end and is usually cylindrical in shape and is built from different materials to act as an insulating spacer between the motherboard and the computer case.
- The standoffs come in specific length and are normally hexagonal in design. These are made from steel, brass, aluminum, nylon and even plastic material.
- Shorter standoffs are also available to hold the jackscrews to lock the connection.
- Additional knurling may also be made on the outside surface of the standoffs to offer a sturdier grip.
- The standoffs are available in three types such as male-male, female-female and male-female.
Understanding Motherboard Standoffs
The motherboards do not come with any screws and therefore the necessary standoffs are provided with the computer case to fix them in it.
These cylindrical objects help fix the screws that hold the motherboard securely on the base plate of the computer case.
The main purpose of these standoffs, also known as standouts, is to raise the board off of the computer case to prevent electrical shorts and to hold firmly in the right place.
The spacers look similar to the standoffs and therefore the terms are often used interchangeably.
However, the spacers are not threaded like the standoffs and are usually round on the exterior since these cannot be tightened.
The thread type of the standoffs is a vital factor, which is also referred to as their gender.
Typically, these standoffs are available in three particular genders such as:
- Female-Female and
The Male-Male standoff comes with threads on the exterior and the dimensions may vary.
The Female-Female standoff may have partial or complete threading on each of its ends.
The Male-Female standoff usually has male threads on one end and female threads internally on the other.
Usually, these threads are of the same size.
To use a standoff, it should first be screwed into the computer chassis. The motherboard is then placed on it and the screw is inserted through the mounting hole of the board to the standoff to tighten it and fix it in place.
There are several screw holes or mounting holes on the motherboard and are easily identified by the metal surrounding them.
The earlier models did not have these surroundings and therefore needed a piece of paper or cardboard to be placed in between the board and the screws.
Being hexagonal in shape, you may need a hex driver to tighten them, which, sadly, is not provided with the board or with the computer case.
The standoff metrics denote the threading, hex length and thread length in that particular order. For example, an M3 x 10 x 6 standoff denotes the following:
- It is an M3 male and female standoff
- It has a 10 mm hex length and
- The thread length of it is 6 mm.
Usually, the type of the standoff indicates what type of socket it is designed for and would fit into properly. For example:
- M2.5 and M3 standoffs will be fit for a 5 mm socket
- M4 standoff can be used in a 6 mm socket
- M5 standoff can be used in a 7 mm socket and
- M6 standoff is suitable for an 8 mm socket.
However, this may not always be the case because the type and version of the motherboard will also matter.
This is because the form factor of the board will determine the precise positions of the mounting holes.
Therefore, it is needless to say that these locations would differ from one form factor of motherboard to another.
Typically, there are three regular types of form factors and sizes of motherboards such as:
- ATX, measuring 12 inches by 9.6 inches
- Micro ATX, measuring 9.6 inches by 9.6 inches and
- Mini ITX, measuring 6.7 inches by 6.7 inches.
Typically, version 2.1 of the ATX motherboards allows using standoffs of at least 0.25 inches or 6.4 mm in length with the cross sections fitting of 0.40 inches by 0.40 inches square area centered around every mounting hole.
The larger computer cases such as the full tower or the mid tower cases may support all the three form factors of motherboards mentioned above.
In fact, the full tower cases would also support the E-ATX or Extended ATX motherboards of workstation grade.
Therefore, it is very important that the mounting holes of the board and the standoffs are perfectly aligned.
If everything is ‘in shape,’ all you have to do is:
- Fix the standoffs correctly in the case
- Mount the board on top
- Align them well with the mounting holes
- Place the screws in the holes and tighten them.
However, make sure that you do not over tighten the standoffs or the screws as that may damage the case and even the standoffs may break.
The space available under the board now can be used to route and arrange the cables but it is best left clear so that it allows good airflow and to prevent accidental damages due to pulling the cables carelessly during repair.
Uses of Motherboard Standoffs
The primary use of motherboard standoffs is to fix the board securely on the base plate.
It also prevents the board from shorting because the case material is usually made of conductive metal.
Are Standoff Screws Needed?
Yes, standoff screws are essential to fix the motherboard in place and, more importantly, to ensure that the risk of shorting the board is eliminated.
The solder joints of the motherboard often jut out and are visible at the back of the board. If these touch the metallic support directly, it will result in a short circuit and damage the expensive board and may even shut down the system.
The standoffs will raise the board from the metallic plate and therefore prevent such unwanted incidents from happening.
Therefore, standoffs are necessary as a precautionary measure to prevent the board from touching any conducting material.
Is It Needed to Screw All Standoffs?
No, you need not screw all the standoffs, provided they are installed correctly in the first place and it is not one of those located on the top.
Moreover, the plastic compressible variants will not need any screws since it will expand and lock the motherboard in its mounting holes by itself.
You would probably get away with just two if they are located diagonally opposite on the motherboard.
However, it will depend on the build as to how secure your motherboard will be due to that.
Also, depending on the form factor of the motherboard and the computer case, not every hole may need to be occupied.
Some of them may go unoccupied. Ideally, it is a general practice that the larger ATX cases also have mounting holes for the motherboards of smaller form factor such as Micro ATX and Mini ITX.
Typically, when it comes to using standoffs, the more is the better always.
This will make plugging in the cables, inserting the cards on the mobo and even moving the system from one place to another more convenient and less worrisome.
Therefore, it is very important to have the entire set of standoffs screwed in. This will prevent the motherboard from flexing when you insert, remove, or install anything on it.
Especially, if you are using metal standoffs, it is better to screw all the holes of the motherboard to the standoffs especially if there is a heavy cooler. There are a few good reasons for it such as:
- It will make the motherboard more secure
- It will not compromise the torque balance and
- Most importantly, every hole will offer grounding protection preventing any shorts in the motherboard.
Typically, the weight of the cooler as well as a part of the graphics card typically sits on the motherboard. If you do not screw all the standoffs properly it may dislocate the board when you remove or insert anything.
Moreover, the tensile strength of a twin tower cooler may be brutal for the motherboard, if you plan to use it without screwing in all of the standoffs.
However, if you are missing a couple of them, at least make sure that the board is secured triangularly. It will however be less protected from shorts and electrical hazards.
Are All Standoffs the Same?
No, all standoffs are not the same. Usually, these will vary from one case manufacturer to another as well as the height of the case which also varies from case to case.
However, the most common standard is the 6-32 threaded standoff or the M3 standoff. It is for this reason most cases come with the standoffs, unless you have bought a used one.
The standoffs may also vary in the material used to make them. Usually, there are two specific types of materials commonly used to make the motherboard standoffs. These are metal and plastic.
The metal standoffs are normally hexagonal in shape. They are screwed into the base plate of the case.
These usually have a threaded, hollow cavity to insert the screws for securing the motherboard to the computer case.
On the other hand, the plastic standoffs normally do not secure the motherboard to the computer case.
These are mainly used to elevate the board. Therefore, these specific standoffs are usually flat on the bottom to rest on the base and touch it.
The other end of these standouts is pointed and can be compressed so that the motherboard can be pushed onto it through the mounting holes.
When this compressed top is released, it expands and locks the board, securing it to the base plate of the computer case.
Where to Put Standoff Screws?
It will however depend on the type of standoff material. If you are using metal standoffs on a large ATX board, it should be installed near the back edge as well as in the center.
On the other hand, if you are using plastic standoffs, you should fix them near the edging at the front of the case.
It will also depend on the location of the standoffs in the first place which may vary from one computer case to another depending on the form factor of the motherboard to be used in it.
Therefore, an ATX form factor will have a different standoff location than that of the Mini ITX format. However, these locations are standard across a specific form factor.
This means that the location of the standoff screws will be the same across all ATX motherboards and the Mini ITX motherboard, but will be different when the locations of one form factor are compared with another form factor motherboard.
Size of Standoff Screws
The most common size of standoffs used for motherboards is #6–32 x 3/16″ which is also referred to as M3 screws in common metric.
These standoffs typically adhere to the UTS standard #6-32 UNC or ISO M3.
How Do Standoffs Work?
The working process of the standoffs is pretty simple where the barrel acts as the spacer as well as the grounding point where the screw is mounted.
These usually go through the motherboard and the computer case ensuring that they are not in contact with the circuitry.
In spite of being metallic usually, these standoffs are used to act as the grounding point between the motherboard and the case.
The diameter and length of the spacer will be in accordance with the requirements of the board as well as the standoff type.
If, in any case, there is any sort of electrical discharge, the standoff will direct it away from the board and the delicate components on it into the ground.
It actually directs the discharge through it to the PSU which then sends it to the ground.
To explain it in simple words, the standoffs are fixed onto the computer case in specific locations that correspond to the locations of the mounting holes of the motherboard.
These locations are determined by the manufacturers of the case based on the type and form factor of the motherboard it would support.
The motherboard is then placed on the standoffs and screws are used to fix everything together.
Are Spacers and Standoffs the Same?
No, they are not, even though the terms are used interchangeably.
The main difference between a standoff and a spacer is that the standoff will have threads at one end, while the spacers will not.
The standoffs may not play any major role in directly affecting the performance of the PC or the motherboard in particular but are very useful to secure the board at the right place on the base plate of the computer case.
Usually, these are proprietary and shipped with the computer case and not with the motherboard.