Motherboards

In this article, we’ll take a high level look at the motherboard and what it’s purpose is in your computer.

 

The motherboard is what connects all of your other components together. It’s important to ensure you choose a motherboard that is not only compatible with your other components but also has all of the features you need now and in the future.Motherboard

Function

The motherboard is the main docking panel for all of the parts in your PC and allows all of the parts to connect and communicate with each other. Each hardware component will plug into the motherboard via a specific socket, slot or connector.
Motherboard

Selection Considerations

There’s a wide range of motherboards available with a host of different features, compatibilities and styles. It’s important to know what you need in a motherboard so you can make an appropriate choice for your selected parts and goals.

Motherboard and video card
Motherboard with graphics card mounted.

 

  • CPU Socket – The socket is the port on the motherboard which you plug your CPU into, and is usually the first thing you should look at when selecting a motherboard for a new system.
    motherboard socket
    Socket where the CPU will sit

    The type of CPU you’ve chosen will dictate which CPU socket your motherboard requires. AMD and Intel CPUs have completely different sockets which are not compatible with each other. Both manufucatures also use different sockets for different generations of CPUs. Be sure to check which socket your CPU is and select a motherboard which is compatible. As an example, look for names such as “LGA 1151” for Intel or “AM3+” for AMD.

  • Form factor – This is essentially the size and shape of the motherboard. Make sure you you choose a motherboard that fits into your case. For desktop PCs you’ll most commonly notice names such as “ATX” (standard ATX) and “mATX” (micro ATX). If your case supports “ATX” it will most likely also support “mATX” since it a smaller board.
    Photo Credit: VIA Gallery via Wikimedia Commons cc
    Different motherboard form factors compared. Image Credit: VIA Gallery via Wikimedia Commons cc

     

  • Chipset – Once you chosen a motherboard with the correct CPU socket and form factor, the next choice should be the chipset. The chipset is built into the motherboard and handles the information flow between the CPU and other components in the system and typically dictates the feature set available. These features can include the number of supported graphics cards, number of USB ports, overclocking ability and more. You’ll also need to check that the chipset supports your chosen CPU by checking the motherboard’s supported CPU list. Some examples of current chipsets include:
    • High-end, overclocking & multi-GPU – Intel Z97, AMD 990X.
    • Mid/High-end – Intel H97, AMD 980G.
  • Multi GPU support – If you plan to run multiple Graphics cards together you need to ensure the motherboard has enough PCIe ports of the correct speed and that it supports the technology. Check that the motherboard supports SLI or CrossFire and how many cards for each. This will also depend on the chipset selection previously mentioned.
  • Input/Output ports – Check that the motherboard has all the input/output ports you need. This includes things such as USB slots, audio ports, LAN ports, on-board WiFi, on-board graphics, eSATA etc.
    Motherboard socket I/O
    Socket I/Os on a motherboard.

    Motherboard socket I/O.
    Socket I/Os on a motherboard. Audio, Ethernet and USB ports.

 

 

  • Supported RAM – Check for the number of memory slots on the motherboard and the maximum supported memory. It’s also a good idea to check the motherboards supported memory modules to ensure you select a compatible RAM / Motherboard combo.
  • Number of PCI/PCIe slots – PCI and PCI express (PCIe) slots can accommodate video cards, sound cards, network cards, USB port cards and much more. Aside from the video card slots required (mentioned above), make sure the motherboard has enough PCI slots to support any PCI expansion cards you may wish to run.

    Motherboard areas shown
    Here we show the main parts of a motherboard – CPU socket (red), memory slots (blue) and PCI and PCIe slots (yellow). Photo credit: Rainer Knäpper, Free Art License

 

  • Cooling / appearance – If you plan to overclock your processor, a motherboard which includes extra cooling may be required. You’ll find some motherboards with big colorful heat sinks on chips to try to keep the temperatures down. Make sure you research the particular motherboard you’re interested in as sometimes these heat sinks can actually hinder the cooling of the chips. In some extreme examples, you may find these heat sinks get in the way of other components such as non-factory CPU coolers or RAM sticks with bulky heat spreaders.

 

Check out some examples over at our builds section. If you have any questions, leave them in the comments section below!

 

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