A motherboard is a printed circuit board (PCB) that creates a kind of backbone allowing a variety of components to communicate, and that provides different connectors for components such as the central processing unit (CPU), graphics processing unit (GPU), memory, and storage. Most computers made today, including smartphones, tablets, notebooks, and desktop computers, use motherboards to pull everything together, but the only kind you’ll typically purchase yourself are those made for desktop PCs.
Looking at motherboard from the top down, you’ll see a collection of circuits, transistors, capacitors, slots, connectors, heat sinks, and more that all combine to route signals and power throughout the PC and allow you to plug in all of the required components. It’s a complicated product, and many of the technical details are beyond the scope. So, you’ll make sure that it meets your needs both today and tomorrow. If you know that you’ll never want to upgrade your PC beyond its original configuration, then you can choose a motherboard that provides exactly what you need to get up and running. But if you think you might want to expand your PC later, then you’ll have to make sure that your motherboard will support your needs as they grow.
Some of the key point before buying a Motherboard:
Sockets and Chipsets
Internal Connectors & External Ports
Platform is the first decision to make is which CPU you want to serve as the brains of your PC, which means choosing between two companies: Intel and AMD. Both offer CPUs ranging from entry-level options good enough for web browsing, productivity, and low-end gaming all the way up to ultra-powerful beasts that can rip through video editing projects and run today’s most demanding games at high frames per second (FPS).
Sockets and Chipsets
Once you’ve decided which CPU is best for you, then you’ll need to pick a motherboard that uses the right socket and the right chipset. Basically, a processor socket is the mechanism through which a CPU is firmly attached to a motherboard. A chipset is the motherboard software and hardware that combines to allow all the various components to communicate.
It’s not so important to understand everything that goes into making a chipset, but it’s vital to understand that you need to select a motherboard with the right chipset—and the right socket—for the CPU that you plan to purchase. It’s also important to know that different chipsets provide support different combinations of components such as RAM, GPUs, and others.
Motherboards come in different sizes, meaning that you have some flexibility in building your PC to fit into your environment. If you have plenty of space then you might want to use a full-size tower case, while if you’re building a home theatre PC (HTPC) that’s meant to sit beneath your family room TV then you’ll likely want a much smaller case.
That’s why motherboards come in various sizes, or form factors, and these standards define not only the size of the motherboard but also how many of various components they tend to support. Not all cases support all form factors, and so you’ll want to make sure your motherboard and case match up.
For that you should know the size of those form factor, here is the details of every form factor motherboard size –
ATX (12” × 9.6”): The current standard for full-size motherboards. A standard consumer ATX motherboard usually features seven expansion slots, spaced 0.7” apart, and four DIMM (memory) slots.
Extended ATX or eATX (12” x 13”): A larger variant of the ATX form factor designed for enthusiast and professional use, these boards have additional real estate for more flexible hardware configurations.
Micro ATX (9.6” × 9.6”): A more compact variant of ATX featuring two full-size (×16) expansion slots and four DIMM slots. Fits into mini-towers, but remains compatible with the mounting holes in larger ATX cases.
Mini-ITX (6.7” × 6.7”): Small form factor designed for use in compact computers without fan cooling. Provides one full-size PCIe slot and typically two DIMM slots. Mounting holes are again compatible with ATX.
Your CPU needs somewhere to store information while your PC is turned on and working. That’s called “random access memory,” or RAM, and today PCs are commonly equipped with at least 4GB of RAM. How much RAM you need for your own PC depends on how you plan to use it, and 8GB is typically a safe recommendation for most lighter users with 16 or more GB being a good bet for heavier users.
Today’s RAM plugs into a motherboard via a rectangular slot that’s named for the kind of RAM in use today: the dual in-line memory module (DIMM). The number of DIMM slots in a motherboard determines how much RAM you can add, and it most commonly varies from two to eight slots. You can add one RAM module at a time, but you will get the best performance when you install RAM in matched pairs.
When you’re selecting your motherboard, be sure it has enough slots, can support all the RAM that you ever plan to configure, and that it can support the fastest RAM that you’ll want to buy. At the same time, you’ll want to think about how to buy your RAM. For example, if you want to start with 8GB of RAM and then grow to 16GB, and your motherboard has four DIMM slots, then you’ll want to start with a kit of two 4GB DIMMs and not a kit of four 2GB DIMMs, since that will allow you to add another kit later and avoid being left with unused RAM.
All PCs need a way to output information in a visual format that we humans can utilize. In its simplest terms, that means displaying images on a monitor. The component that performs this function in a typical PC is the graphics card, or GPU, and you’ll need to make sure that your motherboard can support the kind of GPU that you need for your intended uses.
Some Intel Core CPUs come with integrated GPUs that provide the means to display output to a monitor, and AMD has its own version of the same thing called the accelerated processing unit (APU) that combines a CPU with a GPU on the same package. These are relatively low-powered GPUs that are great for the usual productivity tasks, but only support less graphically demanding games (like e-sports titles).
Today, most GPUs connect via PCIe slots, and most use PCIe x16 slots. In addition, most contemporary GPUs require PCIe 3.0, PCIe 4.0 or later. The final requirement is the width available to each PCIe slot, and many GPUs require a width of two slots. This can block some x1 PCIe slots and render them inaccessible, which is okay as long as it doesn’t surprise you. Note that some GPUs can use just the 75 watts of power provided by the PCIe slot, but that most GPUs require more power via six-pin or eight-pin connectors from a large enough power supply.
In choosing your motherboard, therefore, you’ll want to make sure that it provides the right kind of PCIe slots. That means checking the GPU specifications carefully and comparing them to the motherboard’s specifications. If you want to connect two or more GPUs, called “Scalable Link Interface” or SLI by NVIDIA and Crossfire by AMD, then you’ll need two available PCIe slots and a compatible motherboard.
The most common storage connection today is serial ATA, or SATA. SATA is in its third revision, and SATA 3.0 is a connection that provides up to six gigabits per second (Gb/s) transfer rate. That translates to up to 600 megabytes per second (600MB/s) in read and write speeds for SATA SSDs and usually significantly less than 150MB/s read and write for HDDs.
You can buy both HDDs, SDDs & M.2 that support SATA 3.0 connections, and motherboards can contain several SATA ports. There are variations of SATA 3.X that provide faster speeds and slightly different connections, including SATA revision 3.2 that uses an M.2 form factor.
An increasingly common storage connection type is NVM Express, or NVMe, that connects via the PCIe bus. This is a newer protocol that offers increased bandwidth, lower power, lower latency, and other advantages. Common NVMe SSDs today can provide theoretical speeds of over 3GB/s read and 1.5GB/s write. NVMe SSDs come in two form factors, cards that plug into PCIe slots and compact versions that plug into M.2 connections. Load along with the rest of your component.
With current-generation PCIe implementations, a PCIe ×1 link has one data lane with a transfer rate of one bit per cycle. A PCIe×16 lane, typically the longest slot on your motherboard (and also the one used most often for a graphics card), has 16 data lanes capable of transferring up to 16 bits per cycle. However, future iterations of PCIe will allow doubling the data rate per clock cycle.
Each revision of PCIe has roughly doubled the bandwidth of the previous generation, and that means better performance for PCIe devices. A PCIe 2.0 ×16 link has a theoretical, bidirectional peak bandwidth of 16 GB/s; a PCIe 3.0 ×16 link has a peak of 32 GB/s. When comparing PCIe 3.0 lanes, the ×4 link commonly used by many solid-state drives has a peak theoretical bandwidth of 8 GB/s, whereas the ×16 link that GPUs leverage offers four times as much.
To power up every part of your motherboard, cables from the power supply and case must be plugged into connectors and headers (exposed pins) on the motherboard. Consult the visual reference in your manual, as well as the small text silkscreened onto your motherboard itself (such as CPU_FAN), to match each cable to the right connector.
Power and Data Connectors
24-pin power connector
8- or 4-pin 12V CPU power connector
PCIe power connector
SATA Express/SATA 3 connectors
Front-panel header: a group of individual pins for the power button, reset button, hard drive LED, power LED, internal speaker, and case features
Front panel audio header: powers headphone and speaker ports
Fan and pump headers: for CPU, system, and water cooling
USB 2.0, 3.0, and 3.1 headers
S/PDIF (digital audio) header
ARGB headers & RGB strip headers
Your motherboard is the hub that external devices connect to, and its I/O controller manages these devices. Consumer motherboards provide ports that connect a CPU’s integrated graphics to your monitor (useful if you don’t have a discrete graphics card or are troubleshooting display issues), peripherals like a keyboard and mouse, audio devices, Ethernet cables, and more. Different revisions of these ports, like USB 3.1 Gen 2, can allow greater speeds.
Motherboards group external ports on their back panel, which is covered with a removable or integrated “I/O shield” that is grounded due to its contact with an often-metal case. This is sometimes attached to the motherboard, or comes separately to be installed when putting together the system.
Peripherals and Data Transfer
These display ports connect to your motherboard’s onboard graphics solution; a graphics card installed in one of your expansion slots will provide its own display port options.
HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface)
Thunderbolt™ 3 port.
DVI (Digital Video Interface
VGA (Video Graphics Array)
The colours of the audio ports on your motherboard may vary by manufacturer, but these are standard:
Black is the rear speaker out
Orange is the centre speaker/subwoofer out
Pink is the mic in
Green is the front speaker (or headphones) out
Blue is the line-in
Silver is the side speaker out
Most consumer motherboards include an RJ45 LAN port, which can connect to your router or modem via Ethernet cable. Some boards feature dual ports for use with a Wi-Fi antenna, as well as advanced connectivity features, such as dual 10-Gigabit Ethernet ports.
Whether you’re planning your next build or upgrading your current PC, understanding the components of your motherboard is crucial. Once you know what everything does, you’ll know how to choose a motherboard that suits your build.
You need a socket that matches your CPU, a chipset that maximizes the potential of your hardware, and finally a feature set that matches your computing needs. Take the time to list out several compatible motherboards and compare their key advantages before making a decision, and you should find exactly what you are looking for.