Next to the CPU and graphics card (GPU), the computer motherboard (MB) is the most important and expensive part of the computer.
Nowadays, manufacturers use colorful cool designs to make their MBs more attractive to consumers.
In this guide about motherboards, we will cover the basics for beginners.
Let’s start with the material a motherboard is made from.
Motherboards are printed circuit boards (PCBs) that serve as the main electrical and mechanical connection for all of the other components of the system.
The fact of it being a “printed circuit board” gives you an idea of exactly what makes up a motherboard.
A printed circuit board is simply a piece of fiberglass that has been coated with copper through a process called silk screening.
This allows for electrical circuits to be etched into the surface by acid or non-acid etching process.
Let’s dive in…
What is a computer motherboard?
There are many brands and types of MBs to choose from which we’ll cover later on in this guide.
As the name suggests, MBs are an important piece that holds many of the computer’s core components, such as the central processing unit, random access memory, storage, and graphics processor.
The specifications of a motherboard are what determine whether or not it’s compatible with the other components in the system, including graphics cards, RAM, and CPUs.
It’s very important to read technical specifications before buying a motherboard to ensure it will work with the other components in your system.
Types of computer motherboards
There are a few different types of computer motherboards available on the market. The three most common form factors are ATX, microATX, and EATX. Each form factor has its own unique set of features and benefits.
ATX motherboards are the most popular type, and they come in both standard and extended sizes. They typically have six to eight expansion slots, four or more memory slots, and one to two processor sockets. ATX motherboards are designed to be used in desktop systems.
MicroATX motherboards are smaller than ATX motherboards, and they typically have four to six expansion slots, two or three memory slots, and one processor socket. They are designed to be used in desktop or small form-factor computer cases.
EATX motherboards are the largest type of ATX motherboard, and they typically have seven to ten expansion slots, three or more memory slots, and two processor sockets. EATX motherboards are designed to be used in server chassis that support full-sized motherboards.
In addition to the different form factors, motherboards are available with a variety of socket types. New form factors are evolving all the time. One of the older most popular form factors is LGA1150, which is compatible with Intel’s sixth-generation Skylake CPUs. Other socket types include LGA132X and AM3+.
AMD processors also have their own form factors that are not compatible with Intel CPUs. Before choosing a motherboard, be sure to check which processors are compatible with that particular socket type.
If you’re building a new system then check to see what current CPU and MB combos are so you get the newest and greatest features and performance.
Choosing a motherboard
When choosing a motherboard, you should consider the features that are found on a motherboard, such as memory slots, processor sockets, power connectors, and types of USB, video, audio ports.
It’s very important that You should also choose a motherboard with the type of socket your CPU requires.
Also, when choosing an MB you should consider the size of your case because cases come in various sizes, including mini-ITX and microATX. Some cases include support brackets that only fit certain motherboards or form factors, so you must choose a motherboard that will fit into your case.
When choosing a server motherboard, you should consider the unique features that are found on server motherboards, such as extra memory slots, multiple processor sockets, redundant power connectors, and quick release levers.
Server motherboards require different types of chassis than standard desktop or workstation systems. Server chassis are typically much larger and have more room than standard PCs or laptops cases.
There is another complete industry around server hardware that you can learn about in our other guide about server hardware.
Server form factors come in tower, blade, or rack-mounted (AKA pizza box) configurations.
Other considerations when choosing a motherboard are the chipset and manufacture.
A motherboard chipset is a group of microchips that work together to control the functionality of the MB.
The chipset includes the northbridge and southbridge.
The northbridge is responsible for communicating with the CPU, graphics card, and memory.
The southbridge is responsible for handling communication with the other chips on the motherboard, such as the USB controller, network controller, and audio controller.
Many of the motherboard chipsets that are currently in use are made by Intel.
Examples of chipsets are ICH, P55, H57, and G41.
Computer motherboard manufactures
There are 100s of motherboards models that come in a broad range of prices and features, too many to discuss in the guide.
These motherboard manufacturers are based in Taiwan.
Basic motherboard installation
When installing your motherboard, you should first choose the correct chassis type for your system.
There are probably 1000s of cases on the market that come with different designs, power supplies, and cooling fan configurations.
These are basic instructions that cover the motherboard installation at a high level.
Note: For easier access, it’s best to install your CPU, fan, and memory modules before the motherboard is inserted into the case enclosure.
First, you will also need to be aware of how many expansion slots it has and what types of screw holes it has for your particular model of the motherboard.
Then, carefully follow the installation instructions that come with your specific server chassis. If you do not have an instruction manual, search online for detailed images and diagrams of how to install the motherboard into your chassis model.
Next, remove the side panel of the chassis by unscrewing the screws that hold it in place. Then, locate the motherboard tray inside the chassis and remove it by unscrewing the screws that hold it in place. The motherboard tray is a metal frame that holds the motherboard in place.
After you have removed the tray, remove the plastic spacers that are seated in between the motherboard and tray. Notice where each spacer is seated because it will be important to replace them in the same locations when you reinstall your motherboard after the installation of components is complete. These spacers are used to level out any unevenness in the chassis floor.
After you have removed the spacers, carefully lower your motherboard into the tray and line up the screw holes on the back of it with those found along the edges of the tray.
If you are using standard motherboard screws, make sure you attach the spacers to the tray first before screwing the motherboard into place.
After all, screws are securely in place, replace the tray and secure it with the retaining screws. Then, reattach your side panel by sliding it back onto its hinges until it snaps into place.
Motherboard troubleshooting can be a daunting task, but you can usually fix most problems yourself with a little knowledge and some basic tools.
There will be times when you have installed a new motherboard and the systems will not boot.
Before you freak out, it is good to retrace your MB installation.
Many times it comes down to removing all the components and then reinstalling only the basics such as CPU and memory first.
When installing a new MB the most common boot problem comes down to reseating parts.
Another common troubleshooting step is to reset the BIOS using the jumper pins.
If neither of these steps works you might have a bad MB, CPU, or memory stick.
Time to start swapping parts.
In this guide, we’ve learned the basics about motherboards.
- A computer motherboard is a printed circuit board that houses most of the components in server, desktop, or laptop.
- The CPU, RAM memory, and graphics card are all attached to this piece of hardware.
- There are different types of motherboards and cases for desktops and servers, ATX, microATX, and EATX.
- The way computer components communicate with each other requires specialized connectors, slots, sockets, and cables.
- A motherboard is sometimes referred to as the system board, baseboard, or planar.
The motherboard is where everything attaches to inside your computer.
Read more guides about computer hardware.