What is a motherboard? Explained for anyone!

“What is a motherboard? What is it needed for? Why it is important?” – questions that frequently asked by people who are not so familiar with personal computers and computer systems.

So yeah, today I will explain what is a motherboard for anyone. Despite the seeming complexity of this topic, everything is actually quite simple. In this article I will:

  • describe in accessible language what the motherboard is,
  • analyze all the functions of the motherboard;
  • tell you what to know about the motherboard as a novice user.

Do not worry, reader – over time, you will upgrade your knowledge about motherboards [and processors] from “A” to “Z”. Gradually, article by article, you and I will consider all aspects of these devices.

Why exactly “motherboard”?

So, today we have a motherboard. It is the biggest detail inside the system unit.

As the name implies, it is the main part, the heart of the system, although it can rather be compared with the human nervous system. All other components of the computer are installed on it or connected to its connectors. The motherboard provides the interaction of all components as a single system, managing their mutual work.

And really, think about it! There is a hard disk drive/solid state drive with data, but the processor processes them, and for this processing, they must be in temporary memory (RAM).

For you, a computer user, to see the results of the processor, the video card must display them on a monitor, and the data from the keyboard and mouse, on the contrary, must go to the processor.

Finally, the results of the work must be saved back to the hard disk of the computer.

Coordination of this work is just engaged in the motherboard of the computer. In the most simplified form this scheme looks like:

So, what are the functions of a motherboard?

  1. Motherboard combines all the “insides” of the computer among themselves (it has a socket for the processor, slots for RAM, graphics adapters and various expansion cards, etc.)
  2. The motherboard turns the mouse, display, computer case, keyboard, and other various components into a single working ecosystem.
  3. A motherboard is responsible for ensuring that the CPU controls the work of other parts of the computer. That is, the motherboard not only turns all the components of the PC into one ecosystem but also supports communication between them!
  4. The motherboard is responsible for transferring the picture to the monitor (if the graphics card is integrated into it. At the moment, most motherboards contain an integrated graphics card to enable emergency computer work when all other graphics cards fail).
  5. The motherboard is responsible for the sound of the computer since currently a huge number of board models – almost all – have a built-in sound card.
  6. Providing Internet access – modern motherboards have a built-in network adapter, which is why network cards are not particularly needed today. This statement is especially true for the most advanced motherboards, which have a built-in network card with support for the Gigabit Ethernet and Wi-Fi!

How to know what model of a motherboard is in my computer?

There are several ways to determine the model of the motherboard used in the computer:

1. Look in the documentation on the computer;

2. Find the model name written on the motherboard itself;

3. Use one of the programs showing the equipment used in the system. I recommend paying attention to the program CPU-Z.


Run this program and on the tab “Mainboard” you can see which motherboard is used in the computer.

What does the motherboard consist of? What do I need to know as a beginner?

Now that we have dealt with the previous questions, it’s time to see what the motherboard consists of. And its main elements are:

  1. Connector for installing the processor (CPU socket). In very simple words, this is the hole for installing the processor;
  2. A chipset is a special controlling chip that consists of the so-called north- and southbridge. The northbridge controls the relationship between the motherboard with the RAM, the graphics accelerator, the CPU. It also regulates the speed of their work and connects to the southbridge, which controls energy saving, BIOS, system clock, IDE, SATA, USB, LAN, Embedded Audio interfaces;
  3. BIOS chip and CMOS memory battery – here is the software for starting the computer and testing it. The BIOS settings are stored in CMOS, and in order that they do not stray when you turn off the computer (this memory is volatile), a special battery is used, which powers the memory.
  4. PCI and PCI Express slots. PCIs, because of their poor performance, used to connecting TV tuners, audio, and network cards, as well as other devices that have enough bandwidth of this interface. PCI Express is usually used to connecting video cards to a PC;
  5. Slots for RAM – here you install the memory modules;
  6. SATA and IDE connectors – they are used to connecting various drives (Hard Disk Drives, Solid State Drives) to a computer. Also, used to connect optical drives;
  7. External connectors – these are all possible outputs for USB, headphones, microphone, Ethernet, HDMI, etc.

1. Socket  – this is a sweet home for your processor. Yep. Sorry…

The socket of the central processor (CPU) is used to install the processor on the motherboard.

Provides easy installation and replacement of the processor if necessary. It has its own conditional number that determines which family of central processors can be installed in it.

For example, Socket B2 (LGA 1356) is designed for the Intel Sandy Bridge processor family and no others can be installed in it.

This should be taken into account if you assemble a computer from individual components and when upgrading the system since each next generation of processors has its own socket and is not compatible with the previous ones.

How to find out which socket is on the computer? There are quite a few ways, here some of them:

    1. View in the documentation for the computer.
    2. View the model of the motherboard printed on it and see the documentation on the website of the manufacturer of the motherboard.
    3. Use the CPU-Z free program that is already known to us. Just run the program and get a lot of useful information about the system.

CPU-Z - Socket of motherboard

2. Chipset – the basis of the capabilities of the motherboard!

The chipset is a microprocessor set of circuits for the interaction of the central processor with the rest of the electronic component of the computer. All the possibilities and the further work of the motherboard depends on the chipset.

Today’s chipsets consist of two microcircuits, called the southbridge and the northbridge. You can easily find them, these are the largest chips after the processor, usually hidden under the radiators for cooling. The chipset itself must be coordinated with the processor, and this may mean that not every motherboard will be able to unlock the potential of the processor and vice versa.

Knowledge of the brand and model of the chipset largely determines the future performance of a computer system, so when selecting a motherboard, it’s very good to know its capabilities.

The chipset also affects:

  • the frequencies at which the system will operate;
  • the amount and maximal frequency of supported memory;
  • ability to install additional devices and the number of additional devices.

How to find out which chipset is on the computer? Oh, of course, you already know this!

  1. View in the documentation for the computer.
  2. View the model of the motherboard printed on it and see the documentation on the website of the manufacturer of the motherboard.
  3. Use CPU-Z. It definitely provides a lot of useful information about your current system, as you can see!

CPU-Z: Chipset of motherboard

3. BIOS (CMOS) circuit – starter of your operation system!

The ROM chip (BIOS) contains a set of firmware necessary for initial hardware initialization and subsequent loading of the operating system. Modern implementation often allows you to update the BIOS from external media.

It usually contains many settings for configuring hardware, turning it on / off, configuring the OS boot sequence from media, and performing some other functions. System overclocking capabilities are largely determined by the settings provided by the BIOS for this. In view of the functions performed by the BIOS, its performance is critical to the system.

Incorrect settings or damage will make the system impossible to boot, so many motherboard manufacturers provide emergency protection systems, such as a duplicate BIOS chip, so don’t worry about that if you buy products from large trusted manufacturers.

To get to the BIOS menu, you need to press a certain key or key combination at the time of checking the system immediately after turning on the computer. The most common options are F2, F8, F10, Del, Esc. The exact key can be found in the documentation on the motherboard.

4. Memory – RAM. Supported type, amount and speed of memory.

RAM is an element of a computer system that is responsible for the temporary storage of program code when working with the operating system and installed applications.

The speed of the entire system depends on the amount of RAM. The larger it is, the faster the software part of your device functions and the more applications you can run at a time.

RAM is a kind of buffer between the drive and the processor. You can work without it, but then the information delivery time will be increased, and the speed of the entire system will be scanty. RAM caches data, stores temporary files and program code. RAM increases the efficiency of the operating system. And the more memory it can hold, the better for the performance of the device.

Accordingly, important parameters for the motherboard are:

  • supported type of memory;
  • amount of slots for memory;
  • maximum supported amount of memory;
  • maximum officially supported speed of memory.

Now the most common types of memory are DDR4 (2133 MHz – an upper limit is unknown) and DDR3 (800 MHz – 2400 MHz). What type of memory and its maximum amount is supported can be found in the specifications for the motherboard.

Actually, almost all needed information about the motherboard can be found on the official site of the manufacturer. For example, here are specifications of ASUS B350M-E:

RAM Specifications

Hint: It is always better to take a motherboard with 4 slots for RAM. This way you will be able to add additional memory modules and upgrade the computer in the future. Even if you only have money for 2 modules right now.

5. PCI and PCI Express – What do x16, x4, and x1 mean?

Slots for high-performance PCI Express (PCI-E) bus are usually used to install a video card. The specific implementation of the slot may have different bandwidth, details are specified in the specifications for the board.

A motherboard can have several slots for installing video cards to create a high-performance computer graphics system. The more slots the board has and the higher their speed (more lines), the more flexibility it provides.

At the moment, there necessarily must be at least one PCI Express version 3.0 x16 slot on the motherboard.

More x16 ports = better.

Oh yeah, right…  “What in the world do the marks x16, x8, x4, x1 mean?!” – you will ask.

Here is where you can read about that in detail:


I didn’t write it here because it is too specific to tell here –  in an article about the basics of a motherboard.

You can read it now and then return to this article, or you can just wait until I naturally will touch this theme – I have a comprehensive, step-by-step guide about a motherboard that consists of series of articles.

And the two words about the PCI:

The PCI interface has passed the position to the PCI-E bus, but it can still be useful for connecting old peripheral equipment. The need for such slots is strictly individual.

6. SATA and IDE (PATA) – Serial is faster than parallel!

SATA ports are used to connect drives (hard drives and optical drives). The SATA interface is an evolution of the IDE interface used earlier for drives.

The speed of work depends on the revision of SATA. For example, specification Revision 3.0 provides a bandwidth of up to 6 Gbit/s. Obviously, the more connectors on the motherboard, the more devices you can connect.

  1. SATA rev. 1.0 – 1.5 Gbit/s, 150 MB/s
  2. SATA rev. 2.0 – 3.0 Gbit/s, 300 MB/s
  3. SATA rev. 3.0 – 6.0 Gbit/s, 600 MB/s

Almost every current new motherboard supports standard SATA 3.0, so don’t worry and be happy.

IDE is an outdated interface for connecting drives. After the appearance of the SATA, the interface was renamed to PATA (Parallel ATA). Incompatible with SATA without a special adapter. Two devices can be connected to one loop. One is called the master (master), the other is the slave. Devices require configuration with jumpers on the case. It is found in motherboards so far to ensure backward compatibility.

There are adapters for connecting IDE devices to the SATA port and vice versa. It can be useful for connecting old equipment to a new computer or upgrading old ones.

7. USB – You’ve definitely heard that one!

USB (Universal Serial Bus) – a connector that serves for quick connection of low and medium speed devices. It is widely used to connect printers, scanners, flash drives, card readers, cameras, phones, and many other peripherals. It has several revisions that differ in interface performance. All revisions are backward compatible.

The most common is the USB 2.0 and 3.0; USB 3.1 is gradually being supplanted.

The more USB ports on the motherboard, the better. Presence of at least several USB 3.1 ports is desirable.

Speed capabilities of revisions:

USB 1.0 – 12 Mbit/s (Full Speed) and 1.5 Mbit/s (Low Bandwidth / Low Speed)

USB 2.0480 Mbit/s = 60 MByte/s (High Speed / High Bandwidth) + speed modes of USB 1.0

USB 3.0 – 3 200 Mbit/s = 400 MByte/s = 3.2 Gbit/s (SuperSpeed) + speed modes of USB 2.0

USB 3.1 – 10 000 Mbit/s = 1250 MByte/s = 10 Gbit/s = 1.25 GByte/s (SuperSpeed+) + speed modes of USB 3.0

Form-factors of motherboards. ATX, eATX, microATX, miniATX

The last point I would like to consider is the so-called motherboard form-factor. It determines the overall dimensions of the motherboard, the location of the mounting holes, the type of power connector, the location of the interfaces and some other things. The most common on this day form factors are (in order from biggest to smallest):

E-ATX – a great solution for gamers. There is the ability to install multiple graphics accelerators at once, and even a couple of CPUs can be installed on certain models! The average size is 305/272 millimeters. Also, these models can be a good option for the server machine. Usually the most reliable form-factor because of very large areas. Highly recommended.

Standard-ATX – the most common form factor among users, great for gaming machines and for a working system. Average sizes – 305/244 millimeters. Well compatible with most types of enclosures. A sufficiently large area reduces the likelihood of overheating since there is more space for the remaining parts and they will not have to be trapped in a limited-sized housing, which has a positive effect on the air flow between them. Allows you to install two video cards. Highly recommended.

Micro-ATX is inferior to the original (244/244 mm). They overall have fewer slots. Mostly suitable only for work, but there are samples that are suitable for games, but they are smaller than the previous representatives. Recommended only in case you need a compact and not-so-powerful machine for work/multimedia/light gaming.

Mini-ITX – one of the most compact motherboards, having dimensions of 170/170 millimeters. More suitable as working and multimedia solutions, because the connector for a graphics card may be absent, therefore, a user is content with an integrated option. The maximal amount of slots for RAM modules – one pair.

Mini-STX – solution for mini-PCs, not suitable for games, but it is quite an acceptable option for study and work. There are no slots where the graphics accelerator will be installed, but only two sockets for RAM. The average size is 140/147 millimeters.

In the end… it does really matter!

That is all I wanted to tell you today. I hope that you, my wonderful reader, enjoyed this article and a learned lot of new things for yourself about motherboards and computer system in general.

If you do not understand something from the article or found an error in the article, be sure to report in the comments to this post – I will be more than happy to help everyone.

Thank you for your attention, and remember:

Computer technology is not rocket science!

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