We are going to explain to you what is a motherboard and what parts does it have inside, so that if you are going to mount a computer you can have a few notions of what it means to choose the motherboard. At Engadget, we already have a guide in which we technically explain the components of a motherboard, but at Engadget Basics we are going to try to tell you in an easier way to understand for those of you who do not have so much technological knowledge.
Therefore, we are going to try to simplify the concepts as much as possible so that anyone can understand them, and then, if you need more technical or detailed information, you go to our technical article on this topic. We’ll start by explaining what the motherboard itself is, and then we’ll move on to explain each of its components so you can choose one knowing what they have and what it means to buy them.
What is the computer motherboard
The motherboard is the backbone of the computer, the one in which are some of the most important components or parts of your team. When it comes to assembling your own PC, the motherboard is probably one of the elements that you have to choose more carefully, since many of the features that your computer can and will have depend on it.
The motherboard is that in which all the internal components of the computer are connected, from the processor to the hard drives, the RAM or the graphics card. Each of these components has its own slot so you can connect it.
These connectors that the motherboard has for each of the elements that connect to it, in part, also they will determine how you will be able to update your computer in the future. For example, if you have a motherboard with a certain version of RAM, you will not be able to change that connector in the future, and you will not be able to install higher versions of that standard.
In the basic structure of the motherboard highlights printed circuit board, also known as PCB (Printed Circuit Board). It is that non-conductive substrate of the electric charge on which the other components are placed. Come on, that is that base that is usually green and that has some channels or lines through which the information goes, which are tracks of conductive material, and has certain areas where to put the rest of the components.
On these printed circuit boards other components are connectedsuch as integrated circuits, sockets, capacitors, and other electrical and electronic devices. All these are the basic components, those that come pre-installed on the motherboard, and that are what make sure that the subsystems of the motherboard work and can establish the connections and information exchanges by the rest of the parts that are in she.
Next, we are going to explain what are those other components or parts that are inside a motherboard, and on which its correct operation depends. These are components that are not usually given as much attention as the connectors it includes, but which are also important.
The chipset, whose technical name is PCH (Platform Controller Hub), is the true brain of the motherboard. You can easily identify it because it is usually the largest integrated circuit of all. Its name literally means chipset, and its function is control the flow of data between different key components computer, such as the processor, memory and various peripherals you have connected.
You must bear in mind that your equipment is made up of many components of different sizes and functions. On the motherboard you have the graphics card, the CPU or the memory modules, and you also connect the monitor and many others. Among them is the chipset itself, which is responsible for the rest of the components being able to communicate correctly with each other.
We could say that the chipset is the communication center of the motherboard. Is the one controls and organizes the data between the processor and the rest of the components so that everything works correctly. Think that all the components of your PC emit a data stream that has to be interpreted by the processor.
Therefore, if when you move the mouse that movement is reflected on the screen, it is because the chipset has taken that data from the mouse to the processor, and from there it has taken it to the monitor. And the same goes for everything else, from the data that is written to and erased from the hard drive, to the operation of any other component. The chipset is the person in charge of controlling data traffic, the operations center where everyone gets organized.
The type of chipset your motherboard has will determine other features that you may or may not have. For example, not all chipsets can coexist or are compatible with all processors of each brand. To avoid problems, there are times that large manufacturers such as Intel or AMD make their new families of processors keep the socket that is used by the previous generation to be compatible, although in some cases they may need to update the BIOS or UEFI.
However, this does not always happen. Other times the new generations of motherboard also change the socket, and this is something that happens every certain frequency. This causes cascading changes, since there are components that can make them compatible with the sockets of the new models. This may depend a bit on age.
In addition to this, the motherboard chipset also determines the maximum amounts of connectors such as PCI Express, SATA or USB ports that can be. This, for practical purposes, means that it establishes a maximum of modules such as graphics cards, RAM memory or USB connectors and hard drives.
It is common for new chipsets to be introduced alongside new processors. In May, AMD introduced the B550 chipsets, which include a PCI Express 4.0 interface, as well as second-generation USB 3.2 connectivity and support for two graphics cards. It allows to have up to six USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports, but also others of other generations, and eight SATA ports.
With these data, I mean that each chipset supports certain versions of connectors and quantities of them. Therefore, you will need to keep in mind the computer you want to have right now and how or how much you will want to expand it in the future, and from there, choose the chipset that best suits not only the connectors you want to have, but to the versions of them. If you want the latest technology in USB or solid state drives, it is best to opt for more modern chipsets.
Power supply system
One of the aspects that determine the quality of the motherboard is your power supply system. It is the entire internal set of components that are responsible for regulating the internal voltage of the motherboard, as well as its power supply phases.
The electrical power system that we have in the computer will be especially important when we subject it to intense stress, when the processor needs more energy for the work that we are entrusting to it. This makes it the most relevant feature in cases such as when the user tries to overclock, which is to make the processor faster to try to gain a little extra power in the PC.
There are two components of feeding systems that are especially important. The first are the voltage regulator modules or VRM (Voltage Regulator Module). They are the components of the motherboard that adapt the voltage of the power supply to the components of our computers, so that it is not insufficient to function properly and is not too much to strain the cooling system, or compromise the health of the component.
The VRMs are located on the surface of the main board of the motherboard, near the processor and memory modules, and each of them is a small circuit. Many times it is covered by the heatsinks that modern motherboards bring.
The other key component are the power supply phases, whose mission is to make the processor or the main memory of the motherboard have a power supply as flat and stable as possible, so that there is no spike that affects its operation.
Motherboard manufacturers put multiple power phases into the VRM, each acting as a rectification and filtering stage to stabilize the incoming current. Like various filters. Therefore, the more phases of power supply the VRM has, the more stable the power signal it provides to the components it powers.
The motherboard of your computer has many components and circuits, and some of them can generate a lot of heat, and if some components reach or exceed certain maximum temperature thresholds for a long time they could be damaged forever. This is why most of today’s motherboards have multiple heatsinks to help evacuate residual heat to the rest of the components that may be on the motherboard for it.
Some motherboards, especially high-end ones, may have the surface of their PCB coated with heatsinks. Some models even go further, using fans or even metal plates on the back called metal heat shields that help with temperature dissipation.
Connectivity depends on each motherboard
Another part of the motherboard are the different types of connectors, which are used to connect peripherals and components. Here, it is the chipset you have that establishes a maximum number of these connectors, so the ones you have and their versions will depend in each case on the model of the board you have on your computer.
The connectors that usually exist are the PCI Express, which are used to connect cards. They are generally used for graphics cards, but there may be other cards focused on more technical aspects such as communication cards. There are also connectors for USB ports or SATA ports on hard drives or M.2 ports on solid state drives or SSDs.
In addition to the number of connectors, the chipset also determines the version of each of them. For example, almost all modern motherboards have at least one M.2 port, although there are also those with multiple connectors.
Therefore, when setting up a computer it is recommended to be clear about the needs you have, and look for a chipset that meets those needs. Once you have chosen it, then look for a motherboard that incorporates it and that has a price that fits your budget.
Integrated WiFi and sound modules
Computer motherboards too they usually have sound chips, which determine the sound quality that your PC will have. Here, in general, the better the motherboard the better the sound module can be, although in high ranges there may also be some differences. In the middle ranges, on the other hand, there is usually not such a good sound. However, this is something that you can solve later by buying a dedicated sound card or an external DAC to connect to the computer so that it has better sound.
Beyond sound, motherboards also incorporate WiFi modules and Ethernet controllers, which will determine the maximum connection speed that your computer can obtain, both through WiFi and with the Ethernet connection at home. In general, you do not need to install a dedicated network card in your PC, unless it is a low-end or old card with an outdated connection type.