What is a Computer Motherboard?

If you have ever wondered about what is the motherboard, then this is the right place for you. In this article, we will talk about everything related to motherboards that you need to know. Let's start with the definition of a motherboard.

A motherboard can be defined as a single platform that connects all the different parts of a computer. The motherboard connects the CPU, hard drives, memory, video card, optical drives, sound card, and other expansion cards and ports. These connections can also be made through cables.

The motherboard and the motherboard components are considered extremely valuable by experts from all around the world. This is why it is also known as the backbone of a computer. There are many essential features of a motherboard that you might be interested to learn. Some of those features are:

  • Motherboards vary significantly in terms of the support that is provided to different components of a computer.

  • Motherboards can support a single type of CPU along with a few types of memories.

  • It is vital for all cases and power supplies to be compatible with the motherboard. This would allow everything to work correctly together.

  • Sound cards, hard disks, and video cards should also be compatible with the motherboard. If these components are not compatible, then they will not work correctly.

When it comes to motherboards, then there are also some very popular manufacturers in the market. Do you know who those manufacturers are? If you don't, let us tell you that Intel, AOpen, ASUS, ABIT, Biostar, MSI, and Gigabyte are some of the most popular and prominent manufacturers of motherboards.

According to experts, the motherboard is always mounted inside the case and attached to the case through some small screws and pre-drilled holes. There are also several ports in a motherboard. These ports connect the motherboard to various other internal components of the computer.

Motherboards provide a single socket for CPUs, but for memory, usually, more than one slot is available. There are also ports for attaching the motherboard to the floppy drive, optical drives, and hard drive. This is done with the help of ribbon cables.

Motherboards also come equipped with fans and unique ports designed for power supply. There is also a peripheral card slot that is located in front of the motherboard. This slot can be used to connect sound cards, video cards, and other expansion cards.

Several ports can be used on the motherboards' left side to connect to devices like the printer, monitor, keyboard, mouse, speaker, and network cables. There are also USB ports within motherboards. These USB ports allow easy connection with compatible devices in a plug-in and plug-out fashion. Some compatible devices that can be connected include digital cameras, a pen drive, and an extra mouse.

Readers need to remember that a motherboard is the primary board and foundation of a computer. It is also known as the mainboard, mobo, board, modb, backplane board, baseboard, planar board, main circuit board, and system board. Motherboards are also known as logic boards on Apple computers.

Every motherboard comes with a chipset. For readers who are not familiar with the term, a chipset collects chips and controllers. Every motherboard comes with a brand new chipset when they are developed.

This is why new motherboards are usually faster and more efficient in comparison with its predecessors. Also, sometimes, older components are not compatible with new chipsets. Further, many different types of motherboards are available in the market.

These motherboards are explicitly designed to fit in various sizes and types of computers. This leads us to the following fact that not every motherboard can work with all types of processors and memory. Instead, motherboards are specially designed to work with specific types of processors and memory.

You might also be interested to learn that the first motherboard was used in the IBM personal computer in 1981. At the time, IBM called motherboards' planar.'

The History of a Motherboard

In this section, we will look at the history of motherboards. Our journey began in 1981 when the first motherboard was used in an IBM computer. Motherboards were called planners at that time. In August 1984, IBM introduced the full AT motherboard form factor.

Eventually, the Baby AT motherboard form factor was released in 1985, which was quickly followed by Western Digital, developed in 1987 by the LPX motherboard form factor.

Moving to July 1995, the first version of the ATX specification for motherboards was released by Intel. This was followed by Intel's NLX form factor in a joint effort with IBM and DEC in March 1997. November 1997 also saw the release of the first motherboard, included with AGP support. It was released by FIC and by Intel in August 1997.

Intel also introduced the microATX motherboard and specification in December 1997. Intel also released the WTX motherboard form factor in September 1998. Intel came with another motherboard form factor, called FlexATX, in 1999.

Kontron introduced the ETX motherboard specification in 2000. And in 2001, the TQ-Components introduced the UTX motherboard form factor. VIA Technologies also developed the Mini-ITX form factor and presented it to the market in November 2001.

PCI-SIG also introduced the PCI Express standard in 2003. After that, the motherboards, including a PCI Express slot, were introduced in 2003. The Nano-ITX, the motherboard form factor, was released in March 2003.

NVIDIA started 2004 with its release of SLI technology. This technology allowed motherboards to link two video cards together. The BTX form factor and specification for motherboards were released in February 2004. Also, microBTX and PicoBTX were introduced in the same year.

March 2004 also brought the release of Mobilt-ITX form factor for motherboards. PICMG introduced the COM Express form factor in 2005 with a group of over 150 companies. The XTX motherboard form factor and specification were also introduced in 2005.

Another major milestone was achieved in 2006 when the microATX motherboard was released for computer games. This motherboard used two video cards. The SWTX motherboard form factor was also released by supermicro during the same year.

Pico-ITX, which was the motherboard form factor, was introduced in April 2007. AMD also developed the DTX form factor in January 2007. The Mini-DTX was released in the same year. Further, EVGA introduced the motherboard form factor called HPTX in 2010. Since then, there have also been many other significant accomplishments in the development of computer motherboards.

The Components of a Motherboard

Let's hop on to discuss the various components of a motherboard. We have created a list of some of the most critical components of a motherboard. And that list is mentioned below.

  • Heat Sink

The heat sink is a device that is mainly built with several fans. This helps keep hot components within the motherboard, like the processor and CPU, properly. A heat sink is usually attached to the processor and is made using metals like aluminium and copper alloy.

There are two types of heat sinks, including active and passive heat sinks. In cases where fans and heatsinks are present together, they are a functional heat sink. Passive heat sinks, on the other hand, simply heat sinks without a fan.

You might be interested to learn that heat sinks are also used in air conditioning systems, GPUs, video card processors, and refrigeration systems.

  • Parallel Port

In the case of old printers, parallel ports were used to connect those devices to the computer. These ports use more than a single wire to receive and send a collection of bits of data in a single go. On the other hand, serial ports use a single wire. Further, parallel ports also use a 25-pin female DB connector.

  • Back Panel Connectors

Back panel connectors is a connection that specifies a link that exists between a connector and a plug into a port or jack. For example, keyboards, monitors, and mouses must be connected to the computer before they can be used.

  • Capacitor

A capacitor is a two-terminal electrical component. This is used for storing energy electrostatically in an electric field. Earlier, capacitors were also known as condensers. It is interesting to note here that when a direct current (DC) enters the capacitor, then a positive charge is generated on the collection of plates or a single plate.

At this location, a negative charge is generated. Capacitors are usually used in electronic circuits. This is done to block direct current and pass alternative current.

  • Northbridge

Northbridge is an integrated circuit. This circuit has a chipset on the motherboard that is mainly responsible for connecting the CPU interface, AGP, and memory. Northbridge is also directly connected to the memory, AGP, and CPU interface.

The main job of the northbridge is to provide a communication channel between the CPU and external devices. This is done with the help of buses.

  • Southbridge

Southbridge can be best described as an integrated circuit on the motherboard, specifically designed for a single function and manufactured as a single unit. It is vital for an I/O controller, integrated hardware, and hard drive controller.

  • Jumpers

Jumpers are tiny metal connectors that allow the computer to close off an electrical circuit. These circuits help electricity to flow to some regions of the circuit board. Jumpers consist of a collection of small pins. These are covered with a jumper block.

Jumpers can also be used as an alternative for a dual-line package switch. These contain two or more connecting points. These also help in controlling the entire electrical circuit board.

  • Integrated Circuit

An integrated circuit can be described as a small chip. It is also known as a monolithic integrated circuit, bare chip, or microchip. An empty chip can act as an amplifier, oscillator, microprocessor, or even memory.

There are multiple circuits, logic gates, pathways, and other vital components included in integrated circuits. These components perform together to achieve a specific function.

It is interesting to note that Geoffrey Dummer introduced the first integrated circuit, was a British radar engineer, on 7 May 1952. Later, it was developed and successfully demonstrated on 12 September 1958 by Robert Noyce and Jack Kilby.

  • PCI Slot

PCI slots help users to add internal components to a desktop computer. Intel designed a PCI slot in 1992. The full form of a PCI slot is the Peripheral Component Interface. It is used to connect the additional PCI devices like sound cards, modems, network hardware cards, and video cards.

  • Memory Slot

A memory slot's function is to allow computer memory or RAM to be inserted into a computer. Usually, motherboards include two to four memory slots. These slots specify the type of RAM that is used with the computer.

It is also worth mentioning that the most common RAM types used for desktop computers are SDRAM, DDR, and SODIMM. These are specifically common for laptop computers as they come equipped with different speeds and types.

  • USB Headers

USB headers are also known as a collection of pins. These are located on the motherboard, and they help in attaching additional USB ports to the computer.

  • Super I / O

Super I / O is an integrated circuit. These circuits were used on the motherboards of personal computers. These circuits were introduced in the late 1980s and were found on expansion cards.

After that, these circuits were embedded into the motherboard. These circuits also combine interfaces for several different low-bandwidth devices. A super i / o circuit is also known for handling less prominent computer output and input devices like serial port UART, game port, intrusion detection, floppy disk controller, and infrared.

  • Serial Port Connector

Serial port connectors can be described as a type of interface that is mainly used to receive or transmit one-bit data on a computer. Usually, IBM compatible computers have serial ports as communication ports. For example, a modem can connect with COM port one, and a mouse can connect to COM port 2.

  • Serial ATA Connections

In IBM compatible computers, serial ATA connections were used as a replacement for the parallel ATA interface. Serial AT Attachment or SATA was first introduced in August 2001 with its first version 1.0.

Within a disk array, this component can provide 1.5 Gbps of performance to every drive. A small cable is also offered to help easily make cable routing. Further, this component also provides better airflow than the older ribbon cables used with ATA drives.

  • System Panel Connectors

System panel connectors are also known as panel or front panel connectors. These connectors control the power button, case speaker, reset button, LEDs, and key lock button of a computer.

Two colour-coded wire cables help recognize where the wires have to be connected with the motherboard front panel. There are also different types of system panel cables. Some examples include HDD, PLED, LED, Resent, SW, Speaker, and PWRSW.

Motherboard Form Factors

Till now, we have mentioned the term 'motherboard form factors' many times. But we haven't talked about what it means. In this section, we will discuss what exactly this term means.

According to experts, a motherboard form factor is a specification for its general size and shape. It helps in preventing incompatibilities between various hardware manufacturers. Motherboard form factors also help determine the types of power supply, physical layout, supported cases, organization of the board, and mounting holes.

Further, if you have ever wanted to construct your computer system, then a form factor is vital as it helps specify the correct components and case that you will need for the computer system. In the case of desktop computers, these days, ATX is the most common form factor.

That being said, there are also other form factors of motherboards. Some of those form factors are:

  • AT & Baby AT

Before 1997, IBM used to employ a very large motherboard. After that, the motherboard size was reduced, and an extended motherboard was released using AT (Advanced Technology) form factor.

IBM also introduced the AT motherboard form factor in August 1984 that was widely used during the 1980s. The size of AT was 12" wide and 13.8" deep. Baby AT and ATX eventually replaced this.

IBM also introduced the Baby AT motherboard in 1985. This was the replacement for the AT motherboard, which was also known as BAT. This was used until the 1990s with 286, 386, 486, and Pentium computers.

The Baby AT was 8.57" wide and 13.04" deep. These dimensions were more similar to the original IBM XT motherboard. This was mainly designed for peripheral devices like mouse and keyboard.

  • ATX

Intel first released ATX or Advanced Technology eXtended in July 1995. This specification was used to outline the motherboard and its dimensions. This helped in improving standardization.

There are different versions of ATX, including version 2.01 introduced in February 1997, version 2.03 introduced in May 2000, version 2.1 introduced in June 2002, version 2.2 released in February 2004.

It is quite surprising to note that ATX boards were not that popular until mid-1996. However, after that, these boards replaced the Baby-AT boards in new systems. The size of the Standard ATX, also known as Full-ATX, is 12" wide and 9.6" deep.

  • BTX (Balanced Technology Extended)

BTX is a type of motherboard form factor that officially replaced the ATX on 17 September 2003. The first version 1.0 of BTX was introduced to the world in February 2004. Some features of BTX are low profile, a more efficient layout that facilitates cooling, supporting high-mass motherboard components, and a scalable board that accommodates different system sizes.

However, Intel announced in September 2006 that they would stop the future development of BTX. This movement focused on providing other advantages like ATA, PCI Express, and USB 2.0.

  • DTX

DTX or Discontinuous Transmission is a method used to improve the efficiency of two-way wireless voice communication. This system acts by temporarily muting or powering-down to a portable wireless telephone. This is where voice input is not detected.

In computers, this is a form factor for motherboards. It can also be viewed as a variation of ATX specification. AMD developed DTX in January 2007. It was initially designed for small form factor computers.

This component uses only a few layers of printed circuit board wiring. This means that manufacturing is done at a lower cost. It was also expected that this component would be used for small computers like the Shuttle 'SFF' design.

  • LPX (Low Profile Extension)

Western Digital developed LPX in 1987, and it was one of the most widely used motherboard form factors. The size of an LPX motherboard is 13" deep and 9" wide. It was mainly used during the late 1980s and 1990s.

If we compare LPX with other motherboards, it can be said that it had several placements for serial, parallel, video, and PS/2 ports. This component is known as a low profile because it contained a big slot for a riser card. That permits the expansion cards to be installed in a parallel fashion to the motherboard.

  • microATX

Another kind of smaller motherboard was designed after the ATX form factor and had mostly the same benefits. However, it did improve the overall design costs significantly. This was done by reducing the physical size of the motherboard.

In December 1997, Intel developed the first mATX motherboard. The motherboard dimensions were 9.6" wide and 9.6" deep, also used in small computer cases or ATX.

  • NLX (New Low Profile Extended)

The NLX motherboard was introduced to the market during the late 1990s. It was first developed and finalized by Intel in March 1997. It is easy to remove these motherboards. And initially, it was created to replace the nonstandard LPX design.

The NLX is 9" wide and 13.6" deep at maximum. Also, the minimum dimensions can be 8" wide and 10" deep. Other features included are USB, AGP, DIMM, Pentium II, lower cases, larger memory modules, and reduced cable lengths.

Do you know that no defined standard can be used to determine the number of ports on a motherboard? The best way to go about this task is to read the specifications that must be included in the motherboard documentation. If you have lost the documentation, you can download a pdf file from the manufacturer's website. These files are usually available for free.

How are Motherboards Connected to the Computer Case?

Motherboards are connected to the case of desktop computers with the help of standouts. For readers unfamiliar with this term, standouts, also known as standoff or spacer, are little metal or plastic screws. These screws connect the computer case with the motherboard.

Standouts help in keeping away the motherboard from touching the case of the computer. This is important because if the motherboard comes in contact with the computer case, then many defects can arise in the motherboard.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Question 1. What is the Motherboard in a Computer?

Answer: A motherboard is a single platform that helps in connecting the different parts of a computer. Motherboards connect various hard drives, CPU, memory, sound card, and other computer components through cables.

Question 2. What is the Use of a Motherboard?

Answer: Some uses of a motherboard are:

  • Motherboards provide integral support to different parts of a computer.

  • Motherboards can also support a single type of CPU with a few types of memories.

  • Motherboards also help in running compatible cases, power supplies, hard disks, sound cards, and video cards.

Question 3. What is the Main Part of a Motherboard?

Answer: Motherboards are composed of several important parts. And some of those parts are:

  • Heat sink.

  • Parallel port.

  • Back pane connectors.

  • Capacitor.

  • Northbridge.

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