What is a motherboard? The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide

There are several components in a PC setup, and while it’s hard to argue that one part is more important than the others, the motherboard may be up there in terms of importance.

But what is a motherboard and why is it important for your PC? Here’s everything you need to know about your motherboard, and be sure to message us at Twitter if you have other questions that we don’t cover here.

What is a motherboard?

The motherboard is what allows all the components of your computer to communicate with each other, allowing all the important parts of your PC (such as the CPU and GPU) to interact.

It also provides connectivity between other crucial components including memory (RAM) and hard drive. It even provides connectivity for all peripherals, like a keyboard or mouse.

If the processor is the brain of the computer, the motherboard can be considered as the backbone, as it keeps the device functioning and connects all the components of the computer, which makes the PC usable.

What types of motherboards are there?

Motherboards come in different forms and should offer compatibility with the components you have chosen to work with.

Laptop motherboards are custom made and are usually designed specifically for the laptop in which they are used.

Desktop motherboards are generally less specific, as they will need to work with a variety of different PCs and components. Luckily, they’ll follow certain design standards so you can always know where to attach your RAM or GPU, for example.

However, not all components will work with all motherboards, with CPUs generally being the trickiest in terms of compatibility. You cannot fit an Intel Core chip into a motherboard designed for AMD processors, while you also need to keep an eye on the generation of processors.

Many graphics cards and hard drives will work on many motherboards, while processors must both physically fit into the motherboard’s dedicated CPU socket and be compatible with the chipset. If you want to check which processor is compatible with your motherboard, you can download third-party software like Speccy to see what your internal components look like.

And be sure to check out our list of the best motherboards to get a better idea of ​​what’s on offer.

What’s on a motherboard?

We’re going to go over the different components you’ll find on a desktop PC motherboard so you have a better idea of ​​what you’re dealing with. Laptop motherboards will do the same, but since they are custom made and vary in design and layout, we will focus here on desktop motherboards.

An image of a motherboard with numbers marking each component

1. CPU (central processing unit)

This is where the CPU (or processor) goes. Many modern computers will have large cooling devices above the processor, usually made of a block of metal with fins and a fan, to keep it from overheating. The socket is designed so that the processor fits only the correct way round.

2. RAM (memory)

Many desktop computers will have two or four slots for RAM, with more slots meaning you can install more RAM. In laptops, RAM is usually the only part of the motherboard that users can replace.

RAM modules are long and thin, with the slots inside the ridge matching the notches in the RAM module, so it can only go one way. It also makes it easier to connect only compatible RAM to the board, as older variants will not fit.

3. Expansion slots

Expansion slots allow users to add additional components to the PC, such as a graphics card or sound card. There are two main types of expansion slots: PCI Express and the now obsolete PCI.

You may find that you never use your expansion slots, since all motherboards come with built-in sound and many processors already have integrated graphics. However, gamers will most likely want to buy dedicated graphics cards in order to get high performance.

4. Storage connectors

Storage connectors are for mechanical hard drives, solid-state storage devices (SSDs), and optical storage devices, such as DVD burners.

There are two types of connectors: SATA2 and the faster SATA3. SATA2 is fast enough for traditional mechanical hard drives and optical drives, while SSDs need SATA3 to run at full speed. SATA2 devices will work fine with SATA3 connectors, but SATA3 devices plugged into SATA2 connectors may operate at reduced speeds.

5. PS/2 connectors for keyboard and mouse

While most keyboards and mice now connect via USB, some models still use the old PS/2 connector, which is still present on some newer motherboards.

6. Graphics (monitor connectors)

If you have a processor with integrated graphics, you will use these connectors to plug into your monitor. If you have a dedicated graphics card (see Expansion slots above), you will use the connectors on the back of it instead.

Different motherboards have different connectors, such as DisplayPort, HDMI, DVI, and sometimes the older VGA. You’ll need a port that matches your monitor, but keep in mind that a DVI port can be used with an HDMI monitor and vice versa using cheap adapters (but it won’t pass any sound) .

7. USB sockets

Almost anything that connects to your PC externally, including keyboards, mice, printers, and gaming peripherals, will be plugged into some variation of USB.

Modern motherboards come with USB-C ports, which are becoming increasingly popular due to USB-C support for Thunderbolt 4. Thunderbolt 4 adapters allow data transfer at a maximum of 40 Gb/s and can support up to two 4K displays at the same time. time.

8. Network port

Although not all laptops come with wired network ports, they are still very common on desktop computers. Network ports work by plugging in an Ethernet (network) cable to create a wired network connection to your internet, as opposed to wireless.