This section of this website consists of four long pages providing detailed information on the motherboard (also known as the mainboard), the printed circuit board (PCB) which is main component of a desktop or laptop computer, covering how it integrates with the desktop-PC case, the power supply, the RAM memory, hard disk and optical CD/DVD disc drives and the subordinate PCB components, such as the graphics and sound cards and the peripheral devices (USB devices such as external hard disk and optical drives, printers, etc.) Detailed information is also provided on the PC case and power supply unit. The motherboards used in laptop computers are not dealt with in this article because they are only accessible by specially-trained technicians or people with the required know-how and, since they are not sold by computer stores, can't be upgraded. Problems and their solutions are dealt with in the Motherboard and Power Supply Problems section.
This page - The motherboard (mainboard) used in desktop computers
Page 2 - Desktop PC ATX cases and case fans
Page 3 - The Power Supply Unit (PSU) used in desktop computers, making a good choice of motherboard, etc.
Page 4 - Sundry useful motherboard information
MOTHERBOARD AND POWER SUPPLY PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS
Click here! to visit the page on this site devoted to motherboard and power supply problems and their solutions.
MOTHERBOARDS: UPGRADE CHECKLIST
Click here! to go to information on this site on what you need to consider when upgrading a PC's motherboard.
You must know as much about motherboards (aka mainboards) as possible in order to be able to understand how a desktop or laptop PC is configured and functions. Note that the motherboards of laptop/notebook PCs are not dealt with here, because their highly integrated design currently makes the motherboard and most of the components non-upgradable. You are stuck with the motherboard that is in a laptop computer unless it develops a fault and has to be replaced by its manufacturer with the same model of motherboard. Visit the Laptops section of this website for information on them and other mobile computers such as netbooks.
In all desktop PCs that have a standard ATX or micro-ATX PC case, you can replace or upgrade the motherboard, but you cannot buy laptop motherboards from computer shops - retail high street shops or online stores. However, the motherboards used in laptops provide most of the same features as desktop-PC motherboards.
The main form-factor motherboards in use are ATX and micro-ATX are fitted into mini-tower (aka micro-ATX), midi-tower and full-tower ATX cases. Both full ATX and micro-ATX motherboards are powered by ATX power supply units (PSUs).
Mini-ITX motherboards are used in mini PCS and housed in small ITX cases. These PCs have very limited upgrade potential due to the small size of the board. The processor is usually soldered into the board instead of being fitted into a socket and so can't be replaced in the usual way of taking the processor out and putting a new one in. Someone with soldering skills could probably replace the processor. Mini-ITX motherboards are dealt with further down on this page.
Currently, PCI and PCI Express slots on the motherboard are used for adapter cards - graphics cards, sound cards, network cards, etc. The PCI standard has been in use for several decades now and is still in use, but the PCI Express standard is used for the latest graphics cards. The IDE standard used to be used for hard-disk and CD/DVD drives, but it has been replaced by the SATA standard, which has reached version 3.0. Internal hard-disk and optical CD/DVD drives work perfectly well using a motherboard's SATA and SATA 2.0 ports. They work on but can't use the maximum data transfer speeds provided by the SATA 3.0 standard, which can only currently be used to the full by SSD drives. More information is provided on these standards further down in this article. Click here! to go to the information on the SATA standards on this website.
Visit the Annotated Images of ATX Socket LGA775, Socket A and Socket 939 Motherboards page on this site to see annotated images of those three socket-type motherboards for Intel and AMD processors. The Processor Sockets page of this website provides a history of the sockets used by Intel and AMD over the last two decades.
Detailed information on motherboard components, adapter-card and memory slots and and ports is provided in this article. You can refer back to that page whenever you feel the need while reading this page.
You should always make sure that a power supply that is provided with a case or a new PC desktop is a quality unit capable of delivering its stated maximum power output (400W, 500W, 600W, etc.). The power supply unit installed in inexpensive PCs and cheap cases is almost always a cheap, low-quality unit that should be replaced for the good of the computer, which can be destroyed if the power supply packs in. Cheap power supplies are also a fire hazard. To find out the make/model of power supply requires opening the case and reading what is written on it. You can then use the make/model as the search term to conduct a web search. I would advise doing that as soon as you receive a new desktop PC regardless of its cost, just in case a cheap power supply is installed. An expensive PC might have originally have had a quality unit that was replaced by staff working at the store with a cheap unit.
Micro-ATX motherboards are smaller than full-sized ATX motherboards and so cannot provide as many adapter-card or RAM-memory slots, can be installed in any ATX case, but are usually installed in mini-tower ATX cases. A full-sized ATX motherboard is too large to be installed in a mini-tower (micro-ATX) case. Here is a recent review of a mini-tower case:
Antec Mini P180 review -
ATX [form factor] - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ATX
In all computers, the processor (or processors) are installed in and run from the motherboard. Note that almost all modern desktop and laptop computers now run processors which have two, three, four or six cores, known as dual-core, triple-core, quad-core and hexa-core processors respectively. This means that they are running two, three, four or six identical processor units housed in a single unit. You can still buy economy desktop and laptop computers that have a single-core processor, but you should avoid buying one unless your computing needs are very basic - running office applications, email, web access, etc. - because the multi-core processors provide superior performance with multitasking and when the software is written to run on multiple cores.
It is possible to buy motherboards that use two or more separate processor units (CPUs), but these are not employed in computers for home use; multiple-core processors (housed in one unit) are used.
It is expected that it won't be long before a single processor will have up to 16 cores, but 6 cores are the most that any processor has right now. Each motherboard only supports the processors made by a single manufacturer, but several models are usually supported. The two major manufacturers of desktop PC and laptop PC processors are AMD and Intel.
Intel Core i7-980X review [the first hexa-core (six-core) processor] -
"Intel has used the Extreme Edition for some of its fastest processors since 2003. It's never been that impressive though, with small speeds gains often accompanied by massive price hikes. Finally though, the company really has something truly worthy of the moniker: the Intel Core i7-980X. Read our review to find out what makes this Extreme Edition special." - http://www.expertreviews.co.uk/processors/276679/
You have to use a motherboard that has the socket type of the processor that you buy.
Intel-based desktop-PC motherboards currently (March 2012) use these socket types - LGA1156 (first generation Core i3, i5, i7 processors), LGA1155 (second generation Core i3, i5, i7 processors), Socket LGA2011 (Intel's highest end Core i7-3930K and Core i7-3960X only) and Socket 437 (Atom processors).
On 5 January, 2011, Intel released its new second-generation Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7 quad-core processors that use the new Socket LGA1155 and new motherboard chipsets. Computers using the new processors will be rolling out during 2011.
Visit the following webpage for information the current Intel-based (under Intel Platform) and AMD-based socket types (under AMD Platform) made by MSI. - http://www.msi.com/product/mb/
The Graphics Cards section of this website provides detailed information on graphics cards (also known as video cards).
The computer's graphics display can now be provided by a dedicated graphics card or by a graphics chip integrated on the motheboard or on the processor itself. With AMD's A-Series APU processors, which have an integrated graphics chip, it is also possible to install an AMD Radeon graphics card which runs in CrossFire mode in conjunction with the processor's graphics chip to increase performance significantly. Nvidia equivalent dual-card mode is called SLI. Dedicated PC gamers prefer using a single powerful graphics card instead of these dual-card setups because they tend to be more problematic or glitchy.
To use a motherboard's or a processor's integrated graphics chip requires the motherboard to provide the graphics ports that matches the monitor or monitors graphics ports, which are now VGA (analog), and digital DVI, HDMI and DisplayPort input ports. Inexpensive adapters make it possible to use one standard with another, such as a VGA port on a laptop with a DVI-I or DVI-D port on the monitor.
Note that in March 2012 both the first and second generation Intel Core i3, i5 and i7 processors were available. The first generation chips use Socket LGA1156 motherboards and the second generation uses Socket LGA1155 motherboards. The first generation chips cannot be used on the motherboards that run the second generation chips, which are superior, and vice versa, so it is advisable to avoid buying the first-generation chips unless you are upgrading a PC with a Socket LGA1156 motherboard to a faster first-generation Core i processor.
Several models of AMD and Intel processors now have an onboard graphics chip, making it unnecessary to have a separate graphics card or a graphics chip built into the motherboard. If the graphics chip is integrated into the motherboard or the processor, the motherboard has to provide the port that connects the graphics capability to the monitor.
The high-end models of AMD's A-Series APU processors all have onboard graphics chips that can play the latest 3D games in high detail, such as Dirt 3, on their own without the support of an AMD graphics card running in tandem with them in CrossFire mode, which improves the already good graphics performance significantly. These processors run from Socket FM1 motherboards, which provide the graphics ports.
All of Intel's second-generation Core i3, i5, and i7 processors (except the the extreme high-end Core i7-3930K and Core i7-3960X, which run on LGA2011 motherboards) run from Socket LGA1155 motherboards. All of these second-generation processors have onboard graphics chips, so all Socket LGA1155 motherboards provide graphics ports (usually analog VGA and digital DVI ports). Note that with the first generation of Core i processors, not all of them provide onboard graphics chips, so if you want to use the onboard graphics, a H57 or H55 chipset is required on the Socket LGA1156 motherboards that run those Core i processors. In short, not all Socket LGA1156 motherboards provide the graphics ports required to use onboard graphics. Note that unlike AMD's A-Series APU processors, none of Intel's Core i processors can play the latest PC games at playable frame rates using their onboard graphics chips.
March 10, 2011. - Intel has discovered a flaw in its 6 Series motherboard chipsets for its new second-generation Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 (Socket LGA1155) processors, affecting only the SATA2 ports to which storage (hard disk and SSD drives) and CD/DVD/Blu-ray optical drives are connected. SATA3 ports are not affected. A transistor flaw will cause performance to degrade over time for drives connected to the SATA2 ports that are controlled by the chipset. It is estimated that about 15% of desktop PCs with the new Sandy Bridge processors will be affected. Laptop PCs are not affected because a laptop usually only has one SATA hard disk or SSD drive and one optical CD/DVD or Blu-ray drive and manufactures have used SATA 3.0 ports for them, which are unaffected by the flaw.
The short-term solution is not to use the motherboard's SATA 2.0 internal headers or external ports. Intel has produced a revised chipset and instigated a product recall, so the long-term solution is to obtain a replacement motherboard from the vendor or to return an affected PC to its manufacturer for a replacement motherboard to be installed. For more detailed information, read the following article.
Intel Sandy Bridge flaw: details and workaround -
Intel Core i7-2600K review -
Intel's Second-Gen Core CPUs: The Sandy Bridge Review - "Although the processing cores in Intel's Sandy Bridge architecture are decidedly similar to Nehalem, the integration of on-die graphics and a ring bus improves performance for mainstream users. Intel's Quick Sync is this design's secret weapon, though." - http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/...
High-End P67 Express: Five £150-200 Motherboards [May 2011] -
"With mainstream boards based on Intel's P67 Express chipset now priced well beyond £100, we reached into the £150-200 range to see what kinds of enhancements high-end buyers could expect just ahead of the anticipated Z68 Express launch." - http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/...
Efficiency Comparison: Sandy Bridge Vs. Intel And AMD CPUs - "The second-generation Core processors arrived with a bang, but what sort of progress can you expect in the performance per watt department? We compare Core i5/i7-2x00 to AMD's Phenom with four and six cores, as well as previous-gen parts from Intel." -
ASRock P67 Transformer: P67 Gets LGA 1156 Compatibility - "Upgrading to Intel's P67 [motherboard chipset for second-generation Core i3, i5, i7 processors] will certainly require a new motherboard, but the fact that you won't need a new CPU appears to be Intel's dirty-little-secret. ASRock found the secret and exploited it, bringing next-generation performance to today's processors." - http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/...
Asrock H67M-GE [motherboard] review - "An inexpensive board [L72] for LGA1155 processors, but you can't overclock due to artificial limitations on its H67 chipset." -
Asus P8P67 [motherboard] review - "The P8P67 [£128] takes an early lead in the race to be our favourite P67 motherboard." -
The following article discusses the use of multi-core processors and when their use improves performance and when it does not.
Desktop multiprocessing: Not so fast -
"Not every application can be reprogrammed for multicore architectures, and some bottlenecks will always remain. Here's why." -
The following webpages provides reviews on the latest AMD and Intel processors and AMD-based and Intel-based motherboards, which can be viewed by manufacturer, model, etc.
Motherboard reviews - http://www.expertreviews.co.uk/motherboards
Motherboard reviews - http://www.pcpro.co.uk/reviews/motherboards
Processor reviews - http://www.pcpro.co.uk/reviews/processors
If you are intent on buying a motherboard for an existing computer as an upgrade or as part of of a new computer you are building, make sure that it supports the processor you that you already have or want to buy. Some motherboards might require a BIOS update to be installed before it can run certain processors, but you won't be able to update the BIOS unless you have a processor that is already supported by the motherboard, because the update will have to be applied before the motherboard supports certain processors. For example, don't buy a Socket AM3 motherboard that will run an AMD Phenom II quad-core processor but only if a BIOS update is installed unless you already have, say, a Socket AM3 AMD Athlon 64 X2 dual-core processor that the motherboard already supports.
The following webpage provides a quick video guide to how to install a processor, its cooling unit and RAM memory on a motherboard and how to install the motherboard a tower desktop PC case. Before you install the components of a desktop PC into the case, you should always read the motherboard's user manual, downloaded from its manufacturer's website if you don't have a paper copy. The following video guide does not provide information on aligning the processor the correct way around. How to do that is dealt with in this article.
How to upgrade your motherboard: video guide -
If you want to buy a new desktop PC, knowing beforehand about the make and model of its motherboard and the features it provides is necessary information if you want to make a sensible purchase that is as future-proofed as possible, and if you want to know how best to upgrade it. Whether you want to upgrade an existing PC or build a new PC, you have to know how to choose a motherboard that is as fit as possible for the purposes that the new or upgraded PC is to be used for.
In the updated sections of computer magazines devoted to providing buying advice, and in press advertisements, there is usually one major component of the PC that is either seldom mentioned or not mentioned at all - the motherboard, which is also known as a mainboard. Strange, because it is easily the most important part of a computer.
It is the printed circuit board (PCB) to which all of the other components of a computer are connected. Therefore, where reputable manufacturers have supplied the other components in a computer, cheap, poor quality, and/or badly-designed motherboards represent the most significant factor involved in problems, poor performance, and poor or non-existent upgradability.
Visit the Annotated Images of ATX Socket LGA775, Socket A and Socket 939 Motherboards page on this site to see annotated images of those three socket-type motherboards for Intel and AMD processors.
The following online video shows a desktop PC being built with an Asus P5E64 WS Professional motherboard and an Intel Core 2 Quad QX9770 quad-core processor. It shows you where the motherboard is installed in the case and where the processor is installed in the motherboard in a desktop PC.
Video: How To Build An Intel QX9770 QuadCore PC -
Best Of Tom's Hardware: Beginner's Guide To Motherboard Selection : Which Features Matter Most To You? -
"Tom's Hardware has supported new PC builders since 1997 with tips, tricks, and sage advice. Our most complete motherboard-selection guide was published back in 2006. Today's updates address the latest interfaces for current PC builders. Enjoy!" -
Visit the Desktop PCs section of this site for information on how to buy, build, repair, fix, and protect the various types of desktop PCs.
Visit the Laptop/Notebook PCs section of this site for information on buying, protecting, and fixing problems with them.
Visit the Build Your Own PC section of this site to find out how to assemble a desktop PC from its components.
December 4, 2010. - The motherboard manufacturer, Asus, has revealed its next-generation P8P67 motherboards for Intel's next range of processors, code-named Sandy Bridge, that use the Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI) instead of a BIOS. The EFI is much easier to use and update, with mouse control, slide-bars and drag-and-drop. For example, the user can drag-and-drop icons of the devices to set them as the first-boot device and overclocking can be achieved by using a series of sliders. It supports new technology that is beyond the BIOS, such as the ultra-large-capacity Western Digital Caviar Green 3TB hard disk drives. A BIOS, due to its technical limitations, can't support a hard-drive capacity larger than 2.2TB, but the EFI can support drives up to 9.4ZB (ZB = zettabyte, which is a 1 followed by 21 zeros - a truly immense figure). The new range of Asus motherboards are expected to be released early in 2011.
Choosing a power supply for a self-built desktop PC or a new power supply for an upgraded PC that requires extra power is an important factor that can easily be underdone or overdone, depending on your computing needs. A gaming computer requires much more power than an office computer. The following power calculator allows you to enter the components. When all of the components are entered, the calculator tells you the wattage you require, which allows you to choose a power supply that provides that wattage plus some overhead just in case all of the components are being used at the same time.
eXtreme Power Supply Calculator Lite -
The myriad of cables that are in use are often very confusing to the home computer user. The following link provides a slide show of the cables and information on what each cable is used for that should dispel most of the confusion.
A World of Cables, Unknotted [Slideshow of all the cables used with a computer] -
"You can spend weeks researching which TV or Blu-ray player to buy, and then you would still have to deal with the conundrum of the cables. Other format wars get resolved fairly quickly and definitively (Blu-ray over HD-DVD, VHS over Beta), but cable formats last, it would seem, forever." -
Here is another similar page that goes through every possible type of connector:
Pictorial guide to PC sockets and cables -
When building a computer from its components, you should first choose the type of AMD or Intel processor that best meets your budget and computing needs, and then you should choose a motherboard that can run it.
If your desktop PC has an Intel-based motherboard, you can use:
Intel Processors and Boards Compatibility Tool -
"Find the Intel processors that will work with your PC's Intel-based motherboard. Find motherboards that will work with your PC's processor. Check the compatibility of a motherboard and processor." -
The motherboard that you choose must also provide the features that you require, such as FireWire, a Gigabit Ethernet network port, onboard sound and/or video chips, etc. All current motherboards provide several USB 2.0 ports, an ever-increasing number are providing USB 3.0 ports, but not all of them provide a FireWire port. Some, but not all motherboards, provide an eSATA port to the attachment of an external SATA hard drive or CD/DVD drive. This could be an eSATA port on the ports panel or from a rear bracket that attaches to a header on the motherboard. The Gigabyte GA-EP35C-DS3R motherboard provides an eSATA port from a rear bracket. Some motherboards even provide an inbuilt wireless network adapter, which most current laptop PCs provide.
Most motherboards provide four external USB 2.0 ports and more as headers on the motherboard that can be connected to USB 2.0 ports in the front or top of the case, or attached to a cabled backplate that fits into an adapter outlet at the back of the case, which can be supplied with the motherboard. The latest motherboards have USB 3.0 ports, which are worth having if you buy a USB 3.0 external hard disk drive, because the data-transfer speed of USB 3.0 is much faster than that provided by USB 2.0.
Does The USB 3.0 Controller On Your Motherboard Matter? -
All USB 3.0 Implementations Are Created Equal [Motherboard and adapter card USB 3.0 controllers] -
Depending on your requirements, you should look for a motherboard that has as many of the features that you require built into it. For example, many motherboards provide high-specification sound chipsets that makes it unnecessary to use a dedicated sound card. Many current motherboards provide 7.1 surround sound, and some even have coaxial or optical S/PDIF outputs that allows the PC to be connected to a surround-sound amplifier. Most current motherboards provide a Gigabit Ethernet network port that allows the PC to be connected to a wired network.
Note that many current motherboards don't provide serial and parallel ports that were used to connect peripherals such as printers before USB became the standard used to connect them.
The image shown above is of an MSI K8N Diamond Plus Socket 939 motherboard ( Socket 939 is no longer used by AMD, but the information is still current) for AMD Athlon 64 and 64 FX processors with two long x16 SLI PCI Express graphics-card slots, two medium-length PCI slots (orange and white), one (yellow) x4 PCI Express slot and two short x1 PCI Express slots, which can be used for adapter cards such as a sound card or a host controller card for IDE and SATA hard disk drives. Note that I have yet to see an adapter card that requires a x4 slot, which most motherboards don't have in any case, as can be seen on the MSI P67A-G45 (B3) Socket LGA1155 motherboard for the second-generation Intel Core i3, i5 and i7 processors, which only has two x1 slots. Visit http://www.msi.com/product/mb/P67A-G45--B3-.html and roll over the image of the motherboard with the mouse pointer to see a section of it magnified.
Note that a x1 adapter card can be fitted in a x4 slot. An x8 PCI Express slot (not on either of the two motherboards shown above and below) is half the length of a x16 PCI Express slot. An x8 slot is mainly used with the graphics cards designed to use it instead of a x16 slot. If a motherboard has two x16 and two x8 slots, four graphics cards can be installed in them.
Many motherboards now come with an integrated sound chip that provides sound of an acceptable quality via its analog mini-jack connectors, which support 5.1 surround sound via a set of five speakers and an inexpensive set of stereo speakers, making it unnecessary to have a sound card. A line-in jack to connect the PC to an amplifier and a microphone jack is usually provided. However, note that the motherboard must have a block containing 6 (two rows of 3) sound ports on its ports panel, as shown on this page of this website. If only 3 sound ports are provided, 5.1 surround sound plus line-in and microphone input ports cannot be provided simultaneously, because they function by switching inputs for outputs, depending on whether the speaker configuration is set to 2.1 stereo of 5.1 surround sound. - Visit the Sound section of this website for information on the different types of delivered sound.
Many motherboards provide digital coaxial or optical S/PDIF output ports, which are used to connect surround-sound speakers or amplifiers, shown on the ports' panel of a motherboard on this page. A motherboard with an HDMI port or ports can output sound via this socket. Both of these ports is shown on the ports' panel of an MSI motherboard on this page.
The image below is of the MSI K9A2 Platinum (AMD Socket AM2+) motherboard, which has four PCI Express x16 slots for four graphics cards. They are the four long vertical light and darker blue slots. When the appropriate slot cover is removed from the back of the PC's case, a graphics card is inserted in the selected slot so that its ports panel containing its connectors appears at the back of the case. The two shorter white slots are standard PCI-X slots.
This motherboard supports the PCI Express 2.0 standard (now up to PCI Express 4.0) which is fully backwards compatible with PCI Express 1.0 graphics cards (a PCI Express 1.0 graphics card can be installed in a PCI Express 2.0 slot). It supports QuadFire (four-way CrossFire) and SAS (serial attached SCSI hard disk drives).
PCI Express - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PCI_Express
Some motherboards have a PCI-X slot. PCI-X is the extended PCI standard, both of which have been replaced by the PCI Express standard. The 64-bit PCI-X bus slot has double the maximum throughput of PCI, at a maximum speed of 3Gbps. Most PCI-X cards are backwards compatible with PCI bus slots, which means that you can install a PCI-X card in a PCI slot provided that it has the correct voltage keying for the slot and that the area directly behind a PCI slot must have available space to accommodate the additional length of PCI-X cards.
Note that PCI adapter cards are still available for all of the types of device that they support, such as IDE and SATA host controller cards, graphics cards, sound cards, dial-up modems, TV cards, USB adapter cards that add USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports to a PC, etc. Windows 7 requires a graphics card that supports DirectX 9.0, which are still available for the PCI standard.
The image below shows an ATX motherboard installed in an ATX PC tower case standing as it would on a desktop, but with a side panel removed. There is a single hard disk drive installed in the drive bay on the left. The ports panel on the left side of the board will show the ports at the back of the case. There is a single adapter card installed in one of the two PCI slots white. The port(s) of that card will also appear at the back of the case.
A motherboard would have either an AGP slot or a x16 PCI Express slot, not both for a graphics card. The AGP graphics standard is no longer used on most new motherboards, having been replaced by the PCI Express and PCI Express 2 standards. Some motherboards can have four PCI Express slots for graphics cards (x16 and x8 slots). The MSI X48 Platinum motherboard has four PCI Express x16 slots that can accommodate four graphics cards. PCI Express x1 slots are used for devices, such as some graphics cards, sound cards, ide/sata hard-drive adapter cards, and Ethernet network cards.
The following diagram shows the PCI Express x16 and x1 slots, and the two standard PCI slots on a Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-S2H motherboard.
The four horizontal blue and teal slots in the coloured image of an MSI K8N Diamond Plus motherboard above the diagram are the DIMM slots for the RAM memory, and the processor socket is the white square in the middle of the right-hand side of the board.
When a motherboard doesn't have the hardware (modem, sound card, additional USB/FireWire ports, etc.) that is required on board, it has to be added by making use of expansion cards. The older expansion cards are fitted into PCI slots, while the newer cards are fitted into x1 PCI Express slots.
Many of the latest motherboards have a second x16 PCI Express slot for a second video/graphics card, which allows the user to extend the Windows desktop across up to four monitors that can access two video cards at once, because each video card allows two monitors to be connected to it. The type of connection depends on the type of ports that the monitors and the video/graphics card(s) have. Most current video/graphics cards have a standard analog D-sub VGA port and a DVD-I port (supports both analog and digital connections), or one or two DVD-D (digital only) ports. You have to use the correct type of cable for a particular monitor/video card connection.
Note that there are now some motherboards that supply four x16 PCI Express cards, such as the MSI P6N Diamond board. You could fit four graphics cards to it that each have two outputs, making it possible to connect up to eight monitors.
Note that the video/graphics card manufacturer, ATI, which was purchased by AMD, is now called AMD.
Usually you can only use SLI or CrossFire graphics cards on a motherboard, but MSI have produced a motherboard called Big Bang Fuzion that is supposed to allow the user to mix and match AMD/ATI and nVidia graphics cards.
MSI Big Bang Fuzion: Pulling The Covers Off Of Lucid's Hydra Tech -
Almost all of the current PCs use processors made by AMD or Intel. All of the current Intel processors fit into a socket on the motherboard called Socket LGA775, and all of the latest AMD processors fit into a socket on the motherboard called Socket AM2. Socket LGA775 (Intel) and Socket AM2 and AM2+ (AMD) motherboards use DDR2 and DDR3 RAM memory. Each type of DDR memory DIMM module has a notch placed at a particular unique place along its edge that allows it to be inserted into the memory socket designed to use that type of DDR memory, so you can't install the wrong DDR memory in a DIMM slot on the motherboard, because it will only accept the type that the slot is designed for.
The Socket LGA1366 Intel Core i7 quad-core desktop PC processors, that first became available in November 2008, use DDR3 RAM memory. Socket LGA1366 motherboards have six DIMM slots for memory modules. The new Intel processors have a built-in memory controller (AMD processors have had one for some time that runs memory in dual-channel mode) that runs sets of three memory modules in three-channel mode. A Socket LGA1366 motherboard's user manual shows how to install a single module, two identical modules to run in dual-channel mode, and three or six modules to run in three-channel mode. One set of three modules (or two sets of three modules) have to be be identical.
Motherboards can therefore run either Intel or AMD processors, but not both. The motherboard must have a socket type that matches the make and the model of the processor.
Note that, if you don't know for sure or are unsure, you should always check that a particular motherboard supports a particular make and model of processor by visiting the motherboard manufacturer's website, which should make a user manual for that motherboard available as a download, or provide that information on a web page. A check is also advisable because, for example, an Intel Pentium Extreme Edition processor fits into any Socket LGA775 motherboard, but it requires a motherboard with an Intel 975 motherboard chipset. Motherboard manuals are usually supplied in the PDF format that requires a free PDF reader, such as Foxit, or some other PDF reader.
A PC case that contains all of the components that make up a functioning computer is called a base unit. All of the peripheral devices such as the monitor, keyboard, mouse, printer, external modem, etc., are connected to the base unit.
The PC case must support the form factor of the motherboard, which is still currently the ATX form factor. Therefore, an ATX motherboard fits into an ATX case. The BTX form factor should be replacing the ATX form factor, but the ATX standard lives on, largely because graphics card manufacturer's prefer it. More information on the BTX form factor is provided further down this page. An ATX case accepts both ATX and the smaller micro-ATX motherboards, but only a micro-ATX motherboard will fit into a smaller micro-ATX case.
There are two standard PCI slots in the Socket 939 motherboard shown above - the orange slot and the white slot of the same length next to it on the far top left side of the board. The PCI Express slots are two long x16 slots (the longest slots on the board) for two graphics cards in SLI mode, one yellow x4 slot and two short white x1 slots for other PCI Express devices, such as a sound card, joystick, dial-up modem, etc.
There is no AGP video slot for an AGP video card. The AGP graphics standard preceded the PCI Express standard, and as such won't be found on new motherboards unless as an additional slot provided so that users can still make use of a high-end AGP graphics card.
The slots for DDR SDRAM DIMM modules are the four horizontally aligned blue and teal slots in the bottom right corner of the board. Matching DIMM memory modules of the same type - DDR333, DDR400, etc. - and with the same capacity (e.g., 512MB), installed in the slots of the same colour, work in dual-channel mode. Modules installed singly, or in slots of a different colour, work in the slower single-channel mode. It is not usually possible to have two modules working in dual-channel mode and a single module working in single-channel mode installed at the same time. The motherboard's user manual should explain which DIMM slots support which mode of operation and which memory sizes can be fitted in each slot. A manual is supplied with new motherboards, but a copy in the PDF format is made available from the motherboard manufacturer's site.
Another important consideration when building or upgrading a computer is the type of hard disk drives that a new motherboard supports. The old PATA IDE standard for disk drives has now been replaced by the SATA standards. There is the original SATA standard and SATA 2.0 and SATA 3.0. Internal and external SATA drives run perfectly well using SATA 2.0 but, if SATA 3.0 ports are available on the motherboard, only an SSD drive is capable of using its data transfer speed to the maximum. For this reason, most current motherboards only have a single IDE connector that allows the connection of two IDE drives on a single cable, one of which cold be a CD/DVD drive.
Most current ATX motherboards provide six SATA or SATA II ports, but a micro-ATX motherboard will probably only have two such ports. This limits the kind of RAID implementation that can be used to RAID 0 and RAID 1 implementations, using only two hard drives.
Note that the SATA ports can be controlled by two SATA controller chips on the motherboard. RAID arrays of hard drives are implemented by a single controller. Therefore, if there are two controllers, you can only create a RAID array for each controller. Having six SATA ports doesn't necessarily mean that you can build a RAID array of six hard drives.
Click here! to go directly to the information on using a RAID array of hard disk drives as a back-up solution on the first page of the Disk Drives section of this website. on this site.
The USB/FireWire, parallel, PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports, etc., that appear at the back of the computer's case, are built into the motherboard. You can see a top view of them along the edge of the top right corner of the board.
All of the latest Socket AM2 and Socket AM2+ and Socket AM3 (for AMD processors) and Socket LGA775 and Socket 1366 (for Intel processors) motherboards support 32-bit and 64-bit operating systems and software. To make the best use of 64-bit technology, the system must be running a 64-bit operating system, which requires 64-bit device drivers for all of the devices that are attached to the PC, and it must be using 64-bit applications and utilities. 64-bit versions of Windows XP Professional, Windows Vista and Windows 7 are available. Linux is also capable of running a 64-bit system. There is no 64-bit version of Windows XP Home Edition.
Note that a desktop or laptop PC that is running a 64-bit version of Windows XP/Windows Vista/Windows 7 requires twice as much RAM memory (up to 4GB - the maximum that can be installed in a 32-bit version) as one running a 32-bit version of those versions of Windows.
AMD's new ranges of Socket AM2+ and Socket AM3 desktop processors are now available together with motherboards from the major manufacturers.
If you can run a PC for two or three years before you upgrade it or buy a new one, they are worth buying. But if AMD is your preferred manufacturer and you want to run one of its processors on the fastest platform, with the latest DDR2 RAM memory, you should buy a Socket Socket AM2+ motherboard. AMD's new Phenom II triple- and quad-core processors use DDR3 memory on an Socket AM3 motherboard, but can be run on a Socket AM2+ motherboard that uses DDR2 memory.
AMD's AM2+ and AM3 processors have an on-board memory controller that supports the latest DDR2 RAM and DDR3 memory, respectively.
Socket AM2 - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socket_AM2
Socket AM2+ - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socket_AM2+
Socket AM3 - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socket_AM3
Some motherboards now have LED lights on the board itself showing the status of the components. The main status colours are green if the component is working and red if it is not. The image below is a drawing of an MSI MS-7522 Socket LGA1366 motherboard for Intel's new Core i7 quad-core processors. It shows which components have LED(s). The motherboard's user manual provides the colour codes.
Note that both Intel and AMD now have some of processors that provide an integrated (onboard) graphics chip. PCs with motherboards that provide an integrated graphics chip and which run an Intel or AMD processor with an integrated graphics chip, will have to have the motherboard graphics chip disabled, either via a setting in the BIOS or via the Device Manager in Windows if the same cannot be achieved for the graphics chip integrated into the processor. If both integrated solutions can be disabled, the user can choose with of the two integrated graphics solution to use. The following article deals with the prospects for integrated graphics:
Talking Heads: Motherboard Manager Edition, Q4'10, Part 1 -
"We've already talked to product managers representing the graphics industry. But what about the motherboard folks? We are back with ten more unidentified R&D insiders. The platform-oriented industry weighs in on Intel's, AMD's, and Nvidia's prospects." -
Motherboards that incorporate features that are usually added by adapter cards fitted into their PCI/AGP/PCI Express slots, such as video, sound, and network cards, are becoming more desirable, because, as technology advances, integrated electronics can compete effectively with adapter cards.
For example, with the new PCI Express motherboard bus there is little or no loss in performance if an integrated video chip that shares system RAM is used. Indeed, because of this, inexpensive video cards that use only system RAM instead of their own RAM are now available.
However, if you want to play the latest PC games or use graphic-intensive applications, such as video-editing and computer-aided design (CAD) applications, you would always choose a desktop or laptop PC that has its own dedicated video/graphics card instead of graphics integrated into the motherboard. This is because integrated graphics are still currently inadequate for such tasks. No integrated graphics chip, whether provided by the motherboard or processor, is currently powerful enough to play the latest PC games at high screen resolutions and detailed settings. However, most integrated graphics chips can play 1080p video playback that includes playing the latest Blu-ray movies.
Can Integrated Graphics Cut It For Gaming Or HTPC [Home Theatre PC]? -
"According to market data, integrated chipsets outnumber the number of discrete graphics cards sold each quarter. The obvious reason behind this phenomenon is that systems with graphics integrated into the chipset are less expensive than a separate graphics card. While these integrated platforms may help keep money in your wallet, these systems are generally underpowered compared to ones that have a dedicated graphics card..." -
Click here! to go to information on PCI Express video/graphics cards on this site.
The description of a motherboard that indicates its type is called its form factor.
Since motherboards of the AT form factor are no longer being manufactured, you should only consider buying a computer that contains a motherboard that is of these two form factors: ATX (in standard desktop cases), or the SFF (in mini PC cases). m-ATX stands for micro-ATX, which is an ATX form-factor motherboard that can fit in a standard ATX case but which is smaller than a standard ATX motherboard.
SFF stands for Small Form Factor, and it is used in mini PCs, often called barebones systems, which are dealt with further down in this table.
A new form factor, created by Intel, called BTX, which stands for Balanced Technology Extended, looked set to replace the ATX form factor. However, to date (February, 2011) , it has not been able to make much headway against the ATX form factor, which still reigns supreme.
The design of a BTX motherboard swaps the location of the adapter slots and ports around so that a single heatsink and fan unit keeps the processor and the north bridge chip of the motherboard's chipset cool. This is a necessity as the power requirements of high-end processors and video cards increases. A BTX case has a large fan at its front that sucks air in so that it cools all of the components on a BTX motherboard. This makes BTX PCs run cooler and quieter that standard ATX PCs. The only disadvantage of the design is that there is less space in the case for extra adapter cards and drives. The current downside is the cost. BTX cases and the motherboards are more expansive than their ATX counterparts. The Gigabyte 89115G-YFD is a BTX motherboard, and the Dell Dimension 5000 is a BTX computer given a Best Buy award by Computer Shopper (now called Expert Reviews).
The Gateway FX530XT PC uses a BTX case and motherboard. Images of its components are shown in the following article. The large green duct that keeps the processor and the north bridge chip cool is shown.
Gateway Goes Gaming: FX530XT Review -
In June 2007, AMD announced its own DTX form factor, which is similar to Intel's BTX form factor.
The DTX motherboard design is similar to Intel's BTX design. The main design change from the current ATX form factor is that the processor is positioned in the middle of the motherboard. The processor's heatsink fan takes its air directly from a side panel in the DTX case and is large enough to blow air on to the surrounding components and heatsinks. It was to be used with AMD's dual-core processors, but, as with the BTX standard has not been able to make ground against the dominant ATX standard.
AMD's DTX Form Factor – A new Concept for the HTPC -
"Could the DTX form factor created by AMD be the next evolutionary step, despite the existence of microATX and mini-ITX? In this article, Tom's Hardware looks back on the development form factors have taken over the years and takes a closer look at AMD's DTX concept." -
If you want to read technical information on the different form factors, visit http://www.formfactors.org/.
A tiny mini-ITX motherboard is 170mm square and forms the basis of a fully-featured desktop PC when housed in a suitable case, such as the Antec ISK 300-65, that makes it a little larger but significantly more powerful than a nettop PC, which unlike a nettop can be built to your own specifications. The Zotac H55-ITX WiFi is the first mini-ITX motherboard that supports the new Intel Core i3/i5/i7 processors. It is the ideal motherboard for a self-built low-powered HTPC capable of full 1080p video playback. If you install an i5 or i7 processor and a dedicated graphics card on the single PCI Express x16 slot, you would have a decent mid-range gaming system.
Zotac H55-ITX Review - The World's First mini-ITX H55 Motherboard -
Hands-On With Five Mini-ITX Cases -
"Mini-ITX-based systems are attractive because they generally combine low-power operation and decent performance in a small package. But you need a good case to accommodate the restrictions of compact hardware. Today we try five different Mini-ITX cases." - http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/...
Note that anything measured in Hz or MHz is measuring its frequency, not its speed - the term that is often used instead of frequency. In electronics, when the frequency is increased, the electronically generated wave pulse isn't actually going any faster - it always approaches the speed of light - it is just able to carry more data, because the wave is compressed as the frequency of the wave increases. There are more up and down cycles per metre, so the higher the frequency of a wave, the more data it can carry, in much the same way as compressed print can place more data on a page.
Computers that use SFF (Small Form Factor) and micro-ATX fomr-factor motherboards, customised motherboards and small square cases are often called barebones systems.
Barebones systems are reviewed by Expert Reviews on this page - http://www.expertreviews.co.uk/barebones.
Note that a barebones system is also a term generally used to designate computers (ATX and SFF) that have only the essential components installed, such as a case with a power supply unit and motherboard. You have to buy and install the other components, such as the RAM, processor, hard disk drive and CD/DVD drive, monitor, video and sound cards, etc. You should find out which components are installed and then work out which components you'll have to buy and install before you buy a barebones system. Most of the barebones kits available in the UK only have the motherboard and the power supply installed in the case.
More than meets the Eye - Barebone PC for Quad-Core and Crossfire -
"High performance, small footprint - Shuttle's SX38P2 Pro can house two graphics cards, three hard drives and a four-core processor..." -
Good Looks, Terrible Workmanship - 4 Barebone Cases Compared -
"Tom's Hardware has checked out four current mini-PC cases, all of which were sent to us as "brand new" designs by their respective manufacturers. The models reviewed here all cost about €70, which is a lot of money for a case of this size. After all, these enclosures don't contain any hardware whatsoever. You'll need to buy a motherboard, PSU and all other components separately. By the time you're done, that can add up to a couple of hundred quid." -
Read the Q&A called How can I replace the motherboard in my PC without having to reinstall Windows XP? to find out what the considerations are and how to do it. Apart from the device driver issues, there is also what Windows Product Activation does when a new motherboard is installed.
Click here! to go to the Product Activation page on this website.
The situation with regard to Windows 7 when changing a PC's motherboard is the same as the situation with regard to Windows Vista. Visit the Windows 7 section of this website for the methods of restoring or recovering those versions of Windows.
Note that there is no longer a Recovery Console in Windows Vista and Windows 7. You only have System Restore and Startup Repair, which are dealt with on the following pages of this website.
How to install, repair and recover Windows 7 -
Fix, Recover, Restore and Repair Windows Vista -
Note the best way of restoring any version of Windows is to make a restorable backup or image of the whole system, which should be stored on recordable DVDs or an external hard disk drive. This is the page devoted to backups on this website: http://www.pcbuyerbeware.co.uk/Software-Backups.htm
If you want a quiet desktop computer that uses only a minimal amount of power and that runs so cool that it can be fitted with a passive heatsink (one without a fan), ATX desktop PC motherboards are available that use the processors normally only found in laptop/notebook computers. It is also possible to buy an adapter that fits to particular standard motherboards that allows a mobile notebook processor to be used.
Expert Reviews - Motherboard reviews -
Motherboard reviews - http://www.pcpro.co.uk/reviews/motherboards
Motherboards.org - http://www.motherboards.org/
Tom's Hardware - Motherboards: Articles & Reviews -
The make and model of the motherboard installed in a computer is not identified in the Device Manager and it might also not be possible to identify it by examining it. If you need to know the make and model in order to download a user manual, driver updates, and software patches from its manufacturer's site.
If you want a quick way to identify a PC's processor, motherboard, and RAM, the free CPU-Z from cpuid.com is ideal. It provides plenty of information on those components in Windows XP/Windows Vista/Windows 7. It displays all of the information about the processor that you might need to know, such as its make and model, clock speed, FSB and clock multiplier settings, etc.
The driver updates for a motherboard include the USB Controller, IDE or SATA drive controller, AGP or PCI Express graphics driver if the graphics are provided by the motherboard instead of a separate graphics card, etc. BIOS file updates should also be available.
Another useful source of system information is provided by the System Information utility. In a Windows 9x and in a Windows XP system, this can be accessed via System Tools under Programs => Accessories, or quickly by entering msinfo32 in the Start => Run box. In Windows Vista/Win7, enter msinfo32 in the Start => Search... box, because the Run box is no longer provided by default but can be restored.
The table below shows the motherboard features and specifications that you should know about. Click the headings that appear as blue links to go to information on this site about that particular specification.
(Too many to list)
||Gen2 (1x16, 1x8)||N/A||
Asus A8N-VM CSM-UAYGZ
Asus A8N-SLI Premium
Two SLI video card slots
Two x16 graphics, one x1, and one x4 slots
MSI K8N SLI
Two SLI video card slots
The two video card slots can be used for two ATI cards using CrossFire technology
ATX [Abit went out of business]
Epox 5NVA+ SLI
[Epox went out of business]
Two SLI video card slots
Celeron D, Pentium D (both duel-core), Pentium 4
Click on the make-and-model links to visit the manufacturers sites to download the user manuals for any of their motherboards/mainboards that should contain the full specifications, installation instructions, and settings.
mATX stands for the micro-ATX form factor, which is a small ATX form-factor motherboard that should fit in a standard ATX case. There is more on motherboard and case form factors further down this article.
All current motherboards have USB 2.0 ports and some now have USB 3.0 ports, but not all of them have FireWire ports, which are used for attaching a MiniDV camcorder or external FireWire hard disk drive, so you need to look for this feature if, say, you need it for using that kind of device with your computer.
Note that if FireWire and USB brackets that connect to connection headers (built into the surface area of some motherboards) are used, the bracket (backplate) containing the ports usually has to be installed in an outlet used by a PCI slot. The ports on the bracket are then connected to the headers by cables.
A = onboard audio (sound). Most motherboards provide onboard sound, which can be disabled if you make use of a dedicated internal or external sound card/device. Visit the Sound section of this website for more information on this subject. The motherboard must have a block od 6 (not 3) connectors for all of the sound options to be used at the same time.
V = onboard (integrated) video/graphics chip. Visit the Graphics section of this website for more information on this subject.
AGP = Accelerated Graphics Port. None of the motherboards in the table above has an AGP graphics port, so an AGP graphics card cannot be used with them. This standard has been replaced by the PCI Express standard.
D-sub / DVI = the motherboard has integrated graphics and provides a standard analog D-sub VGA graphics port and/or a digital graphics port that connects the computer to one or more monitors.
Note that SLI motherboards use a chipset made by Nvidia, the developer of SLI dual-graphics-card technology, so the motherboard cannot be used to run two CrossFire compliant graphics cards made by ATI (now called AMD), but you can use two ATI cards connected to two monitors. The cards just won't be able to work together to play a PC game, etc. See the Monitors pages on this site for information on using two monitors from two graphics cards or from a single graphics card that supports dual monitors.
IDE = connector(s) for standard IDE PATA hard drives. All of the motherboards in the table above provide both IDE and SATA connectors. Note that some of the latest motherboards do not provide an IDE connector, but many still provide a legacy IDE port. An IDE hard disk drive can be connected to an SATA connector on a motherboard via an adapter and an SATA drive can also be connected to an IDE connector by using special adapter.
IDE (PATA) to SATA Adapter for IDE Hard Drives -
SATA Hard Drive to IDE (ATA-133/100) UDMA PATA Adapter -
SATA = Serial ATA hard-disk-drive connection, which all new motherboards provide. SATA II is the latest type of SATA. Some motherboards provide an eSATA port for the attachment of and external SATA hard drive or CD/DVD drive. There are three SATA standards - SATA 1, SATA 2/SATA II and SATA 3. SATA 3 and SATA 2 devices can run on an SATA 1 motherboard or adapter-card host controller, which is called backward compatibility. These three standards are also forward-compatible. An SATA 1 drive will run on an SATA 3 controller, etc., but a drive using the earlier standard cannot run at the faster data-transfer speeds of a later version. Currently, only an SSD drive is capable of using the full data transfer speeds provided by the SATA 3.0 standard. Using a standard hard-disk or optical CD/DVD/Blu-ray drive on an SATA 3.0 port won't increase performance compared to using an SATA 2.0 port.
SATA versions and backwards compatibility -
eSATA - (External Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) is an external interface for SATA technologies, used mainly for external hard disk drives and CD/DVD/Blu-ray optical drives, competing with USB and FireWire.
F = FireWire port(s). The motherboard provides a FireWire port from the motherboard itself or from a bracket containing a FireWire port that is connected to a header on the motherboard by a cable.
HDMI - "HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) is a compact audio/video interface for transmitting uncompressed digital data. It represents a digital alternative to consumer analog standards, such as radio frequency (RF) coaxial cable, composite video, S-Video, SCART, component video, D-Terminal, or VGA. HDMI connects digital audio/video sources — such as set-top boxes, upconvert DVD players, HD DVD players, Blu-ray Disc players, personal computers (PCs), video game consoles such as the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 and AV receivers to compatible digital audio devices, computer monitors, and digital televisions. HDMI supports, on a single cable, any TV or PC video format, including standard, enhanced, and high-definition video; up to 8 channels of digital audio; and a Consumer Electronics Control (CEC) connection." - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HDMI
RAID - The motherboard supports using the RAID configurations of hard disk drives. Check the motherboard's user manual for more information.
L = onboard Local Area Network (LAN) connection. None of the motherboards in the table above provides a LAN port, which, if required can be added by installing an adapter card.
S = SCSI hard-disk-drive controller (none of the above boards has one).
ACR = slot for an Advanced Communications Riser card (none of the above motherboards has one). This standard, provided by old motherboards, is no longer in use.
CNR = slot for a Communication Network Riser card (none of the above motherboards has one). This standard, provided by old motherboards, is no longer in use.
Note that most of the latest motherboards have a x16 PCI Express slot for the video/graphics card instead of an AGP slot. In addition to PCI slots, such motherboards usually have at least one x1 PCI Express slot that is used for other adapter cards, such as PCI Express sound cards, network cards, and dial-up modems, etc., that are not available yet (September, 2005). One or more of the larger x4 PCI Express slots used to be provided on most motherboards, but they have mostly disappeared from the latest motherboards, undoubtedly because no devices for the slot are planned.
The image of a MSI KN8 Neo4 Platinum Edition Socket 939 motherboard for AMD Athlon 64 and Athlon 64 FX processors, shows all of the PCI Express slots. Since standard PCI slots are still available on all motherboards, apart from video cards, the device manufacturers have decided not to make the change to PCI Express.
There is information on the PCI Express standard a little further down this page.
Reputable motherboards use the best chipsets. Equivalent to the conductor in an orchestra, these vital components run the show. Without them nothing would work.
The performance of a motherboard and its features are mostly determined by its chipset, which usually consists of two chips - a north bridge and a south bridge.
The new BTX form-factor motherboards are designed so that a single cooling heatsink and fan unit keeps both the processor and the northbridge chip cool, whereas with the current ATX form factor only the processor is covered by the cooling unit.
The north bridge chip of the chipset is often kept cool by a passive (no fan) heatsink, or by a heatsink and fan unit, because it links and has control over the high-speed components - the processor, the video card, the RAM - and also links to the south bridge chip, which links to the north bridge chip and to the slower components - the IDE, SATA and PCI buses, and communications and input devices.
There are hundreds of motherboards available at any one time, but only a relatively small number of chipsets that provide their core functionality.
Different motherboards that use the same chipsets offer similar performance and features, but the difference between chipsets can be quite marked, with those motherboards that offer the best performance and features usually being the most expensive from manufacturers such as Asus, MSI, ECS, Foxconn and Gigabyte.
The manufacturers of motherboards use new chipsets made by chipset manufacturers, such as VIA, Intel, ALi, and SiS, for every motherboard they bring out these days, so I am not going to provide any examples here. If you know the make and model of a motherboard, you can download the user manual from its manufacturer's site. It contains all of the technical information about the motherboard, including information on the chipset.
If you want to know about a particular motherboard, graphics card, sound card, USB, FireWire, or modem chipset, just enter its name in a search engine in order to find the links that should provide you with all of the information you need.
A cache is the part of a processor of a computer designed to reduce the time to access RAM memory because the access speed works at the speed of the processor instead of at the speed of the slower system bus that serves the system memory. The cache stores data that is in the main memory locations that are used most frequently. As long as most memory accesses are cached memory locations, the average latency (delay between data accesses) of memory accesses will be closer to the cache latency than to the slower latency of main RAM memory that is driven by the system bus.
Most modern desktop and server processors have at least three independent caches called Level 1 (L1), Level 2 (L2) and Level 3 (L3) caches. Multilevel caches function by the processor checking the smallest Level 1 (L1) cache for data first. If it is successful, the processor proceeds at its own high speed. If the smaller cache doesn't contain frequently-used data, the next larger cache (L2) is checked, followed by the next larger cache (L3), before the main system memory is checked.
The first cached single-core processors made by Intel and AMD only had L1 and L2 caches. AMD introduced the Level 3 (L3) cache with its early single-core K6-3 processors.
A current (March 2010) AMD Phenom II quad-core processor has up to 6MB on-die unified L3 cache, while a current Intel Core i7 quad-core processor has an 8 MB on-die unified L3 cache that is inclusive, shared by all cores. The advantages of an L3 cache depends on how the program being used makes use of a multi-core processor - that is, whether or not the program has been written to take advantage of a two, three or four-core processor (at the time of writing, Intel had just introduced a 6-core or hexacore processor). If you want performance from a processor, it's best to ignore the number of caches and other features, such as a memory controller and onboard graphics, and just read the reviews of processors that provide comparative benchmark tests.
How Caching Works: http://computer.howstuffworks.com/cache.htm
Is Cache Size Really The Key To Boosting Performance? -
Does Cache Size Really Boost Performance? -
"While cache size only had a limited impact on the synthetic benchmarks such as PCMark05, the performance difference in most real-life benchmarks was significant. This was surprising at first, because experience tells us that performance differences can typically be found in most synthetic benchmarks, while little of it is eventually reflected in real-life benchmarks." -
Visit the AMD or Intel sites to find out what the technical specifications, including the cache sizes, for their current processors are.
Click Processor Sockets for more information on processor sockets on this website.
Before choosing a computer (containing a particular motherboard), or motherboard to purchase you have to determine what kind of system meets your requirements.
Do you need the fastest processing power currently available, special features for specialist computing needs, or value for money?
Once you know the answer to that question, you will be better able to make the necessary technical decision.
The first choice to make is whether to purchase a computer or motherboard that uses a processor made by AMD or Intel - currently the only two manufacturer's of PC processors worth considering.
Information on processor cooling is provided further down this page and on the Processors pages on this site.
You should also know that the many motherboards that run the latest processors from AMD and Intel have power-down or power-off hardware and software solutions that are designed to prevent the destruction of the processor from overheating should its heatsink and fan unit fail.
Most of the major motherboard manufacturers, such as MSI, provide hardware-monitoring software for their motherboards. The utility that MSI currently provides (October 2006) is called PCAlert4.
If the computer's motherboard manufacturer doesn't provide monitoring software with the motherboard or free from its site, there are shareware alternatives such as Hmonitor from hmonitor.net.
Hmonitor (for Windows XP/2000/2003/Vista) provides motherboard and processor temperatures for two processors (for use on a motherboard that can support two processors), the temperatures of three hard disk drives, the processor temperatures for two processors, reports the system voltages, and can report the fan speed, graphics processing unit (GPU) and video RAM temperatures, and the voltages of the system's AGP video card.
"Hardware sensors monitor is another program nobody should be without. This program is one of the best hardware sensor programs that allows you to check the temperature of any component on your computer with a sensor. It also has alarms that can be set when the temperature goes too high and even has built in software cooling."
This page provides links to motherboard monitoring software:
SpeedFan - freeware: http://www.almico.com/speedfan.php
"SpeedFan is a freeware program that monitors fan speeds, temperatures and voltages in computers with hardware monitoring chips. SpeedFan can even access S.M.A.R.T. info for those hard disks that support this feature and show hard disk temperatures too, if supported. SpeedFan can even change the FSB on some motherboards (but this should be considered a bonus feature). At the lowest level, SpeedFan is hardware monitoring software, but its main feature is that it can control the speed of the fans (depending on the capabilities of your sensor chip and your hardware) according to the temperatures inside your pc, thus reducing noise and power consumption."
If your computer runs two or more case fans to keep it cool, they can produce quite a bit of noise. The slower the fans run, the less noise they produce. If your fans don't have speed-control dials on them, it is possible to purchase a fan controller that can slow them down.
Fan Control Pro made by Akasa is a good example of a fan controller. The unit has fan control dials that can control four fans and it plugs into a spare 5 1/4" drive bay. You have to connect the fans to the unit, which also provides thermal monitoring, instead of to the motherboard, or power supply unit. You should also use the hardware-monitoring software that is provided by your motherboard's manufacturer. By reducing the speed of the fans carefully and watching the temperatures, you can maintain adequate cooling with the fans running as slowly and as silently as possible.
Read these two articles if you're interested in finding out how to go about saving power with regard to using computers. The first article starts off by discussing "power requirement differences of idle and load system states, and how to save energy on an existing system by utilizing power saving options and paying attention to certain components." -
The Power Saving Guide -
The Power Saving Guide, Part 2
As you can see from looking at any of the diagnostic charts made available from the following links, there are no photo-illustrations or explanations of basic computer functions. The intended audience is the hobbyist or technician who already has some experience of repairing computers.
If you can understand a particular flowchart, it would be a good idea to print them just in case you can't boot your computer and you need the information.
CPU, RAM, and Motherboard Troubleshooting:
Power Supply Failure: http://www.fonerbooks.com/power.htm
IDE ATA hard disk and CD/DVD drives are most commonly fitted to the primary and secondary IDE connectors provided by ATX motherboards, but Serial ATA (SATA) hard disk drives are now supported by most new motherboards. CD/DVD drives, being much slower to access, don't require a faster standard than IDE ATA, but, no doubt, they will also soon increasingly migrated over to SATA.
For more information on this subject on this site, visit the Disk Drives pages.
There is also information there about how to set the Reset CMOS jumper that is found on most motherboards. In short, you set the jumper to clear or retain the customised CMOS data (BIOS settings).
Motherboard manufacturers can have the jumper set to the clear setting, because the battery is disconnected and therefore won't run down while the motherboard is in storage. The computer will boot, but will use the the default BIOS settings. If that is the case, the jumper has to be reset to connect the battery in order for customised settings to be retained and used whenever the computer boots. This happens because the default settings are hard-coded into the CMOS chip, therefore they can always be recovered, while the customised settings are held in the chip's volatile memory, and will disappear if the battery is disconnected or runs down.
Some new motherboards now have rechargeable batteries that are kept fully charged by the motherboard when the computer is in use.
Clearing the CMOS by using the relevant jumper setting can often fix boot problems.
The latest super-fast processors have to be kept cool to function.
You don't want the protective measures built into the motherboard and BIOS to suddenly kick in while you're using a computer, because the system will shut down, and you'll probably lose anything that wasn't saved to disk in time.
Note well that older motherboards/processors that don't have build-in shutdown protection will probably be destroyed by overheating, so if this is the case with your motherboard, make sure that you check that the heatsink and fan unit over the processor is working properly on a regular basis.
Because of its crucial importance, the Intel Pentium 4/Core 2 Duo and AMD Athlon 64 motherboards all have built-in overheating protection.
You can buy heatsink and fan cooling units that provide superior cooling to the cooling units that come with Intel and AMD boxed, retail processors. Here is a review of such a cooling unit:
Vigor's Monsoon II TEC CPU Cooler -
Keeping Your CPU Going If Your Cooler Fails -
"We took low-cost and high-end processors from both AMD and Intel and put them to the test with regular cooling, as well as in a simulation of a broken CPU fan. In so doing, we discovered that there still are considerable differences between AMD and Intel..." -
Zalman is a manufacturer of quality power supplies and processor (CPU) coolers. You can visit the company's website to get an idea of what is on offer: http://www.zalman.co.kr/.
Water-cooled systems have been available for some time, but it is expensive compared to using the usual heatsink and fan coolers. Here is an illustrated article on how to install a water-cooling system:
A Beginner's Guide For WaterCooling Your PC -
Comparing Water Coolers: We Follow Your Lead -
"Water cooling in the PC is still pretty far removed from the mainstream, but Swiftech aims to change that with an affordable system for CPUs designed to make water cooling more accessible to the power user who wants to get their feet wet (pun intended) with liquid cooling..." - http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/comparing-water-coolers,review-29667.html
And here is an article on hybrid coolers that are mixture of fan and water cooling:
Radical CPU Coolers from CoolIT -
"With its Freezone and Eliminator coolers, CoolIT brings hybrid Peltier/liquid cooling to the masses. How do the two coolers stand up against cooling systems using other methods?" -
For information on heatsink and fan units, and thermal paste and thermal pads, visit the Processors pages on this site.