Making the right motherboard choice is essential to designing a gaming PC.
What is the motherboard’s function?
Connects all your gear to your CPU, distributes electrical current from a power supply, and specifies storage devices, memory modules, and graphics cards (among other expansion cards) that may be connected to your PC through a motherboard.
In this section, we’ll go through motherboard anatomy and offer you the knowledge you need to know how to pick a motherboard for your build.
Anatomy of a Motherboard
The main circuit board of a computer is known as the motherboard. Expansion cards, hard drives, and memory modules may be easily connected and replaced, even if the motherboard’s aesthetics alter over time.
Some words you’ll come across while comparing motherboards are listed below.
Socket for the CPU
Motherboards typically include at least one processor socket, allowing your CPU (the PC’s mechanical “brain”) and other vital components to connect. Other members put in expansion slots, including memory (RAM), storage, and peripherals, are also included.
Check your CPU’s documentation before buying a motherboard to ensure it’s compatible. By varying the pin array, sockets may accommodate a wide range of goods, from the most basic to the most advanced. In the LGA 1151 socket, which is compatible with 9th Gen CPUs, there are 1,151 pins.
Some expansion slots on modern Intel motherboards may store performance-critical components like GPUs and storage drives. The CPUs are directly connected to the RAM from which the instructions for various applications are fetched. The CPU is home to the memory controller. Still, the chipset handles several expansion slots, SATA connections, USB ports, sound, and networks, where many other devices interface with the CPU.
The chipset is a silicon backbone incorporated into the motherboard that is compatible with specified versions of processors. This device handles communication between the CPU and the various storage and expansion devices.
More PCIe slots and USB ports, as well as newer hardware configurations and alternative PCIe slot allocations, may be found in higher-end chipsets (with more linked directly to the CPU).
Deciding on a Chipset
Modern chipsets integrate several functionalities that were previously tied to motherboards into a single unit. Intel chipsets now include onboard audio, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cryptographic software.
Overclocking support and faster bus speeds are two of the numerous advantages that high-end chipsets like the Z390 may provide. However, newer Intel chipsets offer even more enhancements.
Only 20 PCIe lanes are supported.
Support for as many as four different USB 3.1 Gen 2 devices
No support for overclocking
Only 20 PCIe lanes are supported.
only USB 3.0 ports
Thanks to these distinct solutions, you may get into the 300-series chipset’s advantages at some pricing points.
Slots for Additional Features
High-speed serial expansion buses, such as PCIe, are built into the CPU or the motherboard’s chipset. This method may install graphics cards, solid state drives, network adapters, RAID controller cards, and capture cards into the PCIe slots on a motherboard. PCIe is also used to connect the motherboard’s built-in peripherals.
PCIe links have a certain number of data lanes, referred to by abbreviations 1, 4, 8, or 16. There are two cables on each route, one for transmission and the other for reception.
A PCIe 1 connection has one data channel and transfers one bit every cycle with current-generation PCIe implementations. A PCIe16 lane contains 16 data lanes with a transmission rate of up to 16 bits per cycle, making it the most extended slot on a motherboard (and the most often used for a graphics card). Nevertheless, future PCIe revisions may double the data throughput every clock cycle.
There has been an increase in bandwidth in each iteration of PCIe, which implies that PCIe devices will perform better. The max bandwidth for a PCIe 2.0 connection is 16 GB/s, whereas the PCIe 3.0 link may reach 32 GB/s. Many solid-state drives utilize the 4 link, which has a max theoretical capacity of 8 GB/s, but the 16 link used by GPUs provides four times as much bandwidth.
As an alternative to slots with fewer lanes, PCIe allows using spaces with additional lanes. For example, a 4 expansion card may be used in the same length as a 16 expansion card. As a result, its throughput is identical to that of a 4-slot device since the extra 12 lanes are not utilized.
For example, motherboards with M.2 and PCIe slots might use more PCIe lanes. PCIe lanes may utilize 112 routes on a motherboard with seven x16 places. However, the CPU and chipset may only have 48 lanes.
PCIe slots often reduce bandwidth if all of their lanes are in use. If two 16 PCIe slots are used to install two GPUs, the connections may operate at eight instead of 16 (current GPUs are unlikely to be bottlenecked by a PCIe 3.0 8 connection). Nevertheless, the slot lane layouts may be preserved on certain high-end motherboards using PCIe switches that fan out the physical lanes.
The Z-series of enthusiast motherboards offers more PCIe lanes and additional options for PC builders.
U.2 and M.2 several
Compatibility with a particular motherboard socket is determined by an M.2 device’s “key” (the arrangement of gold contacts at the end). The most prevalent M.2 cards employ four PCIe low-latency data lanes or the older SATA bus.
The compact size of M.2 cards makes it simple to add more storage or system functionality to a minor system. Traditional SATA-based devices need a separate connection to connect to the motherboard, which is not required with these devices.
To link 2.5″ or 3.5″ hard drives, solid-state drives, and optical drives that play DVDs and Blu-ray discs, SATA (Serial ATA) is an older computer bus that is less widely used nowadays.
The standard SATA 3.0 interface enables data transfer rates of up to 6Gbit/s. However, it is slower than PCIe. Two PCIe lanes are used in the newer SATA Express (or SATAe) standard to achieve speeds of up to 16Gbit/s. External SATA (eSATA) is not to be confused with the external connector that permits the convenient connection of (compliant) portable hard drives.
Module slots on motherboards allow you to insert RAM sticks and small pieces of flash memory that may be accessed quickly.
A standard ATX motherboard has four slots. However, a smaller form factor like mITX has only two. Up to eight may be found on HEDT motherboards, such as those for the Intel® CoreTM X series of processors (and server/workstation motherboards based on the Intel® Xeon® platform).
Dual-channel memory architecture means two separate channels transport data between the CPU’s memory controller and a stick of DIMM (dual in-line memory modules) RAM.
This is referred to as the “Form Factor.”
In addition to determining the size of your computer case, the motherboard’s form factor dictates how many expansion slots you’ll have to deal with and how the motherboard’s layout and cooling are organized. More DIMM, full-size PCIe, and M.2 slots are available in more prominent form factors.
For the benefit of both users and manufacturers, the dimensions of desktop motherboards are pretty consistent. Due to laptop motherboards’ particular space limits, manufacturers often use different form factors for these components. Pre-built desktops might also fall into this category.
Form factors for desktop motherboards include the following:
Standard for full-size motherboards: ATX (12″ x 9.6″). Seven expansion slots spaced 0.7″ apart and four DIMM (memory) slots are typical characteristics of a consumer ATX motherboard.
A bigger version of the ATX form factor, eATX (12″ x 13″), is aimed at enthusiast and professional usage and offers more excellent space for more flexible component combinations.
The Mini-ITX motherboard (6.7″ x 6.7″) is the ideal solution for tiny PCs that don’t need fan cooling. One full-size PCIe slot and two DIMM slots are commonly provided.
You need to know the basics of BIOS.
The BIOS, or Basic Input/Output System, is the first thing you see when your computer boots up. This firmware tests all connected hardware, which loads before your operating system.
Users and motherboard labels commonly refer to the firmware on newer motherboards as the BIOS. However, it is generally UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface). Improved user-friendliness features include:
- More significant storage partitions.
- Faster boot times.
- An updated graphical user interface (GUI) (graphical user interface).
UEFI tools, commonly included by motherboard makers, make it easier to overclock the CPU or RAM of a PC and provide preconfigured settings. Other enhancements include a more attractive design, the ability to record and take screenshots, boot from a different disk, and display information such as memory use, temperature, and fan speed.
UEFI also supports the earlier BIOS functionalities. Users may boot into Legacy mode as a workaround for incompatibilities with earlier operating systems or utilities (also known as CSM or Compatibility Support Module). However, customers who choose to boot in Legacy mode will be unable to use UEFI’s more current features, such as the ability to create partitions larger than 2TB.
Connectors inside the body
Cables from the power supply and casing must be inserted into motherboard connectors and headers (exposed pins) to power up the whole motherboard. To ensure that each cable is connected to the correct connection, look to your manual’s visual reference and the tiny text silkscreened onto your motherboard (such as CPU FAN).
Connectors for Power and Data
24-pin auxiliary power socket
CPU power connection, either 8- or 4-pin 12V
connections for SATA Express and SATA 3
M.2 interface connections
Pins for the power button, reset button, hard drive LED, power LED, internal speaker, and casing features make up the front-panel header.
Headphone and speaker ports are powered via the front panel audio header.
CPU, system, and water cooling fan and pump headers
USB 2.0, 3.0, and 3.1 headers. ‘
S/PDIF (digital audio), or “header”
strips of RGB
The I/O controller on your motherboard serves as the central hub for all of the external devices connected to it. Connectors on consumer motherboards link the CPU’s built-in graphics to a monitor, peripherals like a keyboard and mouse, audio devices, Ethernet cables, and more. USB 3.1 Gen 2 and other upgrades of these ports allow for faster speeds.
The “I/O shield” that shields the motherboard’s external ports is generally made of metal, which is why it is grounded by contact with the metal casing.
Data Transfer and Peripheral Devices.
One of the most common ports on computers and mobile devices is the USB port. At rates of up to 20 GBit/s via USB 3.2, it offers both power and data.
This port is a high-speed ThunderboltTM 3 port with a USB-C connection.
In addition to supporting DisplayPort 1.2 and USB 3.1, ThunderboltTM 3 technology can carry data at up to 40 gigabits per second. Multiple DisplayPort-compatible displays may be “daisy-chained” and driven by the same PC thanks to DisplayPort capability.
It’s a six-pin connector that connects to a keyboard or mouse, and it’s been around for a long time.
The onboard graphics solution on your motherboard is connected to these display ports; a graphics card placed in one of your expansion slots will give you its display port possibilities.
As of the HDMI 2.1 generation, the HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) can provide resolutions up to 8K at 30Hz.
DisplayPort 1.4 allows for displays with a maximum resolution of 8K and a refresh rate of 60 Hz. DisplayPort compatibility is more widespread on graphics cards than motherboards. However, many motherboards include Thunderbolt 3 ports that may be used to connect to DisplayPort displays.
As of 1999, the DVI (Digital Video Interface) is a 29-pin connector that may be used for either single-link or dual-link DVI. A resolution of 2560 x 1600 at 60Hz is supported with Dual-link. An adapter is all that is needed to connect to VGA.
The analog 15-pin connector supports resolutions up to 2048 x 1536 at an 85 Hz frame rate; VGA (Video Graphics Array). This old-school port may still be seen on motherboards from time to time. The better the resolution or, the shorter the connection, the more likely it is to experience signal deterioration.
Headphones (headphone out) and a microphone (microphone in) are often found on the front of a computer casing (mic in).
Connecting a multichannel speaker system to the motherboard’s back panel requires a bank of six color-coded typically and labeled 3.5mm analog audio connectors.
For digital speakers, home theater receivers, and other audio devices that use S/PDIF (Sony/Philips Digital Interface), your motherboard may include a S/PDIF (Sony/Philips Digital Interface) connection. This might be a valuable alternative if your device doesn’t enable audio transmission over HDMI.
A PCB is what?
Many motherboard marketing and manuals allude to the PCB assembly processes used by various manufacturers. Thus, it is helpful to grasp a few actual words.
Other components are installed on or socketed into layers of fiberglass and copper on a modern motherboard.
Modern PCBs usually have roughly ten layers, making them far more tightly linked than they look on the surface.
The visible lines on the board’s surface, known as “traces,” are a unique electrical connection. You can’t use your computer correctly if one of these traces is broken. The PCIe slot may no longer power the inserted expansion card if a trace connecting from a PCIe connection to the PCH is severely damaged.
Producers apply a conventional green polymer coating that acts as an oxidation barrier to protect the solder mask. Because of this, slight scratches or bumps during motherboard installation won’t interfere with signals.
What Else Do the Manufacturers Throw-In?
Manufacturers of motherboards do not build their chipsets, but they make several choices on manufacturing, aesthetics, layout, as well as the cooling, BIOS features, and Windows motherboard software. While it’s impossible to explore all of these qualities in-depth, there are a few main categories that they come under.
High-end motherboards generally include automatic testing and tweaking for overclocking your CPU, GPU, and RAM as an easy-to-use alternative to manually adjusting frequency and voltage values in the UEFI environment. An integrated clock generator to fine-tune CPU speed, a better VRM (Voltage Regulator Module), more heat sensors near overclocked components, and even physical buttons on the motherboard to start and stop overclocking are all possibilities. Learn more about PC overclocking here.
The heat generated by motherboard components like the PCH and VRM is substantial. Motherboard makers add some cooling techniques to maintain them at acceptable operating temperatures and avoid performance throttling. Heat sinks may offer passive cooling, while modest fans or water cooling can be used for more active cooling.
What’s the difference between an active and passive cooling method?
It is easy to maintain your motherboard with the help of software packages for motherboards. In addition to checking for out-of-date drivers and securely updating the motherboard BIOS, some manufacturers’ software also scans for out-of-date drivers, tracks network activity, and offers more comprehensive power-saving settings than Windows 10.
Red, Green, and Blue LED Lighting
LED lights with programmable colors and effects may be powered via RGB headers found on high-end motherboards. A single-color LED strip is powered by non-addressable RGB headers (with varying intensities and products). Many different colors may be shown simultaneously, thanks to the addressable RGB headers. LEDs may often be easily configured using pre-installed software or smartphone applications.
Make a Decision
Understanding the components of your gaming motherboard is essential, whether you’re planning a new build or updating an existing PC. Choosing a gaming motherboard will be easier if you understand what each component accomplishes.
To get the most out of your gear, you’ll want a socket that supports your CPU, a chipset that makes the most of that hardware’s capability, and a feature set tailored to your specific computing requirements. It’s always a good idea to list down many different compatible motherboards and weigh the pros and cons of each one before making a final pick.