If you’ve ever taken the case off of a computer, you’ve seen the one piece of equipment that ties everything together the motherboard. A motherboard allows all the parts of your computer to receive power and communicate with one another.
Motherboards have come a long way in the last twenty years. The first motherboards held very few actual components. The first IBM PC motherboard had only a processor and card slots. Users plugged components like floppy drive controllers and memory into the slots.
Today, motherboards typically boast a wide variety of built-in features, and they directly affect a computer’s capabilities and potential for upgrades.
In this article, we’ll look at the general components of a motherboard. Then, we’ll closely examine five points that dramatically affect what a computer can do.
A motherboard (sometimes alternatively known as the mainboard, main circuit board, system board, baseboard, planar board or logic board, or colloquially, a mobo) is the main printed circuit board (PCB) found in general purpose computers and other expandable systems. It holds and allows communication between many of the crucial electronic components of a system, such as the central processing unit (CPU) and memory, and provides connectors for other peripherals. Unlike a backplane, a motherboard usually contains significant sub-systems such as the central processor, the chipset’s input/output and memory controllers, interface connectors, and other components integrated for general purpose use and applications.
Motherboard specifically refers to a PCB with expansion capability and as the name suggests, this board is often referred to as the “mother” of all components attached to it, which often include peripherals, interface cards, and daughtercards: sound cards, video cards, network cards, hard drives, or other forms of persistent storage; TV tuner cards, cards providing extra USB or FireWire slots and a variety of other custom components.
Similarly, the term mainboard is applied to devices with a single board and no additional expansions or capability, such as controlling boards in laser printers, televisions, washing machines, mobile phones and other embedded systems with limited expansion abilities.
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The motherboard serves to connect all of the parts of a computer together. The CPU, memory, hard drives, and other ports and expansion cards all connect to the motherboard directly or via cables.
The motherboard is the piece of computer hardware that can be thought of as the “backbone” of the PC, or more appropriately as the “mother” that holds all the pieces together.
Phones, tablets and other small devices have motherboards, too, but they’re often called logic boards instead. Their components are usually soldered directly onto the board to save space, which means there aren’t expansion slots for upgrades like you see in desktop computers.
The IBM Personal Computer that was released in 1981, is considered to be the very first computer motherboard (it was called a “planar” at the time).
Popular motherboard manufacturers include ASUS, AOpen, Intel, ABIT, MSI, Gigabyte, and Biostar.
Desktop motherboards, cases, and power supplies all come in different sizes called form factors. All three must be compatible to work properly together.
Motherboards vary greatly with respect to the types of components they support. For example, each motherboard supports a single type of CPU and a short list of memory types. Additionally, some video cards, hard drives, and other peripherals may not be compatible. The motherboard manufacturer should provide clear guidance on the compatibility of components.
In laptops and tablets, and increasingly even in desktops, the motherboard often incorporates the functions of the video card and sound card. This helps keep these types of computers small in size. However, it also prevents those built-in components from being upgraded.
Poor cooling mechanisms in place for the motherboard can damage the hardware attached to it. This is why high-performance devices like the CPU and high-end video cards are usually cooled with heat sinks, and integrated sensors are often used to detect the temperature and communicate with the BIOS or operating system to regular the fan speed.
Devices connected to a motherboard often need device drivers manually installed in order to make them work with the operating system. See How to Update Drivers in Windows if you need help.