In this post we will make a compilation of the keys that every user should know about motherboards. It is not only about knowing the chipset and buying for prices, a motherboard is where all the hardware and peripherals of our computer will be connected. Knowing its different components and knowing how to choose them in each situation will be essential to make a successful purchase.
What are motherboards
A motherboard is the hardware platform on which all the internal components of a computer are connected . It is a complex electrical circuit provided with numerous slots to be able to connect from expansion cards such as a graphics card, to storage units such as SATA hard drives via cable or SSD in M.2 slots.
The most important thing is that the motherboard is the medium or the path through which all the data that circulates in a computer travels from one point to another . Through the PCI Express bus for example, the CPU shares video information with the graphics card. Similarly, through the PCI lanes, the chipset or south bridge sends information from the hard drives to the CPU , and the same thing happens between the CPU and RAM.
The final power of the motherboard will depend on the number of data lines, the number of internal connectors and slots, and the power of the chipset. We will see everything that can be known about them.
Available sizes and their main uses for base plates
In the market we can find a series of motherboard size formats that will determine to a large extent the usefulness and the way of installing them. They will be next.
- ATX : it will be the most common form factor in a desktop PC, in which case the same type ATX or so-called middle tower will be inserted in a chassis. This board measures 305 × 244 mm and as a general rule has a capacity for 7 expansion slots.
- E-ATX – It will be the largest desktop motherboard available, except for some special sizes like XL-ATX. Its measurements are 305 x 330 mm and can have 7 or more expansion slots. Its widespread use corresponds to workstation-oriented or enthusiast-level desktop computers with X399 and X299 chipsets for AMD or Intel. Many of the ATX chassis are compatible with this format , otherwise we would have to go to a full tower chassis.
- Micro-ATX – These boards are smaller than ATX, measuring 244 x 244mm , being completely square. Currently their use is quite limited, since they do not have a great advantage in terms of space optimization due to the existence of smaller formats. There are also specific chassis formats for them, but they will almost always be mounted on ATX chassis, and have space for 4 expansion slots.
- Mini ITX and mini DTX : this format has been displacing the previous one, since it is ideal for mounting small multimedia computers and even gaming. ITX motherboards measure just 170 x 170mm and are the most widespread in their class. They only have one PCIe slot and two DIMM slots , but we shouldn’t underestimate their power, because some of them are amazing. On the DTX side, they measure 203 x 170 mm , a bit longer to accommodate two expansion slots.
We have other special sizes that cannot be considered standardised, for example, the motherboards of laptops or those that mount the new HTPCs. Similarly, we have specific sizes for servers depending on the manufacturer, which cannot normally be purchased by a home user.
Platform of a motherboard and main manufacturers
When we talk about the platform to which a motherboard belongs, we are simply referring to the socket or socket that it has . This is the socket where the CPU is connected, and can be of different types depending on the generation of the processor. The two current platforms are Intel and AMD , which can be divided into desktops, laptops, miniPCs, and workstations.
What is the chipset and which one to choose
After seeing the different sockets that we can find on the motherboard, it is time to talk about the second most important element of a motherboard, which is the chipset . It is also a processor, although less powerful than the central one. Its function is to act as a communications centre between the CPU and the devices or peripherals that will be connected to it . The chipset is basically the South Bridge or Puente Sur today. These devices will be the following:
SATA storage drives
M.2 slots for SSD determined by each manufacturer
USB and other internal or I/O panel ports
The chipset also determines the compatibility with these peripherals and with the CPU itself, since it must establish direct communication with it through the front side bus or FSB through PCIe 3.0 or 4.0 lanes in the case of AMD and by DMI 3.0 bus in the case of AMD. from Intel . Both this and the BIOS also determine the RAM that we can use and its speed, so it is very important to choose the correct one according to our needs.
As was the case with the socket, each of the manufacturers has its own chipset , since it is not the motherboard brands that are responsible for manufacturing them.
BIOS is the acronym for Basic Input/Output System , and they come already installed on all existing motherboards on the market. BIOS is a small piece of firmware that runs before everything else on the board to initialise all installed components and load device drivers and especially boot.
The BIOS is responsible for checking these components, such as the CPU, RAM, hard drives and graphics card before starting , in order to stop the system if there is an error or incompatibility. Similarly, run the boot loader of the operating system that we have installed. This firmware is saved in ROM memory which is also powered by a battery to keep the date parameters up to date.
The UEFI BIOS is the current standard that works on all boards, although it allows backwards compatibility with older components that worked with the traditional Phoenix and American Megatrends BIOS . The advantage is that now it is almost another operating system, much more advanced in its interface, and capable of detecting and controlling hardware and peripherals instantly. A bad BIOS update or some misconfigured parameter can lead to the board malfunctioning , even not booting, so it is an essential firmware.