What is a motherboard and how it works

Whether you’re building a PC or buying one, there’s a lot you’re going to need to know about hardware. One component that plays a central role are motherboards. Often referred to as the heart of a computer, the motherboard is an essential piece of hardware that connects and powers various components, allowing them to work together. In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about motherboards, exploring what they do, how they work, their components and upgrades, form factors, and much more.

What does a motherboard do?

The motherboard is a vital bit of kit that acts as the central hub, connecting up all the other hardware components within a computer. It’s a platform for essential components such as the CPU (Central Processing Unit), GPU (Graphics Processing Unit), RAM (Random Access Memory), storage devices and lots of peripherals. The motherboard acts as a bridge that carries data and power between different parts of the computer, meaning smooth operations and powerful performance.

How does a motherboard work?

The motherboard contains lots of pathways called traces. These traces allow electrical signals to travel between different parts of the motherboard, allowing the CPU, RAM, and other hardware to communicate and share data. The motherboard contains a BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) or UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface), which acts as a firmware responsible for kick starting hardware during the boot process and giving you a dashboard where you can adjust system settings.

Where is the motherboard located?

The motherboard is mounted inside the computer case. It lies horizontally at the bottom or vertically along one side of the case, depending on the design of your case. The motherboard is secured to the case using screws and standoffs, so it doesn’t make contact with the metal case – reducing the risk of electrical shorts.

Motherboard components
  • A motherboard is composed of several key components that work together to makes sure your computer functions the way it should. The main components of a motherboard include:
  • CPU Socket: This is where the processor is installed and connects to the motherboard, providing the brainpower for the computer.
  • RAM slots: These slots are the place to put your computer’s memory – which provides temporary storage for data the CPU is actively using.
  • Expansion slots: Whether you want to upgrade your PC’s graphics or sound, these slots allow for additional hardware components like GPUs, sound cards and network card.
  • Storage connectors: The motherboard features connectors such as SATA and M.2. These allow for the attachment of storage devices like hard drives and SSDs.
  • Power connectors: These connectors supply power from the PSU (Power Supply Unit) to the motherboard and its components.
  • BIOS/UEFI chip: This chip stores the firmware that takes care of booting up the computer during start up and giving you a display where you can adjust system settings.
  • CMOS battery: The CMOS battery powers to the BIOS/UEFI chip, keeping system settings where you left them and allowing the real-time clock to run when the computer is powered off.
  • Chipset: The chipset manages the flow of data between the CPU and other components.
Motherboard form factors and types

Motherboards come in various “form factors.” Form factors just refers to the different size, shape, and mounting points of the motherboard. Common form factors include ATX, Micro-ATX, Mini-ITX and Extended ATX (EATX). Each form factor is built with a different type of computer in mind. Often, it’s just to do with how much physical space there is within each case within the case. So, a standard-sized tower home PC will probably have an ATX motherboard – which can offer space for upgraded graphics cards and is the choice of most gamers. Whereas Mini-ITX motherboards are made for much more compact desktop PCs – prioritising space over more memory and extra hardware.

Connecting a motherboard

When building a computer, hooking up the motherboard properly is essential. It involves very carefully inserting the CPU into the designated socket on the motherboard. At this point the motherboard can be inserted into its PC case and secured with screws and stand offs. Next, the RAM modules are put into the right slots on the motherboard, followed by connecting up storage drives and attaching expansion cards to their respective slots. Finally you need to make sure that all power connectors are correctly plugged in before you can power up your PC.

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