Function and Importance [Source]
The motherboard is the foundation of the computer, the main printed circuit board (PCB); it serves as the hub for which communication between all parts of the computer is based.
The structure, quality and features present will vary amongst manufacturers but there will be common functional parts that all will share, including slots for a processor, graphics card, RAM and all the various power and data connections required for these.
Above is an example of a motherboard’s layout, this particular model is my own: the ASUS Z170-A.
Labelled are all the items on the board that have been used:
- CPU Fan – controls the CPU cooler.
- CPU Power – supplies power to the processor
- Connections – allows you to connect LAN, USB and any others you require that are present
- CPU Slot – Where the processor is placed
- RAM slots – I’ve identified two, since often boards have four slots – you will need to insert RAM into those designated by the manual, here it’s position 2 and 4.
- Motherboard power – the big cable supplying power to the MOBO
- SATA slots – where you connect your storage drives, preferably into the faster 6GB/s slots – SSDs.
- PCIEx16 Slot – This is where your graphics card is inserted
- Case connections
- Case connections
- Case connections
- USB 3.0 Headers
When deciding what motherboard to go for, and at what price, first decide what features you’re after. Generally the most expensive boards designed for high spec gaming won’t inherently increase performance, there is a marginal difference between boards however the advanced features they possess cater for an enthusiast market.
This can include an increase in the amount of RAM the system can used, basic boards might be able to handle 16GB – some can deal with over 100GB. This can also include stability features for overclocking, more PCIE ports for SLI configurations for graphics cards (more than one, up to four), higher quality onboard sound chips, more data connections (SATA) if you need a lot of storage, and, overall it might simply mean higher quality materials are used for the circuit board.
Also worth mentioning is the fact there exist different sizes of motherboard: full ATX, mini ATX and mini ITX are the three main ones. [Source] I won’t go into too much detail, but as you go down the list, the latter is the smallest – mini ITX builds are for, in most cases, fun projects in portability or for business environments which necessitate the small form factor. For most builds you’ll be using the full ATX size which will typically have more features that the smaller ATX, which are often used simply to adhere to a budget or keep the desktop size a bit smaller.
Another thing to account for is that some motherboards “dislike” USB installation of the OS, it may require some tinkering – not just with the boot priority, make sure if you plan to do it – it specifies it can.
My recommendation is as always, research well! Generally it’s a wise decision to spend at least £50 if you want to be assured of quality, the last thing you want is to skimp on the foundation to your whole build and then have to replace it, which means taking everything out.
I used the ASUS Z170-A in my desktop, it is of very high quality, contains a good sound chip and as a first time builder back then, an informative and easy to read manual. [Source]
My brother used the Gigabyte GA-H97M, it too boasts a good quality and is perfect for the average gaming build, however it’s not a motherboard that would be recommended for heavy overclocking. [Source]
Both these boards have to date performed excellently, they both automatically detected the USB I used for OS installation without changing any settings and provide an easy to navigate BIOS.