Motherboard, as the name suggests, is like a heart that pumps life into your computer. Wikipedia calls the motherboard the main printed circuit board (PCB). Several parts vital for your computer’s functioning get attached to the motherboard.
In addition, every aspect of your system gets directly or indirectly connected to the motherboard. They include the CPU, memory, and power supply, among others.
A motherboard goes by several names, quite like the many components it houses. It’s also referred to as a mainboard, system board, logic board, main circuit board, baseboard, and planar board. Not to mention, a motherboard is also referred to as ‘mobo.’
The type of motherboard installed on your system impacts its overall performance and also its expansion capabilities. In this article, we’ll have a look at some of the motherboard’s major components and their role in running your computer.
It performs all calculations inside your PC from basic arithmetical to complex snd logical input/output operations. A CPU controls everything in the computer and is identifiable by the manufacturer and processor type.
The two main components of a CPU include ALU (Arithmetic Logical Unit) and the Control Unit (CU).
A single CPU could have more than one ALU. The ALU is essentially a CPU’s digital circuitry whose primarily responsible for performing all logical and arithmetical operations.
Meanwhile, the Control Unit or CU’s primary job is to control all functions within the CPU. It essentially tells various PC components how to respond to a program or a user.
Currently, there are two leading CPU manufacturers; Intel and AMD. Both have been rivals in the microprocessor industry for over 50 years. Intel Core CPUs and AMD’S Ryzen range more or less deliver a similar performance.
However, AMD Ryzen processors are better suited to multi-tasking. At the same time, Intel Core CPUs are more proficient when it comes to single-core tasks.
Random Access Memory (RAM)
RAM or Random Access Memory acts as a temporary data storage device to improve your CPU’s overall performance.
It temporarily stores data while the central processing unit (CPU) is handling other functions.
More RAM on the computer means the less the CPU has to read data from the external or secondary memory (storage device), allowing the computer to run faster.
RAM is fast, but it’s also volatile, implying that it loses data when the power gets turned off.
Therefore, it is essential to save data to the storage device before you turn off the computer.
A RAM allows data to be read or written in nearly the same amount of time, irrespective of the data’s physical location.
Compared to storage devices like hard drives, CD/DVD, and magnetic tapes, RAM can access data much faster for reading and writing.
Unlike hard disks and USB drives, RAM needs a power source to retain data.
Hence, in simple terms, RAM can be described as short-term memory, as data stored in RAM gets deleted as soon as you shut down your PC, much like short-term memory.
BIOS, short for Basic Input/Output System, is a ROM chip on the motherboard primarily responsible for hardware initialization during the booting process.
It’s like a program that acts as an intermediary between the operating system and hardware.
Also known as device drivers, BIOS controls everything on your PC from the keyboard to the display, disk drives, along with other miscellaneous functions.
In short, BIOS is much like a software program that activates itself as soon as you turn on the system to prep its hardware components.
Northbridge and Southbridge happen to be two main chipsets on the motherboard. Both control the flow of data to and from a PC’s key components such as the CPU, the main memory, and more.
The Northbridge, called a memory controller, is primarily tasked with controlling transfers between the CPU and RAM. It’s also called GMCH (Graphic and Memory Controller Hub) and could be found near the CPU on older mainboard, today all northbridge functions have been moved to the CPUs.
On the other hand, SouthBridge (also called the input/output controller or expansion controller) takes care of communications among slower peripherals. Besides, it’s also commonly referred to as the ICH (I/O Controller Hub). Today they are part of the Mainboards Chipset Intel calls them Platform Controller Hub while AMD calls simply call them chipsets.
Both work in tandem and handle communications between the CPU and other motherboard components.
PCI Express stands for Peripheral Component Interconnect Express. It’s an essential component of the motherboard that lets you insert expansion cards into your system.
These include crucial hardware components like graphics cards, SSDs, sound cards, RAID cards, and more. PCI slots allow you to expand your PC’s capabilities by adding components you don’t have without replacing the motherboard.
For instance, if you feel short on USB ports in your computer and want more, you can use PCI slots to connect the USB expansion card and get more USB ports in your system.
Generally, PCI slots are offered on most desktop PCs and not on laptops because of their compact size and space.
CMOS is an acronym for Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor.
CMOS stores a wide gamut of system information like current system clock, date, time, pulses, mostly used hardware settings, BIOS configuration settings, BOOT sequences, BIOS master/admin password, GPU, and virtualization settings, power management, and more.
In addition, a CMOS battery essentially prevents reconfiguration when you turn on your computer. Therefore, CMOS devices need very little power to run and store basic information about the PC’s configuration.
Serial ATA, SATA, or S-ATA, short for serial advanced technology attachment, is a bus interface used to connect host bus adapters (disk drive controllers) with mass storage devices like optical drives and hard drives.
SATA3 is the most current technology but it slowly getting superseded with M2 that use PCI Express for communication since they allow much more bandwidth.
SATA 3 is limited to 6 GB/s as in giga bits not bytes, there for the theoretical maximum speed SATA3 drives can use is around 600MB/s. This wasn’t much of an issue since spinning hard drives never really got close because of the way they sequentially read data but with the advent of SSDs the need for a faster way to transfer data became apparent.
In most cases your hard drive will be connected to your SATA port or your slower SATA 3 SSDs in 2.5″ enclosures.
This is where the M2 slots come in. SSDs tend to be really small, they only occupy part of a standard 2.5″ enclosure. So a form factor and connection was designed to make use of this, M2 slots are usually used by Laptops but they’re more and more finding their way into desktop PCs are the M2 factor can handle both SATA 3 as well as PCI Express.
M2 slots come in two varieties.
PCIe Gen 3.0 NVMe M.2 SSD: 3500MB/s Sqq. reads – 3300MB/s Seq. writes – available mid-2018
PCIe Gen 4.0 NVMe m.2 SSD: 7000MB/s Seq. reads – 5000MB/s Seq. writes – available mid-2020
PCIe is only really limited by how many lanes your CPU can use, but in almost all day to day use cases you will never even get to PCI3 3.0 speeds.
Power Supply Connector
As the name implies, a power supply churns out the required electrical power to the motherboard and its attached components and peripherals.
Modern PCs get an ATX power supply which includes a 24 Pin(20 + 4) main power supply connector. In contrast, older Pcs only have a 20 pin connector.
The CPU usually gets separate power from the motherboard by way of a 6 pin or 8 pin power connector from the PSU.
The power supply converts the standard 110-Volt or 220-Volt AC (Alternative Current) power to DC (Direct Current) energy of 12 Volt, 5 Volt, 3.3 Volt, etc.
Jumpers are primarily used to configure or set up circuit boards like the motherboard. It allows the computer to close an electrical circuit so electricity can flow on a circuit board and perform a function.
Jumpers consist of small protruding pins on the motherboard connected through a jumper cap or bridge.
Jumper caps are used to close an electrical circuit and consist of a plastic plug that fits over the pins.
They were often used to manually configure computer peripherals such as motherboards, hard drives, modems, sound cards, and more but fell out of use. For instance, you could set a jumpers to enable or disable intrusion detection if your motherboard supports the feature.
Today Jumpers have fallen out use except for the case connections.
As the LEDs on your case require a simple on and off signal nobody really bothered to make an industry wide new design so the jumpers are still used most physical switches you will find on your computers case such as the Power Button, Reset Button, HDD/SSD Indicator, Power or Standby LED indicators etc…
Heatsink essentially helps keep your PC’s temperature in check. It protects its key components such as CPU and GPU from getting overheated.
On the motherboard, the heatsink helps dissipate heat away from the device. In addition, it keeps a check on the heat generated by its components.
Some heatsinks have a fan on top to cool down their temperature, known as Air coolant heatsink.
There’s also a liquid coolant heatsink that uses fluid or gel to help dissipate heat generated by motherboard components. Liquid cooling is ideal for high-end gaming computers, as well as for servers and data centers.
Martha Davis is a computer hardware specialist who works extensively in designing and manufacturing hardware devices, researching advanced computer technology. She built GadgetGangster.com as a platform to share her insight on computers and PC assembly with the web. Currently, she is carrying out her research on Robotics and Computer Vision and working privately to deliver services. Martha makes sure that readers of GadgetGangster.com master the basics of setting up computer components like motherboard, CPUs, and GPUs through the informative articles that she writes.