What is a motherboard?

A motherboard is the printed circuit board that holds your computer components in one place.

While it goes by many names like mainboard, system board, and sometimes lovingly, mobo, motherboard is the most common term for the printed circuit board that holds all your computer components in one place like a Lego baseplate. In addition to holding them, your motherboard allows your components to communicate and gives them life by routing power from the Power Supply Unit (PSU). Some motherboards also add value with onboard audio, video, WiFi, LAN, and other features.  

What is the main function of the motherboard?

Your motherboard’s primary function is to support all the components that form your computer. If you’re comparing it to the human body, the motherboard is like the backbone, nervous system, and circulatory system all-in-one. It physically supports different components like a backbone, acts as a control center like a nervous system, and moves voltage like a circulatory system. For a geekier analogy, the motherboard is like the black lion from Voltron, serving as the torso that brings all the other parts together.

Why is it called a motherboard?

It’s called a motherboard because it’s the main circuit board. Much like the term “mothership," the word motherboard signifies its essential nature. Additional circuit boards can be plugged into a motherboard, and these are known as “daughterboards.”

What components connect to a motherboard?

  • CPU (Central Processing Unit): The CPU processes instructions from software and communicates with other parts like the GPU. It's the star component on the motherboard.
  • RAM (Random Access Memory): A computer’s memory is a temporary space that holds data for faster access.
  • Sound cards: While most modern motherboards have onboard sound, some audiophiles prefer to install sound cards for better quality and more sound channels.  
  • Graphics card: A modern graphics card is a complex piece of hardware that hosts the GPU. It’s responsible for rendering graphics from games and videos from films.
  • Storage drives: A computer’s hard disk drive (HDD) and solid-state drive fit inside the case and connect to the motherboard. You can read up on the HDD vs SSD debate to see which one is right for you.
  • Optical drives: While optical drives have gone out of fashion in the age of high-speed Internet, many computer users still use CD, DVD, or Blu-Ray drives.

How many ports does a motherboard have?

The number of ports, connectors, and slots on a motherboard depends on its make and model. Although there is no standard number, most basic motherboards have at least two connectors, four USB ports, and a couple of expansion slots. You can check your motherboard’s manual for more information.

How does a motherboard hold components?

A motherboard has sockets for components like processors, memory sticks, and expansion cards. Other devices like hard drives connect to a motherboard but usually fit in the computer case. Only compatible components will fit on a motherboard. For example, an Intel processor won't fit on a motherboard designed for AMD CPUs. Additionally, a motherboard will only support a specific range of processors.

What is the motherboard on a laptop?

Laptop motherboards are just like their desktop counterparts but typically smaller and thinner. Besides notebooks, mobile devices like phones and tablets also have motherboards that hold their processors and memory. These motherboards are prone to damage from falls, so it's critical to handle them carefully.

How does a motherboard affect computer performance?

People who use computers for basic applications like browsing the Internet or writing emails won't notice a significant difference between low-end and high-end motherboards that support the same components. But premium motherboards offer significant features for enthusiasts:

  • Sophisticated overclocking tools that help CPUs gain higher clock speeds
  • Better build quality that results in greater longevity for the computer
  • Multiple expansion slots for advanced hardware
  • Cutting edge onboard WiFi and LAN support for fast Internet connectivity
  • Advanced audio ports for top sound reproduction
  • Video ports with the latest DisplayPort and HDMI options
  • Memory support for the fastest RAM
  • Numerous rear and front USBs for convenient access
  • 5G capabilities

What motherboard do I have?

  1. Press the Windows + R on your keyboard to open the Run window.
  2. Type msinfo32.
  3. Press Enter.
  4. You’ll see your motherboard manufacturer’s name next to BaseBoard Manufacturer.
  5. You’ll see your motherboard’s model name next to BaseBoard Product.

What to look for in a motherboard

  • Size: Motherboards come in different form factors like ATX, Micro-ATX, and mini-ITX. Pick the right size for your computer case.
  • Chipset: Whether Intel or AMD makes your CPU, you'll need a motherboard compatible with your processor’s chipset and socket.
  • Overclocking: You don’t need to spend extra money on a motherboard with overclocking capabilities if you're happy with stock clock performance. But find a good motherboard for tweaking if you want to squeeze more speed out of your processor.
  • Expansion slots: Look for a motherboard with multiple expansion slots if you plan to install graphics cards, sound cards, LAN cards, and SSD cards.

What is TPM 2.0 on motherboards?

TPM (Trusted Platform Module) is a tamper-resistant technology that creates and stores cryptographic keys for encryption. Microsoft requires computers to have TPM 2.0 for Windows 11 security to fight against ransomware attacks and firmware hacks. Thankfully, most modern motherboards have TPM 2.0 and can support Windows 11. 

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