Motherboards are complicated devices. Let’s take a look at each one individually and illustrate how they function. Choosing a motherboard is a vital part of the PC-building process.
What is the function of a motherboard?
It’s the circuit board that connects all of your hardware to your processor, distributes power from your power supply, and specifies which storage devices, memory modules, and graphics cards (among other expansion cards) will connect to your PC.
We’ll go over motherboard anatomy and send you all the details you need to know about selecting a motherboard for your build.
Anatomy of a Motherboard
A motherboard is the main circuit board of a computer. Though the aesthetics of the motherboard for gaming PC change over time, their basic design makes it simple to attach new expansion cards, hard drives, and memory modules, as well as replace old ones.
Let’s go through some of the words you’ll come across when comparing motherboards.
Socket for Processor
At least one processor socket is normally located on motherboards, allowing your CPU (the mechanical “brain” of your PC) to communicate with other essential components. Memory (RAM), storage, and other devices mounted in expansion slots — both internal and external devices such as GPUs — are examples.
Check your CPU’s documentation before buying a motherboard to make sure it’ll work with your processor. By adjusting the pin array, sockets can support a variety of products based on generation, efficiency, and other factors. (The pin array gives the socket its name: the LGA 1151 socket, for example, has 1,151 pins and is compatible with 9th Gen CPUs.)
Modern Intel motherboards connect CPUs directly to RAM, which it uses to retrieve instructions from various programmes, as well as to some expansion slots that can hold performance-critical components like GPUs and disc drives. The memory controller is located on the CPU, but the chipset, which controls several expansion slots, SATA connections, USB ports, and sound and network functions, communicates with the CPU.
What are processor sockets and how do they work?
The chipset is a silicon backbone that is built into the motherboard and is compatible with specific CPU generations. It serves as a link between the CPU and the various storage and expansion devices that are connected to it.
While the CPU connects directly to RAM (via its built-in memory controller) and a limited number of PCIe* lanes (expansion slots), the chipset serves as a hub that handles the rest of the motherboard’s buses, including additional PCIe lanes, storage devices, external ports such as USB slots, and a range of peripherals.
Higher-end chipsets can have more PCIe slots and USB ports, as well as newer hardware configurations and different PCIe slot allocations than regular chipsets (with more linked directly to the CPU).
Selecting a Chipset
Many features that were once separate components attached to motherboards are now consolidated in modern chipsets. Intel chipsets also have onboard audio, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth®6 technology, and even cryptographic firmware.
High-end chipsets, such as the Z390, can have a number of advantages, including support for overclocking7 and faster bus speeds. However, Intel chipsets provide even more benefits.
PCIe Expansion Slots
PCIe stands for Peripheral Component Interconnect Express, and it’s a high-speed serial expansion bus that’s built into your processor, motherboard chipset, or both. Graphics cards, solid-state drives, network adapters, RAID controller cards, capture cards, and a number of other expansion cards can all be placed in the PCIe slots of a motherboard. Many motherboards have integrated peripherals that connect via PCIe.
Each PCIe connection has a set number of data lanes, which are denoted by the numbers 1, 4, 8, or 16 (often pronounced “by one,” “by four,” etc.). Each lane is made up of two wire pairs, one of which transmits data and the other of which receives it.
A PCIe 1 connection has one data lane and a one bit per cycle transfer rate in current-generation PCIe implementations. A PCIe16 lane has 16 data lanes capable of transferring up to 16 bits per cycle and is usually the longest slot on your motherboard (and often the one used most frequently for a graphics card). Future PCIe versions, on the other hand, would allow for doubling the data rate per clock cycle.
PCIe has approximately doubled the bandwidth of the previous generation with each upgrade, resulting in improved performance for PCIe applications. The potential bidirectional peak bandwidth of a PCIe 2.0 16 link is 16 GB/s, while a PCIe 3.0 16 link is 32 GB/s. When comparing PCIe 3.0 lanes, the 4 link used by many solid-state drives has a theoretical peak bandwidth of 8 GB/s, while the 16 link used by GPUs has four times that.
Another benefit of PCIe is the ability to substitute slots with more lanes for slots with fewer lanes. A 4 expansion card, for example, can be inserted into a 16 slot and function normally. However, the throughput would be the same as if it were in a four-slot configuration; the additional 12 lanes would be idle.
Some motherboards have M.2 and PCIe slots that could use more PCIe lanes than the framework supports. Some motherboards, for example, may have seven PCIe x16 slots with a total of 112 lanes, but the processor and chipset may only have 48 lanes.
PCIe slots often move to a lower bandwidth configuration when all lanes are in service. If two GPUs are mounted in two 16 PCIe slots, for example, the connections may be set to 8 instead of 16 (modern GPUs are unlikely to be bottlenecked by a PCIe 3.0 8 connection). However, some high-end motherboards can use PCIe switches to fan out the physical lanes, preserving the slot lane configurations.
What about expansion slot formats from the past?
RAM modules, which are sticks of volatile memory that temporarily store data for fast retrieval, have slots on motherboards as well. Multiple sticks of high-speed RAM will help PCs run multiple programmes at the same time without stuttering.
Full-size motherboards (such as the ATX form factor) usually have four slots, while mITX boards only have two. HEDT motherboards, on the other hand, such as those for the Intel® CoreTM X-series processor family (as well as server/workstation motherboards based on the Intel® Xeon®9 platform), can have up to eight.
Recent Intel motherboards support dual-channel memory architecture, which means that data is transmitted between the CPU’s memory controller and a DIMM (dual in-line memory modules) RAM stick through two separate channels. As long as RAM sticks are mounted in pairs of matching frequencies, data transfer is quicker and some applications perform better.
The form factor of your motherboard dictates the size of case you’ll need, the number of expansion slots you’ll have, and several other aspects of the motherboard’s layout and cooling. Larger shape factors include more DIMM, full-size PCIe, and M.2 slots for builders to work with.
Desktop motherboard measurements are highly standardized to make it simpler for both customers and manufacturers. Due to the specific size constraints, laptop motherboard form factors often differ by manufacturer. This is also valid for pre-built desktops that are highly specialised.
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