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What Is A Motherboard?

In this post I go over what a motherboard is, the origins of the motherboard, the different types of motherboards, and how to choose the correct motherboard.

What is a Motherboard?

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What is a motherboard?

The motherboard in modern computers is a circuit board that all components of the computer connects to. Motherboards are also often referred to as logic boards or mainboards. The job of the motherboard is to literally connect all of the computer’s components, and to be the physical medium for the electricity and data that gets distributed to all of the components. Modern motherboards allow computer components to be plugged in and removed easily so that it’s simple to customize, upgrade, or replace parts. Motherboards also come in several shapes and sizes in order to ensure that they can fit in different cases. Motherboards literally bring everything together.

History of the Motherboard

The history of the motherboard goes all the way back to 1981 at IBM. The first version of the motherboard was called the Planar Breadboard, which served as the prototype for IBM’s AT (advanced technology) design pattern in 1984 (and no I’m not talking about George Orwell’s novel.), which brought about a more component-based approach to computers. This really paved the way for the personal computer. In 1986, one of the most renowned Motherboard manufacturers, Gigabyte, was formed. 3 years later ASUS formed, which we know today to be the largest Motherboard manufacturer in the world. In 1995, Intel introduced the ATX form factor. This, and variations of it, are the form factor that the majority of modern motherboards are based off of today. The Micro-ATX form factor was invented in 1998, allowing for motherboards to be produced at nearly half the size of standard ATX boards. Most recently, VIA TEchnologies came out with the Mobile ITX motherboard in 2009, the world’s smallest x86 compatible motherboard to date at a mere 60x60 mm.

Types of Motherboards

There are so many different form factors for motherboards. I’ll name them all as quickly as possible: WTX, AT, Baby-AT, BTX, ATX, EASTX, LPX, microBTX, NLX, UltraATX, microATX, DTX, FlexATX. Mini-DTX, EBX, microATX, Mini-ITX, EPIC, Mini-ATX, ESM, Nano-ITX, COM Express, ESMexpress, ETX or XTX, Pico-ITX, PC/104, ES-Mini, Q-Seven, mobile-ITX, CoreExpress, and probably more. But if you are talking about a standard modern PC for home use, it will more than likely be ATX or some variation of it, although you may see some ITX boards today. There’s also the BTX board which was Intel’s attempt to replace the ATX standard..which..didn’t go too well. Sticking with ATX for discussion we have, in order from largest to smallest, ATX, Micro-ATX, and Mini-ATX.

Choosing a Motherboard

So which motherboard should you choose? There are several factors that go into making that decision. How big do you want your case to be? Is your graphics card or heat sink going to be huge? If so, you may need a bigger case. One thing to always remember is that each form factor has a particular screw-hole pattern that must match the PC case you have. Often times it is easy to find in the case’s documentation which form factors it is compatible with. More often than not modern cases meant for custom PC builds will support both ATX and Micro-ATX motherboards. I wouldn’t recommend a mini-ATX unless you’re trying to build small. I personally use a micro-ATX motherboard, but the most important thing to remember when picking a motherboard is you must make sure that whichever CPU you choose must be compatible with the motherboard you choose. Motherboards have a pin layout for it’s CPU socket, for example if you purchase a CPU with an LGA layout, but your Motherboard has a PGA layout, it is not going to work, and the sockets vary by CPU generation and model.

Picking out compatible parts for a custom PC is an in-depth process and requires research and/or help from a professional. Tom’s Guide has a good custom PC purchasing guide.

References:

HIstory of motherboard visual.ly

History of motherboard knoji

Custom PC Guide