If you clicked on the link above, you'll also know how to pick one if you're also learning how to build a computer. If you want to do a computer hardware upgrade, you'll also need to know how to identify your motherboard. I'll show you how to do this without opening the case.
Once you've picked out your motherboard, use the computer parts worksheet to find out what all the other parts need to be so they're compatible with your motherboard.
TIP! You could save by spending less money on anything else but nothing will effect system stability or performance more than the motherboard.
Everything on your computer plugs into the mainboard in one way or another, knowing them is important so you when you buy your mainboard, you don't buy more components than it can handle. If you need some help identifying the connections on the motherboard, this motherboard diagram will help.
When looking at any component, it will tell you which connector it needs. Occasionally the interface is hidden in the part number.
PCI - typically the white connector on the board, most often used for connecting components like sound cards, or network cards.
PCIe or PCI Express - common connector for video cards, sometimes used for sounds cards, it is a faster PCI, the two connectors are not interchangeable.
EIDE or IDE - This is a drive connection, either for hard drives blu-ray, or dvd roms, currently just used for the dvd and blu ray roms. You can connect two drives for every connector on the motherboard. The one at the end of the cable is called the master, the one in the middle is called the slave.
SATA or Serial ATA - This is the faster new interface for hard drives and optical drivesSATA, it replaces IDE.
DDR - Often called by many different names DDR2, DDR3, checking the MHz number as well as the DDR number will let you know which RAM it supports.
USB - These days just about anything, from mice to external hard drives connect to these. As long as you have one, you can even buy splitters to get more connections.
Firewire - High end components like fast external hard drives, recording quality external sound cards use these. If you need to transfer large amounts of data outside the computer case this is how to do it.
LAN or Ethernet - Will connect you to a computer network, 10/100 was common for a long time. The current standard is 10/100/1000 or gigabit.
Parallel Port - I've only seen this used to connect printers or home made electronics. Most printers now use USB or even wireless.
eSATA - This is the same as SATA just for external devices using SATA technology.