What is a motherboard? It is the Key Component to the Making the Best Computer

So when you look at a computer what is a motherboard exactly?  The name serves it well.  Just like a mother in a household, the motherboard is the most important piece when building a computer.  It is the computer part that everything plugs into and interfaces through.  If you're looking to build a computer you will love, take the most time choosing a motherboard.  

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.

motherboardAsus M2N-Sli Deluxe Motherboard

To really know what is a motherboard, you also need to know what it does inside the computer, which will also help you understand why it's so important.  The motherboard does the following for you,
  • It carries power from the power supply to all of your components.
  • Manages the data flow.
  • Carries all information from one part to another.
  • Keeps all your hardware within operating limits, like fan speeds and component temperatures.
  • It can even adjust hardware settings like voltage to avoid component damage.  

What Is A Motherboard, the Connectors

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.

Internal Connectors

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.

External Connectors

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.

Now that you don't need to ask, what is a motherboard, we can look at installing a motherboard from a picture step by step, or as an alternative you can watch the how to install a motherboard video.

Go from What Is A Motherboard to Parts Of A Computer
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Updated October 14 2013

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Internal Computer Components