The parts of the motherboard are crucial to understanding if you’re planning to work with technology any time soon. Whether you’re planning on building your PC from scratch or just want an in-depth understanding of what a motherboard is made up of, we’re here to help!
From circuit boards to read-only memory slots and everything in between, stick around as we dissect the various motherboard components into easily digestible sections that will make you an expert in no time.
Before we cover the major components, let’s first discuss what motherboards are and what they do. Read on!
What are Motherboards?
To give its technical name, a motherboard is known as the main printed circuit board (PCB) of the PC. You can also call it the system board, printed wired board, or mainboard but it’s often shortened to motherboard or mobo.
Motherboards play a vital part in making your electronic device run. They’re the spinal cord of the entire device, connecting all the components in one logic board. The tools your device uses to process information, the data stored in your device, and the various connectors that allow components to communicate all come together here.
Let’s dive deeper to discover what components your motherboard is made of!
Components of a Motherboard
The motherboard is a complicated component of any computer system, compromising of 10 main parts that make up the circuit board. There are more components, such as the northbridge/southbridge, I/O port, and various other ports and slots but we’ll be taking a look at the most important features.
So from serial advanced technology attachment to the power supply, let’s start with our list of the 10 most important parts of the motherboard and what they do. If you’re building a workstation, then you’ll want to read on.
Central Processing Unit
If the motherboard is the spinal cord of the entire system, then the central processing unit, or CPU, is the working brain of your device.
Everything that you need to control your computer system has to go through the central processing unit first. When you input an action into your device, it’s the CPU that begins the process of fetching, decoding, and executing the processes to complete it!
Similarly, the important logical and mathematical portions of your operating system are also tackled by the CPU. When it comes to the main printed circuit board, the central processing unit is by far one of the most important components.
Random Access Memory Slots
Next up is Random Access Memory, more often referred to as RAM. When you’re actively working on your device, the speed with which various applications open and reopen are thanks to them being stored in the RAM.
This temporary storage allows you to efficiently move from recent application to another without having to wait each time for it to boot up once more. RAM slots are the places where RAM can be inserted, and motherboards usually have more places for you to add additional RAM slots.
RAM storage devices work until you turn off your device, which allows the motherboard CPU to quickly access and read recent information you’ve inputted. This ‘volatile’ memory is ideal for your programs, but using up your RAM space can quickly lead to slow programs since the CPU has to dig deep into the hard drives to find and read what you’re looking for.
Basic Input Output System
The acutely named BIOS, or basic input output system, is the bridge between the hardware components and the software components of your device.
In addition to being the go-between for your keyboard control, display screen, disk drives, etc, the BIOS is a system board known as Read-Only Memory (or ROM). This memory is in charge of the installation and boot-up process for your device, as well as maintaining the various drivers.
Every piece of hardware that interacts with software has to move through the BIOS directly or indirectly at some point!
Graphics Processing Unit
If you’ve dipped a toe into gaming, then the term GPU (or graphics processing unit) may be quite familiar to you. The GPU is in charge of handling all graphical processes on your device.
The GPU’s initial function was to aid in rendering graphically intensive 3D images as computer-aided design became the standard. Now its function has evolved to cover other graphically intensive tasks like helping all the functions perform better in gaming.
What’s more, the GPU comes in two different types: Integrated & Discrete
You’ll find integrated GPUs are the more common variant and find a place in many modern computers. They’re integrated right into the motherboard and tend to consume less power, give off less heat, and are thinner and lighter than discrete graphics processing units.
If you’re planning to perform resource-intensive tasks that require more storage devices then you’ll benefit more from a discrete GPU, otherwise referred to as a dedicated GPU. Keep in mind though that this type of GPU consumes more from the power supply and gives off more heat than an integrated GPU.
PCI & PCIe Slots
The peripheral component interconnects, commonly known as PCI or PCIe (peripheral component interconnect express), are a great addition to the motherboard because they allow you to connect high bandwidth connections between the motherboards and external devices.
Additional storage, bandwidth connections, and even allow you to have a backward connection with your motherboard components with their installation.
On a motherboard, you may have seen the small, round battery that sits on it. This is the CMOS battery, or to give it its full name the complementary metal oxide semiconductor battery.
This battery’s primary function is to power the CMOS, which contains a tiny amount of memory that keeps all your BIOS information saved. BIOS settings need to be saved because data like the date and time, boot order, and other start-up parameters need to remain consistent
Disk Drive Connectors
There are a variety of disk drive connectors that aim to connect your motherboard to external cables and interfaces. These are becoming more and more frequent to ensure that your motherboard has access to ethernet, optical drives, and memory slots. We’ll quickly cover the most common types of disk drive connectors here.
The SATA connector connects your motherboard to storage disks and is one of the most popular types of connectors. This interface is often the most used when manufacturing computers today, as they can to hard drives.
Although some elements of the SATA connectors have been replaced by peripheral devices, they are still used to connect quite often.
The IDE, or integrated drive electronics, controller is used to connect to the memory controller hub and tells the hard drive how to access and read like an air traffic controller on an airfield. What this means in layman’s terms is that if you insert a CD or DVD into your laptop, the IDE controller is in charge of telling your hard drive how to the information.
You’ll also find that IDE controllers will be used to improve your device’s hardware performance marginally in a modern version.
Thankfully, motherboards that you purchase this day aren’t set in stone and come with expansion slots and ports that allow you to connect other components to them.
We’re talking ports that should be familiar to you, USB ports (universal serial bus), HDMI ports, Thunderbolt ports, ethernet, and others.
Heat Sink, Fan, etc
With all these processors, the chances that your laptop or desktop will be running hot becomes more and more certain. Extreme and prolonged exposure to heat can have detrimental effects on your device, so luckily your motherboard comes with heat sinks to avoid this.
A heat sink carries heat away from the CPU socket with the use of thermal conductors, transporting and dispersing the heat throughout your device so that you don’t degrade any within with heat.
In this vein, your computer system may even be set up with fans, which are used to provide cool air to your heat sinks and push the hot air away quicker. You may have even those who take this a step further – running water cooling systems through their desktop builds to cool the internal components.
Power Supply Cables
Last but certainly not least is the component of your motherboard that provides power to the entire device. The PSU, or power supply unit, is tasked with providing a stable source of power to the other devices.
To get technical, the PSU transfers the alternating current that you get from your home outlet into a more stable low-voltage direct current that can be useful to your device. With power supply cables providing the necessary electrical power to your motherboard, nothing would ever turn on!
Frequently Asked Questions
And there you have it! We’ve covered the 10 most important parts of your motherboard in a way that is hopefully informative and easy to understand.
That being said, you may have a few questions on your mind that were unanswered in the above article. We’ve compiled the most frequently asked questions when it comes to motherboards and provided an answer below.
If you have a question about system bios or integrated circuits, read on!
What are the 6 main parts of a motherboard?
If we’re talking about industrial motherboards, then the six primary parts are as follows:
- Ports & Expansion slots
- Microprocessors & coprocessors
How many components are in a motherboard?
If you’re speaking individually, there can be up to a hundred unique components within a motherboard that all help it to function.
Few components do more than others obviously, and if we count those specific components then you’ll find about 10 – 20 that people often refer to as the major motherboard components. These include the CPU, graphics cards, PCI slots, GPU, etc.
What is the computer BIOS?
As we’ve covered, the BIOS or basic input/output system is the component of the motherboard that is in charge of booting up your PC when you press the power switch. It interfaces with the CMOS battery to keep your settings like date/time consistent.
Without it, you’d have to manually set everything back each time!
That’s it! Looking at a motherboard, all the components may be difficult to understand but if you break it down bit by bit, it’s easy to dissect. Hopefully, this article has helped you come to understand your motherboard more and made you feel confident in building your desktop or upgrading your device.
Writer Graham Grieve brings two decades of technical communications experience to The Holy Tech coverage. Isaac contributes articles on laptops, tablets and PCs, alongside various software and hardware guides. Isaac is a former newspaper journalist who also worked in tech communications for some of the country’s biggest corporations. He also counsels and creates material for other technology publications and hosts a podcast.
Isaac’s in-depth reporting and knowledge of hardware and software issues helps The Holy Tech’s readers learn how to choose the right products, or solve tricky problems.