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PC Building, P4 - The Motherboard

Posted May 09, 2014 12:00 AM by cheme_wordsmithy

This is part 4 of my series on building a desktop computer, titled "PC Building". Clickhere to read the previous entry.

With the CPU selected, the motherboard was my next item to find. The motherboard is a printed circuit board (PCB) that contains the majority of the computer's circuitry. The motherboard connects all of the computer's components together, and is the host through which they all communicate with each each other. Selecting the right motherboard is essential because any hardware for the PC must be compatible-with and connectable-to the motherboard.

On the right is a nice diagram that lays out the different parts of the motherboard. Discussing every aspect of the motherboard is beyond the scope my blog series, so for further information check out some of the links at the bottom.

After some quick searching, I found out that there are a lot of different motherboard makers and configurations out there, so sifting through them all seemed overwhelming at first. To make things easier, I made a list of the essential specifications to consider during my selection:

  • Form factor - Motherboards come in various configurations called 'form factors'. Form factor includes the size and shape of the board, as well as arrangement of mounting holes, ports, and connections. The computer case needs to be compatible with the board's form factor. Having a smaller board saves space, but larger boards allow for better temperature control and often have more expansion slots and features.
  • Processor Compatibility - Motherboards are designed with a socket specific to a certain processor brand and type. The Intel i-5 processor I chose (see P3) limited my selection to Intel boards with a LGA 1150 socket.
  • Chipset - Related to the above is the motherboard's chipset, which is the interface between the CPU memory and main memory. The chipset determines most of the functionality of the board, and cannot be replaced without buying a new board. Product reviews for motherboards with the same chipset are a good way to identify a chipset's problems or limitations.
  • RAM support - The motherboard provides support for certain RAM types (e.g. DDR2 vs. DDR3) and speeds (e.g. 1333 vs. 1600). Each board also has a limited # of RAM slots (typically between two and six), and supports a certain max capacity of RAM.
  • SATA support - Most hard disk drives built today are SATA drives, but in order to use these the motherboard must have SATA support.
  • Expansion slots - Motherboards usually are built with a certain number of expansion slots for graphics cards and other expansion cards. How many you need is dependent on what you cards you will use.
  • On-board features - Some motherboards come with built-in video and/or audio capabilities. This provides a decent sound or graphics output option for those who don't want or need a separate expansion card.
  • Peripherals - Motherboards include a specified number of connections (USB, USB 3.0, PS/2, Audio, Ethernet) used to connect various peripherals such as a keyboard, monitor(s), speakers, printer, modem, and other devices.
  • RAID/Crossfire/SLI support - For those who plan on running a special setup for their hard drives (RAID) or utilizing multiple graphics cards (Crossfire or SLI), the motherboard must have support and/or slots available for these functions.
  • Company - Some people swear by their manufacturer of choice for dependability and quality. How much value a company's reputation is worth is up to the consumer.
  • Cost - To a point, higher priced motherboards contain more capabilities and/or better quality parts. But that doesn't mean a $200 board is twice as good as a $100 board. It often comes down to individual product performance, so in this area customer reviews are very valuable.

Whew! That's a long list for sure (and it's not exhaustive either), but these factors all needed to be considered upfront in order to make sure I had a capable and compatible board for the system I wanted. PCPartPicker's compatibility tool allowed me to pull together a basic build of essential parts, and then sift through compatible motherboards based on that setup.

In the end, I found an affordable ASRock board(see picture on right) which had all the pieces I was looking for and a slew of positive product reviews. Here are some the specs:

  • Form factor - ATX
  • Processor/Socket - Intel/LGA1150
  • Chipset - Z87
  • RAM support - 4 slots, 32GB max capacity
  • Expansion slots - 7 total
  • On-board features - video & audio
  • Peripherals - USB, USB 3.0, Audio jacks, ethernet, PS/2, HDMI, etc.

In addition to all the essential hardware support, the Z87 chipset allows processor overclocking, and the board has the expansion slots to allow me to run multiple video cards in SLI if I so choose in the future.


Kitchentablecomputers - Choosing Your Motherboard - Motherboard - Motherboards


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