Every computer has and needs a motherboard. The motherboard connects with all of the different components of the computer, and is often matched with the CPU and RAM. The motherboard can be thought of as the heart of the computer, as all other components need it for a system to run properly.
Why Is a Motherboard Necessary?
Without the motherboard, each component would be unable to communicate with the other. For example, a CPU uses the RAM to run applications that are stored on the main hard drive, but in order to do so, each component is connected to the motherboard, which regulates the information flow. The motherboard acts like a command center that helps direct what each component does and when it can do it. This ensures that the system will run smoothly.
Parts of a Motherboard
The motherboard is a really a series of inputs for the different parts of the computer. The motherboard has a CPU socket, RAM slots and hard drive inputs. Hard drives use IDE, SATA or SCSI interfaces. Motherboards tend to have IDE and SATA slots, which can also be used to connect disc drives, but SCSI drives often require a separate controller card that is plugged into the PCI slots.
PCI slots on the motherboard are really the option slots. They are where different cards can be plugged in that are not always necessary for a system to run. The most common cards plugged in here are video or audio cards, though many motherboards currently have "onboard" video and audio, meaning separate cards are not required.
In addition, the motherboard has slots for power and connections to the case. The case wires are what allow a computer to be turned on when the power button is pushed, amongst other functions such as front side USB capabilities.
Because the motherboard works as the main hub of the system, each component must be compatible in order for it to work properly. CPUs have specific socket types which match with a motherboard. If an incompatible socket type is used, the CPU will not even fit onto the board. CPUs also have front side bus speeds that need to work with the motherboard. The front side bus is the speed at which the CPU can access the RAM. Having differing front side bus speeds can cause the CPU to either be overrun or not work to its full efficiency. The motherboard also uses specific types of RAM, so using incompatible ones could cause a system to not work at all.
Motherboards and Upgrading
Speed and performance are the main issues when upgrading a computer. When upgrading, changing out the RAM or CPU may speed up the computer. However, the new RAM and CPU must be compatible with the current motherboard. If they are not, then the motherboard must also be changed out. In addition, if a video card is being changed out, the PCI slot must match the video card to ensure optimal performance, and the motherboard must have enough slots open to handle the card if it is oversized. Many video cards currently use the PCI-X slot on the motherboard, though not every motherboard has a PCI-X slot. A PCI-X video card can be put into a normal PCI-X slot, but the transfer rate between the video card and motherboard will be slower.
Motherboards come in different sizes, so make sure the motherboard fits the case into which it will be placed. Most motherboards come in one of four sizes. In descending order, they are ATX, micro-ATX, flex-ATX and mini-ITX. The size and type of motherboard that is best really depends on what the end use of the computer is and what kind of components are going to be used. Smaller boards will not perform as well as larger boards for gaming situations because there might not be adequate space for all of the components, as well as the ability to keep all the components cool.
Smaller boards are more likely to have onboard video, so it is up to the user to determine if that will handle the type of work the system will be doing. Most gaming and video production applications require a separate video card.