The Complete Guide to Buying Motherboards

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The Complete Guide to Buying Motherboards

In any computer, the motherboard, sometimes referred to as the mobo, is the main circuit board that holds the central processing unit (CPU), memory (RAM), and so on. All of the components that are usually purchased for a computer need to be compatible with the motherboard. Therefore, the limitations or capabilities of the motherboard dictate how well the computer runs. A high-end CPU or graphics card can only run as fast as the motherboard allows.

When looking for a new or used motherboard, buyers need to understand the main features a motherboard has, as well as the peripheral features it supports. The buyers can then work out exactly what features are of interest and purchase a motherboard that can support those features. If, however, a buyer decides to make decisions solely on budget, it can mean upgraded equipment sooner rather than later.

Main Motherboard Features

The main features to consider in a motherboard are the size, the CPU support, the RAM support, and the chipset. Each of these features is key in ensuring a computer is maximising each component. Even if a buyer does not purchase the maximum capability, choosing the right motherboard can mean the difference between upgrading components versus upgrading everything, including the motherboard.

Form Factor

The form factor of a motherboard refers to its physical size and layout. Form factors are standardized into different sizes. Each size has slightly different uses and numbers of expansion slots. There are form factors for electronic devices as small as mobile phones and as large as full size desktops and servers. Even when discussing personal computers, different form factors can require different cases. Differences can include everything from the size and shape to the placement of features, the connectors to the power supply, and the mounting holes.

CPU

The central processing unit, or the CPU, is the brains of the computer. A motherboard can hold one or multiple CPUs. CPUs are attached to motherboards via CPU sockets. A CPU socket allows a CPU to be placed and replaced on a motherboard via the pins on the unit. This prevents the need for soldering. In the early days of computing, CPUs all had the same type of pin grid array (PGA) and fit in any motherboard. More recently, however, CPUs have different PGAs. Buyers who either own or have a specific CPU in mind should check the type of socket that is needed and choose a motherboard accordingly. In addition to considering the socket, buyers who already have a CPU in mind also need to know the manufacturer of that CPU. Motherboards are able to support either Intel or AMD processors, meaning the two processors are not cross-compatible.

Memory Slots

Any motherboard requires memory in the form of RAM or random access memory. Generally speaking, the more RAM a motherboard has, the better a computer performs. However, when purchasing a motherboard, there are some other memory factors to consider. First of all, buyers should check the number of memory slots for RAM. This is a limiting factor on the amount of total memory that can be added to a motherboard. Also, buyers should look at the speed of RAM the motherboard supports so that it can be matched as closely as possible. Older model motherboards may not be able to support the newest memory available. Finally, buyers should check to see the maximum amount of memory that is supported to ensure the motherboard can support their needs in future upgrades.

Chipset

The different parts of a computer communicate with its CPU through the chipset. Motherboard manufacturers optimise the chipsets on a board to work with different CPUs. Since a chipset is a permanent part of the motherboard, it cannot be changed. Therefore, buyers not only need to ensure that the CPU socket matches any CPU they would like to buy, but they should also check that the chipset is optimised for that CPU. Some motherboards also include chipset features such as USB 3.0 or FireWire connections.

Power Supply Requirements

A motherboard requires power in order to operate. Instead of plugging directly into a wall, a motherboard draws power from the computer's power supply, which converts alternating current (AC) power into direct current (DC). The power supply regulates different power outputs, or voltages, for the computer. Buyers should check to ensure the motherboard they wish to buy is compatible with the output of the power supply.

Motherboard Peripheral Features

Features that do not affect the main computing power of the system are considered peripheral. These include expansion slots, USB support, sound, graphics, Wi-Fi, and drive connections. When considering a purchase, buyers should understand the ability of the motherboard to support these features. These features can impact the decision to use the computer as part of a home theatre system, for example.

Expansion Slots

Expansion slots on a motherboard are sometimes referred to as expansion ports. As the name suggests, expansion slots allow additional boards to be connected. For example, a new graphics or sound card needs to go in a compatible expansion slot on a motherboard. Although many motherboards come with onboard graphics or sound cards, expansion slots allow a buyer to upgrade if desired. A motherboard generally has several different types of slots available. Buyers should check to see which ones are available for future upgrades or to utilise current cards.

One recent standard for expansion slots is called PCI Express (PCIe). This standard replaces older ones such as PCI and AGP. PCIe standard allows for high performance video and networking cards. It provides more bandwidth for video playback, making this standard highly desirable for people interested in video playback or computer games.

USB

Motherboards generally have at least two USB ports on the back so that peripheral devices such as mobile phones can be plugged in. In addition to the USB ports, there are often USB headers on the motherboard itself. These headers allow for cables to extra USB ports to be attached.

Besides checking the number of USB ports and headers on a motherboard, buyers should check to see if the available ports are USB 2.0 or 3.0. USB 2.0 was developed for high speed data transfer. It was originally released in the early 2000, and designed to be backwards compatible with USB 1.0. USB 3.0 was released in 2008, and allows for even faster data transfer than USB 2.0.

Sound Support

Gamers and audiophiles who wish to use their computers to play sounds may want to ensure that the motherboard they are considering has sufficient sound support capability. While some motherboards have integrated audio, many people who are interested in playing music or utilising their computers as part of a home theatre system need more powerful audio support through a sound card. If a sound card is used, it must be inserted in one of the expansion slots on a motherboard. The motherboard must be able to support the card in order to take full advantage of the sound quality.

Also, the number of channels should be taken into consideration. Monaural, or mono, sound is produced by only one channel of sound. Stereo, 3D, and surround sound require two or more channels. A motherboard that can produce five or more channels is appropriate for computer gamers and in-home theatre systems.

Graphics Capability

Like onboard sound, motherboards generally come with onboard graphics capability. Most motherboards support recent graphics standards, such as HDMI and DVI capability. However, it is worth checking if the onboard graphics chipset can support the monitor. The chipset needs to be able to support the maximum resolution as well as the HDMI, DVI, or even VGA if there is an older monitor being put to use.

If the computer is going to be used for any graphics-heavy functions such as graphic design, video editing, computer gaming, or home theatre systems, buyers may want to explore a graphics card. There are many cards available. However, it is important to check to make sure the card is compatible with the expansion slot on the motherboard.

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

Most people buying motherboards are building their own desktop computers. As such, many motherboards do not necessarily come with the latest Wi-Fi or Bluetooth capability. However, there are situations in which an Ethernet connection is inconvenient or impossible. In those cases, a buyer should check to see if the motherboard has Wi-Fi built in. Bluetooth dongles are readily available; however, there are also some motherboards that support Bluetooth capability. A motherboard that supports Bluetooth can communicate wirelessly with mobile phones and any other mobile devices.

Drive Connections

Any motherboard comes with various connectors for drives. Most hard drives connect via Serial ATA (SATA) connection. An older drive connection is called IDE. If a buyer has an older drive, it is worth checking to ensure the correct type of connector is included on the motherboard. Many motherboards still come with floppy drive connectors for people who still have them.

Buying a Motherboard on eBay

Whether you have decided to either build your own computer from scratch or upgrade the motherboard in your current computer, you have a wide range of choices on eBay. You can start a general search by typing 'motherboard' into the search box on the home page of eBay. Alternatively, you can narrow down your search with one of the categories listed above. Typing 'ATX motherboard', 'Acer motherboard', or 'DDR3 SDRAM motherboard' filters your search further. You can even search for a used motherboard. Used motherboards are not a risky purchase as long as the seller has tested the board to make sure it works.

When looking through motherboard listings, buyers should consider whether the seller has listed all of the information needed to make a decision. Although most motherboard manufacturers have full specifications for their products listed on their eBay pages, a seller should be able to give the information required.

Conclusion

When buying a motherboard, many factors must be taken into consideration. As a main artery of the computer system, the motherboard plays a vital role in ensuring all the components of a computer are working to maximum speed and efficiency. From the size of the board and CPU support to the graphics and sound support, there is a multitude of ways to configure a system that precisely meets a need. It can take some time to comb through all of the information that motherboard manufacturers and sellers give. However, it is almost always worthwhile to become familiar with all of the main and peripheral features of motherboards in general. Understanding how each one works can not only lead to the optimal choice in motherboards, but in other components as well. Making a quality decision allows the buyer to create a powerful computer with less frequent upgrades over time. No matter what motherboard is the right choice, buyers can choose from a wide range of motherboards on eBay and in eBay stores.

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