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The motherboard is a circuitry platform that harbors all the components of your computer, allows them to obtain power and communicate with each other. In other words, it is truly the mother of all computer parts; it gives all of its components the required housing space and allows them to unpack all their capabilities, together in its own limitations. It helps them connect and communicate in the processing of a computer. By now, even if you are completely unaware of basic computer terms, you probably know what we are talking about; the main system board where you mount all your components, like CPU, RAM, GPU, etc.
In 2021 the Ultimate beginner guide would be quite longer than an older one because, over the last few years, the motherboard has gone through massive changes, allowing for the next-gen high-end processing that one would expect in today’s fast-growing market of next-gen computers. Motherboards for AMD Processors like 3600X are necessity in 2021.
Types of Motherboards
The first and foremost major difference between motherboards, aside from the chipset, is that of the Form Factor. This difference is not limited to dimensions only but also purpose and capabilities because certainly, a Mini-ITX form factor motherboard would not be able to provide all the functionalities and capabilities that you need to build a high-end gaming PC. Let’s dive into the difference between the form factors to further clarify the types.
Starting from the biggest size available, the ATX. With a regular dimension of 12 × 13 inches, the ATX gives enough space for the housing of all the components that you require to build a high-end gaming PC. It can mean more DIMM and PCI-e slots, a better cooling system via an improved airflow space plus more fan headers, one or two AIO pump headers, and possibly better and bigger heatsinks. You can also house a bigger PSU, so you build the ultimate powerhouse for gaming. ATX is the most regularly used motherboard, especially for gaming.
Stepping down from ATX, you get its evolution in the form of Micro ATX. With 9.6 × 9.6 inches. There isn’t a massive difference, but the limitation tightens as you step down, with a maximum of four expansion slots. Micro ATX is a perfect choice for compact gaming build and can still be quite a powerful rig for high-end gaming, with just slight step-downs here and there.
Mini-ITX is the third most common form factor. It is the most compact and yet quite capable. The small size of 6.7 × 6.7 inches is what makes this form factor special because it can give you the most powerful visual with lower consumption and certainly seizes less space at the table. Mini-ITX is most commonly used by enthusiasts for home cinema set-ups due to its compact size and adequate processing power. It can also be utilized for all sorts of embedded computers.
After these three, you get the Nano-ITX and Pico-ITX, with the dimensions of 4.7 × 4.7 inches and 3.9 × 2.8 inches, respectively. These aren’t what you are looking for to build your PC. They are usually used in Smart TVs and smaller embedded devices like in-vehicle computers.
What to look for in a Motherboard?
On to the next part, In which we’ll pick out all the different sections of a motherboard and tell you what’s on the board and what function each one of them serves.
- CPU (processor) socket
The CPU socket is the most important space on a motherboard because this is where you put your Processor chip. These sockets are specifically built for different types of processors; it’s not one-fits-all, so you should always buy a motherboard with a socket that supports your current processor and can also be useful for future upgrades. Most of the next-gen motherboards come with a cooling system on top of the socket, so you can keep your CPU cool even with high-end processing.
- RAM (memory) slots
RAM slots or DIMM slots are where you mount your memory sticks. These slots are either two or four in numbers. More slots mean that you can install more memory. Last-gen motherboards used to comes with DDR3 supporting memory slots, but the current-gen ensures maximum power with the new DDR4 supporting memory slots. The ideal amount of RAM would be 32 GB, even though 16 GB also does a good-enough job for next-gen gaming, but you can always notch it up to 64 GB to be secure for years to come.
- Expansion slots
Expansion slots, as evident from the name itself, are used to expand your arsenal of components by adding dedicated sound and graphics cards, etc. There are two types of Expansion slots, and they include the PCI Express and the now-obsolete PCI. The PCI Express slots or PCIe slots come in three sizes and speed ratings: x1, x4, and x16, to suit different types of cards. Usually, with the new high-end CPUs that come decent enough Visual and sonic power, these slots remain unused. However, if you are PC or gaming enthusiasts or you just need a powerful workstation, then these will come in really handy. You can use the x16 slots to plug in high-end dedicated GPUs and rock on with the maximum visual power, especially if you’ve got a couple of x16s and you get to create a multi-GPU set-up with SLI or Crossfire. The same can be done for sound and networking, as the rest of the slots can easily power up dedicated sound or wi-fi to give you the ultimate immersive experience.
- Storage connectors
Storage connects are simply used to harbor mechanical hard disks (HDDs), Solid State Drives (SSDs), or optical storage devices such as DVD writers. These connectors come in two different types, the usual SATA2 or the new and faster SATA3. With the rise in the use of SSDs, SATA3 is now one of the most prominent connectors; it’s the only one that can help an SSDs operate at its full speed capability. The SATA2 is not a good choice for SSDs because it will limit and reduce its original speed, so you should definitely use it to connect HDDs or DVD writers.
SSDs are high-speed drives and are quite expensive, while the HDDs are not as fast and thus much cheaper. You can use an adequately sized SSD for your main operating system and the HDD for extra storage and get the best out of both at an affordable price. Upgrading storage devices is the easiest part, so don’t worry; you can always expand later.
- Fan Headers
Fan headers were always on good old motherboards. Nowadays, everyone is becoming more aware of them because of the high-end components that require optimal cooling. All the new high-end motherboards come with 4-pin PWM DC fan headers around the board so that you can add more fans whenever you need or want. There are also the AIO pump headers to help you establish a water cooling system for maximum thermal performance.
- Keyboard and mouse PS/2 connectors
Keyboard and mouse PS/2 connectors can be usually found on the back panel. However, PS/2 connectors are almost extinct nowadays. You’ll rather find the USB ports being used for keyboard and mice, but there are still some new high-end motherboards keeping the legacy alive by installing a PS/2 connector.
- Graphics (monitor) connectors
These connectors are used to power up your monitors through the visual power of the on-board/integrated graphics of the motherboard. There are a few different types of graphic connectors, including the classic VGA, the DVI, and the all-powerful HDMI. Most of the modern motherboard does not include VGA because their focus is mostly DVI and especially HDMI due to their high-end visual quality.
If you are planning to add a dedicated GPU, then the original graphic connectors on the back panel will not be bothered, and instead, you will be using the connectors prompting from the back of your GPU, which is fitted with its rear end coming out of the back of the casing, right near the back panel.
- USB ports
USB ports are probably the most frequently and widely used ports. You can easily plug anything and connect it to your computer, directly from the outside, either via the back or front panel. USB ports allow you to plug, portable storage devices, keyboard, mouse, and everything else that can be connected via a USB cable. There are two different types of full-size USB that you are already familiar with; USB2 and USB3. The difference between the type is just the same as SATA2 and SATA2, so the USB3 is faster than USB2, in which case you can use it for high-speed devices like external hard disks. Almost every motherboard comes with a wide range of both USB2 and USB3; most of the next-gen motherboards are adding more and more high-speed USB3, slowly replacing the USB2.
Modern motherboards now also come with USB-C, which is a common type for modern cellphone connectors.
- Network port
Ethernet ports are an important part of the back panel outputs. Almost every motherboard comes with integrated networking support. Via these ports, you can easily plug in a wired internet cable, and you are good to go for networking. All modern motherboards have Gigabit Ethernet ports, also called 10/100/1000, which means they can transfer data at 1,000 megabits per second (Mbit/s), or a theoretical maximum of 125 megabytes per second (MB/s).
Even there are variants of high-end motherboards that come with an equally high-end integrated wi-fi card, but you still always find an ethernet port at the back, just in case.
- Audio ports
You’ll also find audio out and input ports on both the back and front panel. These ports, often called jacks, are powered via an integrated audio codec. Modern motherboards are equipped with a high-end integrated sound card, giving the most immersive sound quality right off the bat. Almost all of the motherboards these days come with up to 6 audio jacks on the back panel to allow you to set-up a 7.1 or even eight surround system for the best audio quality possible.
This is the ultimate beginner’s guide for 2021, so don’t expect it to not be riddled with details because with each year bringing in massive revolution, motherboards are almost turning into Military carriers. Constructed with the finest quality material to increase their life span and give them better thermal support, these motherboards come prepared with everything. All you have to do is figure out what you need, and you’ll find a perfect motherboard for your unique preference without pushing that hard.