PC motherboard

From Academic Kids

Missing image
The ABIT KT7, an ATX format motherboard

A motherboard is a printed circuit board used in a personal computer. It is also known as the mainboard and occasionally abbreviated to mobo or MB. The term mainboard is also used for the main circuit board in this and other electronic devices.

A typical motherboard provides attachment points for one or more of the following: CPU, graphics card, sound card, hard disk controller, memory (RAM), and external peripheral devices.

All of the basic circuitry and components required for a computer to function sit either directly on the motherboard or in an expansion slot of the motherboard. The most important component on a motherboard is the chipset which consists of two components or chips known as the Northbridge and Southbridge. These chips determine, to an extent, the features and capabilities of the motherboard.

The remainder of this article discusses the state of the so-called "IBM compatible PC" motherboard in the early 2000s. It contains the chipset, which controls the operation of the CPU, the PCI, ISA, AGP, and PCI Express expansion slots, and (usually) the IDE/ATA controller as well. Most of the devices that can be attached to a motherboard are attached via one or more slots or sockets, although some modern motherboards support wireless devices using the IrDA, Bluetooth, or 802.11 (Wi-Fi) protocols.


CPU sockets

Main article: CPU socket

There are different slots and sockets for CPUs, and it is necessary for a motherboard to have the appropriate slot or socket for the CPU. Newer sockets, those with a three digit number, are named after the number of pins they contain. Older ones are simply named in the order of their invention, usually with a single digit.

A sample of sockets and associated processors:

Sockets supporting Intel CPUs

Sockets supporting AMD CPUs

  • Slot A - original AMD Athlon processors
  • Socket 462 (aka Socket A) - newer AMD Athlon, Athlon XP, Sempron, and Duron processors
  • Socket 754 - lower end AMD Athlon 64 and Sempron processors with single-channel memory support
  • Socket 939 - AMD Athlon 64 and AMD Athlon FX processors with dual-channel memory support
  • Socket 940 - AMD Opteron and early AMD Athlon FX processors

Peripheral card slots

There are usually a number of expansion card slots to allow peripheral devices and cards to be inserted. Each slot is compatible with one or more industry bus standards. Commonly available buses include: PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect), PCI-X, AGP (Accelerated Graphics Port), and PCI Express.

ISA was the original bus for connecting cards to a PC. Despite significant performance limitations, it was not superseded by the more advanced but incompatible MCA (Micro Channel Architecture) (IBM's proprietary solution which appeared in that firm's PS/2 series of computers and a handful of other models) or the equally advanced and backward-compatible EISA (Extended Industry Standard Architecture) bus. It endured as a standard feature in PCs till the end of the 20th century, aided first by the brief dominance of the VESA (Video Electronic Standards Association) extension during the reign of the 486 and later by the need to accommodate the large number of existing ISA peripheral cards. The more recent PCI bus is the current industry standard, which initially was a high-speed supplement to ISA for high-bandwidth peripherals (notably graphics cards, network cards, and SCSI host adaptors), and gradually replaced ISA as a general-purpose bus. An AGP slot is a high speed, single-purpose port designed solely for connecting high performance graphics cards (which produce video output) to the monitor. Both AGP and PCI buses are marked for replacement by PCI Express, although this is unlikely to happen prior to 2006 because of the large established base of AGP/PCI motherboards and add-in cards.

A typical motherboard of 1999 might have had one AGP slot, four PCI slots, and one (or two) ISA slots; since about 2002 the last ISA slots in new boards have been replaced with extra PCI slots. Sometimes an Advanced Communications Riser slot is used instead on less expensive motherboards.

As of 2001, most PCs also support Universal Serial Bus (USB) connections, and the controller and ports required for this are usually integrated onto the motherboard. An ethernet interface and a basic audio processor are now almost universally integrated into current motherboards as well.

Temperature and reliability

Generally, motherboards are air cooled with heat sinks on the larger chips such as the northbridge and CPU, and they have monitored sockets for case fans. Newer motherboards have integrated temperature sensors to detect motherboard and CPU temperatures, which can be used by the BIOS or Operating system to regulate fan speed. The removal of waste thermal energy became a major concern for workstation PCs around 2000, with the problem becoming more severe over time as computer systems continued to consume more and more power.

A study of the German c't computer magazine c't 2003, vol. 21 pg. 216-221 (http://www.heise.de/ct) found that some spurious computer crashes and general reliability issues ranging from screen image distortions to I/O read/write errors can surprisingly be attributed not to software or peripheral hardware but to aging PC motherboards.

Motherboard voltage regulation uses electrolytic capacitors. These capacitors exhibit aging effects which depend on the temperature of the parts, since their water based electrolytes slowly evaporate leading to capacity loss and motherboard malfunctions due to voltage instabilities. While most capacitors are rated for 2000 hours at 105 degrees Celsius, their expected design life roughly doubles for every 10 degrees below this. At 45 degrees a lifetime of 15 years can be expected, which appears reasonable for a computer mainboard. In the past, many manufacturers delivered substandard capacitors, which would reduce this life expectancy figure. With inadequate case cooling this can become a serious problem. It is, however, possible to find and replace broken capacitors on PC mainboards. For more information on certain types of premature capacitor failure on PC motherboards, see Capacitor Plague.

Physical form factor

The motherboard fits into the computer case with screws or clips. There are many form factors, or sizes of motherboard. In general, it is necessary for the case, power supply, and motherboard to conform to the same standard in order for them to operate properly.

  • XT (8.5 11" or 216 279 mm) - obsolete - see XT bus architecture
  • AT (12 11"–13" or 305 279–330 mm) - obsolete - see AT bus architecture
  • Baby-AT (8.5" 10"–13" or 216 mm 254-330 mm)
  • ATX (Intel 1996; 12" 9.6" or 305 mm 244 mm)
  • Mini-ATX (11.2" 8.2" or 284 mm 208 mm)
  • MicroATX (1996; 9.6" 9.6" or 244 mm 244 mm) - fewer slots than ATX, so can use smaller PSU
  • LPX (9" 11"–13" or 229 mm 279–330 mm) - in slimline retail PCs
  • Mini-LPX (8"–9" 10"–11" or 203–229 mm 254–279 mm) - in slimline retail PCs
  • NLX (Intel 1999; 8"–9" 10"-13.6" or 203–229 mm 254–345 mm) - coming soon; requires add-in card riser
  • FlexATX (1999; 9.6" 9.6" or 244 244 mm max.) - can be smaller than microATX
  • Mini-ITX (VIA Technologies 2003; 6.7" 6.7" or 170 mm 170 mm max.; 100W max.)
  • Nano-ITX (VIA Technologies 2004; 120 mm 120 mm max.)
  • BTX (Intel 2004; 12.8" 10.5" or 325 mm 267 mm max.)
  • MicroBTX (Intel 2004; 10.4" 10.5" or 264 mm 267 mm max.)
  • PicoBTX (Intel 2004; 8.0" 10.5" or 203 mm 267 mm max.)de:Hauptplatine

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