The motherboard is a PC’s hub for connectivity and features. Pick the wrong one and you can severely limit the features available to you, especially down the line when you look to add or update.
If you aren’t sure if you’ll need more than one PCIe, or if you’ll need a water block fan header, then our guide to useful terms can help you out.
- Chipset: The chipset is a collection of integrated circuits on a motherboard. The chipset manages many of the connections with the CPU, such as, the input/outputs, LAN, storage, and audio, although many of these connections are now being built into the processors. The chipset also offers more PCIe lanes on top of those integrated into the CPU.
- Power connectors: Power connectors from the PSU must be connected to the motherboard. Most modern motherboards require a 24-pin EATX, and either a 4-pin ATX or 8-pin EATX CPU power connector, sometimes both for extreme overclocking
- Socket: The socket in which a CPU connects to a motherboard and subsequent other components within a computer. Commonly uses a LGA (Land grid array), PGA (Pin grid array), or BGA (Ball grid array) design.
- Form Factor: EATX, ATX, Micro ATX, Mini ITX,listed from largest to smallest. Various size standards have been designed for extended, or cut-down, connectivity to fit different case designs. Mini ITX is the smallest of those listed, often with only a single PCIe slot and sometimes even notebook memory (SODIMM) slots rather than regular desktop DIMM slots. EATX offers an even wider ATX board, with more features and connectivity than an ATX motherboard.
- Fan headers: PWM and DC. PWM fans offer pulse width modulation, allowing for a finer speed control than DC fans, although requiring an extra connection on the fan header. PWM fans require 4-pin fan headers, while DC (on or off) require 3-pin. DC fans can also connect to 4-pin fan headers, with one spare pin left unused.
- PCI-e Lanes: The peripheral component interconnect express is the latest high speed bus connecting peripherals, such as graphics cards, to the CPU. They are made up of multiple lanes allowing simultaneous send and receive signals per lane. Graphics cards often use PCIe connections that make use of 16x lanes for increased bandwidth.
- SATA: Interface for storage drives, currently utilises the AHCI protocol with a hard bandwidth limit of 600MB/s on inputs and outputs across the interface.
- M.2: M.2 slots allow various sizes of M.2 drives, these are smaller form factor SSD drives that utilise either AHCI or NVMe protocols across either the slower SATA or speedier PCIe interfaces.