What is a Motherboard?

Posted By BrokenClaw on September 11, 2007

The motherboard is the printed circuit board that serves as the motherboardcentral highway that connects all of the other internal components of the computer. On a desktop computer it is about the size of a magazine and usually green or yellow in color. While the CPU is considered to be the brains of the computer, the motherboard really defines the computer.

The capabilities and features of the motherboard are determined by certain embedded circuits, called the chipset. It is the chipset that distinguishes one motherboard from another. The motherboard holds the BIOS and the system clock. It has slots and sockets for connecting and controlling the other components of the computer.

The motherboard can also have components built onto them, such as devices for producing the audio and video output, especially in laptops where space is limited. More advanced systems use separate processors attached to expansion cards (see below) for those functions.

Most home users will never have any reason to be concerned about the motherboard in their computer. However, hobbyists who build and repair generic-type Windows machines sometimes swap a motherboard out of a box, essentially creating a new computer in the old shell.

Expansion cards are another type of circuit board, which are designed with a specific shape so that when they are installed, they have connectors on the outside of the computer case.

graphics expansion card

Some examples of expansion cards which may be installed are:

  • a network interface card (NIC) for connecting an Ethernet cable
  • a card for adding additional ports like USB and FireWire
  • a sound card for high-fidelity stereo audio
  • a video card for high resolution and accelerated graphics.

High end video cards, important for video editing and video games, have their own video RAM (VRAM) and their own graphics processing unit (GPU) incorporated into the expansion card.

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