In addition to CPU and GPU, one of the most critical pieces of hardware in your computer is the motherboard.
If we consider the CPU the computer’s brain, the motherboard is the central nervous system.
It links the individual parts of your computer and allows the CPU to control them.
Apart from bridging internal components, the motherboard ports allow you to link external devices to your computer.
What is a motherboard made of?
What Are Motherboards Made Of?
The two main materials used in a motherboard are fiberglass and copper.
Several sheets of fiberglass coated with epoxy resin are stacked together and covered with thin layers of copper to form the base of a motherboard.
Other materials, such as gold, silver, steel, aluminum, silicon, solder, and plastic, are used in motherboard components.
A motherboard consists of many components, including:
- CPU socket
- BIOS and CMOS chips
- Input/output ports
- IDE and SATA ports
- RAM slots
- Northbridge and Southbridge chips (on older generations)
- Fan connectors
- Power connectors
- Voltage Regulator Modules (VRM)
- PCI Express expansion slots
Each of these components consists of different materials with specific requirements.
Below, we’ll discuss those materials and components in detail.
Motherboards are mainly composed of fiberglass impregnated with epoxy resin and copper, formed into several Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs).
Fiberglass provides insulation, while copper acts as the conductive pathways within the component.
During the manufacturing process, a fiberglass sheet is covered with epoxy resin and heated to the point that the resin is partially cured.
The product is called prepreg.
Several prepreg sheets are combined to reach the required thickness and create a laminated sheet.
One or both sides of the stacked prepregs are covered with thin layers of copper foil and go into a heated press to completely cure the resin.
The layers stick together to form a sheet of copper-clad laminate.
The more layers included in a PCB, the better because the signals will have more direct paths from one component to another.
Although fiberglass and copper are the two main materials used in a motherboard, there are others, including:
- Gold (for electrical contacts and IC bond wires)
- Steel (for some component leads and connector housings)
- Aluminum (for any heatsink excluding the CPU cooler)
- Silicon (for IC dies)
- Ferromagnetic materials (for VRM power inductors)
- Ceramic compounds (for small capacitors)
- Solder (probably lead-free for a modern board)
- Plastic (for expansion slots, RAM slots, and most connectors)
A motherboard is the main PCB in a computer where all the components are mounted or fabricated.
RAM, USB ports, and Disk drive slots are mounted onto a motherboard, while processors, ICs, and expansion slots are soldered and fabricated.
A motherboard acts like a mind that sends signals to all the components to perform their tasks.
It allows communication between the major electronic components of a system and provides connectors for other peripherals.
This PCB is the underlying platform for all components, and that’s where it gets its name.
It holds together many of the computer’s critical components, including the central processing unit (CPU), the memory, and expansion slots.
It’s attached to every PC part, either directly or indirectly.
The base of a motherboard is a firm sheet of non-conductive material covered with thin layers of copper or aluminum foil called traces.
These traces form the circuits between various components.
In addition to these circuits, motherboards contain several sockets and slots to connect other components.
In a laptop, the motherboard is underneath the keyboard, but it’s usually mounted vertically on a desktop computer.
How Are Motherboards Manufactured?
The motherboard manufacturing process consists of a complex series of steps that may take hours or days to complete.
Here’s a simplified version:
- Fiberglass layers are merged and covered with copper to create a PCB.
- A chemical called photoresist goes on the top layer to protect the future copper paths on the PCB, and the unprotected copper gets stripped away.
- Specialized machines print solder paste onto the board.
- Tiny components, such as resistors and capacitors, are placed using a robotic technology known as Surface Mount Technology (SMT).
- The board passes through a heating machine to melt the solder paste so that the components become attached to the board.
- An automatic optical machine inspects the board to ensure each component is installed correctly.
- Factory workers manually install larger components, such as memory sockets and audio connectors.
- The newly attached components are soldered.
- After the motherboard is assembled, workers test it thoroughly and pack it with anti-static begging to prevent electro-static discharge (ESD) before boxing and shipping.
Although surprising, a large portion of the manufacturing process relies on manual labor and human intervention.
Do Motherboards Wear Out?
The lifespan of a motherboard mostly depends on its materials and how it’s used.
Sometimes the power supply can damage the motherboard.
The internal circuit and external components will burn if a motherboard receives too much voltage, so you should always use reliable power supplies.
Overheating and humidity can also shorten a motherboard’s lifespan.
But without external factors at work, the motherboard can work for up to 30 years before it wears out.
However, you’ll probably replace the motherboard before it malfunctions, as the CPU, GPU, and RAM will get outdated.
Parts Of A Motherboard
1. CPU Socket
The CPU socket is where you install the CPU and where the transfer and processing of data happens.
Your motherboard and CPU must be compatible since CPU manufacturers use proprietary architectures.
The motherboard must support the exact socket type of your CPU.
Intel and AMD have gone through multiple generations of sockets, with LGA1700 and AM5 being their most recent versions, respectively.
2. BIOS And CMOS
The Basic Input Output System (BIOS) is where all the motherboard settings are stored.
The BIOS also runs the boot sequence that turns your computer on and loads the operating system.
The Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor or CMOS battery keeps all the information intact when the system shuts down.
The CMOS battery is in an accessible place, so you can remove it to reset the BIOS.
First, you should power off the motherboard and disconnect it from the power source.
3. Input/Output Ports
Depending on your motherboard specs and onboard hardware, there are different color-coded ports at the back of your computer.
These I/O ports include:
- Speakers and headsets (bold green)
- Monitor (black or white)
- Microphone (pink)
- Keyboard (purple)
- Mouse (green)
- Ethernet (colorless)
- USB peripherals (black, blue, or red, depending on the generation).
Most modern motherboards have onboard chips for Bluetooth and WiFi.
4. SATA Ports
These ports let you connect storage devices, such as HDDs and SSDs.
Serial Advanced Technology Attachment (SATA) is the most common connector for storage devices.
It has a 7-pin interface and is much faster than IDE connectors.
5. ROM Chip
The Read-Only Memory Chip or ROM stores the motherboard’s key functions and critical information needed to start a computer.
Modifying the contents of ROM is very hard or even impossible.
6. RAM Slots
The Random Access Memory (RAM) slots are where you place the RAM modules.
The RAM slot is always close to the CPU socket so that the PC’s memory and CPU communicate smoothly.
Motherboards usually feature four RAM slots in two colors (black, blue, or white).
Each slot pair is optimized to work on the same frequency channel.
Therefore, when installing RAM, it’s best to install two sticks in the same-colored slots for optimal performance.
Experts usually call this a dual-channel setup.
You can also go quad-channel by mounting a stick in each slot.
However, never install two sticks in slots with different colors, as it significantly reduces your performance.
7. Northbridge And Southbridge Chips
The Northbridge chip forms an interface between the CPU, the main memory, and other components.
It’s directly linked to the CPU and provides smooth communication between the CPU and performance-sensitive components, such as graphic cards.
It also connects to the Southbridge chip that acts as a communication hub.
The Southbridge chip communicates with less performance-sensitive components, such as storage devices, USB ports, and onboard networks.
Today, the Northbridge chip is inside the CPU, while the Southbridge chip is on the motherboard.
8. Fan Connectors
A motherboard fan connector is a three or four-pin connector that delivers power to your case fans.
Depending on the model and the manufacturer, a three-pin motherboard fan connector often has red, yellow, and black wires on the PC fan’s side.
The red wire transmits power, the black one in the ground, and the yellow one sends the fan’s RPM to the PC.
A four-pin connector has Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) feature that enables adjusting the fan speed.
The PWM can cycle the power on and off so rapidly that the fan only receives as much power as it needs to run at the speed you set.
Motherboard manuals use two terms for fan connectors: SYSFAN and CPU FAN.
SYSFAN is for PC case fans, while CPU FAN connects the fan attached to the CPU heatsink.
9. Power Connectors
Every motherboard has at least two female connectors that receive power from the PSU.
A 20-pin ATX power connector is used for general power delivery to the motherboard. It’s the largest connector on the motherboard.
The Advanced Technology eXtended (ATX) connector is the most recent power connector and has 20 or 24-pin female connectors.
There’s also a dedicated 8-pin connector that powers the CPU.
The CPU requires so much power that it needs a direct line from the PSU without going through the motherboard.
10. Voltage Regulator Modules
The voltage regulator module (VRM), also called a Processor Power Module (PPM), acts similar to a PC’s power supply unit (PSU).
VRMs determine how well your motherboard manages power, especially in your RAM and CPU.
They reduce the voltage multiple times to provide the exact amount the CPU requires.
The VRM has two components: MOSFET and Chokes.
Metal-Oxide-Semiconductor Field-Effect Transistors or MOSFET are the flat rectangular pieces usually placed around the CPU socket.
MOSFET is responsible for providing the CPU with its required amount of power.
Chokes are normally beside the MOSFET and stabilize the currents and capacitors if a sudden voltage spike occurs.
Therefore, more chokes in a VRM translate into a more stable current flowing to your CPU.
If you plan on overclocking your CPU, you should opt for premium VRMs with six or more Chokes.
That’s because overclocking increases the voltage to your CPU and motherboard.
VRMs tend to overheat, so make sure to keep them cool.
11. Expansion Slots
An expansion slot is a connection or port on a PC’s motherboard that allows you to connect a hardware expansion card to increase the computer’s functionality.
The most common example is a graphics card.
Although most CPUs have integrated graphics capabilities, a dedicated GPU connected via a PCIe expansion slot can boost your computer’s graphics power multiple folds.
Here’s a list of the most common expansion slots you can find in a computer and the devices that are compatible with them:
- PCI Express: modem, sound card, video card, network card.
- AGP: video card.
- VESA: video card.
- AMR: modem, sound card.
- EISA: SCSI, network card, video card.
- CNR: modem, network card, sound card.
- PCI: network card, SCSI, video card, sound card.
- ISA: video card, network card, sound card.
The number of expansion slots on a motherboard depends on its model and manufacturer.
Laptops don’t have expansion slots, but some have PC Cards that go into their side.
What Are Different Types Of Motherboards?
Most motherboards have a standard shape and size, also known as the form factor.
There are multiple standard form factors that can differ in performance, size, and supported features.
The type of motherboard used in a computer significantly affects the computer’s system speed and expansion abilities.
The most common form factors for PCs are:
- ATX: The most common type of motherboard used in desktop computers.
- Micro-ATX: Smaller than ATX and has fewer connectors and slots, so it’s popular in small desktop computers.
- Mini-ATX: Smaller than microATX and allows for using mobile device CPUs on desktop computers.
Extended ATX is designed for servers, while mini ITX and nano ITX are used for smaller computers, such as car PCs and cable boxes.
Extended ATX is larger than ATX and allows you to install dual CPUs and additional components. It’s mostly used in rack-mounted servers.
Mini ITX is for smaller devices, such as modern cable boxes.
Nano ITX is designed mainly for car PCs, modern cable boxes, and home entertainment centers.
What Determines The Size Of A Motherboard?
Although the overall size and number of chips on a motherboard have reduced over time, they still come in different sizes based on their capabilities.
For example, your cellphone is a small and powerful computer but has limited functions and doesn’t need a large motherboard.
On the other hand, your computer can perform more demanding tasks, so it has a larger and significantly more powerful motherboard.
PC Motherboards come in different sizes depending on their RAM capacity, expansion capabilities, and I/O ports, among other requirements.
For example, an ATX motherboard usually has four RAM slots, while smaller motherboards only have real estate for two slots.
The same principle applies to PCIe slots.
You can find two or more 16x PCIe slots on an ATX motherboard, but mini-ITX boards only support one slot.
Most modern motherboards dedicate some space to Bluetooth, WiFi, and Ethernet chips and some have circuitry for video and sound capabilities.
They also need to account for heat sinks to dissipate the heat that different components generate.
Finally, power connectors and fans take up some space, too.