Picture in your mind a stereotypical motherboard of a computer.
Did you picture a flat green device with little dots, lines, boxes, and plugs?
Chances are you did.
Why, out of all the colors available, did you picture a green motherboard?
Why Are Motherboards Green?
The background of a motherboard is green due to the solder mask which is layered on top of base materials.
In the 1960s, surface-mounted components became more common on circuit boards, like the motherboard, and began to be coated with a hardened resin.
When first produced, the resin is a dingy brown color.
Developers in the 1960s added dye to the resin creating a more pleasing green color that is predominant to this day.
Later, the solder green color was also associated with industry giant Intel as the primary color of their motherboards, giving a boost to choosing the green color over other lesser quality offerings such as black or brown.
Also, when the production of motherboards first became popular, many were created manually by a technician.
This technician was tasked with looking at the tiny spots and spaces on the board, leading to significant eye strain.
Optical specialists discovered that the frequency of the green light was less straining to the eye and easier to differentiate between the various parts of the motherboard.
Today, however, more colors are being offered due mainly to the increase in the desirability of see-through tower casings.
What Other Colors Can Motherboards Be?
While green is still the industry standard, other colors have begun to make their way into the mainstream market with some manufacturers choosing to use different colors to signify premium motherboards over standard motherboards or choosing a color to differentiate their product from others.
Color options include red, blue, black, purple, orange, yellow, lime, among others.
However, some colors can be associated with different rationales.
Red offers high contrast between the motherboard and its components.
The screen-printed while labels on the red background also stand out well.
The contrast and visibility for inspection of components on the red color, while good, is still not considered to be as good as green, the industry standard and accepted superior color for contrast.
Red motherboards have been used in the past by developers to indicate a test motherboard not available for retail sale.
This practice, however, does not hold this distinction today as motherboards are purposely made in red for consumer sales.
A Blue solder mask does not provide the same contrast ability as red and green, making the use of magnification a must when inspecting board traces.
The blue color does, however, offer a very definite contrast between the blue solder mask and the screen-printed labels.
If the motherboard is label-heavy, the blue solder mask may be appealing.
Also, the blue color is eye-catching, and some manufacturers choose this color for distinction from other products.
White, when compared to other solder mask colors, is the least practical color for the motherboard.
The white color offers very little contrast for inspection of the components and is very difficult to clean as well.
The silk-screened labels, however, do work effectively on the white background.
White motherboards tend to be the most expensive because not many companies are producing white motherboards.
A black motherboard is also a very difficult color to work with.
The black color makes viewing the component connections and traces very difficult and requires magnification and a specific light angle for proper viewing.
During production, the black color also exhibits issues with heat absorption and ease of cleaning.
A black motherboard often must go through a separate cleaning step to ensure all the residue has been removed.
Like the white motherboards, the contrast between the silk-screening labels and the background is clear and easily discernable.
5. Additional Colors
Other colors, such as purple, orange, and lime have also been used to varying degrees of success.
These out-of-the-box colors are usually chosen for aesthetic reasons by the consumers themselves and not by the manufacturer.
Motherboards in these colors are limited in availability.
One additional note on yellow.
Yellow actually provides a superior contrast value similar to red and green motherboards but has failed to see wide use in the mainstream market.
This may be because the yellow color tends to be dingy and not as visually attractive as red and green motherboards.
Does The Color Of A Motherboard Matter?
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No, the color of the motherboard does not matter.
The color of the solder mask will not make the motherboard perform faster or better.
The color of the motherboard today is purely for aesthetics.
Some computer designers use flashy-colored motherboards to make their see-through towers more attractive than other towers.
Can You Pick Your Own Motherboard Color?
Yes, if you are willing to spend the money, you can customize the color of your motherboard.
Printed circuit board (PCB) companies may offer you the choice of color for a specially designed motherboard.
This option, however, can be extremely pricey.
If you are looking for an aesthetically pleasing color to match the color scheme of your specific device, it is better to look for motherboards that are already printed in the specific color you desire and see if the specifications offered on those boards meet your needs or can be adjusted to fit your needs.
Can You Cover Your Motherboard?
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You do have the option to purchase or make a motherboard cover plate or armor.
This will not cover the entire motherboard, but some portions can be covered.
The main player in this market is NZXT, which offers customizable plates to match the color scheme of your device.
The only issue with the purchasing option is that the number of compatible motherboards is very limited.
A homemade DIY motherboard cover or armor can also be made with time and patience.
Motherboard armor is typically made out of acrylic and Plexiglas and can be painted to fit your own needs.
One issue that some face when a motherboard is covered, however, is it reduces the accessibility of the motherboard.
A common motherboard component that requires replacement is the CMOS battery which cannot be accessed without removing the motherboard cover or armor.
Are A Motherboard And A Circuit Board The Same Thing?
All motherboards are circuit boards but not all circuit boards are motherboards.
A motherboard is a highly specialized circuit board designed to be the central component of a computing device.
The motherboard comes with the ability to add other circuit boards through its expansion slots, ports, and connection points.
A circuit board, on the other hand, can be highly specialized to do one specific task and can be very small.
Conversely, the circuit board can also be designed to provide multiple functionalities and can be much larger.
Both the motherboard and the circuit board are produced in the same way and are, at their basic level, just insulated boards that provide electrical conductivity to components.
Why Does A Motherboard Need A Solder Mask?
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A solder mask is required on a motherboard to insulate and protect the motherboard from soldering in places that do not need or should not have solder on them.
It is applied on top of the motherboard and is also used to protect the copper traces from oxidation, to prevent a physical breakage of a circuit, and to prevent short circuits.
The solder mask prevents solder bridges from forming between the nearby solder pads.
Oxidation is the process of oxygen combining with another element, in this case, copper.
This combination causes corrosion which can damage the motherboard.
A solder bridge occurs during the soldering process when two separate components are connected by excess soldering material.
This connection forms a conductive path between the two components causing malfunction.
The solder mask acts as a resistant barrier keeping the soldering material isolated to the appropriate section, reducing the likelihood of solder bridges.
What Is A Solder Mask?
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A solder mask, also known as solder resist, solder stop, or solder green oil, is a thin lacquer-like layer of polymer resin placed on top of the motherboard to protect and insolate the copper components.
Resin is typically chosen as the solder mask medium due to its qualities such as solder resistance, insulating effectiveness, humidity resistance, and temperature resistance.
The solder mask must be properly installed to prevent the solder mask openings from being too small, too large, or misplaced.
How Is A Solder Mask Put On A Motherboard?
Coating a motherboard with a solder mask is a six-step process.
- First, the motherboard must be cleaned and dried.
- The motherboard is coated with a liquid ink coating. In this step, it is necessary to tailor the thickness of the solder liquid to the appropriate thickness of the different parts of the motherboard.
- Step three is the pre-hardening stage. Pre-hardening hardens the solder oil just enough for the excess oil to be easily removed without damaging the motherboard.
- In step four, a transparent imaged film is layered on top of the solder mask to further protect the motherboard and solder mask.
- Step five is the development stage where any leftover excess solder is removed to ensure proper copper foil exposure.
- Finally, the motherboard is hardened and cleaned, making it ready for the soldering process.
What Are Motherboards Made Of?
The two base materials of a motherboard are copper and fiberglass.
Fiberglass provides insulation while copper provides the conductive pathways the motherboard needs to function.
Other materials needed for motherboard production are epoxy, tin, and the solder mask.
In addition to the base materials, electrical components, known as surface-mounted components or SMCs, are added through the soldering process, which starts with a combination of solder powder and flux to create a metal paste.
SMCs are attached to the metal paste, which then goes through a second soldering process called reflux soldering to create a solid electrical connection between the motherboard and the SMCs.
How Is A Motherboard Made?
To begin the fabrication of a motherboard, fiberglass fibers are woven together to form a sheet.
This sheet is heated and impregnated with epoxy resin forming a sheet called a prepreg.
The prepreg is then placed between two sheets of copper foil and heated to fully cure the resin.
Once this new hardened three-layer sheet is created, the design of the copper pathways is etched out and unneeded copper is dissolved.
Most motherboards contain two three-layer sheets stacked on top of one another with a layer of prepreg in the middle to keep the two copper layers from touching and shorting out.
This layering technique results in a six-layer board.
After the new stack is created, the holes are drilled.
The holes the motherboard needs include the mounting holes, holes for through-hole components, and the minute holes for the vias, or vertical interconnect access holes.
The vias are the holes that provide electrical access between the layers of copper on the motherboard.
Now the motherboard is ready for electro-plating with tin.
Since all the surfaces on the motherboard are not conductive, the electroplating process first dips the motherboard in a cocktail of chemicals and copper to provide a slight conductivity over the entire board.
Next, a photo-resistant material is placed over the board which allows for the pads and tracks of the board to be covered while leaving the rest of the board exposed for electroplating.
The tin electroplating adheres to all the exposed surfaces.
After the electroplating process, the solder mask is applied to protect the circuits during the soldering process.
This is where the color of the motherboard is applied.
The most commonly used color is green, but other pigments can be added to create whatever color is desired by the manufacturer.
After the solder mask is applied, a component identification label is silk-screened onto the motherboard.
This identification label provides the serial numbers of all installed components.
Finishing The Motherboard
Finally, the soldering and installation of components can begin, but first, the motherboard is tested by a pin tester to ensure the copper conductive component of the board are working.
Once the board is tested, the surface-mounted components are installed.
The SMCs are first attached to the motherboard using a solder and flux mixture which allows for proper placement of the SMCs.
Once all the SMCs are in their correct place, they are next reflux soldered which creates a solid electrical connection through hardening.
After the SMCs are installed, the through-hole components can be installed.
This includes sockets, card slots, and connectors for peripherals such as the mouse and keyboard.
The through-hole components are placed with their pins protruding through the bottom of the motherboard.
Once all the through-hole components are in place, they are sent through a wave solder machine.
This machine flows a wave of solder over solder over the bottom of the motherboard.
This solder adheres to all the places that are not covered with solder resist, creating an electrical connection between the through components and the motherboard.
Now the motherboard is complete and is ready for final testing.
Motherboard vs Circuit Board – Quick Guide – PC Gear Lab. 5 Mar. 2020, https://pcgearlab.com/motherboard/motherboard-vs-circuit-board/.
published, PC Plus. “How Motherboards Are Made: A Miracle of Modern Electronics.” TechRadar, 15 Aug. 2010, https://www.techradar.com/news/computing-components/motherboards/how-motherboards-are-made-a-miracle-of-modern-electronics-709366.
Solder Mask – PCB Prototype the Easy Way – PCBWay. https://www.pcbway.com/pcb_prototype/PCB_Solder_mask.htmlAccessed 9 Mar. 2022.
“What Is a Printed Circuit Board (PCB)?” Printed Circuits LLC, https://www.printedcircuits.com/what-is-a-pcb/. Accessed 9 Mar. 2022.
Wright, Al. PCB Vias – Everything You Need To Know. https://blog.epectec.com/pcb-vias-everything-you-need-to-know. Accessed 9 Mar. 2022.
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