The component motherboard is named “Mother” Board because it connects everything to each other and in this post, I am going to talk about computer motherboards in specific. Although there are so many varieties of motherboards you can find on electronics store, the most common are 4 types. If you are going to build a PC or just want to know which types of motherboards are the most popular and what they do, then I will explain each type with an easy explanation. As I said, there are 4 types of motherboards which are generally used in PCs which are as follows:-
These are the common terms which represent their form factors. Form factors represent the sizes of the boards and their features. The smaller the board is, the lesser the features are. This is a common thing but there are exceptions where you can find more features on a smaller board than on a bigger one.
Let me explain how each one of these looks and what features they generally have.
From the name itself, you can guess the size. Generally, it’s smallest form factor which is used in PCs people use for day to day purpose. Take a look at how a modern Mini-ITX motherboard looks:-
This is a very small motherboard which has limited features but not necessarily the minimum. A Mini-ITX motherboard measures around 17x 17 CM or 6.7 x 6.7 Inch in dimensions. Computer cases which support Mini-ITX motherboards will have the screw holes at the exact same position no matter which case you buy and these dimensions are fixed.
Why a Mini-ITX motherboard is used?
Mini-ITX motherboard is used to save as much as space possible providing all the basic features a bigger board can provide. Some people prefer building a PC in a Mini-ITX case which is also much smaller than an ATX case and provides a compact solution to those who don’t have enough space for their PCs.
A modern Mini-ITX motherboard sports the same sized socket as a bigger board but some ports and slots are decreased in quantity. There will be never more than 1x PCI-Ex 16 Slot on a Mini-ITX motherboard and never more than 2x DIMM Slots for memory. Almost every ITX board has only 4x SATA ports for storage and a few Fan headers. But features like Overclocking may vary. Basic budget ITX motherboards don’t have unlocked chipsets but expensive one may have unlocked chipsets which are used for overclocking the processors.
A Micro-ATX motherboard is bigger than the ITX motherboard and smaller than an ATX motherboard. Generally, it has dimensions as 24.4 x 24.4 CM or 9.6 x 9.6 Inches. But some motherboards may have dimensions as 9.6 x 8.1 Inches or 24.4 x 20.6 CM depending upon the slots and ports they come with. A modern mid-high end Micro-ATX motherboard looks like following:-
Why a Micro-ATX motherboard is used?
A Micro-ATX motherboard serves both the purpose of good features and compactness. As it is bigger than an ITX motherboard, it sports more slots and ports while remaining smaller than a Full ATX motherboard. The size also varies making it a flexible form factor.
Depending upon the dimensions the number of PCI slots and Memory slots differs in quantity. A Micro-ATX board can either have 2x DIMM slots OR 4x DIMM slots which makes it wider or narrower. Similarly, a particular Micro-ATX board can have only 1x PCI-Ex 16 slot but the other one can have up to 3x PCI-Ex 16 slots. These boards come in a variety of features ranging from budget to high-end having great VRM section, big heatsinks, more fan headers and more storage facilities.
The standard ATX form factor is the most popular because it has every feature which can fulfil almost every requirement, be it for a gaming or productivity. An ATX motherboard is larger than a Micro-ATX and smaller than an E-ATX motherboard. A modern ATX motherboard looks like as follows:-
An ATX motherboard packs in tons of features with a lot of upgradability that is enough for several years depending on the user’s needs. More ports and slots are available as compared to Mini-ITX and Micro-ATX but it costs more than the two form factors mentioned above. General dimensions of an ATX motherboard are 12 x 9.6 Inches or 30.5 x 24.4 CM. Almost every Mid-Tower can fit in an ATX motherboard without any problem.
Why an ATX motherboard is used?
An ATX motherboard provides almost every feature which an enthusiast may need including overclocking, a lot of storage support, high-end CPUs, More memory, Better cooling etc. An ATX form factor motherboard is good for those who don’t have any space problem and have a good sized CPU cabinet that takes more space than a Micro-ATX or Mini-ITX case. Also, ATX motherboards look better in design and fill up the interior of a chassis.
One of the best advantages of an ATX motherboard is that it provides several PCI slots and at least 4x DIMM slots that can support a lot of memory. Modern motherboards support more than 32GB of RAM easily. These motherboards may or may not have an unlocked chipset but those having unlocked chipsets have very good VRMs with efficient heatsinks for stable overclocking.
These motherboards, in general, have a lot of fan headers that are used for connecting the chassis fans, radiators as well as custom liquid coolers. Also, these have a lot of SATA ports and other storage devices ports which increases the overall capability of an ATX motherboard to connect more storage devices. Not only that, high-end ATX motherboards have 3-4 PCI-Ex 16 slots that are capable of handling multiple graphics cards.
An E-ATX motherboard is something not usual and common amongst most people. Many enthusiasts prefer to stay with an ATX motherboard but those who need some serious horsepower and are in the industry where more CPU cores and huge Memory size are needed, E-ATX motherboards come as the best solution. Following is an example of a modern E-ATX motherboard:-
An E-ATX motherboard measures 12 x 10.9 Inches or 30.5 x 27.7 CM in dimensions which is the biggest among the 4 types I mentioned having more width which is due to increased DIMM slots. The capability of an E-ATX motherboard is insane and they do not come into budget category anyways. Their sockets and processors are different and are much more powerful.
Why an E-ATX motherboard is used?
An E-ATX motherboard has every feature that is needed to do high-end stuff like rendering, video processing and things which a normal ATX board can’t do. The limit is not defined and so the cost. A person building a PC with an E-ATX motherboard will have to buy a very high-end processor that will have a lot of cores and threads which are not available in mainstream processors. These motherboards acquire a lot of space and require at least Full-Tower cases which are really huge.
E-ATX motherboards have a lot of PCI-Ex 16 slots, generally 4 or more than that and 8x DIMM slots for RAM. An E-ATX motherboard can support 3-4 Graphics cards in SLI or CrossfireX easily depending upon the capability of a graphics card to be used in multiple quantities. RAM capacity is very high in these motherboards which is generally 128GB in the case of modern motherboards. Most of these have inbuilt wifi, sound cards and onboard troubleshooting features and have very powerful VRM sections for stable overclocking.
Components of a modern motherboard
A motherboard has several components, each of them is dedicated to a different task. Have a look at what these are and what they do:-
A CPU socket is where a processor is installed. Currently, there are two major manufacturers of processors: Intel and AMD which produce processors that are installed on different sockets. They are not interchangeable and their sockets are different from each other.
A CPU socket comprises of several hundred pins that get in direct contact with the processor chip or a socket may have several hundred pin holes as in the case of latest AMD AM4 socket. Both Intel and AMD have released various sockets in the past decades that support a particular generation or generations of processors.
VRM stands for Voltage Regulator Module and it’s responsible for regulating the voltage from the power supply for correct voltage to the CPU. A power supply has a +12VDC EPS power connector that is responsible for supplying the voltage to the VRM and the VRM converts the 12V into a voltage of somewhere between 1.1V to 1.4V which depends on various factors. A VRM consists of three components: Capacitors, Chokes, and MOSFETs which are there to ensure that the power supply is stable and controlled.
DIMM (Dual In-line Memory Module) slots are used for installing RAM sticks which store data temporarily and are different from storage drives which can store data permanently even after the power supply is cut off. DIMM slots quantity vary from board to board. A modern motherboard with any of the 4 form factors can consist of DIMM slots ranging from 2 to 8.
PCI or Expansion slots
Expansion or PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect) slots are for connecting peripherals directly to the board using the PCI slots that differ in size and capability. Most common PCI slots today are PCI-E x1 and PCI-E x16. Older motherboards used to have AGP slots too that were used for installing a video card which are now replaced by PCI-E x16 slots.
SATA which stands for Serial Advanced Technology Attachment is an interface which connects a storage device like a hard drive or a solid state drive to the motherboard. Unlike the other components, a SATA hard drive or SSD is connected via a SATA cable which has 7 pins.
M.2 is amongst the latest additions to the motherboard which serves as an interface to connect SSDs, Wifi, Bluetooth etc. as buses such as PCI, SATA and USB get exposed through it. An NVME SSD connected through the M.2 connector doesn’t get bottlenecked unlike through the SATA port as it gets 4 PCI lanes to transfer data resulting in speeds that are several times faster than the SATA drives. Most of the Intel and AMD motherboards nowadays feature at least one M.2 slot.
Every motherboard has a dedicated Audio section near the audio jacks at the I/O. It can generally be identified by a PCB circuit line inside which there are several capacitors. High-end motherboards have more components in the audio section for crystal clear sound.
CMOS battery is a Non-volatile RAM which is present in every motherboard and can be identified easily as it is silver and round in shape. This battery is responsible for storing the hardware information such as the specs of CPU, RAM, Disk Drives, graphics cards etc. in the BIOS and is also responsible for the correct time and date.
Headers are the pin connectors which are used for connecting peripherals to the motherboard. Components like chassis fans, CPU fans, front panel Audio and USB ports, RGB devices etc. are connected to the motherboard through these headers. Each of these headers has a different pin configuration and work on a particular voltage.
A motherboard is powered through power connectors and there are different power connectors for different components. Some of the components don’t need additional power connectors on the motherboard such as RAM, Storage drives and low-profile graphics cards which draw the power from the slots. There are two main power connectors: ATX and EPS. Their pin configuration varies from board to board. While ATX power connector is responsible to deliver the power to different sections of the motherboard, the EPS power connector is solely dedicated to supply the power to the VRM.
Every motherboard has an Input/Output section at the rear where several ports are present to connect the peripherals. Ports like USB, PS/2, HDMI, VGA, LAN and Audio jacks are available here to connect the devices.
Which type of motherboard is best?
While almost all of the 4 form factors of the motherboard are great for every task, an ATX motherboard is generally considered to be the best as it provides more features, more compatibility and more upgradability over the Mini ITX and Micro ATX boards. E-ATX boards are also great but not a lot of cases are out there which can support them.
What does ATX mean?
ATX stands for Advanced Technology eXtended. It was designed by Intel in 1995 and is currently the most common form factor.
What are the main components of a motherboard?
While there are many important components on a motherboard, there are two components without which your computer won’t work at all. These are CPU socket and DIMM slots. The CPU socket is for the processor and the DIMM slots hold the RAM sticks.
How do I find motherboard specs?
The best way to find the specs of your motherboard is to check its manufacturer’s official product page. Currently, all the manufacturers have a dedicated product page for their motherboards where you can find all the information related to their boards.