A motherboard is fairly hard to miss. It is after all the biggest board by size on a computer. If you are new to PCs and PC building then you may ask what does a motherboard look like.
Again, a motherboard is a large board with various chipsets, slots, ports and sockets for CPU, expansion cards, RAM, storage and peripheral devices.
A motherboard is essentially the backbone of a PC as it holds the rest of the components together.
There are many different form factors or sizes of motherboards too. While motherboards can be different in sizes, they serve the same purpose.
In the following text, I will talk in detail about what a motherboard looks like and also talk about its parts and their purpose.
So What Does a Motherboard Look Like?
As mentioned, it is fairly difficult to miss a motherboard on a PC. A motherboard is basically a large circuit board with specialized chips, interfaces, sockets and ports.
They also have an abundance of electrical circuit subcomponents such as small and large capacitors and inductors which also cannot be missed.
The following image shows what a motherboard basically looks like without any components attached to it.
As such, a motherboard essentially serves as the skeleton on which the rest of the components connect.
If CPU is the brain of a computer, then motherboard is the body, the skeleton and the nerve system.
It not only holds the rest of the components together, just as a skeleton holds our body, it also serves as the primary network or channel through which different components communicate with each other, like the nervous system.
Also Read: Why RAM is Called Volatile Memory?
Different Motherboard Form Factors
Note that there are four common form factors for motherboards:
- ATX – 12 x 9.6 inches (305 x 244 mm)
- Micro ATX – 9.6 x 9.6 inches (244 x 244 mm)
- Mini ITX – 6.7 x 6.7 inches (170 x 170 mm)
- E-ATX – 12 x 13 inches (305 x 330 mm)
The form factors serve different purposes
ATX – for Most Gaming and Professional Builds
ATX is the largest form factor. Motherboard of this size often feature the most expansion slots. It is often intended for enthusiasts and professionals.
ATX is also the most common form factor that you can find in the market.
Micro ATX – Budget Builds
This is great for most budget users or for those who have moderate expansion needs.
The cheapest motherboards are of this category.
Mini ITX – For Portability
The smallest form factor with minimal expansion capability. Generally offers only a single x16 slot.
These are quite rare. They are often more expensive than Micro ATX (if you take the same feature into account) but they are intended for portable builds.
E-ATX – For Workstations
E-ATX stands for Extended ATX. These are specialized boards intended for workstation PCs. They have the most expansion capability.
Motherboards for CPUs like the Ryzen Threadripper, Intel X and Intel Xeon series are often of the E-ATX form factor.
Also Read: What Makes a Motherboard Good?
What are the Different Parts of a Motherboard?
Knowing what does a motherboard look like is just one thing, you also have to know what the different parts of the board look like and what they are intended for.
The following image identifies the different components and parts of a motherboard. The details of the parts are given below.
Knowing what each means would not only allow you to understand what a motherboard looks like in general, but also what different parts of a motherboard look like specifically.
1. Primary Power Connectors
There are two power connectors. One for CPU and the other for the motherboard.
The CPU power connector is 8 pin whereas the motherboard power connector is 24 pin.
Both of these plug to Power Supply Unit.
2. CPU Socket
CPU socket is where you would plug in your CPU. Different motherboards have different CPU sockets and they are not cross-compatible.
In other words, you cannot plug any CPU into any socket. The one shown above is the LGA1155 socket intended for 2nd Gen Intel CPUs.
3. RAM Slots
RAM slots, also known as DIMM slots, are where you would plug in the RAM sticks.
Again, note that RAM slots are also not cross-compatible across generation. Meaning you cannot fit a DDR3 RAM in a DDR4 slot and vice versa.
4. PCIe Slots
PCIe is the an interface for connecting High Speed Input Output (HSIO) devices to your computer.
PCIe is a critical interface that gives motherboard and PCs their modular design. PCIe slots are where you would plug in the expansion cards such as graphics cards, WiFi card, video capture card etc.
Also Read: What are PCIe Slots?
5. SATA Slots
SATA is an interface for adding storage drives such as hard disk drives, optical drives and SATA SSDs to your motherboard.
These are often found in abundance on a given motherboard.
Compared to PCIe, this is a much slower interface and thus only supports components with slow data transfer rates.
Also Read: What are SATA Ports Used For?
The chipset is the heart of the motherboard. The chipset defines which CPU the motherboard would support, the amount of PCIe lanes it has, the components, ports, devices and their version your PC can support.
Voltage Regulator Modules or VRMs are small but very important, and often overlooked, components that have the sole purpose of delivering clean and the right amount of power to your CPU.
The more VRMs your motherboard has and the better quality they are, the better would be the power delivery to your CPU and RAM.
They are an essential consideration of overclockers.
Also Read: What are Motherboard Power Phases and VRMs?
8. Back I/O Panel
The back I/O panel offers the built in USB, Video, Ethernet and other connectivity ports. The back I/O panel is different from motherboard to motherboard.
9. CMOS Battery
The CMOS battery powers the BIOS in your laptop. If this battery dies, you will often face issues with your PC not turning on.
Removing this would reset your BIOS.
10. Front Panel Connector
The Front Panel Connector provides important pins for:
- Power Switch on the Case
- Reset Switch on the Case
- LED, HDD lights on the case
- Motherboard beep code speaker
11. USB Connectors
These are often intended for the front USB ports found on the case.
12. Fan Connectors
There are different types of fan connectors. The two important are as follows.
- CPU_FAN: for the CPU cooler
- SYS_FAN: intended for the case fans
13. Other Connectors
There are various other connectors you can find on a motherboard such as Front Audio connector for plugging in the audio ports found on your PC.
Other Devices / Parts
i. M.2 Slot
The motherboard above, being an older board, does not have an M.2 slot.
Almost all of the newer boards have at least a single M.2 slot for connecting an M.2 NVMe SSD.
Some motherboards feature built in WiFi modem (which also include Bluetooth).
So what does a motherboard look like? Well, it is a circuit board, but far more advanced than a basic board. They have several ICs and controllers making them far more advanced than the passive backplanes used in the older times.
But in general, a motherboard on a PC is the largest board. There are various form factors such as mini ITX, micro ATX and ATX, but they all in the end serve the same purpose i.e facilitate communication between all the attached components.