Not always one of the best known, the motherboard is nevertheless the real backbone of a pc.
In fact, from the power-on button to the processor via the power supply and the graphics card, all the components are directly connected to it read the guide to buy Best motherboard for i7 9700K.
In addition, the motherboard hosts a very important component, the chipset (or set of components). It defines the type of processor and memory supported as well as the various buses and the standards supported (USB 3.0, PCI-Express 2.1, SATA II, etc.).
Finally, certain capacities such as overclocking or even monitoring of components are linked to specific components of the motherboard and to options present in the BIOS.
As we will see, there is plenty to explain and justify the significant price differences between models…
In general, the choice of motherboard comes after the choice of processor.
Understanding a motherboard
The motherboard is a large printed circuit at the bottom of the case! Its name is really not usurped since it alone defines almost all the possibilities of the system.
There are several very important elements on the motherboard:
The chipset: In the past, the chipset or set of components bore its name very well since it brought together a set of chips (three then two). Today, the chipset generally designates two or even a single chip. But whatever, the chipset is intimately linked to the processor, memory and supported standards. Viewed from a different perspective, each chipset is designed for a family of processors. With the evolution, Intel and AMD transfer more and more functionalities (the memory controller for example) from the chipset to the very heart of the processor.
The socket or processor support: Processors are attached to the motherboard via a specific support that often meets technological requirements. The more functionalities a processor has (memory controller, PCI-Express controller, graphics controller), the more connections it needs with the motherboard. We therefore understand better why the processor, its support and the chipset are so closely linked.
Memory banks: Like the processor support, memory banks have a different physical format depending on their type (DDR, DDR2 or DDR3). The type of memory supported is defined by the chipset or by the processor if the latter embeds the memory controller.
Explanatory image of the elements of a motherboard
For older processors, especially the Intel models in LGA775 format, many manufacturers had the necessary licenses to market chipsets: nVidia, AMD, SiS, Via, etc.
Regarding chipsets, you should also know that their price varies enormously: from less than $ 20 for entry-level to $ 50 for high-end with a price of 30 ~ $ 40 for the mid-range.
For the latest generations of Intel and AMD processors , only Intel and AMD offer component sets…
Do you need it?
All motherboards, even the cheapest, include an audio chip and a network chip.
In terms of connectors, they offer at least 4 USB 2.0 ports, audio inputs and outputs and an Ethernet port.
The more expensive models have a more extensive connection with for example: an optical audio output, a second Ethernet port, an eSATA connector, USB 3.0 ports, a FireWire interface, etc.
Generally, high-end motherboards come with gears which contain additional USB ports and support the mounting of hard disks (or SSD) in RAID.
There are also models with an integrated WiFi or Bluetooth chip…
Note that all of these features can be added via daughter cards or using USB dongles.
Anyway, do not forget that a sophisticated connection drives the price of the motherboard up.
Overclocking is a practice of operating the processor at a higher frequency than that guaranteed by the manufacturer.
Almost all motherboards have overclocking capabilities since it suffices to increase an operating frequency.
However, to get the most out of a processor, other parameters must be changed.
The informed users know it, it is also necessary to modify the supply voltages, to modify the relations between various buses, to deactivate certain protections (in particular to avoid Vdrop), etc.
Even at their basic frequency, modern processors involve very large currents.
Also, the power stage (called VRM) is put to the test, especially with a consequent overclocking.
There are very large differences in costs just for VRM.
On an entry-level motherboard, this part is only worth a dozen dollars but it is already climbing to $ 25 on a mid-range model and can reach $ 50 for the most successful models!
With or without a graphics chip?
Some motherboards are equipped with a chipset with an integrated “graphics card”.
It is an entry-level graphics controller with very limited performance, especially in 3D.
The integrated graphics chips are however largely sufficient for all common uses except 3D games…
Unlike AMD which continues to integrate the graphics chip in the chipset, Intel has placed the graphics circuit directly in certain processors (Core i3 and i5).
SLI and CrossFire X
Picture of a motherboardAMD and NVIDIA have each developed their technology to couple graphics cards and combine their power.
The CrossFire X AMD works on all motherboards can accommodate two PCI Express graphics cards.
The NVIDIA SLI is however subject to limitations. The motherboard must have an NVIDIA chip or the manufacturer must have paid royalties to NVIDIA…
If you are interested in SLI or CrossFire X, it is better to opt for a motherboard equipped with 2 PCI-Express ports in 16x format.
Please note, however, only Intel X58 and AMD 890FX chipsets offer two PCI-Express ports wired in 16x.
The other solutions, less expensive, operate in 8x + 8x mode without loss of performance.
The combination of several graphics cards makes perfect sense for 3DVision Surround (NVIDIA) or Eyefinity (AMD) for playing in very high resolution on several screens…
Unlike support for CrossFire X, support for SLI incurs an additional cost.
USB 3.0 and SATA 6 Gbps
My book 3.0 boxTwo new standards have just been set.
USB 3.0 takes over from USB 2.0 and offers leading transfer rates. With USB 3.0, there is no longer a limitation of the speed of external hard drives to ~ 25 MB / s.
The interface is 5x more efficient, transfer times are significantly reduced.
If you have to regularly transfer data to an external disk, a motherboard with USB 3.0 ports is a real advantage (provided you also use an external USB 3.0 disk)!
The SATA II interface is in practice limited to just over 280 MB / s and the latest generation SSDs are able to saturate it.
The SATA 6 Gbps or SATA rev 3.0 offers 2x more bandwidth with almost 600 MB / s usable.
The USB and SATA controllers are generally integrated in the chipset (the southbridge when there are two components).
While Intel is slow to support these technologies natively, AMD chips already support SATA rev 3.0 and support for USB 3.0 should soon be forthcoming.
Finally, if USB 3.0 or SATA rev 3.0 is not supported by the chipset, an additional chip on the motherboard or on a daughter card can do it.
The different formats of motherboards
Motherboard MSI P55M-GD45The majority of motherboards are in ATX or µATX format.
The ATX motherboards are larger and therefore offer greater expansion ports (PCI-Express and PCI) see more memory banks.
The µATX cards are smaller and intended for more compact boxes in the… µATX format! They can however take place in a classic ATX box.
In the past, µATX cards were often economical models.
But nowadays, manufacturers offer very high-end µATX motherboards (cut for overclocking with very complete connectivity) that have nothing to envy their big sisters.
A waltz of sockets!
Older Intel processors like the Core 2 Duo and the Core 2 Quad use LGA775 support.
This support is associated with a very wide range of chipsets from different manufacturers.
Today, LGA775 motherboards are only recommended for an economical update by recovering a maximum of old components (DDR2, hard disks with parallel ATA interface or even an AGP graphics card).
The LGA1156 support is intended for the Core i3, i5 and i7 800 series which constitute the largest of the offer in Intel processors.
There are a large number of motherboards all equipped with an Intel series 5 chipset (H55, P55, H57).
For Core i3 and Core i5 processors with “Intel HD Graphics” (therefore with an on-board graphics circuit), an H55 or H57 chipset and a video output (VGA, DVI or HDMI) are required. LGA1366
Support is exclusively reserved for Core i7 900 series which go hand in hand with motherboards based on X58 chipset. It is a high-end solution…
AMD mainly uses AM3 support, which makes its range of processors and motherboards much clearer.
In addition, an AM3 processor can still take place on an older motherboard equipped with an AM2 + or even AM2 support…
How to make a choice?
The supply of processors is wide and complex. Unsurprisingly, this complexity is found in motherboards and the choices in each range are vast…
The cheapest motherboards offer basic connectivity and limited overclocking capacity.
With the support of technologies like CrossFire X or SLI, advanced connectivity and advanced overclocking possibilities, prices climb very quickly.
Indeed, these cards often use a set of components and a high-end and therefore expensive power stage…
Asus P7P55D-E motherboardSome motherboards are already equipped with USB 3.0 and SATA 6 Gbps interfaces (also called SATA rev 3.0) like the Asus P7P55D -E Pro.
This is a real advantage, especially for those who plan to keep their motherboard as long as possible …
Unfortunately, the additional cost is sometimes quite high; USB 3.0 and SATA 6 Gbps are only present on mid or high-end models…
AMD markets processors in AM3 format that take place on motherboards with the AM3 socket or with the oldest AM2 + . New machine (from entry-level to high-end) or updated, with or without integrated graphics processor, AM3 motherboards are essential!
Intel is splitting its current offering into two media. The LGA1366 is reserved for the very high end (Core i7 900 series) and the LGA1156 goes from the entry to the high end (Core i3, i5 and i7 800 series). Some Core i3 and i5 i5 with “Intel HD Graphics” have a graphics chip (which is no longer in the chipset) and require a suitable motherboard.
For older Intel processors in LGA775 format, there are a large number of motherboards practical for updating or for building an inexpensive machine.