What is a motherboard?

In the world of consumer tech, the word motherboard gets thrown around a lot, especially when talking brands like Asus and Intel. But what is a motherboard? It sounds pretty important. Well, if you were to think of your computer as a body, the CPU would be the brain while the motherboard would be the heart. It’s responsible for power routing, which helps coordinate how all CPU components work with one another.

Note that this is not the same as the CPU, which is where all the computations are performed. The motherboard simply organizes these computations and their results. While it doesn’t hold a lot of power itself, nothing else could work without the motherboard, which is why it is considered so vital. Here’s what else you need to know.

What components make up a motherboard?

There are several different motherboard designs and form factors, which have been updated over the years for different devices and evolving technology. However, all motherboards have a few things in common. All of them have circuits used to coordinate computer processes and a heat sink for absorbing and redirecting heat to keep the motherboard cool during use. Most have a secondary source of power, too.

The primary thing you’ll notice when you look at any motherboard is that it has a lot of slots and connections. Since everything is routed through the motherboard, it needs physical contact with nearly all computer components. That includes main power, CPU, RAM slots, USB, PCI, video and sound cards, and expansion slots.

If you use a wireless mouse or external keyboard, they have their connections along with any other essential accessory you might want. This utility is why a motherboard appears to be a ring of connectors — that’s its primary function.

Over time the ports on a motherboard tend to change based on what current technology demands. This is why an old motherboard may have many defunct ports for connections that are obsolete.

However, we will note two essential connections, specifically the connection to the CPU and the connection to power (I/O) functions. Commonly regarded as the two most crucial motherboard connections, CPU and power make up the backbone of the circuit. Together, they are called the chipset — the core management of power and processing for all tasks.

A brief history of the motherboard

The modern motherboard was invented long after the first computers. Early computers tended to be more straightforward machines, without the same need to coordinate many processes simultaneously. Before the consumer market took off, there wasn’t much demand for mass-produced motherboards.

However, this changed in 1981 when IBM released its Personal Computer, which is why laptops and desktops are called PCs. These computers needed a way to regulate their activity for consumers. In response, IBM developed the first motherboard to do it — a computer chip that took care of all the details while users completed their digital tasks.

At first, this component was called a planar and subsequently went through many additional names. The term motherboard became the most popular since the circuit board essentially acted as the mother to all the other computer components. As such, this is why motherboard expansions are sometimes known as daughterboards.

How to upgrade your motherboard

Typically, motherboards are mounted in the very back (farthest away from the opening panel) of the computer, content to sit back and do their work. However, motherboards also play an important role in computer upgrades. Anything you upgrade with a new model must be connected to the motherboard correctly.

However, you must make sure that the motherboard has the right connections for the upgrade you’re planning, and this can sometimes be a problem. Many motherboard upgrades help enable other improvements, like new video cards or CPUs that couldn’t be supported before. These considerations can snowball the price of upgrading your computer, which is why you should consider whether it’s less expensive to buy a new motherboard and components or just purchase a new PC.