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Guided Tour of a Motherboard

Guided Tour of a Motherboard



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Published by: api-3836139 on Oct 18, 2008
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Guided Tour of aMotherboard

A motherboard is the most critical part of a computer system. It consists
of three major components: the Basic Input/Output System (BIOS)
chip, the Central Processing Unit (CPU), and the system buses.

The initial settings for operating the system at power up are stored on
the BIOS chip. These settings are backed up by a small battery. This
battery is usually round and approximately the size of a quarter. The
BIOS contains settings for the size and location of the boot device, the
I/O specifications forperipherals connected to the Peripheral Component
Interface (PCI) bus, and other settings that must be maintained when
the computer is powered down.

TheCPU is the brain of the computer. It does all the processing for all
the programs in the system. The CPU also acts as a traffic cop by
relaying information to and between individual system components.

Every component in the computer must be able to communicate with
the CPU through the motherboard. This is done via a collection of
copper or gold tracings attached to the motherboard. These tiny wires
are called buses. These buses are explained in more detail below.

All functions of the motherboard are controlled by a chipset. The chipset determines
resource allocation on the motherboard. The BIOS chip is a part of the chipset. Many
modern motherboards contain network, sound card, and video chips intended to replace plug
in PCI devices. These are all considered a part of the chipset.

System Buses
A motherboard has the following buses connected to it:

\ue000The power bus
\ue000The front side bus
\ue000The back side bus
\ue000The Peripheral Component Interface (PCI) bus
\ue000The Universal Serial Bus (USB)
\ue000Firewire bus

The Power Bus

Power for the system is distributed by the motherboard. This is done via a power bus that is connected to the
power supply. The power supply is mounted in the case separately from the motherboard to allow better heat
dissipation, thus preventing critical components on the motherboard from overheating. Some components
(especially disk drives) are designed to draw their power directly from the power supply instead of through the
power bus. Other components, like PCI cards and USB devices, draw power directly from the power bus.

The Front Side Bus

The front side bus is a special high speed bus designed especially to connect the CPU to components with
which it must communicate very frequently. Examples are the Random Access Memory (RAM) and the
system\u2019s video card.

The Back Side Bus

The back side bus is a special bus that allows communication between the CPU and the layer-2 cache, which is
a device that offloads some specialized computing tasks to make the CPU operate more quickly. Nothing
besides the cache and CPU are connected to the back side bus.

The PCI Bus

The PCI bus is a slightly slower bus that connects many optional cards to the motherboard. Examples of these include sound cards, network cards, and custom manufactured external peripheral cards. There is a newer PCI standard, called PCI Express, which is designed to handle inter-card communication at multi-gigabit speeds.


Many external peripherals are connected to the system via the USB. The list of these items include printers,
scanners, cameras, network cards, mp3 players, external hard disk drives, and many more items. A lot of
people prefer USB devices because they are easier to connect to the computer, they can be "hot-swapped," and
you don't have to have separate power supplies for each external device.

There are two USB standards: USB 1.0 and 2.0. USB 1.0 is not used on newer computers because USB 2.0 is
backwards compatible.

Firewire is a special bus designed to operate very efficiently with cameras and other peripherals that require an
extremely high speed, wired interface. USB 2.0 is minimally faster than USB 2.0 (firewire operates at
400Mbps and USB 2.0 is 480Mbps). There is a newer firewire standard that allows for component operation
at 800Mbps.

Special Features of a Motherboard
The following pictures depict special features of a motherboard that you should be able to recognize:

This is the CPU socket or the location where the CPU is connected to the motherboard. The CPU frequently has a fan mounted on top of it when installed, so this socket may be difficult to recognize if the CPU is already installed.

These are PCI Express slots. This is a newer version of the PCI standard that allows for
insertion of peripheral boards that communicate at extremely high data rates.
These are standard PCI slots.

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