A Short Guide to Motherboard Parts and Their Functions
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The motherboard is the most important component of your PC. If you crack your motherboard or one of its connections malfunctions, it’s curtains for your PC. Unfortunately, motherboards also seem like a mysterious and magical entity to those who aren’t tech aficionados.

With so many parts, pieces, and components, figuring out each individual part’s purpose can seem like brain surgery. That is, until now! Read on for a comprehensive, albeit basic, guide to your motherboard Your PC, Inside and Out Your PC, Inside and Out While your PC's technical specs change, its function remains the same. In this guide, we're going to set out exactly what each component does, why it does it, and why that is important. Read More !

Motherboard: An Overview

Below is the picture we will use to illustrate the simple components of a motherboard, the MSI H81-P33.

msi motherboard overview
Image Credit: MSI

While there are more complex motherboard configurations which allow users to install more components into the main board, the example above lays out a basic configuration. There are three general aspects of a motherboard which users would require to configure one correctly.

  • Slots: Slots accommodate hardware components using raised ports. The major slots present in a motherboard are: AGP (Accelerated Graphics Port), PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect), and RAM (Randon Access Memory).
  • Sockets: Sockets allow users to install component pieces directly into the motherboard. The CPU socket is the most notable example.
  • Connections: Connections provide power via your power supply to your component parts. These connections are often pin connections, some of which are placed in raised sockets (via ATX connectors), while others are bare.

While the layout of specific motherboard models involve many more components than the above, those presented are the components designed for consumer-level involvement.

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CPU Socket

CPU sockets come in two types: LGA (Land Grid Array) and PGA (Pin Grid Array). LGA uses small contact plates, whereas PGA uses thin pins, to connect your CPU to your motherboard.

msi motherboard overview cpu

There are also various versions of sockets within the general LGA type. Different sockets affect the output performance of the CPU What Is A CPU and What Does It Do? What Is A CPU and What Does It Do? Computing acronyms are confusing. What is a CPU anyway? And do I need a quad or dual-core processor? How about AMD, or Intel? We're here to help explain the difference! Read More .

A high quality or more costly motherboard will carry higher quality sockets.

msi motherboard overview sockets
Image Credit: Wikipedia

Installing a CPU into a slot is as simple as placing the CPU into the slot with the correct orientation (depicted on a CPU with a small arrow indicator) and pressing the CPU into contact with the socket using the contact lever.

DIMM Slots

DIMM (Dial Inline Memory Module) slots house the RAM modules Everything You Need to Know About RAM & Memory Management Everything You Need to Know About RAM & Memory Management RAM is your computer's short term memory. Hence, memory management has a significant impact on system performance. Here we explain how RAM works and whether you can do anything to increase its efficiency. Read More (often called “RAM sticks”) installed on your motherboard.

They are typically oriented parallel to the back panel connectors of your motherboard.

msi motherboard overview ram

There are two types of DIMMs: 168-pin SDRAM and 184-pin DDR SDRAM slots. The latter is the de facto RAM slot on most modern motherboards, with one notch in its DIMM module instead of two.

msi motherboard overview ram
Image Credit: HyperX

DIMM slots come in pairs, and are color coded to separate single from dual channel slots. Installing sticks in dual channel memory slots provides better performance when they are identical.

In order to install correctly, open the two small levers located on each side of the DIMM slot and press down the RAM stick until they snap back into place.

PCI Slots

PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect) slots house hardware devices such as graphics and sound cards. Modern motherboards predominantly use different PCIe The Pros and Cons of PCI-e Wireless Network Adapters vs. USB Wireless Solutions The Pros and Cons of PCI-e Wireless Network Adapters vs. USB Wireless Solutions Need to add wireless networking to your computer? You've got two options: PCI-e network adapters or USB wireless solutions. Let's take a look at the pros and cons of each. Read More (PCI Express) versions.

PCI Express is designed to replace previous, older bus versions such as PCI, PCI-X, and AGP.

msi motherboard overview pci

PCI Express slots come in standardized sizes ranging from x1 (smallest) to x16 (largest). Modern motherboards will typically allocate space for at least one PCI Express x16 slot to install a dedicated graphics card 5 Things You Have to Know Before Buying a Graphics Card 5 Things You Have to Know Before Buying a Graphics Card Here are five key points to keep in mind before you buy your next graphics card, otherwise you may regret your purchase. Read More .

Smaller PCI Express slots, such as the x1 or x4, are typically used for audio and network cards.

msi motherboard overview pcie sizes
Image Credit: Wikipedia

Like most other PC slots, the notch on your edge connector will determine the orientation of the component.

CMOS Battery

The reason your PC can boot into your BIOS even if your OS malfunctions is because the BIOS is located within your CMOS chip. This CMOS chip is then powered by your CMOS battery.

msi motherboard overview cmos

You may receive error messages concerning the charge of your BIOS or suffer some voltage-related PC issue, and need to remove or replace your CMOS battery Why Does My Motherboard Have A Battery? Why Does My Motherboard Have A Battery? Whether you’re using a desktop computer or a laptop, your computer’s motherboard contains an integrated battery. Unlike a standard laptop battery, the motherboard’s battery doesn’t power your computer while you're using it. Quite the opposite,... Read More .

Simply pull the small lever located on the side of the battery in order to remove the battery, which should spring up instantly. Keep in mind, this part is particularly susceptible to static shock, so be careful with the component.

Power Connectors

Power connections are responsible for providing power to your motherboard via your power supply. The cables used for these connections, termed ATX connectors, provide a secure and consistent power connection to your motherboard.

msi motherboard overview power

Two ATX connectors are required to get your motherboard in working order: one for the CPU (4 pin ATX for low end and 8 pin ATX for high end) and the other main connector (typically the larger 24 ATX) for the rest of the board.

Front Panel and USB Connectors

Power connections for additional hardware like front panel audio and USB inputs are located in smaller, bare pin clusters. In our examples, they are named J Connectors because of the default MSI labelling (JFP, JUSB, JAUD, etc.), though this labeling scheme doesn’t apply to all motherboard makes and models.

msi motherboard overview j connectors

More particularly, front panel connectors (labelled JFP1) require that users install individual pin connectors into the motherboard as opposed to pre-configured connections.

msi motherboard overview j connectors front panel

Front panel connectors can be a serious annoyance. For instance, misplacing your case power button connector will cause your PC to fail to turn on.

When installing front panel connectors, ensure that you take your time. You can also check for your user manual online to find the exact front panel connector configuration of your motherboard.

SATA Connectors

SATA connectors allow users to connect their hard drive to their motherboard via a SATA cable.

msi motherboard overview sata

Different motherboard configurations place SATA ports differently, but you can always note the part given its unique plug and onboard labelling. The small dimple on the plug determines its configurations.

Back Panel

The back panel provides users with the main array of I/O connections such as LAN, USB, and audio port.

msi motherboard overview back panel

The below image provides a portrait layout of the H81-P33’s back panel.

msi motherboard overview back panel
Image Credit: MSI

From left to right, the ports are: PS/2 ports for older keyboards and mouses (purple for keyboard and green for mouse), 2 x USB 2.0 ports, 2 x USB 3.0 ports, DVI (white) and VGA (blue) ports for displays, LAN port with two additional USB ports below, and 3 x 3.5 mm audio ports (light blue for microphone, light green for audio input, and pink for audio output). Additional USB and audio ports are typically located on PC cases as well.

That’s (Not Exactly) All, Folks!

A motherboard is a complex piece of technology. While the clusters of bumps, plugs and pins may seem overwhelming at first, it doesn’t take an engineer to note the various connections you would need to build your own PC How To Build Your Own PC How To Build Your Own PC It's very gratifying to build your own PC; as well as intimidating. But the process itself is actually quite simple. We'll walk you through everything you need to know. Read More .

Now that you know the basics, open up your own PC and check to see if you can locate the above on your own motherboard. Who knows, it could come in handy if you ever needed to replace a component.

Have any other tech gadgetry you’d like explained? Let us know in the comments below!

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  1. Greg Zeng
    October 24, 2017 at 9:09 am

    My old Dell XPS-15 (2013 model) has a motherboard similar to the modern notebooks that I have seen in other reviews on the internet. I-O ports external & internal are similar over the last few years. Internal connectors for replacement drives, memory look similar as well.

    Could you give a generic understanding of these also?