Motherboards are the backbone of all personal computer systems. The choice of a motherboard determines things such as what type of processor you can use, how much memory it can have, what peripherals can be attached and what features it can support. Because of all this, it is important to know what you need when selecting the right motherboard.
Processor (CPU) Support
A motherboard typically has on it a specific processor socket type. This socket will determine the physical packaging of the AMD or Intel processor that can be installed on it. In addition to this, the motherboards chipset will determine what specific model processors can be used with the motherboard. Becuase of this, it is often best to get an idea of what processor you intend to use with your desktop computer before you go about picking the motherboard.
Are you looking to put together a feature packed desktop tower for lots of performance? Maybe you want something a bit more compact? Motherboards come in three traditional sizes: ATX, micro-ATX (mATX) and mini-ITX. Each of these are defined by a specific dimensions the boards have. The physical size of the board also has implications upon the number of on board ports and slots that they have. For instance, an ATX board will often feature around five total PCI-Express and/or PCI slots. An mATX board will generally only have three total PCI-Express and/or PCI slots. The mini-ITX board is so small that it typically only features a single PCI-Express x16 graphics card slot. The same is true for the memory slots (4 for ATX, 2 or 4 for mATX, 2 for mini-ITX) and SATA ports (6 or more for ATX, 4 to 6 for mATX, 2 to 4 for mini-ITX).
As mentioned above, the chipset plays a direct role in selecting what processor can be used with a motherboard. The chipset also determines what type and speed of memory that can be installed. The motherboad size and number of memory slots will aslo determine the total amount of memory that can be installed. Consider how much memory you will need on your computer as well as if you want to be able to add more later.
Expansions Slots and Connectors
The number and type of expansion slots and connectors is important for what will be placed in the computer. If you have peripherals that require a specific connector or slot type, such as USB 3.0, eSATA, Thunderbolt, HDMI or PCI-Express, you want to make sure that you get a motherboard that supports that type of connection. It is always possible to get an expansion card to add some connectors but this is not always true and often they perform better when integrated into the motherboard chipset.
Features are extras added to the motherboard that are not required for operation but are useful to have. They can include things such as an on-board Ethernet, audio or RAID controller. If the board has more features than you need it is not a problem since many can be turned off in the motherboards BIOS. These features can save money by not requiring additional expansion cards.
If you plan on overclocking your processor, you want to make sure the board will support it. For instance, the chipset must be ale to support adjustment of the CPU multipliers and voltages which not all chipsets will allow. In addition, motherboards that offer improved power management and solid capacities can offer a better level of stability. Finally, overclocking can stress the components so any additional heat disappating elements can also be beneficial if you are going to be doing major overclocking.