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Computer Motherboards

Motherboards Buying Guide
Introduction: Motherboards are very aptly named as t...
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Motherboards Buying Guide


Motherboards are very aptly named as they truly are the 'mother' of any computer system, they are the base on which to build and design your system. There are numerous types and sizes of motherboards available today, but the specific one that you choose will be determined by your needs or the needs of the system you are building.

There are few main factors that will go into your choice of a motherboard:

Type of System:
What is the main thing you want to do with this computer? Are you a gamer? Is it going to be primarily for multi-media like a Home Theater PC (HTPC)? Or are you just going to be surfing the internet? Or maybe it's for your home based business, these are all things to keep in mind when considering your motherboard purchase as this will ultimately be the deciding factor for the motherboard you choose.

Size of the system:
This is one that people overlook, depending on what you want to do with your computer you may not need a full-sized system or motherboard for your needs. Let's say you want to build an HTPC, well you'll certainly be thinking about keeping it small as not many people want a large tower PC cluttering up their entertainment center. So of course you'll be looking at smaller form factor style motherboards for these needs.

Is the Motherboard for an Upgrade?:
If you're intending on purchasing a motherboard to upgrade a pre-existing system you'll need to make sure all of your 'older' parts will be compatible with the new motherboard. So this of course beings about quite a few more decisions in your choice of a motherboard. Depending on how old your components are it might not be worth upgrading the motherboard as your components could hold back the overall performance of the system.

Types of Motherboards:

There are many types of motherboards on the market today and for the most part each style or form factor does have it's own purposes.

The two most popular motherboard styles for consumers are:

ATX or Full-ATX Motherboards are the most common size or form factor of motherboards on the market today, these are also the largest and designed to fit inside tower style cases, but some desktop cases can fit them as well.

-ATX boards are usually the most powerful boards on the market and they have all of the latest and greatest features that anyone could want or need. If you're looking to build a powerful gaming computer then this form factor is what you'll want to focus your attention to as it will feature the latest and fastest chipsets, along with many other additional features like surround sound, SLI, and Crossfire capabilities.

-You'll find ATX form factor motherboards are the most versatile as well, you can find them specifically built to be used in gaming with additional special cooling systems built directly onto the board. On some you'll fine elaborate heatpipe cooling for the chipsets and some motherboards even come equipped with water blocks to be integrated into a liquid cooling system. These boards are usually the most expensive as well. Of course you can find ATX motherboards that are meant to be servers with two or more CPU sockets integrated into them, you'll also find them specifically built to be the center of your multi-media experience as well.

microATX style motherboards are about 25% smaller than the standard ATX is, and these are the second most popular form factor available today. The microATX is popular because of it's small size, and the fact that even though it's small it can be as powerful as a standard ATX motherboard can. These are great for HTPC systems and gaming systems where you want to be able to take your computer with you to game with others at LAN parties etc. There are several companies out there that make small PC cases specifically designed for the microATX format, some are meant to be used as an HTPC and feature things like remote controls and controls on the front of the case for your multi-media, while others are meant specifically for gamers with flashy looks, windows and lights.

-Many microATX motherboards feature an on-board graphics chip as well that can be used instead of having to purchase a separate video card, these can be used for a great base for a budget computer, or something even for children where video processing power isn't something that is required or needed.

There are several other types of motherboards out there today like the ITX format that can come in many sizes, these are usually expensive and generally for a specialized uses and not really for the end consumer, though I have seen many people build fine systems around these formats as well.

Other Thoughts on Purchasing a Motherboard:

If you intend your motherboard purchase to be an upgrade for your current hardware be sure to check to make sure it's all going to be compatible, don't rely on what the retailer tells you about the specifications of the motherboard, always visit the manufacturers website to find the exact specifications of the motherboard you are intending on buying. Many times I've run across wrong specs listed on a website selling a board I was thinking of buying, had I not double-checked the specifications and purchased the board I would have had the hassle of having to return the board and most likely incur a restocking fee as well from the retailer. You can avoid many headaches by just doing a bit more research by visiting the manufacturers website and finding out the correct information for the product you intend to purchase.

With the popularity of SATA drives, you'll find that on many new motherboards you are limited to the IDE connections, if you've got older IDE hard drives or other IDE style devices that you wish to use with your new motherboard make sure there's enough connections for what you need.

You can also come to find that with newer motherboards you'll need to update the BIOS even before you can use the board, especially with newer CPUs being released all the time. The motherboard you intend to purchase might not be listed as being compatible with your CPU, but there could be a BIOS upgrade available that makes it compatible with it.

Closing Thoughts:

Purchasing a motherboard isn't really as difficult as it sounds, it might take some time to find the right one for you, but in the end you'll be happy you took the time to research all of your options to make sure you are getting exactly what you want and need. You can avoid quite a few hassles just by doing a little bit of research!

When you finally decide on what motherboard you need for your uses be sure to shop around as many stores have different prices for the exact same thing, and since there are several manufacturers of motherboards out there you can have many choices as well for basically the same motherboard, with only subtle differences between the manufacturers.

Of course after you decide what motherboard you want, look around at the reviews for it, many motherboards have the same chipsets in them but might not offer the same performance, so you might find a better performing motherboard from a different manufacturer for the same price that has the same specs you are looking for.

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