How to Choose a Motherboard

Level of difficulty: Beginner

A computer motherboard is an essential component of any computer system architecture primarily because it provides the underlying framework which will allow all components to interact with each other as well as provide other essential functionalities to the computer user. The manner of choosing a computer motherboard usually entails two basic concerns, price and intended usage of the completed machine. It is very important that the motherboard hardware remains electrically and physically compatible with the chosen type of processor that will be used in the computer system. In this context, it is important to take note of the processor form factor including the supported bus speed of the motherboard before making a decision to purchase it.

Materials Needed:
- Processor
- PC casing
Step 1
As a general rule, the processor and the motherboard should be purchased at the same time and preferably from the same vendor in order to avoid claims of device incompatibility.
Step 2
When choosing a motherboard, it is a safe rule to follow that it should be in the computer market for at least three months. This rule is important because it means any bugs that may exist either in its design or BIOS function have been discovered and ironed out.
Step 3
For the processor form factor, look for a motherboard that will allow upgrades for the same socket type. This means that if the current processor uses for example an LGA775 with a 2.0 GHz speed, the motherboard should be able to host other LGA775 with speeds at least 40 percent higher than what is currently installed. In the same manner, never buy a motherboard that supports an older form factor because this means a shorter support life for your hardware.
Step 4
It is always wise to go for the fastest bus speed possible on the form factor that is intended to be used. As with the processor, this will allow for future upgrades without necessarily having to replace the motherboard device.
Step 5
In general, higher priced motherboards are considered better in terms of reliability and delivering the communication layer that allows all attached components to function efficiently. Remember that if the motherboard goes bad, the whole system will be in trouble.
Step 6
Make sure that the attached devices that can be supported by the motherboard are current and that they have enough leeway for upgrades. It is therefore impractical to buy a motherboard that supports ATA66 since majority of drives are already using ATA 133. It is also wise to look for a motherboard with an IDE support slot as well as SATA. This will allow the user to still use older hardware devices.
Step 7
For the memory slot, motherboards usually support at least two to three frequencies. For example, a motherboard may support DDR2 533, 667, and 800 formats. Try to look for motherboards that support current and at least one to two frequencies higher to allow for upgrades in memory modules.
Step 8
Whether to use the mATX or ATX format would depend mainly on the supported architecture of the PC casing. Basically, the main difference between the two would be the number of supported upgrade slots. With the mATX being smaller, it obviously has less expansion slots.
Step 9
When it comes to chipsets, there are currently five manufacturers that are worth looking into: Intel, ATI, VIA, SiS, and NVIDIA. Functionally speaking, there is not much difference among them and whatever the issues are, they are usually quickly resolved using patch releases. Other brands may not be as reliable as these five.
Step 10
In the area of integrated support, many motherboards come with integrated video, audio, infrared, Bluetooth, wireless network adapter, and so on. Among these integrated peripherals, the integrated video poses an issue. Essentially, an integrated video eats up into the installed memory of the system. It is a wise choice to have an integrated video but with a PCI-E expansion slot, the system will considerably speed up.
Step 11
Capacitors are another issue to look at. Overall, it is better to choose motherboards that use solid capacitors since they are more capable of handling issues associated to system heat. These types of capacitors also provide better support for the processor. Be wary though of motherboards with a lot of capacitors scattered all over. This is a sure sign (in most cases) of a badly designed motherboard. It is better to have capacitors grouped together intentionally which shows enough attention to the design detail.
Step 12
The BIOS is another issue that must be considered when attempting to purchase a motherboard. Like any other computer hardware, the motherboard comes with a set of chipset drivers to maximize its potentials. It is a wise choice to select a motherboard that will allow the Internet BIOS updates coupled with a failsafe feature in case anything goes wrong with the updating. This failsafe feature ensures that the motherboard remains usable even if the update is not completed.
Step 13
As a final note, for most basic computer users, it is wise to balance out the cost with the quality of the motherboard. Remember that replacing a motherboard will, in most instances, require the reinstallation of the Operating System and all programs present in the machine.