What companies build custom motherboards

How to choose the right motherboard for your bespoke PC

Motherboards are the most complex component in a computer. Equipped with hundreds of components and dozens of options, choosing can be difficult. Let's look at the top factors to help you make a decision before building your next computer.

Motherboards are the central nervous system of your computer. You are responsible for the connection and communication between all major components inside. Knowing what to look for is key when comparing boards.

Motherboard sizes

Motherboards come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but luckily there are some standards in place to allow many motherboards and cases to work together.

For the most part, these sizes apply to all desktop computers, but some computers that you buy from manufacturers don't follow all of the rules. This is usually fine if you are buying the entire computer as a unit. However, it gets tricky when you want to swap a new motherboard into the case or build a new one from scratch.

The most common motherboard size used is that of Intel Advanced Technology Extended (ATX) and its derivatives. The following table lists some of the most common ATX sizes. There are far more options than just the few shown here, however.

Motherboard sizes not only dictate the board size and mounting screw placement, but also dictate the general layout of the major components on the board. Have you ever noticed that almost all motherboards have CPU, RAM, and I / O connectors in the same place? This is because they are determined by the board standard. The components need to be in the same place or power supply manufacturers will not be able to sell you something that is compatible with your motherboard regardless of who makes it.

For ATX motherboards, the general layout of the board is shown in the following figure.

The second attempt at standardization by Intel motherboards were equipped with Balanced Technology Extended (BTX). BTX's primary focus was on solving ATX's airflow and component placement restrictions. Though intended to be the successor to the ATX form factor, BTX hasn't gained enough traction to break into the consumer market. Some major computer manufacturers like HP, Dell, and Apple still use BTX or proprietary variants of it. The main layout differences can be seen in the following illustration.

Because BTX has been abandoned by Intel since 2007, all you have to do is focus on the ATX size that best suits your needs. Usually the main difference between small ATX cards and larger cards is in expansion slots and CPU support.

Processor socket

Image via Kwixson

The processor socket you choose is the deciding factor in considering what CPU you can use in your computer. If the processor doesn't fit, you won't be able to use it. Intel and AMD both have their own set of processors and sockets that are only compatible with their chips. First you need to decide which processor you want and then you can go on to decide which socket you need.

Intel sockets usually have a friendly name such as Socket H and a technical name such as LGA 1156. The friendly name is easier to remember, while the technical name provides information about the socket. For example, LGA 1156 stands for Land Grid Array and has 1156 pins. With CPUs and motherboards changing so often, it is probably not worth describing which processors work in which sockets. Instead, you will receive information from your manufacturer about which CPU series will work with which motherboards.

For Intel consumer sockets they usually have a low power, e.g. Socket 441 for Atom processors, a midrange, e.g. Socket H for processors of the Celeron, Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7 800 series and a high-end processor, z. Socket B for processors of the Core i7 900 series. If you want to use an Intel processor, you need to find out which socket supports the processor you want.

AMD hasn't switched as often as Intel and for the past 5 years they only had 3 large consumer power outlets. Sockets AM2, AM2 + and AM3 currently support almost all AMD consumer processors. The AM2 and AM2 + were largely interchangeable and the AM3 was introduced to support DDR3 memory.

In both cases, it is best to choose the processor first and then the motherboard. If you buy a socket without processor support, it won't do you much good.

Chipsets

Image via Adikos

CPU, RAM, graphics card and peripheral devices communicate via the chipset. It's a combination of your northbridge and southbridge and it can add some very nice features depending on your needs.

The northbridge is usually responsible for the very fast communication between CPU, RAM and graphics card. Here you get features like SLI / CrossFire and DDR3. With the current Intel and AMD processors, all northbridge functions are included in the processor. This means less complexity for your motherboard and usually less latency for the processor to access high-speed components like RAM.

Integration is good news for performance, but sometimes bad news for elections. For example, since AMD has ATI, they can lock their latest gaming graphics cards so that they only have certain functions when you are using an AMD processor. This has also excluded companies like Nvidia from the northbridge market, which made one of the best northbridge chips in the days of the Pentium 4 processor.

The southbridge offers you functions such as support for the latest PCI-E, SATA, USB 3 and many other future technologies. It is also important to know which options you need as some southbridges may not support all of the features you would expect from RAID and surround sound. Most manufacturers will clearly state the features available without having to dig deep into the capabilities of the southbridge chipset.

Because this combination of functions + processors + options is so big and changes several times a year that it is impossible for us to list every option here. Instead, be careful about when you choose your motherboard, which features you need, and then look for those options in your board chipset.

Other options

Many manufacturers will try to sell you on a motherboard based on additional features like the number of built-in I / O ports, the number of expansion slots, or the reliability of the motherboard. These can all be requirements depending on the purpose of the computer you are building. Once you've figured out the processor and motherboard size you want, those extra features will likely be second most important thing, especially on smaller form factor motherboards when space is limited.

It is usually easier to use built-in features when they are available when you are trying to expand your computer to get all the options you need. If you know you need two network cards or HDMI with audio pass-through, make sure your motherboard supports it before buying.

The manufacturer's description may not be 100%. Deactivate this option if the function is supported or not. Other places you can look for explanations about specific features are reviews, forums, and Wikipedia. You may also want to download the motherboard's PDF user guide to verify that it documents how to enable the features you will need.

When you have a clear decision about what you need in each category, you can quickly narrow down the infinite possibilities. This can greatly reduce the burden when trying to go for a motherboard that is only supported by price or maximum memory.