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How to build a computer: Motherboards


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The motherboard is where everything comes together. Just about every other part of a computer either plugs into or is in some way attached to the motherboard. The biggest qualification of a motherboard is if it will hold your processor. However, since there are several options for each processor type there are other differences in motherboards which set them apart. After narrowing your motherboard choice down to the socket type for your processor, you want to look for: expansion slots for your video cards, slots for your memory, and ports for your disk drives.

The current standard expansion slot for video cards is PCI-E so most motherboards will have one or more of those slots built in. It may be possible to still find a motherboard with a AGP expansion slot but it is rare. If so that is a board you do not want.

Support for the disk drives fall into two levels at this stage of the game. Those levels are: Sata 3GB/sec or SATA II and Sata 6GB/sec or SATA III. They stand for transfer speed and as is evident the 6GB/sec is twice as fast giving you the data to and from the drive faster. Some ambiguous wording can make the later gen SATA III seem like the older gen SATA II that transferred at 3 GB/sec but a spec sheet will usually clear that up easily. Not all drives need SATA 6GB/sec, such as CD/DVD or blue ray drives. Hard drives do benefit from it though.

Another category to look at for disk drive support is RAID compatibility. A RAID is a set of multiple drives that are set up either for increased speed, increased reliability, or both. Wikipedia has a better explanation than I can give at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RAID.

Memory support will fall into two categories: clock speed and channels. Clock speed refers to the maximum frequency the memory can operate at, where as channels refers to how many sticks can be accessed simultaneously. More is better, but marginally so. Differences in clock speed and channels will only be evident under the most demanding applications.

Gaming
Generally you will be looking for at least 2 PCI-E slots in a gaming board for dual video cards. Some motherboards come with 3 PCI-E slots for even more video cards so that is something to take into consideration. You also want to make sure your motherboard supports the multi-video card solution you decide on. Some boards can even support both SLI for Nvidia and Crossfire for AMD so make sure you check before you order. Support for 16 GB of memory is pretty much the standard these days. Which is far in excess of what will be needed but the differences that need attention are the memory speeds and number of channels supported.

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For that “money is no object” processor from the last article http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813131800 is the board of choice. This board supports the LGA 2011 socket type for the newer Sandy Bridge processors, has quad channel memory ports that supports up to 64 GB of up to DDR3 2400 if overclocked. The overclocking can be done on the board. It also has support for 3 way SLI or Quad-GPU Crossfire support. The quad GPU thing is when the video card has 2 graphics processors on one board. There are plenty of SATA ports for hard drives or dvd drives. All 4 of the Sata 3 GB/sec ports are RAID ready and 2 of the SATA 6GB/sec ports are also RAID ready.

For the moderate processor http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813130583. When I was doing the comparisons for this motherboard I really didn’t find one specific for gaming. This isn’t really surprising as the chip recommended isn’t specific for gaming either. None the less this board will not let you down. It has dual channel memory which is standard for the LGA1155 processor. But it can still hold 32 GB of DDR3 2133 memory. It has dual PCI-E slots and can accept either Nvidia or AMD video cards in a dual card application, which is my main reason for choosing this board above any others. 2 Sata 6GB/sec ports and 4 Sata 3gb/sec ports that are all read ready doesn’t hurt much either.

As far as AMD processors go I would recommend http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813131754. There is another ASUS motherboard that does seem a bit better in some aspects but it only has SLI support for multiple video cards. SLI support means only NVIDIA where as if you are going with an AMD processor you should go with AMD video cards as well since they are designed to work together well. There will be fewer potential problems than going with an NVIDIA/AMD hybrid system.

HTPC
For a HTPC what you’re going to look for in a motherboard is more about the size than the performance. It doesn’t have to be amazing to record and playback or stream video. Look for something that will fit in your HTPC case.
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813121430 is perfect for a HTPC. It has plenty of memory support, Dolby 7.1 audio support if you don’t what to go with a separate audio card, and a good amount of SATA connectors for storage. It isn’t a powerhouse, but again, it doesn’t need to be. It just needs to get the job done and stay cool doing it. This board will handle that job easily.

The AMD boards that I have seen are a bit tricky. Generally I like to purchase a separate video card to go in a motherboard instead of purchasing a motherboard with an onboard video card. The reason is simply for practicality. If you purchase them in one unit and something goes bad, you need to replace the whole unit. Separately you don’t have that issue. Unfortunately I cant find a micro ATX motherboard with an AMD processor that doesn’t come with an onboard video card. That being said I would recommend http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813130269 if you want to go that route. I chose this card because of the two PCI-E ports on the board. They will not necessarily need to be filled since there is onboard video, but if it fails you have backups. The video card on it isn’t all that bad in itself so it isn’t like you will be wasting money on a feature you will not use. I would suggest using the onboard video card unless it goes bad. Other than that it has support for 16 GB of memory a ton of SATA 6gb/sec ports and is overall pretty bad ass. Its more expensive than most of the micro ATX board out there but the peace of mind is worth it.

Server

Going off our previous assumption of a file server, what we are looking for in a motherboard here is simply stability. Stability in this sence however means stability of the hardware and the data. Since we are looking at a file server the intention is that everything will be stored there. If that is the case a failure of a hard drive could mean thousands of pictures, music and movies being lost. Where as keeping non volatile backups is always advisable there are steps that can be taken on the hardware end for safeguards as well. The biggest step is to internalize the backups. A RAID array in a file server is pretty much a no brainer for this reason. However unlike the gamer RAID array where we aren’t too worries about redundancy we just want to go fast, here it is the opposite. In this implementation a RAID 1 is all that is necessary but a raid 10 is possible to bring performance improvements as well. Personally I don’t think a RAID 10 would be cost effective in any iteration of a home file server but I’m here to inform not judge.

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813131665 This board will fit a LGA 1366 processor which I recommended in the processor section. It has the ability to run RAID 1,5, and 10 depending on what you are in the mood for has 2 SATA 6GB/sec and 6 SATA 3GB/sec ports. Personally I would run the OS off a drive in the sata 6 GB/sec port and have the storage drives in the SATA 3 GB/sec ports. As least 2 storage drives for the backup but preferably more for more storage space. The board itself doesn’t have too many frills which is perfect. The less there is to break the less that can go wrong down the line.

If you choose to go with a LGA 1155 processor you will be more limited on the amount of SATA ports but not on RAID technology. http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813131702 gets my vote because of the additional SATA ports available on the board. Other than that its pretty much like the other motherboard in all the aspects that matter.

On the AMD side of the world I like http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813131735. I chose this motherboard over two other much cheaper boards for the simple reason of stability. Regardless of the lower price of a motherboard if you have to replace it several times it will end up being more expensive. Also the cost of downtime can’t be measured. However, this is a gaming board with a lot of features that you flat out will not use. 3 way SLI\Crossfire is a waist for this application, as is the overclocking options but it is well worth it for the stability of the board.

As I said previously I don’t see Optitron processors being used, however if you choose to do so http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813182230 would not be a bad board to get. This is a fully dedicated server board, and as such offers some things that would never be expected on a desktop model such as 8 memory slots with the capability of holding up to 128 GB of ram. Of course that’s just stupid for a home file server but he possibility is there. Standard RAID options are built in but the ports are only SATA 3 GB/sec.

Studio
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813121534 is a good deal when considering the type of computer being built. Like I said earlier, for a studio computer, processing power and memory are the chief specs to look at. There are a few other specs that need attention, but don't skimp on the processor or memory to fulfill them. The performance gain of the other parts doesn't add up. That being the case, this motherboard can support the fastest processor out to date, and can hold up to 64 GB of memory. These two things are the backbone for a great studio computer. This motherboard only has 2 SATA 6GB/sec ports and 4 SATA 3 GB/sec ports none with onboard RAID controllers, however with a studio computer the large majority of the work is not focused on the transfer of data to and from storage, as much as the compiling of data once it is in memory.
For the more economical choice of Intel processors http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813131701 will get the job done nicely. It is a little different than the server board I chose earlier with less thermal shielding and more overclocking support. Overclocking isn’t a bad idea on these systems to eek out more performance. It is a bad idea on a server because of the reliability needed, with less emphasis on performance.

In AMD’s neck of the woods I am going to go with the same board I recommended for a server http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813131735. This is a gaming motherboard and as such has some features that are overkill for a studio set up, however it also has the best options for a studio set up as well. This board has good overclocking abilities which should be taken advantage of, and can support up to 32 GB of memory. The 3 PCI-E ports are not needed, but can prove useful later on.
General

I compared 5 other motherboards before settling on http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813121527. Having a LGA 1155 socket means it can go with a wide variety of good, practical processors perfect forevery day computer use. A maximum of 32 GB of ram means it has plenty of room to upgrade later down the line if needed. A pair of SATA 3GB/sec and SATA 6GB/sec ports means flexibility in what you use for a hard drive. I will be honest and say I cant figure out why there is a HDMI and a DVI port on board since I don't see any internal video hardware but compaired to the other boards I looked at this one stood out.

I was supprised at how nice http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813131657 was for an AMD processor. This board has everything that is needed for a good solid general use desktop build. 6 SATA 3 GB/sec ports a PCI-E port if you want a separate video card, a good built in video chipset if you don't, 16 GB memory capacity, Its is a good solid board. Not top of the line, but the system it is designed for is not supposed to be.

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