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It's the joke of every gamer: is there a “future proof" motherboard? That is, a motherboard that won't just be rendered obsolete almost immediately? The motherboard, functioning as the most difficult to upgrade part of the system, is the part of the computer most sensitive to changing technology—and the future of possibilities. Here's a general overview on the future of motherboard technology.
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What Is A Motherboard?
Some quick reminders before we begin. A motherboard is the central printed circuit board, or PCB, of any electronic system with any amount of complexity—in today's world, virtually everything, from cell phones to laptops to watches.
What the motherboard essentially does is connect devices to each other. To accomplish this, a standard motherboard will host a variety of devices, including a clock generator to synchronize all computer functions, a CPU, or central processing unit, a main memory including the BIOS and/or firmware of the system, a microprocessor with chipset to interface with the rest of the motherboard, and slots into which all of these are installed.
Additionally, motherboards must be somehow enabled to connect to those other devices—which is where motherboards are beginning to change.
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Centralization... or not?
There are two opposing trends currently taking place with motherboards: centralization, and decentralization. Here's an explanation:
The centralization trend is to place all peripheral computing functions, that is, the devices that the motherboard is connecting together, onto the motherboard itself. Most audio, video, storage and networking functions are thus run directly off of the motherboard, with rarely a need for “extension" or “plug in" cards, “daughterboards", or cables. This works especially well with fully integrated devices that are not intended to be pulled apart and modified and upgraded, such as most cell phones or GPS devices, or with cheap laptops. Having all peripheral functions integrated into the motherboard is more size and cost efficient.
The opposite trend is decentralization: more and more computing functions are being moved off of the motherboard and onto the individual pieces of peripheral hardware. This is due to the increasing consumer demand for more modular computers, that is, computers that are more customizable to the requirements of the user and not just a prepackaged assumption. Allowing peripheral functions to be moved off of the motherboard, thus, is a necessity with such modular designs. This also allows for cheaper repairs and upgrades, as the entire motherboard does not have to be replaced all at once.
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The motherboard is often the part of the computer against which all other devices must be compatible - making such motherboard compatibility, specifically with the CPU socket, absolutely essential. There are two main trends with compatibility, not dissimilar to with centralization: creating flexible motherboards with CPU sockets that accept a wide range of chips, and developing motherboards with a design unique to the device that it serves. The former trend is one for laptops and computers, where users require the maximum in flexibility for customization and upgradeability - more costly, but quite worth it, considering that a motherboard can often last through two or more processor upgrades over time.The latter trend is one for more specialized devices, such as multimedia systems, cheap laptops and small handheld devices, where space and cost become more important.
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Like most other computer technologies, motherboards are getting cheaper and quicker all the time. This spells good news for people who can't find that legendary “future proof" motherboard—with motherboard technology changing and advancing so quickly, one might just have to buy that new motherboard more often than they might have not been able to afford in the past.