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Computer Components: What is the Motherboard?

written by: heatherlorrmay•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 4/26/2009

Do you find yourself lost in a sea of computer terms? No idea what the difference is between your hard drive and motherboard? Read on and become better informed next time you need computer repairs or want to purchase a new computer component. What is the Motherboard?

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    The Motherboard

    When it is time to upgrade your computer you should consider purchasing individual components to upgrade your existing computer instead of purchasing an entirely new computer. If you are looking to increase your hard drive capacity or get a faster computer you could save yourself thousands of dollars by upgrading. Unless you have already decided to pass your old computer on to your kids or your grandparents, save the environment and purchase individual computer components.

    If you head over to your nearest computer store with the idea of purchasing a new hard drive, the sales people will probably ask you a few times if your motherboard is compatible. Some salespeople may even scare you with a warning to not purchase anything unless you know your motherboard is compatible or bad things will happen to you and your computer. But how do you know if your motherboard is compatible, and what exactly is a motherboard?

    The motherboard is the main printed circuit board in your computer that holds and controls all the other components in your computer. Some computer geeks will use the terms main board or logic board in place of motherboard. No matter what you call it, everything is either housed on the motherboard or is connected through a cable. The motherboard does not provide any computing processing beyond limited control of the electricity and data sent to the components, but without this board none of the components inside your computer would talk to each other- let alone work together.

    Motherboards are found in every electronic device you have in your home. Your remote control has a motherboard, your DVD player has a motherboard, and if you have one of those fancy refrigerators that maintains a set temperature and provides readouts of the last time it was opened, you will find a motherboard inside. Not every motherboard looks like the one in your computer but the shape and size of the board does not matter. As long as the motherboard has the ability to connect all the needed components together and provide the necessary pathways for the electricity and data to move between the components in the device, your electronics will work.

    When someone asks if your motherboard is compatible with a new component, they are specifically asking if your motherboard has the appropriate cables and connections and if the software on your motherboard (known as the BIOS) is current and written to support the new component. Before you begin purchasing new computer components you should verify that you have a motherboard that allows for easy upgrades and that the motherboard is compatible with new components. The easiest way for anyone to find out what motherboard is in their computer is to open up the computer case and see if there is anything written on the motherboard. Once you get the computer case open you can easily identify the motherboard- it will be the largest component in the case and everything else is attached to it, physically or with a cable. If you see anything written on the board, specifically look for a manufacturing name or model number, write it down and start researching the information on the internet.

    Keep in mind that if you start updating the components in your computer you will eventually reach the point where you will need to purchase and install a new motherboard. Your motherboard is like any other component in your computer: eventually technology will surpass what you have, but you can deal with that situation when you come to it. If your current computer is over five years old, do not waste too much time upgrading your motherboard and every other component; it will be more cost effective to purchase a new computer and upgrade the associated components throughout the years.

    Understanding your computer:

    >>>>What is the CPU?

    >>>>What is the Hard Drive?

    >>>>What is the Video Display?

    >>>>What is RAM?

    >>>>What is the Video Card?

    >>>>What is the CD-Rom/DVD?

    >>>>What is USB?