Unformatted text preview: All-In-One / CompTIA Network+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 9 C HAPTER Motherboards 9 In this chapter, you will learn how to
• Explain how motherboards work
• Identify the types of motherboards
• Explain chipset varieties
• Upgrade and install motherboards
• Troubleshoot motherboard problems The motherboard provides the foundation for the personal computer. Every piece of
hardware, from the CPU to the lowliest expansion card, directly or indirectly plugs into
the motherboard. The motherboard contains the wires—called traces—that make up
the buses of the system. It holds the vast majority of the ports used by the peripherals,
and it distributes the power from the power supply (Figure 9-1). Without the motherboard, you literally have no PC. Historical/Conceptual
How Motherboards Work
Three variable and interrelated characteristics define modern motherboards: form factor,
chipset, and components. The form factor determines the physical size of the motherboard
as well as the general location of components and ports. The chipset defines the type of
processor and RAM the motherboard requires and determines to a degree the built-in devices the motherboard supports, including the expansion slots. Finally, the built-in components determine the core functionality of the system.
Any good tech should be able to make a recommendation to a client about a particular motherboard simply by perusing the specs. Because the motherboard determines
function, expansion, and stability for the whole PC, it’s essential that you know your
motherboards! 327 ch09.indd 327 12/9/09 11:48:01 AM All-In-One / CompTIA Network+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 9 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 328 Figure 9-1
CPU socket on
a motherboard Form Factors
Form factors are industry-standardized shapes and layouts that enable motherboards
to work with cases and power supplies. A single form factor applies to all three components. All motherboards come in a basic rectangular or square shape, but vary in
overall size and in the layout of built-in components (Figure 9-2). You need to install
a motherboard in a case designed to fit it, so the ports and slot openings on the back
The power supply and the motherboard need matching connectors, and different
form factors define different connections. Given that the term “form factor” applies to
the case, motherboard, and power supplythe three parts of the PC most responsible
for moving air around inside the PC—the form factor also defines how the air moves
around in the case.
To perform motherboard upgrades and provide knowledgeable recommendations
to clients, techs need to know their form factors. The PC industry has adoptedand
droppeda number of form factors over the years with such names as AT, ATX, and
BTX. Let’s start with the granddaddy of all PC form factors, AT. AT Form Factor
The AT form factor (Figure 9-3), invented by IBM in the early 1980s, was the predominant form factor for motherboards through the mid-1990s. AT is now obsolete. ch09.indd 328 12/9/09 11:48:01 AM All-In-One / CompTIA Network+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 9
All-In-One Chapter 9: Motherboards 329 Figure 9-2
Typical motherboard Figure 9-3
AT-style motherboard The AT motherboard had a few size variations (see Figure 9-4), ranging from large to
very large. The original AT motherboard was huge, around 12 inches wide by 13 inches
deep. PC technology was new and needed lots of space for the various chips necessary
to run the components of the PC.
NOTE All AT motherboards had a split power socket called P8/P9.You can
see the white P8/P9 socket near the keyboard port in Figures 9-3 and 9-4. ch09.indd 329 12/9/09 11:48:02 AM All-In-One / CompTIA Network+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 9 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 330 Figure 9-4
Baby AT motherboard (top) The single greatest problem with AT motherboards was the lack of external ports.
When PCs were first invented, the only devices plugged into the average PC were a
monitor and a keyboard. That’s what the AT was designed to handle—the only dedicated connector on an AT motherboard was the keyboard port (Figure 9-5). Figure 9-5
Keyboard connector on the
back of an AT
motherboard Over the years, the number of devices plugged into the back of the PC has grown tremendously. Your average PC today has a keyboard, a mouse, a printer, some speakers,
a monitor, and—if your system’s like mine—four to six USB devices connected to it at
any given time. These added components created a demand for a new type of form factor, one with more dedicated connectors for more devices. Many attempts were made
to create a new standard form factor. Invariably, these new form factors integrated dedicated connectors for at least the mouse and printer, and many even added connectors
for video, sound, and phone lines.
One variation from the AT form factor that enjoyed a degree of success was the
slimline form factor. The first slimline form factor was known as LPX (defined in some
sources as low profile extended, although there’s some disagreement). It was replaced by
the NLX form factor. (NLX apparently stands for nothing, by the way. It’s just a cool ch09.indd 330 12/9/09 11:48:03 AM All-In-One / CompTIA Network+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 9
All-In-One Chapter 9: Motherboards 331 grouping of letters.) The LPX and NLX form factors met the demands of the slimline
market by providing a central riser slot to enable the insertion of a special riser card
(Figure 9-6) or, as it’s sometimes called, a daughterboard. Expansion cards then fit into
the riser card horizontally. Combining built-in connections with a riser card enabled
manufacturers to produce PCs shorter than 4 inches. Figure 9-6
Riser card on an
older motherboard The main problem with form factors such as LPX and NLX was their inflexibility.
Certainly, no problem occurred with dedicated connections for such devices as mice or
printers, but the new form factors also added connectors for such devices as video and
sound—devices that were prone to obsolescence, making the motherboard out of date
the moment a new type of video or sound card came into popularity. Essentials
ATX Form Factor
There continued to be a tremendous demand for a new form factor: a form factor that
had more standard connectors and also was flexible enough for possible changes in
technology. This demand led to the creation of the ATX form factor in 1995 (Figure 9-7).
ATX got off to a slow start, but by around 1998, ATX overtook AT to become the most
common form factor used today.
ATX is distinct from AT in the lack of an AT keyboard port, replaced with a rear panel
that has all necessary ports built in. Note the mini-DIN (PS/2) keyboard and mouse
ports at the left of Figure 9-8, standard features on almost all ATX boards. You recall
those from Chapter 2, “The Visible PC,” right? ch09.indd 331 12/9/09 11:48:03 AM All-In-One / CompTIA Network+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 9 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 332 CPU fan power
AGP slot CPU in socket External ports RAM
PCI slots Flash
connections EIDE ports Floppy port
DIP switches Southbridge Power connector Northbridge Figure 9-7 Early ATX motherboard Figure 9-8
ATX ports The ATX form factor includes many improvements over AT. The position of the power
supply allows better air movement. The CPU and RAM are placed to provide easier access, and the rearrangement of components prevents long expansion cards from colliding with the CPU or Northbridge. Other improvements, such as placing the RAM closer
to the Northbridge and CPU than on AT boards, offer users enhanced performance as
well. The shorter the wires, the easier to shield them and make them capable of handling ch09.indd 332 12/9/09 11:48:04 AM All-In-One / CompTIA Network+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 9
All-In-One Chapter 9: Motherboards 333 double or quadruple the clock speed of the motherboard. Figure 9-9 shows AT and ATX
motherboards—note the radical differences in placement of internal connections. Figure 9-9
AT (left) and ATX
(right) motherboards for quick
visual comparison ATX motherboards use a feature called soft power. This means they can use software
to turn the PC on and off. The physical manifestation of soft power is the power switch.
Instead of the thick power cord used in AT systems, an ATX power switch is little more
than a pair of small wires leading to the motherboard. We delve into this in more detail
in Chapter 10, “Power Supplies.”
The success of ATX has spawned two form factor subtypes for specialty uses. The
microATX motherboard (Figure 9-10) floats in at a svelte 9.6 by 9.6 inches or about
30 percent smaller than standard ATX, yet uses the standard ATX connections. A microATX motherboard fits into a standard ATX case or in the much smaller microATX cases.
Note that not all microATX motherboards have the same physical size. You’ll sometimes
see microATX motherboards referred to with the Greek symbol for micro, as in µATX.
motherboard ch09.indd 333 12/9/09 11:48:04 AM All-In-One / CompTIA Network+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 9 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 334 In 1999, Intel created a variant of the microATX called the FlexATX. FlexATX motherboards have maximum dimensions of just 9 by 7.5 inches, which makes them the
smallest motherboards in the ATX standard. Although FlexATX motherboards can use
a standard ATX power supply, most FlexATX systems use a special FlexATX-only power
supply. This diminutive power supply fits into tight FlexATX cases.
NOTE Many techs and Web sites use the term mini-ATX to refer to
motherboards smaller than a full ATX board. This is technically incorrect. The
specifications for these small boards use only the terms microATX and FlexATX.
Keep in mind that each main type of form factor requires its own case. AT motherboards go into AT cases, NLX motherboards go into NLX cases, and ATX motherboards
go into ATX cases. You cannot replace one form factor with another without purchasing
a new case (Figure 9-11). The exception to this rule is that larger form factor ATX cases
can handle any smaller-sized form factor motherboards. Figure 9-11
That’s not going
to fit! BTX Form Factor
Even though ATX addressed ventilation, faster CPUs and powerful graphics cards create
phenomenal amounts of heat, motivating the PC industry to create the “coolest” new
form factor used todaythe Balanced Technology eXtended (BTX) form factor (Figure 9-12).
BTX defines three subtypes: standard BTX, microBTX, and picoBTX, designed to replace ATX,
microATX, and FlexATX, respectively. ch09.indd 334 12/9/09 11:48:05 AM All-In-One / CompTIA Network+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 9
All-In-One Chapter 9: Motherboards 335 Figure 9-12
motherboard At first glance, BTX looks like ATX, but notice that the I/O ports and the expansion
slots have switched sides. You can’t put a BTX motherboard in an ATX case. BTX does
not change the power connection, so there’s no such thing as a BTX power supply.
NOTE Many manufacturers sell what they call BTX power supplies. These are
actually marketing gimmicks. See Chapter 10, “Power Supplies,” for details.
Everything in the BTX form factor is designed to improve cooling. BTX cases vent
cool air in from the front and warm air out the back. CPUs are moved to the front of
the motherboard so they get cool air coming in from the front of the case. BTX defines a
special heat sink and fan assembly called the thermal unit. The thermal unit’s fan blows
the hot CPU air directly out the back of the case, as opposed to the ATX method of just
blowing the air into the case.
The BTX standard is clearly a much cooler option than ATX, but the PC industry
tends to take its time when making big changes such as moving to a new form factor.
As a result, BTX has not yet made much of an impact in the industry, and BTX motherboards, cases, and thermal units are still fairly rare. BTX could take off to become the
next big thing or disappear in a cloud of disinterestonly time will tell. Proprietary Form Factors
Several major PC makers, including Dell and Sony, make motherboards that work only
with their cases. These proprietary motherboards enable these companies to create systems
that stand out from the generic ones and, not coincidently, push you to get service and
upgrades from their authorized dealers. Some of the features you’ll see in proprietary
systems are riser boards like you see with the NLX form factor—part of a motherboard ch09.indd 335 12/9/09 11:48:05 AM All-In-One / CompTIA Network+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 9 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 336 separate from the main one, but connected by a cable of some sort—and unique power
connections. Proprietary motherboards drive techs crazy because replacement parts tend
to cost more and are not readily available. Chipset
Every motherboard has a chipset. The chipset determines the type of processor the
motherboard accepts, the type and capacity of RAM, and the sort of internal and external devices that the motherboard supports. As you learned in earlier chapters, the
chips in a PC’s chipset serve as electronic interfaces through which the CPU, RAM, and
input/output devices interact. Chipsets vary in features, performance, and stability, so
they factor hugely in the purchase or recommendation of a particular motherboard.
Good techs know their chipsets!
Because the chipset facilitates communication between the CPU and other devices
in the system, its component chips are relatively centrally located on the motherboard
(Figure 9-13). Most modern chipsets are composed of two primary chips: the Northbridge and the Southbridge.
(under the fan)
labeled VIA) The Northbridge chip on traditional Intel-based motherboards helps the CPU work
with RAM, as mentioned in earlier chapters. On newer AMD and Intel-based motherboards, however, the Northbridge does not work directly with RAM, but instead provides the communication with the video card. The CPU has taken on the role of the ch09.indd 336 12/9/09 11:48:06 AM All-In-One / CompTIA Network+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 9
All-In-One Chapter 9: Motherboards 337 memory controller. Current Northbridge chips do a lot and thus get pretty hot, so they
get their own heat sink and fan assembly.
The Southbridge handles some expansion devices and mass storage drives, such as
hard drives. Most Southbridge chips don’t need extra cooling, leaving the chip exposed
or passively cooled with only a heat sink. This makes the Southbridge a great place to
see the manufacturer of the chipset, such as Intel.
Many motherboards support very old technologies such as floppy drives, infrared
connections, parallel ports, and modems. Although supporting these old devices was
once part of the Southbridge’s job, hardly any modern chipsets still support these devices. Motherboard manufacturers add a third chip called the Super I/O chip to handle
these chores. Figure 9-14 shows a typical Super I/O chip. Figure 9-14
Super I/O chip
motherboard NOTE Super I/O chips work with chipsets but are not part of the chipset.
Motherboard makers purchase them separate from chipsets. The system ROM chip provides part of the BIOS for the chipset, but only at a barebones,
generic level. The chipset still needs support for the rest of the things it can do. So how
do expansion devices get BIOS? From software drivers, of course, and the same holds true
for modern chipsets. You have to load the proper drivers for the specific OS to support all
of the features of today’s chipsets. Without software drivers, you’ll never create a stable,
fully functional PC. All motherboards ship with a CD-ROM disc with drivers, support
programs, and extra-special goodies such as anti-virus software (Figure 9-15).
There are a limited number of chipset makers. The dominant chipset vendors today
are Intel and NVIDIA, although several other companies continue to produce chipsets,
such as AMD through its ATI brand. Motherboard manufacturers incorporate the chipsets into motherboards that match the feature set of the chipset. Chipset companies rise
and fall every few years, with one company seeming to hold the hot position for a while
until another company comes along to unseat them.
NOTE In an average year, chipset makers collectively produce around one
hundred new chipset models for the PC market. ch09.indd 337 12/9/09 11:48:06 AM All-In-One / CompTIA Network+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 9 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 338 Figure 9-15
motherboard Chipset makers don’t always use the terms Northbridge and Southbridge. Chipsets
for AMD-based motherboards tend to use the terms, but Intel-based motherboards
prefer to say Memory Controller Hub (MCH) for the Northbridge and I/O Controller Hub
(ICH) for the Southbridge. With the launch of the X58 Express Chipset, Intel has further refined their terminology, calling the Northbridge simply the I/O Hub (IOH) since
the memory controller is located on the CPU. Sometimes Intel refers to the Southbridge as the Legacy I/O Controller Hub. Regardless of the official name, Northbridge and
Southbridge are the commonly used terms. Figure 9-16 shows a schematic with typical
chipset chores for a VIA K8T900 chipset.
It would be impossible to provide an inclusive chipset chart here that wouldn’t be
obsolete by the time you pick this book up off the shelf at your local tech pub (doesn’t
everybody have one of those?), but Table 9-1 gives you an idea of what to look for as
you research motherboards for recommendations and purchases.
So why do good techs need to know the hot chipsets in detail? The chipset defines
almost every motherboard feature short of the CPU itself. Techs love to discuss chipsets
and expect a fellow tech to know the differences between one chipset and another. You
also need to be able to recommend a motherboard that suits a client’s needs. Motherboard Components
The connections and capabilities of a motherboard sometimes differ from those of the
chipset the motherboard uses. This disparity happens for a couple of reasons. First, a
particular chipset may support eight USB ports, but to keep costs down, the manufacturer might include only four ports. Second, a motherboard maker may choose to
install extra featuresones not supported by the chipsetby adding additional chips.
A common example is a motherboard that supports FireWire. Other technologies you ch09.indd 338 12/9/09 11:48:07 AM All-In-One / CompTIA Network+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 9
All-In-One Chapter 9: Motherboards 339 Figure 9-16 Schematic of a modern chipset (image courtesy of VIA Technologies) might find are built-in sound, hard drive RAID controllers, and AMR or CNR slots for
modems, network cards, and more. USB/FireWire
Most chipsets support USB, and most motherboards come with FireWire as well, but it
seems no two motherboards offer the same port arrangement. My motherboard supports eight USB ports and two FireWire ports, for example, but if you look on the back
of the motherboard, you’ll only see four USB ports and one FireWire port. So, where
are the other ports? Well, this motherboard has special connectors for the other ports, ch09.indd 339 12/9/09 11:48:07 AM ch09.indd 340 NVIDIA
980a SLI N/A1 HyperTransport 3.0 (5.2
GT/s, 2 GT/s,
1.6 GT/s) Frontside bus
800 MHz, 533
II X3, Athlon
GB max) No Frontside bus No
1066 MHz, 800
Quad Yes, triplechannel
(6.4 GT/s, 4.8
4x8 No 6x1 6x1 6x1 Southbridge
or 4x8 +
4x1 Yes, dual-chan- 1x16
nel DDR2 (8
GB max) Yes, dual-chan- 1x16
nel, DDR2 (16
GB max) or
DDR3 (8 GB
max) No Northbridge NorthCPU
CPU RAM RAM
Interconnect Interface Interface
Core i7 Southbridge CPU Intel 82801JIB
Intel Q45 Intel 82Q45 Intel 82801JIB
and Memory Intel 82801JIR
Intel Q965 Intel
ICH8 or Intel
and Memory ICH8R
(GMCH) Intel 82X58
Hub (IOH) Intel X58
Chipset Chipset Northbridge 6 6 6 6 SATA USB Integrated Video Yes: 0, 1, 12 Hi- No
10 Hi- Yes
0,1,5,10 Speed Yes:
12 Hi- Yes
0,1,5,10 Speed Yes:
12 Hi- No
0,1,5,10 Speed RAID All-In-One / CompTIA Network+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 9 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 340 12/9/09 11:48:07 AM NVIDIA Ge- N/A1
mGPU ch09.indd 341 AMD
Chipset HyperTransport 3.0 (5.2
GT/s, 2 GT/s,
1.6 GT/s) NVIDIA does not make a Northbridge/Southbridge distinction with their chipsets. No 1x16 or
2x16 1x16 Yes, dual chan- 1x16 +
(16 GB max)
or DDR3 (8
GB max) Yes, dual- No
GB max) Yes, dualchannel
GB max) Frontside bus No
1066 MHz, 800
MHz) AMD SB750 AM2+:
port 3.0 (5.2
X4, PheGT/s, 2 GT/s)
D, Core 2
Core 2 Duo,
Sempron Table 9-1 Chipset Comparison Chart 1. AMD
790GX AMD 770
Chipset AMD SB600
SB700 AMD 770 NVIDIA
mGPU 6x1 6x1 N/A1 6 6 6 Yes: 0,
HiSpeed Yes: 0, 1, 12 Hi- No
Speed Yes: 0, 1, 12 Hi- Yes
Speed All-In-One / CompTIA Network+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 9
All-In-One Chapter 9: Motherboards 341 12/9/09 11:48:07 AM All-In-One / CompTIA Network+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 9 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 342 and the motherboard comes with the dongles you need to connect them (Figure 9-17).
These dongles typically use an extra slot on the back of the case. Figure 9-17
dongle These dongle connectors are standardized, so many cases have built-in front USB/
FireWire ports that have dongles attached. This is very handy for USB or FireWire devices
you might want to plug and unplug frequently, such as thumb drives or digital cameras.
You can also buy add-on front USB and FireWire devices that go into a 3.5-inch drive
bay (Figure 9-18). Figure 9-18
Front USB and
bay device Sound
Quite a few motherboards come with onboard sound chips. These sound chips are usually pretty low quality compared to even a lower-end sound card, but onboard sound
is cheap and doesn’t take up a slot. These connectors are identical to the ones used on
sound cards, so we’ll save more discussion for Chapter 20, “Multimedia.” RAID
RAID stands for redundant array of independent (or inexpensive) disks and is very common on motherboards. There are many types of RAID, but the RAID on motherboards
usually only supports mirroring (the process of using two drives to hold the same data,
which is good for safety, because if one drive dies, the other still has all of the data) ch09.indd 342 12/9/09 11:48:08 AM All-In-One / CompTIA Network+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 9
All-In-One Chapter 9: Motherboards 343 or striping (making two drives act as one drive by spreading data across them, which
is good for speed). RAID is a very cool but complex topic that’s discussed in detail in
Chapter 11, “Hard Drive Technologies.” AMR/CNR
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) must certify any electronic device to ensure that it does not transmit unwanted electronic signals. This process is a bit
expensive, so in the very late 1990s, Intel came up with a special slot called the audio
modem riser (AMR), shown in Figure 9-19. An AMR slot was designed to take specialized
AMR devices (modems, sound cards, and network cards). An AMR device would get
one FCC certification and then be used on as many motherboards as the manufacturer
wanted without going through the FCC certification process again. AMR was quickly
replaced with the more advanced communications and networking riser (CNR). Many
motherboard manufacturers used these slots in the early 2000s, but they’ve lost popularity because most motherboard makers simply use onboard networking and sound.
AMR slot Practical Application
Upgrading and Installing Motherboards
To most techs, the concept of adding or replacing a motherboard can be extremely
intimidating. It really shouldn’t be; motherboard installation is a common and necessary part of PC repair. It is inexpensive and easy, although it can sometimes be a little ch09.indd 343 12/9/09 11:48:08 AM All-In-One / CompTIA Network+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 9 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 344 tedious and messy because of the large number of parts involved. This section covers
the process of installation and replacement and shows you some of the tricks that make
this necessary process easy to handle. Choosing the Motherboard and Case
Choosing a motherboard and case can prove quite a challenge for any tech, whether
newly minted or a seasoned veteran. You first have to figure out the type of motherboard you want, such as AMD- or Intel-based. Then you need to think about the form
factor, which of course influences the type of case you’ll need. Third, how rich in features is the motherboard and how tough is it to configure? You have to read the motherboard manual to find out. Finally, you need to select the case that matches your space
needs, budget, and form factor. Now look at each step in a little more detail.
EXAM TIP Being able to select and install a motherboard appropriate for a
client or customer is something every CompTIA A+ technician should know.
First, determine what motherboard you need. What CPU are you using? Will the
motherboard work with that CPU? Because most of us buy the CPU and the motherboard at the same time, make the seller guarantee that the CPU will work with the
motherboard. If you can, choose a motherboard that works with much higher speeds
than the CPU you can afford; that way you can upgrade later. How much RAM do you
intend to install? Are extra RAM sockets available for future upgrades?
A number of excellent motherboard manufacturers are available today. Some of the
more popular brands are abit, ASUS, BIOSTAR, DFI, GIGABYTE, Intel, MSI, and Shuttle. Your supplier may also have some lesser-known but perfectly acceptable brands of
motherboards. As long as the supplier has an easy return policy, it’s perfectly fine to try
one of these.
Second, make sure you’re getting a form factor that works with your case. Don’t try
to put a regular ATX motherboard into a microATX case!
Third, all motherboards come with a technical manual, better known as the motherboard book (Figure 9-20). You must have this book! This book is your primary source for
all of the critical information about the motherboard. If you set up CPU or RAM timings incorrectly in CMOS, for example, and you have a dead PC, where would you find
the CMOS clear jumper? Where do you plug in the speaker? Even if you let someone
else install the motherboard, insist on the motherboard book; you will need it.
NOTE If you have a motherboard with no manual, you can usually find a copy
of the manual in Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) format online at the manufacturer’s Web
site. It’s a good idea to grab and print a copy to keep with the motherboard. I
often tape a copy (either hard copy or burned onto a CD) of the manual in the
case where I installed the motherboard. Just don’t cover any vents!
Fourth, pick your case carefully. Cases come in six basic sizes: slimline, desktop,
mini-tower, mid-tower, tower, and cube. Slimline and desktop models generally sit on ch09.indd 344 12/9/09 11:48:09 AM All-In-One / CompTIA Network+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 9
All-In-One Chapter 9: Motherboards 345 Figure 9-20
and book the desk, beneath the monitor. The various tower cases usually occupy a bit of floor
space next to the desk. The mini-tower and mid-tower cases are the most popular choices. Make sure you get a case that fits your motherboard—many microATX and all FlexATX cases are too small for a regular ATX motherboard. Cube cases generally require a
specific motherboard, so be prepared to buy both pieces at once. A quick test-fit before
you buy saves a lot of return trips to the supplier.
NOTE Manufacturers have created a couple of other case form factors, most
notably the all-in-one style of the Apple iMac and the super-small nettops.
The all-in-one design incorporates the computer into the monitor to provide
a svelte setup. The nettops cram super small components, such as you’d
normally find in tiny laptops, into various interestingly shaped boxes.
I don’t mention these as comparable to the six standard case types, simply because you
can’t go out and easily buy the components to create one on your own.You might have to
service such computers. For tips on servicing, see Chapter 21, “Portable Computing.”
Removable face ch09.indd 345 Cases come with many options, but three more
common options point to a better case. One option is a removable face (Figure 9-21)—many
cheaper cases screw the face into the metal frame
with wood screws. A removable face makes disassembly much easier.
Another option is a detachable motherboard
mount. Clearly, the motherboard has to be attached to the case in some fashion. In better cases, 12/9/09 11:48:09 AM All-In-One / CompTIA Network+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 9 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 346 this is handled by a removable tray or plate (Figure 9-22). This enables you to attach
the motherboard to the case separately, saving you from sticking your arms into the
case to turn screws. Figure 9-22
Motherboard tray The third option, front-mounted ports for USB, FireWire, and headphones, can make
using a PC much easier. Better cases offer these ports, although you can also get add-on
components that fit into the increasingly useless floppy drive bay to bring added front
connectivity to the PC. Figure 9-23 shows a case with both types of front connectors.
Power supplies often come with the case. Watch out for “really good deal” cases
because that invariably points to a cheap or missing power supply. You also need to
verify that the power supply has sufficient wattage. This issue is handled in Chapter 10,
“Power Supplies.” Building a Recommendation
Family, friends, and potential clients often solicit the advice of a tech when they’re
thinking about upgrading their PC. This solicitation puts you on the spot to make not
just any old recommendation but one that works with the needs and budget of the
potential upgrader. To do this successfully, you need to manage expectations and ask
the right questions.
1. What does the upgrader want to do that compels him or her to upgrade? Write
it down! Some of the common motivations for upgrading are to play that
hot new game or to take advantage of new technology. What’s the minimum
system needed to run tomorrow’s action games? What do you need to make
multimedia sing? Does the motherboard need to have FireWire and high-speed
USB built in to accommodate digital video and better printers? ch09.indd 346 12/9/09 11:48:10 AM All-In-One / CompTIA Network+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 9
All-In-One Chapter 9: Motherboards 347 Figure 9-23
Case with both
ports and an addon flash memory
card reader 2. How much of the current system does the upgrader want to save? Upgrading
a motherboard can very quickly turn into a complete system rebuild. What
form factor is the old case? If it’s a microATX case, that constrains the
motherboards you can use with it to microATX or the smaller FlexATX. If the
desired motherboard is a full-sized ATX board, you’ll need to get a new case.
Does the new motherboard possess the same type of CPU socket as the old
motherboard? If not, that’s a sure sign you’ll need to upgrade the CPU as well.
What about RAM? If the old motherboard was using DDR SDRAM, and the
new motherboard requires DDR2 SDRAM, you’ll need to replace the RAM. If
you need to upgrade the memory, it is best to know how many channels the
new RAM interface supports, because performance is best when all channels are
What if the old motherboard was using an AGP graphics accelerator that the
new motherboard does not support, but you don’t want to splurge on a PCI
Express graphics accelerator right now? In this situation you might want to
consider moving to a motherboard with integrated graphics. What’s great about
integrated graphics is that if the motherboard also possesses a ×16 PCI Express
slot, you can upgrade to a more powerful discreet graphics accelerator later. ch09.indd 347 12/9/09 11:48:10 AM All-In-One / CompTIA Network+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 9 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 348 3. Once you’ve gathered information on motivation and assessed the current PC
of the upgrader, it’s time to get down to business: field trip time! This is a great
excuse to get to the computer store and check out the latest motherboards and
gadgets. Don’t forget to jot down notes and prices while you’re there. By the
end of the field trip, you should have the information to give the upgrader an
honest assessment of what an upgrade will entail, at least in monetary terms.
Be honest—in other words, don’t just tell upgraders what you think they want
to hear—and you won’t get in trouble. Installing the Motherboard
If you’re replacing a motherboard, first remove the old motherboard. Begin by removing all of the cards. Also remove anything else that might impede removal or installation of the motherboard, such as hard or floppy drives. Keep track of your screws—the
best idea is to return the screws to their mounting holes temporarily, at least until you
can reinstall the parts. Sometimes you even have to remove the power supply temporarily to enable access to the motherboard. Document the position of the little wires for
the speaker, power switch, and reset button in case you need to reinstall them.
EXAM TIP The CompTIA A+ Essentials exam will test you on the basics of
installing a motherboard, so you need to know this section for both exams.
Unscrew the motherboard. It will not simply lift out. The motherboard mounts to the
case via small connectors called standouts that slide into keyed slots or screw into the bottom of the case (Figure 9-24). Screws then go into the standouts to hold the motherboard
in place. Be sure to place the standouts properly before installing the new motherboard.
Standout in a
case, ready for
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All-In-One Chapter 9: Motherboards 349 CAUTION Watch out for ESD here! Remember that it’s very easy to damage
or destroy a CPU and RAM with a little electrostatic discharge. It’s also fairly
easy to damage the motherboard with ESD. Wear your anti-static wrist strap.
A lot of techs install the CPU, CPU fan, and RAM into the motherboard before
installing the motherboard into the case. This helps in several ways, especially with
a new system. First, you want to make certain that the CPU and RAM work well with
the motherboard and with each other—without that, you have no hope of setting up a
stable system. Second, installing these components first prevents the phenomenon of
flexing the motherboard. Some cases don’t provide quite enough support for the motherboard, and pushing in RAM can make the board bend. Third, attaching a CPU fan can
be a bear of a task, one that’s considerably easier to do on a table top than within the
confines of a case. Finally, on motherboards that require you to set jumpers or switches,
you can much more easily read the tiny information stenciled on the PCB before you
add the shadows from the case. If necessary, set any jumpers and switches for the specific CPU according to information from the motherboard manual.
Once you install the CPU, RAM, fans, and so on, you’re ready to install the motherboard into the case. When you insert the new motherboard, do not assume that you
will put the screws and standouts in the same place as they were in your old motherboard. When it comes to the placement of screws and standouts, only one rule applies:
anywhere it fits. Do not be afraid to be a little tough here! Installing motherboards can
be a wiggling, twisting, knuckle-scraping process.
CAUTION Pay attention to the location of the standouts if you’re swapping
a motherboard. If you leave a screw-type standout beneath a spot on the
motherboard where you can’t add a screw and then apply power to the
motherboard, you run the risk of shorting the motherboard.
Once you get the motherboard mounted in the case, with the CPU and RAM properly installed, it’s time to insert the power connections and test it. A POST card can be
helpful with the system test because you won’t have to add the speaker, a video card,
monitor, and keyboard to verify that the system is booting. If you have a POST card,
start the system, and watch to see if the POST takes place—you should see a number of
POST codes before the POST stops. If you don’t have a POST card, install a keyboard,
speaker, video card, and monitor. Boot the system and see if the BIOS information
shows up on the screen. If it does, you’re probably okay. If it doesn’t, it’s time to refer to
the motherboard book to see where you made a mistake. Wires, Wires, Wires
The last part of motherboard installation is connecting the LEDs, buttons, and frontmounted ports on the front of the box. These usually include the following:
• Soft power
• Reset button
• Speaker ch09.indd 349 12/9/09 11:48:11 AM All-In-One / CompTIA Network+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 9 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 350 • Hard drive activity LED
• Power LED
These wires have specific pin
connections to the motherboard.
Although you can refer to the motherboard book for their location,
usually a quick inspection of the
motherboard will suffice for an experienced tech (Figure 9-25).
You need to follow a few rules
when installing these wires. First,
the lights are LEDs, not light bulbs;
they have a positive and negative side. If they don’t work one way, turn the connector
around and try the other. Second, when in doubt, guess. Incorrect installation only
results in the device not working; it won’t damage the computer. Refer to the motherboard book for the correct installation. The third and last rule is that, with the exception of the soft power switch on an ATX system, you do not need any of these wires for
the computer to run. Many techs often simply ignore these wires, although this would
not be something I’d do to any system but my own.
No hard-and-fast rule exists for determining the function of each wire. Often the
function of each wire is printed on the connector (Figure 9-26). If not, track each wire
to the LED or switch to determine its function.
labeled on the
motherboard Figure 9-26
Sample of case
wires ch09.indd 350 12/9/09 11:48:12 AM All-In-One / CompTIA Network+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 9
Chapter 9: Motherboards 351 Troubleshooting Motherboards
Motherboards fail. Not often, but motherboards and motherboard components can die
from many causes: time, dust, cat hair, or simply slight manufacturing defects made worse
by the millions of amps of current sluicing through the motherboard traces. Installing
cards, electrostatic discharge, flexing the motherboard one time too many when swapping
out RAM or drives—any of these factors can cause a motherboard to fail. The motherboard
is a hard-working, often abused component of the PC. Unfortunately for the common
tech, troubleshooting a motherboard problem can be difficult and time consuming. Let’s
wrap this chapter with a look at symptoms of a failing motherboard, techniques for troubleshooting, and the options you have when you discover a motherboard problem. Symptoms
Motherboard failures commonly fall into three types: catastrophic, component, and
ethereal. With a catastrophic failure, the PC just won’t boot. This sort of problem happens to brand-new systems because of manufacturing defects—often called a burn-in
failure—and to any system that gets a shock of electrostatic discharge. Burn-in failure is
uncommon and usually happens in the first 30 days of use. Swap out the motherboard
for a replacement and you should be fine. If you accidentally zap your motherboard
when inserting a card or moving wires around, be chagrined. Change your daring ways
and wear an anti-static wrist strap!
Component failure happens rarely and appears as flaky connections between a device
and motherboard, or as intermittent problems. A hard drive plugged into a faulty controller on the motherboard, for example, might show up in CMOS autodetect but be
inaccessible in Windows. Another example is a serial controller that worked fine for
months until a big storm took out the external modem hooked to it, and doesn’t work
anymore, even with a replacement modem.
The most difficult of the three types of symptoms to diagnose are those I call ethereal symptoms. Stuff just doesn’t work all of the time. The PC reboots itself. You get a
Blue Screen of Death (BSoD) in the midst of heavy computing, such as right before
you smack the villain and rescue the damsel. What can cause such symptoms? If you
answered any of the following, you win the prize:
• Faulty component
• Buggy device driver
• Buggy application software
• Slight corruption of the operating system
• Power supply problems
Err…you get the picture.
What a nightmare scenario to troubleshoot! The Way of the Tech knows paths
through such perils, though, so let’s turn to troubleshooting techniques now. ch09.indd 351 12/9/09 11:48:12 AM All-In-One / CompTIA Network+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 9 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 352 Techniques
To troubleshoot a potential motherboard failure requires time, patience, and organization. Some problems will certainly be quicker to solve than others. If the hard drive
doesn’t work as expected, as in the previous example, check the settings on the drive.
Try a different drive. Try the same drive with a different motherboard to verify that it’s a
good drive. Like every other troubleshooting technique, all you try to do with motherboard testing is to isolate the problem by eliminating potential factors.
This three-part system—check, replace, verify good component—works for the simpler and the more complicated motherboard problems. You can even apply the same
technique to ethereal-type problems that might be anything, but you should add one
more verb: document. Take notes on the individual components you test so you don’t
repeat efforts or waste time. Plus, taking notes can lead to the establishment of patterns.
Being able to re-create a system crash by performing certain actions in a specific order
can often lead you to the root of the problem. Document your actions. Motherboard
testing is time-consuming enough without adding inefficiency. Options
Once you determine that the motherboard has problems, you have several options for
fixing the three types of failures. If you have a catastrophic failure, you must replace the
motherboard. Even if it works somewhat, don’t mess around. The motherboard should
provide bedrock stability for the system. If it’s even remotely buggy or problematic, get
rid of it!
If you have a component failure, you can often replace the component with an add-on
card that will be as good as or better than the failed device. Adaptec, for example, makes
fine cards that can replace the built-in SATA ports on the motherboard (Figure 9-27). Figure 9-27
SATA card ch09.indd 352 12/9/09 11:48:12 AM All-In-One / CompTIA Network+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 9
All-In-One Chapter 9: Motherboards 353 CAUTION If you’ve lost components because of ESD or a power surge, you
would most likely be better off replacing the motherboard. The damage you
can’t see can definitely sneak up to bite you and create system instability.
If your component failure is more a technology issue than physical damage, you can
try upgrading the BIOS on the motherboard. As you’ll recall from Chapter 7 on BIOS
and CMOS, every motherboard comes with a small set of code that enables the CPU
to communicate properly with the devices built into the motherboard. You can quite
readily upgrade this programming by flashing the BIOS: running a small commandline program to write new BIOS in the flash ROM chip. Refer to Chapter 7, “BIOS and
CMOS,” for the details on flashing.
NOTE Flashing the BIOS for a motherboard can fix a lot of system stability
problems and provide better implementation of built-in technology. What it
cannot do for your system is improve the hardware. If AMD comes out with
a new, improved, lower-voltage Athlon 64, for example, and your motherboard
cannot scale down the voltage properly, you cannot use that CPU—even if it fits in your
motherboard’s Socket AM2. No amount of BIOS flashing can change the hardware built into
Finally, if you have an ethereal, ghost-in-the-machine type of problem that you have
finally determined to be motherboard related, you have only a couple of options for
fixing the problem. You can flash the BIOS in a desperate attempt to correct whatever it
is, which sometimes does work and is less expensive than the other option. Or you can
replace the motherboard. Beyond A+
Shuttle Form Factor
In the early 2000s, Shuttle started making a very interesting line of tiny cube-shaped
PCs called XPCs that became an overnight sensation and continue to be popular today (Figure 9-28). These boxes use a tiny, proprietary form factor motherboard, called
Shuttle Form Factor, installed in a proprietary case with a proprietary power supply.
Originally, these systems were sold barebones, meaning they came with only a motherboard, case, and power supply. You had to supply a CPU, RAM, video card, keyboard,
mouse, and monitor. Shuttle now produces a full line of computers.
NOTE Many companies followed Shuttle’s lead and started making cube
or cube-like small cases.You’ll hear these cases commonly referred to as
small form factor (SFF), but there’s no industry-wide standard. Some SFF cases
accommodate microATX and FlexATX motherboards. ch09.indd 353 12/9/09 11:48:12 AM All-In-One / CompTIA Network+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 9 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 354 Figure 9-28
(photo courtesy of
Group, Inc.) Mini-ITX
If you really want to get small, check out Mini-ITX (Figure 9-29). Developed by VIA
Technologies in 2001, Mini-ITX has a maximum size of only 17 centimeters by 17 centimeters. Most Mini-ITX systems feature low-power processors such as the Intel Atom or
the VIA C7. Many new enthusiast-grade Mini-ITX motherboards support more powerful processors such as the Intel Core2 Duo or the AMD Phenom.
motherboard ch09.indd 354 12/9/09 11:48:13 AM All-In-One / CompTIA Network+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 9
All-In-One Chapter 9: Motherboards 355 NOTE Watch out for all of the pretty colors on today’s motherboards. To
catch the consumer’s eye, a lot of motherboard manufacturers have started
making wildly colorful motherboard components. There is no universally
accepted standard for connection colors on the inside of a motherboard. Chapter Review Questions
1. Which of the following form factors dominates the PC industry?
2. Which of the following form factors offers the best cooling?
3. On older Intel-based motherboards, which chip enables the CPU to interact
D. Super I/O
4. Brian bought a new motherboard that advertised support for eight USB ports.
When he pulled the motherboard out of the box, though, he found that it only
had four USB ports. What’s likely the issue here?
A. The extra four USB ports will connect to the front of the case or via a dongle
to an expansion slot.
B. The extra four USB ports require an add-on expansion card.
C. The FireWire port will have a splitter that makes it four USB ports.
D. The motherboard chipset might support eight USB ports, but the
manufacturer only included four ports. ch09.indd 355 12/9/09 11:48:13 AM All-In-One / CompTIA Network+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 9 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 356 5. Martin bought a new motherboard to replace his older ATX motherboard. As he
left the shop, the tech on duty called after him, “Check your standouts!” What
could the tech have meant?
A. Standouts are the connectors on the motherboard for the front panel
buttons, such as the on/off switch and reset button.
B. Standouts are the metal edges on some cases that aren’t rolled.
C. Standouts are the metal connectors that attach the motherboard to the case.
D. Standouts are the dongles that enable a motherboard to support more than
four USB ports.
6. Amanda bought a new system that, right in the middle of an important
presentation, gave her a Blue Screen of Death. Now her system won’t boot at
all, not even to CMOS. After extensive troubleshooting, she determined that the
motherboard was at fault and replaced it. Now the system runs fine. What was
the most likely cause of the problem?
A. Burn-in failure
B. Electrostatic discharge
C. Component failure
D. Power supply failure
7. Solon has a very buggy computer that keeps locking up at odd moments and
rebooting spontaneously. He suspects the motherboard. How should he test it?
A. Check settings and verify good components.
B. Verify good components and document all testing.
C. Replace the motherboard first to see if the problems disappear.
D. Check settings, verify good components, replace components, and
document all testing.
8. Depending on the age of the motherboard, the Northbridge chip provides
either communication with the RAM or communication with what component?
A. Hard drive
B. Memory controller
C. Onboard networking
D. Video card
9. When Jane proudly displayed her new motherboard, the senior tech scratched
his beard and asked, “What kind of ICH has she got?” What could he possibly
be asking about?
A. The AMR slot
B. The CNR slot
C. The Northbridge
D. The Southbridge ch09.indd 356 12/9/09 11:48:13 AM All-In-One / CompTIA Network+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 9
All-In-One Chapter 9: Motherboards 357 10. What companies dominate the chipset market? (Select two.)
D. SiS Answers
1. B. Almost all modern motherboards follow the ATX form factor.
2. C. Although not widely adopted by the industry, BTX motherboards offer
superior cooling to ATX systems.
3. B. The Northbridge enables communication between the CPU and RAM.
4. A. The extra four USB ports most likely connect to the front of the case or via a
dongle to an expansion slot.
5. C. Standouts are the metal connectors that attach the motherboard to the case.
6. A. Although all of the answers are plausible, the best answer here is that her
system suffered burn-in failure.
7. D. Solon needs to check settings, verify good components, replace components,
and document all testing.
8. D. On older motherboards, the Northbridge handled RAM. Newer CPUs have
the memory controller built in, so the Northbridge handles the communication
with the video card.
9. D. Intel calls their Southbridge chips the I/O Controller Hub (ICH) on many of
10. B, C. Intel and NVIDIA produce the vast majority of the chipsets used in
personal computers. ch09.indd 357 12/9/09 11:48:13 AM ...
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