What Does a Motherboard Do?

Updated 09/05/24

If you’re familiar with the inner workings of a computer, you may have heard of the motherboard. If you aren’t, it’s probably something that you’ve never crossed paths with. Not to worry though, we’re going to explain everything you need to know.

What Does a Motherboard Do?

You can think of a motherboard as the computer’s nervous system. It’s the main circuit board where all the other components of a computer plug into. And we’re not just talking about the big-name components, like the CPU and GPU. Everything’s connected to the motherboard in one way or another. Even your computer case’s front-panel LEDs and fans hook up to the motherboard. Not only does the motherboard facilitate communication between components, peripherals, and accessories, it also handles data transfer and power distribution. If the CPU needs to pull data from the memory, for example, it does so via the motherboard.

How Does a Motherboard Work?

Like any printed circuit board, the motherboard is made up of a complex network of electrical connectors, circuits, and pathways. These allow the motherboard to distribute power from the power supply to rest of the system, control the flow of data over ‘buses’ like PCIe and SATA (more on that later), and manage input/output operations via ports like USB and ethernet.

What are the Different Parts of a Motherboard?


The socket is where the CPU is installed on a motherboard. Crucially, the physical design of a motherboard’s socket (its pins and notches) means that it’s only compatible with CPUs it was designed for. There are different sockets for different CPUs. For instance, the new socket AM5 is for AMD Ryzen 7000 Series CPUs, and then there’s socket 1700 for 12th, 13th, and 14th-gen Intel CPUs. Mismatching CPUs and CPU sockets would be like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole – it just isn’t going to work. So, be sire to buy a motherboard with the right socket for your CPU.


As the name implies, the chipset is a collection of integrated circuits on the motherboard. These circuits manage communications between the CPU, GPU, memory, storage, and other components. Like a traffic controller, they direct the flow of data to where it needs to go. As explained in more detailed in our blog How to Choose the Best Motherboard, different chipsets offer different capabilities and features. So, choosing the right chipset is key when buying a motherboard.

As an example, let’s compare Intel’s Z790 and B760 chipsets. The Z790 chipset is geared towards enthusiasts and power users, with support for overclocking and a great number of PCI lanes for multi-GPU setups and lightning-fast NVMe SSDs. On the other hand, the B760 chipset is more of a budget-friendly options for mainstream users. Motherboards with B760 chipsets lack overclocking support, don’t have as many PCIe lanes, and typically feature fewer USBs and storage options. These chipsets cater to different users and their needs: Z790 is for those who want to push their system to the max, while B760 is a cost-effective solution for everyday computing.


A bus is an electrical pathway on a motherboard, along which data is carried from one component to another. Buses vary in speed and width, affecting how quickly data can be transferred. And there’s multiple buses for all the different components in a computer. The PCIe bus, for instance, connects expansion cards like graphics cards to the processor, whereas the USB bus used for external peripherals and accessories.

DIMM Slots

The DIMM slots of a motherboard, also known as the RAM slots, are where the memory is installed. You’ll usually find these slots to the right of the CPU socket. Sometimes they’ll be on either side of the CPU socket on workstation and server boards. DIMM slots are designed to support specific types of memory, like DDR4 and DDR5. Most motherboards have at least two DIMM slots, with four being the most common, allowing you to install multiple ‘sticks’ of RAM for increase memory capacity.

Expansion Slots

Motherboards nowadays feature two types of expansion slots: shorter PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect) slots and longer PCIe (Peripheral Component Interconnect Express) slots. You’ll find these slots towards the bottom of the motherboards. They allow you to upgrade your system’s capabilities by slotting in extra components.

PCIe slots come in various sizes, including x1, x4, x8, and x16, denoting the number of PCIe lanes available for data transfer. Without getting too into the weeds, these lanes are like that of an actual highway: the more there are, the less chance there is for a bottleneck. Typically, PCIe x16 slots are reserved for high-performance graphics cards to ensure they’re not limited in any way, while the lesser PCIe and PCI slots can accommodate other add-in cards instead, like networking cards and sound cards.

What is the Motherboard BIOS?

Image: ASUS

When you switch your computer on, you may notice that it doesn’t load straight into the operating system. The motherboard must first get the hardware ready for use. This boot-up process is controlled by a bit of firmware known as the BIOS (Basic Input/Output System), which is stored in a little CMOS chip on the motherboard.

You can think of the BIOS as the bridge between you hitting the power button and the computer loading the OS. What’s more, the BIOS is configurable, letting users change aspects of their computer’s operation. CPU overclocking is done through the BIOS, for example.

Do I Need to Use the BIOS?

The average user won’t have to touch the BIOS. When building a PC, however, you will need to access the BIOS at least once to configure basic settings and ensure everything’s running at the right speed. For instance, if you’ve installed multiple HDDs and SSDs, you may need to rearrange the drives’ boot order to prioritise the drive with the operating system installed on it. So, it’s a good idea for a PC builder to know their way around the BIOS, especially when it comes to overclocking.

How to Access the Motherboard BIOS

To enter the BIOS, you need to hit a specific key on your keyboard during the computer’s start-up sequence. Common keys include Del, F2, F10, and F12, depending on the motherboard manufacturer. Usually, a prompt will flash on the screen indicated which key to press during boot, but this can be hard to catch in time. We recommend turning to your motherboard’s manual for this information instead. Once you’ve pressed the designated key, the computer will enter the BIOS. Most motherboards nowadays feature easy-to-use, mouse-driven interfaces. Do keep in mind that because the BIOS is loaded before the OS, your keyboard and mouse may act erratically. If you are having trouble, try plugging these peripherals into an older-generation, more widely-compatible USB port.

What is Overclocking?

Overclocking is the process of pushing a component’s frequency, or clock speed, beyond its default configuration, with the goal of reaching a higher level of performance. It’s like tuning a car’s engine to squeeze every last drop of performance out of it. However, to achieve these higher, faster frequencies, you need to pump an exponentially increasing amount of power into the component. This generates more heat and place the hardware, including the motherboard’s power delivery and voltage regulator modules, under a lot of strain. Push a component too recklessly and you may decrease its lifespan or even kill it outright.

Don’t CPUs and GPUs ‘Boost’ Automatically?

Most modern CPUs and GPUs adjust their frequencies dynamically based on temperature, power availability, and load. This is known as boosting. There’s Intel Turbo Boost, AMD Precision Boost, and so on. These set-it-and-forget-it technologies are fantastic for the average user, ensuring that they’re getting the most of their hardware automatically. However, manual, hands-on overclocking via the motherboard BIOS is still relevant for enthusiasts and power users who want complete and utter controller over their system’s performance. Manual overclocking allows users to delve deep into voltages, clock ratios, and cache ratios to push their hardware to the very limit – so long as they have the knowledge and patience to do so. Also, manual overclocking can just be a fun hobby for those who enjoy tinkering with their hardware; it’s a natural extension from PC building.

Does the Motherboard Affect Performance?

Check out those heatsinks. Gigabyte X670 GAMING X AX V2.

The motherboard does not have a direct impact on the performance of a computer, at least not as much as the flashy stuff like the CPU and GPU. With all else being equal, you’re not going to nice a massive difference in performance upgrading from a low-end motherboard to a higher-end motherboard. That said, the build quality and feature set of a motherboard can help ensure that the CPU and GPU reach their highest level of performance. For instance, premium motherboards come equipped with better power delivery systems, cooling solutions, and parts, allowing for higher overclocking potential.

Why Should I Buy an Expensive Motherboard?

If you’re looking to push your hardware to its limits, investing in a quality motherboard will let you crank those voltages and frequencies to impressive levels. But, for most users, the real-world performance difference between entry-level, mid-range, and high-end motherboards is minimal. Unless you see yourself getting into overclocking and utilising these enthusiast-grade features, a decent mid-range motherboard will still get the job done without breaking the bank. The reason you’d get an expensive motherboard is more to do with compatibility, expandability, and stability when overclocking, rather than raw performance. 

How Do I Find What Motherboard I Have? 

Image: HWiNFO

Wondering what model of motherboard you have? It’s easy to find out. Of course, if you’re comfortable with opening your computer case, you can just physically inspect your motherboard. A model number will more than likely be printed somewhere on the motherboard itself. You can then search for the motherboard online to learn all about it.

In the BIOS

If you’d rather not get the screwdriver out, a motherboard’s model number can be pulled through software. The first, and easiest, port of call is the motherboard BIOS. Enter the BIOS by hitting the appropriate key on your keyboard (detailed above). Once you’re in, navigate to a “System Information” tab (or similar) and the model number should be right there in plain text.

On Windows

Alternatively, you can use the System Information application on Windows. To open System Information, either search for it in the start menu or press Win + R to open the Run dialog box, type “msinfo32”, and hit enter. This will bring up the System Information windows, which has details for components under the “System Summary” tab.

There’s also third-party software, like HWiNFO, that can provide detailed information about your system’s hardware, including its motherboard. Whichever model you choose, once you know the model number, you can easily look up its specifications and compatibility.

What Motherboard Should I Get?

This is a tricky question to answer in a paragraph or two. Really, it depends on your needs, like CPU compatibility, RAM slots, expansion slots, ports, overclocking, the physical dimensions of the board, and more. That’s why we’ve put together a dedicated Motherboard Buyer’s Guide, covering all the intricacies involved with buying a motherboard. Be sure to check it out if you’re in the market for a motherboard upgrade.

Motherboards at Ebuyer

Read our guide and do some research to find a motherboard that fits your requirements, then shop for it over at ebuyer. We stock a wide range of both Intel and AMD motherboards from well-known brands you can trust, all at the best prices.

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