Monday, February 1, 2010

All you ever want to know about PCs: Motherboards

Now that we knocked on CPUs a bit let’s go to Motherboards. Motherboards are the support structure for your whole system. Today’s Motherboards come with a lot of features as compared to five years ago. You got Gigabit LAN, onboard 7.1 sound chips, graphic chips and even rudimentary RAID for your hard drives. Additional features are BIOS overclocking options which will mostly interest those who want to overclock their CPUs. Only useful BIOS features that concern everyday users are the power saving features called Speedstep for Intel and Cool ‘N Quiet for AMD. With that enabled in the BIOS your Operating System can utilise speed and voltage throttling so that your CPU does not ran at full speed all day long. This actually has considerable savings in terms of power consumption because a standard Dual Core CPU will consume about 65W of power while higher end Dual Cores and Quad Cores will chew 100W-165W of power.

On all motherboards you should find 4-6 SATA ports for your hard drives and DVD writers, PCI-E X16 slot for your graphic card and PCI-E X1 for additional sound, LAN or TV Tuner cards. For legacy support you can still find the good old PCI slot and an IDE port for that old hard drive or DVD writer. You may be wondering why there are still Serial and Parallel ports; these are for programmers that want to program code into microprocessors.

Since, the Motherboard is the support structure of the PC it is usually the first that goes bust due to age, power surges through the power line or telephone line, overheating or short circuits. Motherboards are not built to last and the capacitors, those cylinder things you see on the Motherboard, are the first to go. They have a life expectancy of 2-3 years. Manufacturers consider this long enough as you would have upgraded your PC by then. None the less, all Motherboards have only a 1 year warranty. Capacitors do not only burst due to old age but also because of heat or power surges. Fortunately, it is an easy fix. You can buy capacitors and solder those on if you are handy with a soldering iron. Unfortunately, capacitors are not the only ones to go when your PC get a zapping. Mosfets and chipsets on the Motherboard will likely bite the dust. These are unfixable but can be substituted depending on which chipset are dead. LAN and sound are separate chips so getting a replacement card to slot in is no problem. If video is a problem then you will have to replace the Motherboard as the graphic chip is part of the Northbridge or main chipset of the Motherboard. Any damage there, no matter how little, will lead to stability issues sooner or later.

If you do face random shutdowns and hanging while just doing everyday tasks like emailing, web surfing, etc; check if your CPU or Motherboard chipset is overheating. A simple finger test of touching the heatsink for both is enough to determine this or you can download and run applications specialise in monitoring temperature readings. Normally, your Motherboard comes with these utilities but you can try SYSTEMPS or CORETEMPS.

If it is not a heat problem then you should check your capacitors to see they have become deformed or have powdery residue at their top or base. Any capacitors showing these symptoms need to be replaced. And if everything else is tip-top than you will have to take a look at the PSU preferably changing it with another one and see if your system is stable. Should you enter beeping check out PC Hell for what those beeps mean.
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