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Thinking about motherboards makes my head spin.  I could write pages and pages of annoying acronyms like PCI-e, LGA775, or FSB.  But I won’t!  I promised myself that I wouldn’t do it.  I don’t have the patience to plod through the flood of system specs out there.

My problem is that mobo (short for motherboard) manufacturers release so many different motherboards sometimes it can feel like a crapshoot to pick one.

I can only stress that you educate yourself as much as possible about the specs and capabilities of a motherboard before you buy it.  A motherboard, as the name suggests, is the key piece of hardware that everything else relies on.  Though it’s closely related to the processor (in fact, they’re usually designed in conjunction), motherboards will define the character and capabilities of your system because it’s the one thing you can’t upgrade in your system without getting a new one.

A motherboard has all of the expansion slots, input ports, RAM slots, hard drive connectors, etc. that will coordinate the efforts of all constituent components.  The defining characteristic about a motherboard is its chipset.  Make sure you know exactly which chipset you’re getting because it will define the kinds of components you can get.

For instance, the LGA775 chipset for Intel’s Pentium 4 processor requires a new kind of processor that has no pins.  Instead, the pins are on the motherboard and the processor only has flat connection pads.  The LGA775 chipset also requires PCI-express expansion slots.  It might also require a different power supply.  To tell you the truth, I’m not even sure exactly what it requires.  I do know Intel’s mPGA478 chipset will only take micro-pin grid array Pentium 4’s (the ones with all the pins sticking out) and does NOT support PCI-express.

So, this example illustrates the need to know what your motherboard can handle, because you can’t fit a square peg in a round hole no matter how hard you happen to ram it.  AMD chipsets are another beast altogether.  They too release many different chipsets that are compatible with their processors.

To make things worse, motherboard manufacturers will release many different boards with the same chipset, but with different on-board features.  Some manufacturers place on-board video cards, sound cards, and Ethernet adapters on their motherboards.  If you don’t need or want any of them, then don’t get those specific models. 

Yes, motherboards are messy business.  So messy, in fact, that I’m going to cut it short right here.  Just remember that they’re very important, and you should do as much background research as you can because it’s the core of your system.