Motherboard - Computer Gaming on a Budget
About your motherboard
Your motherboard, or less commonly, mainboard is what the rest of your computer connects to. It would be like heart, lungs, peripheral nervous system and other organs in a human, with the central processing unit (CPU) being the brain. Mother boards have come a long way over the years. A lot of technical terms get thrown around, and can cause confusion.
I will break down the most important things here, so that you know what you want to look for in a motheboard.
There are A LOT of motherboard manufacturers. But, there are only 2 main motherboard designers, Intel and AMD. Intel and AMD release specifications for their motherboards and the manufacturers work around that.
So the first choice you need to make is: Intel or AMD?
Intel tends to perform better on calculations and stability, but AMD has more bang for your buck. They are very close overall, but I tend to go with AMD, because of the price point.
AMD's new motherboards have a different setup which has the graphics processor directly on the CPU. Previous onboard graphics cards have been very lackluster, but this new release seems fairly robust. Additionally, if you need more graphical power later, you can buy a stronger graphics card that will work in tandem with the onboard GPU (this is called "crossfire" and works with a newer graphics card by ATi). This makes AMD a very strong choice in the current market.
Form factor is a basically a way of saying "what size motherboard?" This is dependent on what size of case you have or will be purchasing. I recommend a larger case, as some of the graphics cards you purchase are quite large, and will not fit easily in a smaller case. Most cases are either ATX or something based on ATX. ATX and its derivatives are pretty much the standard, currently.
Get a motherboard that is also ATX or mini ATX. An ATX motherboard will be slightly more difficult to mount to your case, but things will be easier once it is mounted compared to a mini-ATX board. Everything won't be jammed together on the ATX board, tighter than a sardine can.
A mini-ATX board will be more cramped, but may be a bit less expensive. Usually they don't have as many features because there simply isn't enough room. You can still build a gaming computer on a mini-ATX board!
Check for deals at amazon, newegg, and tigerdirect/global computer, amongst other pages.
Cases will be addressed in another page/lens.
Suffice it to say, you want a case that will fit standard ATX motherboards, as it will also fit alternate ATX form factors, like mini ATX, flex ATX, and micro ATX. This will give you more flexibility for later components, as well as give you more room to work. This larger case will be good for people with larger hands and dislike busted knuckles (like me!).
Most motherboards come with at least 1 PCI express slot, also known as PCIe. The PCIe slot used for graphics cards are the longer yellow slots in the picture, and they are sometimes referred to as "PCI express x16" slots, to denote that they are faster than the smaller "x1" slots. The x1 slots are the smaller slots in the picture.
PCIx16 slots are almost exclusively used for graphics cards. You want to make sure you have 1 PCIx16 slot when purchasing your mother board. Depending on the manufacturer, your PCIx16 slots may be any color, they just happen to be yellow in this picture. The general shape and position should be the same.
More than 1 is good, if you plan to buy multiple graphics cards. Generally, 1 powerful graphics card will perform better than 2 weaker graphics cards. However, the 2 weaker graphics cards may be less expensive than the 1 powerful card.
A PCIx16 slot will allow you to upgrade to a more powerful graphics card in the future, or work in tandem via crossfire.
The current version as of 6/12/13 is 3.0. Older versions should be compatible with newer versions.
Do not confuse original PCI slots with PCI express slots. Generally PCI slots will be at the bottom left of the motherboard, whereas the PCIe slots will be above them, but below the CPU (the big thing that looks like a metal block with a fan sticking out). You can see a normal PCI slot at the very bottom of the picture, below a PCIe slot.
SATA or IDE?
Most motherboards today will come with a good amount of SATA slots. SATA, or Serial ATA is a newer standard of data transfer. You want a minimum of 3 SATA slots, 1 for a hard drive, 1 for an optical drive (DVD or blu ray) and 1 in reserve for a second hard drive.
The "L" shaped connector on the right is a SATA data port. The "L" connector on the left is a SATA power connector.
IDE was the old standard for connecting hard drives. IDE ports looks like a series of pins, 2 rows of 20 pins. Usually with a plastic rim on the outside. These are the old "ribbon" cables. Optical drives still use IDE frequently, but get a SATA optical drive if you can.
Photo: BasBloemsaat at en.wikipedia