1. Introduction
  2. The Computer


  3. The Case
  4. Inside the Case
  5. The Motherboard
  6. The Microprocessor
  7. The Memory
  8. The Hard Drive
  9. The CD-ROM
  10. Other Storage
  11. The Monitor
  12. Keyboard and Mouse


  13. Buying Parts and OEM, where to get manuals
  14. Shopping Smart
  15. Manufacturers
  16. Websites for Shopping


The Memory Slots

Yes, the motherboard is the mother of all boards on your computer. The motherboard may have a form factor of AT or ATX. We recommend you use ATX motherboards with ATX cases since this is the newer alternative and most modern microprocessors run on ATX motherboards. The motherboard holds the microprocessor, the memory, and several card slots. The memory may be SIMM sockets or DIMM sockets. The current standard is DIMM socketed memory. This is usually 168 pin 3 volt unbuffered synchronous DRAM memory. PC100 or PC133 memory is the current memory of choice. Most boards have 3 or 4 memory slots, which may, depending on the size of DIMM used, allow up or beyond 1 Gb total system memory. Most boards commonly allow 384 to 512 Mb of system RAM.

The expansion bus

The card slots are used to put additional cards such as video cards, sound cards, internal modems, or network cards into. Some motherboards today include video and sound without the addition of a extra card. These cards slots today are mostly PCI type card slots. When talking about cards that are plugged into a PC you are talking about the expansion bus. The expansion bus is a means of a microprocessor extending its communication ability further into the outside world. It is a data exchange means between add on cards and the microprocessor and the motherboard. There have been several types of expansion buses.

  • ISA - Industry Standard Architecture. Used when the original 8088 8bit microprocessor based personal computers were produced.
  • EISA - Extended ISA used when the 80286 through 80486 series microprocessors were being produced. This bus is still used but is being phased out and is almost gone today.
  • MCI - Microchannel architecture by IBM and used mainly on IBM brand computers.
  • PCI - Peripheral Component Interconnect. The popular expansion bus of choice. It is significantly faster than EISA.
  • AGP - Accelerated Graphics Port. This bus is developed for fast video cards. It is currently up to 4X mode speed.

The current popular expansion bus is the PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect) bus for all cards except the graphics cards. For graphics cards, the bus of choice is AGP. Most motherboards today have one AGP slot and several PCI slots. Your expansion cards will plug into these card slots. Be sure you get cards that match the available type of slots on your motherboard.

My microprocessor runs at 500Mhz and my memory runs at 100Mhz. Why?

As PC technology grew, eventually the access speed of the memory could no longer keep pace with the increased speed of the microprocessors. At this point, an I/O cache was placed on the microprocessor to be a buffer between the external memory on the motherboard and the internal processor registers. The memory was set to run at a different "side bus" speed which is some fraction of the microprocessor speed. Therefore when the speed of the microprocessor is set, it is set to some multiple of the side bus speed. In the case of a 500Mhz processor and 100Mhz PC100 capable memory, that multiple is 5. Sometimes this multiple and the sidebus frequency is set using jumpers on the motherboard, or it may be set with auto detection and the BIOS. You will need to consult your motherboard manual to determine how to set these parameters.

Other motherboard items

Other items on your motherboard that you should be aware of are the small pin connectors that are used to connect the following controls and indicatory to your motherboard.

  • Power supply switch.
  • Reset switch
  • The power on indicator.
  • Hard drive activity indicator.
  • In the case speaker connector.

You will need to consult your motherboard manual to see which connectors are used for which item and how to hook them up. There should be a bundle of cables near the front of the case (inside) which have labels on the connectors for these items.

Chipset and BIOS

One issue that will affect the operation of the motherboard is the chipset it uses and its BIOS it uses. The chipset is used to control the interface between the microprocessor and most of the devices and memory on the computer. The chipset used can have a significant affect on the performance of your system as can the overall design of the motherboard. The way to determine the best chipsets and motherboards is to read reviews and articles at various technical websites.

Your system's BIOS is a computer program that allows your system to begin running and provides a small library fo function that your system will use to interface to various devices such as your hard drive. Some BIOS programs can limit the location on your hard drive where you can install bootable operating systems. The BIOS resides in a chip on the motherboard called a ROM chip. Usually part of this ROM can be reset or re programmed with updates. ROM that can be electrically re-written this way is called "flash" ROM.