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When selecting and purchasing your new motherboard then there are a number of things to consider depending on the future application you have in mind. This may range on the one hand from just an upgrade of your current PC system or on the other to a much faster or powerful system. You may also be shopping for a motherboard suitable for a very specific use such as a machine control. A new motherboard gives you lots of options.
For most applications the CPU is main engine room of your system and this is is usually where you should start your selection process. After that you can flow through a number or options for your new motherboard choice so the combination of CPU and modern design enhancements provides the performance you require. On your list can be modern features such as SATA (Serial ATA) 6Gb/s ports for your hard disks and optical drives and the incorporation of USB 3.0 for your peripherals. Remember though these will only provide enhanced performance if the linked devices can use the extra speed. After that you may be looking at feature upgrades such as extra expansion slots and USB ports and Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports. There are also now motherboards which have built in graphics cards which may provide savings.
The CPU connects to the motherboard through its own dedicated socket and will incorporate some form of heat sink facility. Intel and AMD (Advanced Micro Devices) do not use the same socket types so it is likely that your new motherboard will be aligned to a particular processor manufacturer.
Should you have already decided to carryover use of your existing CPU then you will need a motherboard with a compatible socket. If you are adopting the carryover route then it will be worthwhile first checking your future operating needs since use of the existing CPU could limit future possibilities to enhance your machine.
If you are taking the route of choosing the best processor for your needs then you will probably be choosing between Intel and AMD for your CPU with processor socket as appropriate. For example an Intel Core i3 or Core i5 processor would point towards LGA1156 socket use, whereas for a Core i7 processor then a LGA1366 socket would be relevant.
AMD processor use is simpler as regards processor socket selection with the low end Sempron 140, mid-range Athlon II or upper end Phenom II all compatible with a Socket AM3 equipped motherboard.
The motherboards chipset is important because it defines many of the features your motherboard can provide.
An Intel H55 chipset could be teamed with an Intel LGA1156 socket equipped motherboard to deliver good performance where integrated graphics is included obviating the need (and cost) of a separate graphics card. LGA1156 equipped motherboards are also available using Intel’s H57, Q57 and P55 chipsets. However a LGA1366 motherboard will require an Intel X58 chipset.
AMD socket AM3 boards come in two main tiers. For integrated graphics then the AMD 880G or 890GX chipsets are relevant. Otherwise there is the cheaper AMD870 and more costly 890FX.
While CPU and chip selection largely determine the basics for your motherboard, you need to also consider the other areas which complete the board configuration. Areas like the number of ports and PCI slots need to be considered and already mentioned has been the specifying of USB 3.0 rather than USB 2.0 and also use of SATA 6Gb/s ports for your hard disks. These will enable upgrade of your machine in the future.
Your existing system may well be using earlier DDR2 memory. Modern boards generally require the installation of DDR3 memory so you need to allow for this in your thinking. Computers running Windows Vista generally require 2GB of RAM to run comfortably whereas 1GB of RAM may well suffice for computers running a 32-bit bit version of Windows 7. On the other hand if you are planning to use a 64-bit operating system then you will be looking for around 4GB. These are considerations when considering the RAM capacity of a board.
Form Factor Consideration
The form factor is the specification which defines a motherboard’s key mechanical dimensions, that is its mounting points, I/O panel and power and connector interfaces. The long established standard is ATX (size 305 x 244mm) with five or more PCI slots. Carryover use of your old case would require selection of a compatible form factor which may well be the ATX configuration. Micro ATX (size 244 x 244mm) allows use of smaller computer cases with virtually ATX performance but the trade off is that only four PCI slots are available. Smaller still is the Mini ATX (size 170 x 170mm) which is often the motherboard for use in embedded applications for machine control such as ATM’s (automated teller machines). At the upper end then Extended ATX (size 305 x 330mm) may be what you need.