- What is a motherboard?
- Differences between motherboards
- The parts - processors
- Socket formats
- Intel processors
- AMD processors
- Dual processors and dual-core processors
- Choosing a chipset
- Memory support
- Hard drive support
- Peripheral devices
- Expansion slots
- Integrated interfaces
- Motherboard form factors
- The functions - BIOS and POST
The second way in which motherboards differ is their chipset. The chipset is made up of a series of chips integrated onto the motherboard, which, together, control the system and its capabilities. All components, from the memory to the peripheral devices, communicate with the processor through the chipset. If you think of the motherboard as the physical hardware, the chipset is the logic that underlies it. It is the part that dictates how different components actually talk to one another and is the most important component on the motherboard.
Processor development and chipset design also go hand in hand - so much so that the chipset is built to support the facilities offered by a certain processor. There used to be a number of chipset vendors on the market, but the consumer market has now been pared down to just a few: Intel, AMD, Nvidia, Silicon Integrated Systems (SiS) and VIA Technologies.
Because motherboards are designed around the capabilities of the chipset, users cannot upgrade the computer's chipset without upgrading the motherboard as well. Therefore the chipset and processor you choose will be crucial in deciding what motherboard is best for your system, and vice versa.
The chipset uses the DMA (Direct Memory Access) controller and the bus controller to organise the steady flow of data that it controls.
Alongside the DMA and bus controllers, the chipset's many functions include the memory controller, hard drive controller, PCI, PCIe and AGP bridges, RTC (real time clock), IrDA controller, keyboard controller, the USB interface and mouse controller. The chipset manages the interaction of the various connectors. Nearly all new chipsets have a bunch of extras added in - integral support for sound output, networking and FireWire for instance.
A chipset is usually (but not always) split into two main parts - the north and south bridges. The north bridge takes control of the major functions such as the memory, cache, and AGP connectors (more on these below), while the south bridge controls the non-core functions of the motherboard, such as the PCI bus, integrated audio, EIDE, SATA, serial and USB controllers.
Chipset manufacturers have produced a large range of chipsets, based on a variety of north bridge and south bridge types. The most recent, and most advanced, releases for Intel processors are the Intel 955X Express Chipset, the Nvidia nForce4, the SiS655 and the Via PT894.
For AMD motherboards, look for recent chipsets including the Nvidia nForce4, the SiS761 and the Via K8T890.
Below, we've included a list of many chipsets you might see appear in motherboards right now.
|For Intel processors||For AMD processors|
|AMD||None||AMD-8151, AMD-8132, AMD-8131, AMD-8111|
|Intel||Intel 955X Express, Intel 925X/XE Express, Intel 915G/GV/GL/PL/P, Intel 875P, Intel 910GL, Intel 865G||None|
|Nvidia||nForce4 SLI||nForce2, nForce2 Ultra 400, nForce2 Ultra 400GB, nForce2 400R, nForce3, nForce3 Ultra, nForce3 Ultra 250, nForce3 Ultra 250GB, nForce4, nForce4 Ultra, nForce4 Ultra, nForce Professional 2200, nForce Professional 2050|
|SiS||SiS649, SiS656, SiS655TX, SiS655FX, SiS648FX||SiS761GX, SiS756, SiS755FX, SiS755, SiS760GX|
|Via||VIA PM800, VIA PT800, VIA PM880, VIA PT880, VIA PT880 Pro, VIA PT894, VIA PT894 Pro||VIA K8T890, VIA K8T800, VIA K8T800 Pro, VIA K8M800|