What Is a Motherboard?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn more about motherboards and what you may need to know for an information technology career.

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A motherboard is the primary circuit board connecting all the necessary pieces for your computer to operate as a system. The motherboard resides inside the computer with different connections specific to items in the computer, allowing them to operate and communicate with each other. You may have ports for other types of hardware, such as memory cards or connections to the computer’s CPU or central processing unit. Some of the connected components—often called daughter boards—may have individual pre- or post-processing CPUs to alleviate strain on the motherboard.

Components of a motherboard

The motherboard acts as a central hub connecting a computer’s functional components so that they can interact. Some parts are required, while others are additional options you can use to personalize  your computer depending on your needs.

Let’s take a look at a few examples of the parts you can connect to the motherboard:

CPU. The central processing unit is essentially the computer’s brain, telling it what to do. It takes the user’s input and sends instructions to components on the motherboard to tell them what to do next. The CPU operates with a computer chip, and the unit has its own socket on a computer’s motherboard that connects it directly to the board.

BIOS. A basic input/output system (BIOS) works with the CPU and uses it to get your computer up and running. BIOS can also load your operating system, manage data flow, and enhance the interface between hardware and the operating system. 

RAM. The motherboard has space for random access memory or RAM, and you can add or change out pieces of memory in those RAM slots if you need to expand your memory. RAM allows you to store data so you can quickly access it, making your system run more efficiently to do tasks. It’s only a temporary warehouse for data, but it can help you easily open programs and perform operations, depending on how much of it you have.

Sound cards and video cards. These cards attach to the motherboard to help with different sound and video functions depending on what you need when utilizing your computer.

Hard drives. Hard drives store data and information that you can retrieve as part of your computing tasks. Two popular options include a hard disk drive (HDD) or a solid-state drive (SSD). An HDD uses a moving head and spinning disks for data access, while SSDs access data using memory chips.

Cooling fan. All the components connected to the motherboard will generate heat as they use electricity for different functions. To keep everything cool and prevent pieces from burning out, you’ll have a cooling fan connected to the motherboard to eliminate that excess heat.

Power source. The motherboard keeps everything running on power with connections to an external power source. Like other components, the power source must be compatible with your specific motherboard to work properly.

Get started in IT with Coursera

It’s essential to understand motherboards and how they operate if you plan to go into IT or a related field. You can learn more with the Google IT Support Professional Certificate on Coursera. This Professional Certificate helps you develop the skills you need to pursue an IT support position, including maintaining and repairing motherboards, troubleshooting issues, and performing other day-to-day support tasks.

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