Part II: Motherboards and Processors
Last week, we introduced you to the art that is building your own desktop PC or cheap gaming PC and we began to touch on many of the different parts you must look at when starting your first build. Today, we take a look at the heart and soul of your computer – the processor and motherboard. The processor is the heart of your computer while the motherboard is the central nervous system through which all the data flows through your machine. Without these two working in perfect harmony, you will have problems and even failures on your machine.
That is why selecting these two components is, perhaps, the most important part of the build process. Choose wrong and your system may not function as you hoped or you could even have major problems causing the system to not even boot. Today, let’s examine everything you need to know to begin your research into the motherboard and processor that is right for you so you can buy the right hardware for your next desktop PC build.
What Comes First
Many people get confused when they are building their first machine as to what they should choose first – the motherboard or the processor. I’m sure what I will say won’t help very much, but here goes nothing. In many ways you should choose the processor you want to use first, but you can’t forget the motherboard either so sometimes you should try choosing them together. Confusing? I thought so. Basically, you should choose the basic processor technology you want to use and then look for a motherboard for that processor that will work for you. If you can’t find one that matches your needs, you may have to choose a different processor and begin the search all over again.
Luckily, there are many different motherboards out there so finding one that works for you based on the processor you want shouldn’t be too difficult, unless you insist on building a specialty desktop such as a very small one that you will use as a media center or something like that.
With so many options out there, finding the right processor can be difficult even for more seasoned computer users. What you need to know if you are building your first system is the following. There are two main manufacturers of computer processors today – Intel and AMD. Both of these companies make modern processors that will run all of the latest software that is available. Each company has many different processors designed at different speeds, power and, of course, cost. The faster and more powerful you go, the more money it will cost.
So how do you choose the right computer processor? Now that’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? There is no right or wrong answer to this one, however. It really all depends on how you use your computer and what software you want to run. When choosing a processor, you need to select the processor that will best fit your needs.
If you are looking to build a very power efficient machine, you may want to look at the low power processors from AMD and Intel. These processors won’t be as fast as some of the other processors, but if you want to use as little power as possible, they are definitely the way to go. If you are looking for a processor that can handle every day office tasks with ease, an AMD chip or Intel i3 or i5 will work great for those tasks. But, if you are looking at building a machine for high end gaming or video editing, you will definitely want to consider the latest generation i7 chips from Intel as they are the most powerful on the market at least right now. Of course, all of this is subject to change without notice.
Once you have chosen your processor, it is time to take a look at what type of motherboard you should pick up. Remember, the motherboard is the main highway across which all the information in your computer will flow, so it is important to get the right one the first time so you don’t have any problems.
There are a few things you should consider when picking out a motherboard. Let’s take a look at your main concerns.
There are many different motherboard sizes out there just like there are computer cases. In most cases, all of these motherboards are ATX compatible and will fit into almost any case, assuming they aren’t too big. The only real difference between the sizes is the amount of expandability you can get. In addition, the smaller boards usually only support certain processors.
When choosing a motherboard size, select one that will fit in the case you have chosen. While you can get away with a small one in a large case, obviously the reverse isn’t true. When selecting the right size, make sure you take into account all the expansion cards you plan on plugging into your computer. You want to make sure you have the right amount of expansion slots for the cards you want to plug in. These cards usually come in the form of network cards, video cards, and other expansions for more ports, etc.
The next thing you need to make sure is that the motherboard has the right sockets for the processor you chose. Sockets are basically how the processor plugs into the motherboard. Different boards are designed for different processors, so you need to confirm that the board you choose will take the processor you plan on using in your new build. All sockets on processors are named to make it easy to identify if a board is compatible with the different types of processors.
The chipset is how your processor, RAM and the rest of your devices communicate among one another. Different chipsets bring different features and speeds to your motherboard. You will find that some chipsets will handle some tasks better than others, and they can add many nice features.
The northbridge typically handles the communication between your processor, RAM and video card, so this can be very important for video editors and gamers alike. The southbridge, on the other hand, handles features such as USB 3.0, SATA and even PCI-E. This means that this part of the chipset handles the hard drive and other devices that interface with your computer.
These types of chipsets and features continually changes making it impossible to list everything that each chipset can do here, but what you need to remember is to read about each chipset at the time you are about to buy to make the best selection for you.
On top of the basics, you will want to examine some of the other features that the motherboard offers. Different manufacturers will include different ports and features on their motherboards in an attempt to attract users. Some boards will come with wireless built-in while others don’t, for example. Your board may come with onboard video with HDMI so you can connect it to your television while others will provide slots to add multiple video cards for supreme performance. Take a look at these options while making your decision and make sure you get all the features you believe you will use. Of course, don’t buy a bunch of feature you don’t need, as these extras usually drive up the cost of the board.
One of the easiest ways to ensure full compatibility when buying is by picking up a combo package that includes both motherboard and processor. These packages give you the features you are looking for along with guaranteed compatibility right out of the box. If you are new to building computers, this is a great option to consider although it usually isn’t the cheapest of options available out there.
In most cases, you can find more powerful boards with more features if you choose to buy the motherboard and processor separately. Still, if you are unsure about compatibility even after doing your homework, picking up one of these combos takes all the guesswork out of the equation.
What motherboard and processor you choose is the most important decision you will make when building a new desktop. Choosing the wrong one can mean compatible and installation errors or at least a slower machine that doesn’t perform exactly as you hoped. That is why it is important to take a little extra time to do your homework before selecting the motherboard and processor for your new desktop build. By doing so, you can greatly reduce the chances of problems during your build and you can almost eliminate the chance that you will be unhappy with your desktop once you do put it all together.
There you have it, many tips to help you start your research for the best motherboard and processor. So what do you think? What motherboard and processor would you choose for your next desktop build?
Next week, we will take a more in depth look at memory and what RAM really is. From there, we will help you select the right RAM and the right amount of RAM for your next desktop build.