The Motherboard (also referred to as the logic board, mainboard, or mobo) is a physical component located within nearly every modern day desktop and laptop computer. Due to its physical nature -the fact that it can be seen, touched, and manipulated – the motherboard is referred to as a piece of hardware.
The motherboard is generally squarish or rectangular in shape although its size can vary a great deal. A large desktop computer’s motherboard may measure 11 inches in length, 11 inches in width, and a fraction of an inch in depth. Meanwhile, a small desktop computer’s (or laptop computer’s) motherboard may only measure 8 inches in length, 7 inches in width, and a fraction of an inch in depth.
So what does a motherboard actually look like? From above, the motherboard looks like a thin board – generally greenish, blueish, or reddish in colour – which is embedded with a multitude of plastic and metal parts (see the picture labeled “top view”). From below, all you will see is a complex maze of metallic pathways stretching across this thin board.
- The thin green (blue or red) board is a printed circuit board which provides solidity and allows for communication between components/devices/parts.
- The embedded plastic and metal parts have various purposes. The long plastic parts are generally ports which allow you to connect pieces of hardware to your computer. The black squares are generally microprocessors which perform calculations. Big pieces of metal tend to be heat sinks which attempt to dissipate heat from your computer. Small parts are generally either: capacitors, resistors, or diodes – if you want to know what they do you will have to take a course in electronics :]
The Role of the Motherboard
We here at Seymour Computer Repair tend to think of the motherboard as your computer’s communication grid. The goal of the motherboard is to:
- Provide a location where all of your computer’s hardware components can come together and communicate/talk with one another. For those interested, the communication pathways on a motherboard are generally referred to as buses.
In order for a piece of hardware (hard drive, RAM, CPU, video card, sound card, network card, USB port … etc) to be useful it must be connected to your motherboard; this can be accomplished in 2 different ways.
- The first option is that the piece of hardware is integrated into the motherboard; the term “integrated” refers to the fact that it is physically part of, and inseparable from, the motherboard. For example, an integrated video card is a video card which has been built into the motherboard during the manufacturing process.
- The second option is that the piece of hardware is added onto the motherboard; the term “added on” refers to the fact that it physically distinct from the motherboard and must be connected to it via an appropriate port. For example, a motherboard without an “integrated video card” needs to have an “external video card” connected to it via an appropriate video card port.
Symptoms of Motherboard Failure
A motherboard is said to have failed when it no longer allows pieces of hardware to communicate or when the communication between pieces of hardware becomes corrupt. Basically, motherboard failure is analogous to communication failure. Symptoms of motherboard failure include:
- A computer which makes a strange beeping sound as it starts up: As a computer starts up it performs a bunch of diagnostics designed to check whether all of its critical parts are in working order. If everything is OK then your computer will load up normally. If, however, a critical problem is found then your computer will not load its operating system but will instead emit a bunch of strange beeps. These strange, seemingly random, beeps are actually a beep code – a special signal telling you or a computer repair technician why your computer won’t load.
- A computer which freezes, crashes, or reboots unexpectedly: Your computer continuously sends signals from one piece of hardware to another via the motherboard. If your motherboard is having problems facilitating this communication then you are going to have problems. Potential outcomes include: unexpected crashing (quitting of programs, displaying of error screens … etc.), unexpected freezing (inability to move the mouse, inability to open files, inability to open programs … etc.), and unexpected reboots (computer suddenly shuts down).
In certain situations a defective motherboard can be repaired while in other situations it must be replaced. Unfortunately, even if a motherboard is repairable, the common computer user has neither the tools nor the skills to do so. The only thing you can do is to test the motherboard to see if it truly is defective.
If you are getting a beep code
Analyze the beep code: If your computer won’t start up and, instead, lets out a bunch of beeps then head over to this beep code analysis page in order to find out where your problem lies. If your computer is complaining about its motherboard then there is a good chance that it is defective and will need to be repaired or replaced by a computer repair technician. If your computer is not complaining about its motherboard, but is instead complaining about another piece of hardware, then we recommend that you take a look at our article discussing that particular piece of hardware.
If you are not getting a beep code
Swap out your computer’s hardware components: The only real way to know if your motherboard is faulty is to verify that your other hardware components are not faulty. The problem with this method is that it is slow and not entirely accurate; this is why we generally recommend that you take your computer to a repair shop if you suspect motherboard problems. If you do want to test your motherboard at home then follow this general procedure:
- Ground yourself, by touching your sink or a metal table leg, in order to get rid of any excess static electricity.
- Grab the computer which is malfunctioning (we will call it PC-1) and take out its RAM.
- Grab a computer which is working properly (we will call it PC-2) and take out its RAM.
- Place PC-2‘s RAM into PC-1.
- Is PC-1 still malfunctioning? If it is still malfunctioning then continue down to step 6. If the computer is no longer malfunctioning then it appears that your motherboard is fine, but your RAM is the problem.
- Repeat steps 2, 3, 4, and 5 with any other piece of hardware you can get your hands on. This may include the: video card, audio card, network card, hard drive .. etc. If you have replaced every piece of hardware but PC-1 is still malfunctioning then there is a reasonable chance that the motherboard is at fault. At this point, you will likely need to take your computer into a repair shop to have the motherboard repaired or replaced.
- When you are done your testing make sure to put PC-1 and PC-2 back together with their appropriate pieces of hardware.
The motherboard is your computer’s communication grid, providing an access point through which pieces of hardware (both integrated and added-on) can communicate with one another.
Generally speaking, motherboards are reliable and will last years without exhibiting any problems; this is because their inumerable small parts are non-moving. Despite saying this, motherboards can run into problems and eventually die!
If your computer is acting in a strange manner you can test your motherboard through a method of reduction – making sure that no other pieces of hardware are to blame. Ultimately, however, you will likely need to take your computer into a repair shop to be looked at. It is here that a specialist will determine whether your motherboard can be repaired or, more likely, replaced.