Buying your motherboard
Once you’ve dealt with compatibility issues, you need to decide what kind of motherboard you want and how much you’re willing to spend. If you’re just finding your old PC a bit slow, and want to give it a boost by installing a new CPU, you can combine a budget processor with a $70 motherboard and get a much-improved PC. If you have bigger ambitions – such as multi-GPU gaming, or the flexibility to tweak and overclock your system – you’ll need to spend more on a more fully featured board.
Whatever your budget, it’s important to consider the peripherals you want your new board to work with. If you have an old printer, for example, it might use a parallel connection, which is a rarity on modern motherboards. You’ll have to choose between upgrading your printer or limiting your motherboard search to boards with the appropriate port. The same applies if you have any peripherals connected to a serial port.
Consider internal expansion cards too. The standard PCI slot is still supported by most modern boards, but many models only have one or two slots, with the rest of their sockets using the newer PCI Express format. Don’t pick a board that can’t accommodate all your hardware.
Then, look at what integrated peripherals and connectors each board offers. A bargain basement board may have little more than a few USB connectors and an Ethernet port at the back, while more lavish options have up to eight USB connectors, plus extra features like eSATA, FireWire and digital audio.
Some, as noted above, have onboard graphics, which may offer DVI, TV output and even HDMI. You can always add capabilities to your PC at a later date with expansion cards, but it’s simpler and more economical to pick a board that has them built in.
Check how many Serial ATA (SATA) connectors are offered too. SATA is the modern way to connect hard disks and optical drives, and it’s faster and simpler than IDE. If you ever expect to add extra drives to your machine in the future, they’ll almost certainly use SATA instead of IDE, so pick a board with enough connectors.
Many motherboards also have a built-in SATA RAID controller. RAID allows you to configure two hard disks to work together as one drive, giving you either twice the speed or twice the reliability.
Finally, look at the diagnostics and power management utilities a board offers. Many boards come with software to monitor things like the temperature of your processor, the rotation speed of its fan, the voltage at which various parts of your system are running, and so on.
Many also use smart power management systems, which can intelligently drop speeds and voltages when top performance isn’t needed. This can cut power consumption by 20% or more, making your computer greener and cheaper to run.
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