How Are Motherboards Made: Understanding the Process of Motherboard Manufacturing
Have you ever thought for a second and asked how are motherboards made? Or perhaps wondered how they actually work?
If that’s why you’re here, then you’re in for a treat. Everything you need to know about motherboards from the components that make up the printed circuit board or PCB, the integration of the input/output ports, card slots, and sockets, all the way up to the packaging and distribution of motherboards will be covered in this article in detail-- even tips on how to spot a good motherboard for your need.
What is a Motherboard?
Some of you may see it as a piece of a slab that’s engraved with alien-looking lines that cover up the entire circuit board.
The slab is actually a printed circuit board (PCB) embedded with copper tracks that actually hold and let electronic components like central processing unit (CPU), random access memory (RAM), and graphics processing unit (GPU) communicate.
It also connects and transmits signals to and from peripherals like keyboard, mice, and monitor to the system.
What is a Motherboard Made of, Exactly?
For starters, a motherboard is mainly composed of two materials:
- Layers of fiberglass for the purpose of insulation.
- Copper to form conductive pathways.
If you’re wondering why are motherboards made in layers, the answer is quite simple, really:
Stacking a usual 4-8 layers of copper-embedded fiberglass PCB also makes the size 4-8 lesser. Aside from that, this also increases the speed of processing data since electrons can move and get from one point to another faster.
This is a good time to talk about the idea of drilling holes through your motherboard to fit an aftermarket CPU cooler. It may sound crazy but there were people who have actually done this and obviously regretted it. So forget about drilling a hole through your motherboard in case you’ve considered this idea.
This does not mean though that the PCB is never drilled because it is. Some of these holes include mounting holes, through-holes for components that will be soldered to the motherboard, as well as vertical interconnect access or VIAS. This is basically what connects electrical connections between the copper layers.
Now, if you want to learn how to build a motherboard, you might want to take a step back. It may not be impossible but it’s going to be very complicated.
For starters, you need to understand the whole motherboard manufacturing process.
Making the Slab and Etching the Copper
It all starts with the PCB or printed circuit board. Layers of very complicated slices of fiberglass are stacked together and are stuck together with a resin to form one very solid layer.
This very solid fiberglass layer will then be coated with a layer of copper on both top and bottom sides. A chemical called photoresist, a light-sensitive material that forms a copper-etched trace on the PCB when exposed to light is then coated on top of the copper layer.
After coating the copper with photoresist, a pattern covering specific parts of the layer is then placed on top of it before exposing the entire slab to UV light. The board is then washed to remove the uncovered parts of the copper layer, exposing the almost-complete motherboard.
When everything is completed, the actual motherboard manufacturing process begins.
Motherboard Manufacturing Process
The process of manufacturing motherboards is essentially broken down into 4 parts:
- Surface Mount Technology (SMT)
- DIP (Dual Inline Package)
1. Surface Mount Technology (SMT)
This is where smaller components are soldered onto the motherboard.
The process starts with the PCBs stacked and pushed by a machine one by one to an advanced printer which then follows a pre-labeled layout before soldering components in place.
The motherboards aren’t sent straight away to DIP because they need to be manually inspected first and then placed on an integrated chip tester second to check if there are missed prints.
If it passes the test, then it can finally go to the next step.
2. DIP (Dual Inline Package)
This process involves an advanced capacitor installing machine and manual insertion of larger components such as 24-pin connectors, input/output ports, capacitors, and others. Before a motherboard is ready for testing, it has to pass the manual inspection to ensure that the components are properly installed.
After the manual inspection, these are sent through a heat chamber that is said to go all the way up to 265 degrees to reinforce the recently inserted components. After this, it will then be ready for testing.
All of the I/O ports, PCI Express Lanes-- you name it, will not only be used to test if they work but it has to pass a series of tests before they are tagged as ready for packaging.
We covered all these components in detail in the next section so be sure to check that out as well.
4. Packaging and Distribution
The packaging and distribution process is where the SATA cable, manual, I/O shield, driver installer, and just about everything you would find inside a newly purchased motherboard is packed.
The motherboard will also be packaged in an antistatic bag here. And when everything is complete, the motherboard should be ready for distribution.
Parts of A Motherboard
Now that you have a general idea about the motherboard manufacturing process, we’ll now cover the parts that comprise the motherboard as a whole.
BIOS and CMOS
BIOS or Basic Input Output System. This is where all the information and settings of the motherboard are stored. It can be accessed, updated, and modified via the BIOS mode.
The CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semi-Conductor) battery is what’s responsible for keeping all the information intact when the entire system is shut down.
It’s also commonly known as I/O ports for short. These ports are located at the back of the computer and follow a standard PC color coding.
Below are the I/O ports you would find at the back of a motherboard along with the colors they represent.
Microphones come in many different forms and sizes. Some are simple and small while some are complicated and larger. No matter the case, there is a place for the best microphone for gaming or for professional recording at the back of the motherboard in the I/O ports, with its port colored in pink.
Like microphones, speakers come in different forms and sizes. Furthermore, it also ranges in audio channels and default equalizer settings.
Nonetheless, the ports for the best speakers for gaming or movie marathon sit beside the microphone port with a bold green color around the entry of the port. Alternatively, you can also connect a standard or a gaming headset in the same port.
A lot of motherboards are still equipped with a standard VGA port at the back with a solid blue color but newer motherboards dropped the VGA ports and use the DVI port as standard. And instead of blue, this has a white or black color.
If you’re going to get one of the best gaming monitors, then you’ll have to plug it into the graphics card’s outputs, not the motherboard’s.
Ethernet network cable
To connect to your local network, connect the other end of the ethernet cable (connected to your router) to the ethernet port at the back of the motherboard. It’s usually located in-line or near the microphone and speaker outputs with no color.
Alternatively, get a gaming router if you want a really stable wireless connection.
Keyboard and Mouse
The PS/2 ports are still present to this day and most of the recently manufactured motherboards now only have 1 port for both keyboards and mouse that still use PS/2 connections. The PS/2 port for the keyboard is represented by the color purple while the PS/2 port for the mouse is represented by the color green.
Alternatively, keyboard and mouse today are equipped with a USB-type connector that goes to the USB ports at the back of the I/O, which, we’ll talk about next.
Gaming keyboards and gaming mice aren’t the only devices that you can hook up to the USB ports at the back of the motherboard. You can also hook a regular keyboard or mouse as long as it has a USB-type connector.
Because of the popularity of USB-type connectors, more and more devices are now being manufactured with a USB-type cable to maximize flexibility and use. USB 2.0 isn’t represented by any color, unlike the USB 3.0 ports that has a solid blue color.
Storage Device Connectors
Storage device connectors are where you will connect your storage devices such as mechanical hard drives and solid state drives. These storage devices need to be connected to the motherboard for data to be submitted and retrieved.
Depending on the type of storage device will be how fast data is transferred. Visit our article about the best gaming hard drives and the best SSD for gaming for a more detailed explanation of this topic.
IDE and SATA connector
IDE or the Integrated Drive Electronics is used to hook up disk drives, floppy disks, and HDD. This is a 40-pin male connector that connects the HDD.
As technology advanced, IDE connectors are becoming very obsolete, which is better off replaced with a SATA connector. SATA, or Serial Advanced Technology Attachment, is the latest connector with a 7-pin interface. This is faster than the IDE connectors.
The ATX connector (found in recent forms of motherboards) have 20 or 24-pin female connectors. The SMPS or switched-mode power supply is what makes the motherboard powered and running.
This where you connect the Power Switch, the LED power indicator, the Reset Switch, the HDD LED, as well as the front audio and front USB. They connections are also usually located at the bottom part of the motherboard.
The CPU socket is where your CPU sits. This is connected not only to the motherboard but this is also where processing and transferring of data happens. Your CPU should be compatible with the motherboard’s socket in order for it to work.
There’s no other way around if you purchased a CPU that’s incompatible with the motherboard, this is why it’s best that you need to know which CPU is ideal for gaming. It is also worth knowing which CPU cooler is best for the CPU of your choice.
Expansion Card Slots
If you’re going to add a new component to the motherboard or in case you wish to upgrade to a dedicated graphics card, the expansion card slots lets you do that.
RAM (Memory) Slots
RAM or Random Access Memory is one of the most needed parts of the motherboard.
The RAM slots is where you place the RAM modules. There is the SIMM (Single in-line memory module) slot that supports only 32-bit bus and there is the DIMM (Dual inline memory module) that can run simultaneously with a 64-bit bus.
The DDR3 (Double Data Rate 3th Generation) was once the standard before this was replaced with the latest variant of memory in computing-- the DDR4 (Double Data Rate 4th Generation). But nevertheless, you can still find older systems that still run perfectly with the former generation.
But when it comes to gaming, it’s still a debate whether or not you need 8GB of DDR4 RAM or 16GB of DDR4. If you wish to learn more about these, check the quick links below:
What Makes a Good Motherboard, Good?
At this point, you should have a fair amount of understanding about how are motherboards made and the parts that compose it as a whole. But what exactly are the features that make a good motherboard, good?
VRM (Voltage Regulator Module)
VRMs, also called processor power module or (PPM), is a component that acts very similar to a computer power supply unit or PSU. It cuts down the voltage a second time to provide the CPU with the exact amount of voltage it needs.
Before you can spot a motherboard with a good VRM, you need to first familiarize yourself with a few components that make up the whole VRM such as MOSFET and chokes:
- MOSFET or Metal-Oxide-Semiconductor Field-Effect Transistors are the flat squares or flat rectangle-ish (in other motherboards) components usually located around your CPU socket. It’s responsible for feeding the CPU with the exact voltage it needs.
- Chokes are usually located beside the MOSFET and are responsible for stabilizing the currents and capacitors when sudden voltage spikes kick in.
Spotting a motherboard with a good VRM sounds intimidating but it’s actually easier than most of you think because all you need is to literally count the number of chokes. One choke equates to one phase, and more phases mean better stability since power is delivered to the CPU in a number of ways.
The need to opt for these high-quality VRMs on a motherboard is all the more essential, especially if you’re into overclocking to achieve better performance and greater stability.
A good motherboard should have intelligently placed components and slots because poor design could lead to a number of problems and usually puts other components at risk.
This is very true because a colleague of ours (Reilly) had a problem one time fitting his RAM because the RAM slots are too close to the CPU that installing a CPU cooler would have blocked the RAM.
To add to that, Reilly’s friend owned a motherboard with an M.2 SSD slot placed directly under the GPU slot. Sadly, his friend’s SSD was fried by the GTX 1080 Ti. This is a well-known flaw and is the reason why you would find these motherboards installed with heat shields for M.2 SSD slots today.
It is also worth noting that you should also pay close attention to the chipsets because as much as possible, you should pay only for what you need and avoid boards with features you won’t even make use of.
If you need a motherboard that supports SLI and overclocking capabilities, you need to specifically find a motherboard that does so. You can check our roundup of the best motherboards as a start or you could read more about SLI to learn more about it.
On the contrary, finding a motherboard that supports overclocking shouldn’t be an issue, especially since you can get easily get one-- even at the cheapest price range. Just make sure they don’t have cheap capacitors, which we’ll be covering next.
Always go for solid state capacitors.
As much as possible, never get a motherboard with cheap capacitors because these usually are loaded with conducting liquid. Regardless if these are made correctly or not, motherboards that utilize cheap capacitors are still highly susceptible to problems such as leaks, rupture, or explode through the years of use.
This is why it’s always great to get a motherboard that utilizes solid state capacitors because unlike capacitors that contain conduction liquid, these contain a solid organic polymer.
At this point, you should have the bragging rights to talk about motherboards in detail over at Reddit.
But regardless, I hope you learned a lot from this article and wish you are smarter now than you were a few minutes ago. Motherboards are great tools that we all know are essential, but it’s also great to know how these slabs magically make every hardware component work together.