The chapter begins with an illustration of an ATX motherboard. A what? If a processor is a computer's brain, the motherboard is the body that communicates with the brain. Motherboards come in several types and each can have a number of features that allow the connection of and to other components of the computer. This takes us to a new term. A form factor is defined as a size, shape, and set of features. The author observes that, when building a computer, you should pick a form factor for the motherboard first, which will limit or determine your choices for cases, processors, types of memory and expansion cards, and power supplies.
The author could have introduced you to any number of historical motherboards. She tells us about three that are addressed on the current A+ tests:
There are other form factors. The image below shows the relative sizes of five motherboards made by the Lanner company. There is also a pen in the image to give you an ideal of relative size. Note that the Lanner site says their ATX motherboard is 12 x 13 inches, which is not possible if the image below is accurate. Trust the author of our book on sizes.
The author remarks that smaller boards may fit larger cases, which is discussed in the video below.
Search online for other images of motherboard form factors to get an idea about more types.
The next topics are chipsets and processor sockets, both of which are motherboard features. A chipset (a set of chips on the motherboard) provides interfaces between a processor and a computer's memory, expansion slots, and other peripherals. As you may imagine, there are chipsets for each generation of Intel processors and other for each generation of AMD processors. (Yes, there are other brands, but those are the big two for computers.)
Each generation of processors typically has an associated socket type, which in turn will have one or more associated chipsets. The socket type determines which processors will fit the motherboard. Let's let Linus Sebastian talk about it. (Ignore the commercial in the video. It was shot in 2016.)
So, if you watched the show, you learned that...
The text discusses expansion slots on motherboards, telling you that you only need to know about PCI slots and those that followed them. The video below discusses PCI and earlier technologies as well. I believe it is better to know something about where we came from if you want to understand where we are and where we might go next. And the presenter has a British accent, which always sounds more intelligent to American audiences.
This explains the notation on page 76: A PCIe x 1 slot allows one lane of data. A PCIe x 16 slot allows 16 lanes of data at the same time. Much wider data bandwidth. Plugging an x16 card into an x4 slot may still work, but it ruins the intended processing power of the card. Speaking of power, the actual electrical power required by a card may have to come from the motherboard slot and from an additional connector. Page 77 shows us images of an 8 pin Molex connector on a card, a 4 pin Molex connector on a motherboard, and a SATA connector on a motherboard. Warning: the next image could be dangerous to your PC!
Well, this one is actually okay, depending on what you do with it. In the image above, you see a SATA male connector at the upper right which branches to a 4 pin Molex female connector and a SATA female connector. The danger of what was meant to be a useful adapter is explained on this page at Crucial, a maker of connectors and memory. Applying power from a Molex source to an SSD SATA connection could lead to a fire in the computer. Don't do that. First rule of fire safety: don't let the fire start.
The text briefly mentions riser cards. Sometimes, a small motherboard may have only one expansion slot. If so, you need to install a riser card in it if you intend to install expansion cards.
In the image above, you see a riser card that plugs into a PCI slot. It allows the installation of up to three PCI expansion cards, assuming that they are thin enough and short enough to fit in the riser card and in your case. In this instance, your single slot on the motherboard becomes a shared bus for any cards you insert into the riser card.
If you have used computers at all, you have probably seen arrays of ports like the one shown on page 79. The PS/2 port shown at the image's upper left may seem unfamiliar. It was commonly used to attach either a mouse or a keyboard to the computer before USB A ports became a standard. For reference, the image on the right shows a cable with a USB A connector on the left and a USB B connector (typically used for printers) on the right.
The text goes on to discuss three data ports that have already been mentioned, an old one that has not:
The text continues with software that is stored on the motherboard itself. Two types are mentioned:
The discussion about the transition from BIOS (Basic Input-Output System) chips to UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) is a little light. This article on howtogeek.com is a bit more readable and detailed. Short version: UEFI supports more memory and larger storage devices at boot time. BIOS chips could only operate in 16-bit mode, so modern processors have to gear down to use them, at least until the main operating system is loaded. For an explanation in a video, take a look at this one:
The video discusses the memory and storage device issues, but it
goes to a commercial at about 3:55, which we can skip. UEFI
supports Secure Boot
which is meant to protect your computer from having its operating
system compromised. The system starts by verifying hardware, then
verifying each layer of software in a chain
trust. Like most features, you can turn Secure Boot off, which you would want
to do if you need your computer to be able to boot into multiple
You can use either system to set security functions, change the boot order of your drives, and tell the system about new devices you've added to the computer. Note the short sections about encryption, TPM chips, and enabling UEFI to support virtual machines: A+ cares about these concepts.
Updating drivers is not challenging. You typically download a new driver from either your computer manufacturer's web site, or from the site of the maker of the hardware in question. Download, click to install, and follow the prompts.
It is sometimes necessary to do an unusual thing with the motherboard. Page 97 in the text shows a set of six jumper pins that can be used to modify a computer's startup. Jumper pins are open circuits until you bridge two of them with a jumper cover (also called a jumper). The text gives an example of a row of three pins.