Build Your System Motherboards

The motherboard is the heart of any system. They are manufactured in four basic form factors. The form factor refers to the physical dimensions and size of the board and determines the type of case it will fit into IT Services St. Louis. The form factors currently on the market are Full size AT, Baby AT, ATX and LPX.

The Full Size AT motherboard is considered a copy of the original IBM AT motherboard design. They are a very large motherboard and require a larger than normal case seen on the market today. These boards are not in production today so you will only find them in older systems and as used motherboards. They are not recommended for use due to their size and limitations on being upgraded to today’s CPU speeds.

The Baby AT format is the most popular board size in use today. This motherboard can be used in all cases on the market today except some slimline cases. This factor is the reason for its popularity. It also has many configurations for CPU usage. When buying a motherboard insure that it will accommodate your current CPU configuration and any upgrades you may want in the future. There are many of these motherboards on the market that will not accommodate CPU speeds higher than 100MHz. If you are in doubt about a motherboard’s ability to handle your current needs be sure and check with the manufacturer or one of the many motherboard information sites on the net.

The ATX format is the newest on the market. These motherboards are also the format of the future and will replace the Baby AT as the most used in coming years. Their design is much improved over other motherboards resulting in much cooler internal temperatures and ease of maintenance of your computer system. The power supply connector is considered foolproof in relation to the older AT style connector. The are 20 pins contained in two rows. The connector is keyed to insure you can only install the power supply connector in one direction. The older AT style connector consisted of two 6 pin connectors and were easily reversed during installation. If you don’t purchase the ATX format motherboard now, you will in the near future.

The LPX format motherboards are used in the slimline style of case. These motherboards are not recommended for the do it yourself system. They are much harder to work on and upgrade. They require special riser cards for installation of expansion cards and are generally not worth the trouble. You will find them many times in use on systems sold in retail stores.

When building your system there are other considerations.The chipset contained on your motherboard is one of the most important considerations. It will determine your system’s ability to be upgraded, its speed and reliability to name a few. It will also determine what type of CPU you can use. The Pentium II CPU requires a chipset that no other CPU uses at this time. The Cyrix, IBM, AMD and IDT WINCHIP all use the same chipsets.

First we will talk about the Pentium II chipsets. On the market today are the LX, BX and EX AGPset chipsets. The LX chipset is made for socket 1 Pentium II CPUs in the 233-333MHz range. The BX chipset is made for up to 500MHz. The EX chipset is a new chipset made to take advantage of the new Celeron Pentium II CPUs. (If you haven’t considered the Celeron you might take a look at them if you want to step up to Pentium II speeds on a low budget.) When choosing your chipset take into consideration your budget but always buy the best chipset you can afford. You will save money in the long run. Right now the BX chipset is the one to get. If you are on a budget and expect to upgrade your motherboard in the near future I would recommend the EX chipset and the Celeron Pentium II CPU. Due to the Pentium II’s newness to this point there are no other chipsets at this time but I am sure we will see new ones on the market in the near future.

Don’t give up on the tried and true socket 7 motherboards and CPUs. AMD, Cyrix and IBM have increased the speeds to 300MHz with faster chips coming out before the end of the year. These CPUs rival the Pentium II in speed and reliability. They can also be used in many of the motherboards already in your systems. So all you have to do is change your CPU.

If you are looking for a socket 7 motherboard you will find many choices. This format has been around for a long time. There are many chipsets available from numerous manufacturers. The most popular chipsets on the market today are the TX, VIA Apollo, SIS and VIA MVP3. Of these the VIA MVP3 is the newest and supports the 100MHz bus.

If you are looking for a motherboard which will upgrade to 400MHz in its present form the VIA MVP3 is the choice to make. MVP3 supports the new PC100 memory modules resulting in Pentium II speeds at a fraction of the cost when used with CPUs that support 100MHz. It also takes advantage of the new AMD K6-2 3D NOW CPUs but will also accept all previous CPUs from 120MHz to the present 300MHz and beyond. Our choice of the best chipset on the market today for the socket 7 CPU.

The VIA Apollo chipsets are our second choice for socket 7 motherboards. These motherboards offer one of the best platforms for the Cyrix/IBM 6x86M class of CPUs. They are also a respectable motherboard with Intel, AMD and IDT CPUs. If you take a look at the motherboard testing sites on the net you will find that the VIA Apollo chipsets have surpassed the Intel TX chipsets in speed and reliability.

The Intel TX and SIS chipsets are slowly disappearing from the market today. They now are showing up in the inexpensive motherboards once supporting the TXPro and other inferior chipsets. These chipsets are a good buy in most situations today if you are looking to get into a Pentium socket 7 motherboard on a budget. We would recommend staying away from the TXPro chipsets however unless your budget just will not support a better chipset. You shouldn’t pay more than about $60 for a motherboard with this chipset unless it also has built-in video and sound cards. Then they should be no more than about $75. For further information on chipsets you can go to some of the fine internet sites that specialize in motherboard information.

Motherboard Installation

The first and most important step is to setup your motherboard for your specific CPU. If this step is overlooked you may well end up with a fried CPU, a non working system or one which acts strangely. You must select your bus speed and voltage settings as directed in your motherboard manual. This is normally done by setting jumpers on your motherboard.

There are a few motherboards out there that do not require setting jumpers. These motherboards are known as jumperless motherboards. The voltage and bus frequency is set on startup with your BIOS settings. Bypassing this step could also be hazardous to your CPU.

When buying a motherboard and CPU combination from your retailer it should have the jumpers in their proper positions already. DO NOT take this for granted. Always double check the settings and if you have questions ask your retailer to confirm the settings with you.

The next step is to install your CPU in the motherboard. As stated earlier there are two types of CPUs. The socket 7 CPUs will be covered first followed by the socket 1 Pentium II CPUs. Take a look at the pin side of your CPU. You will see what appears to be a missing pin on one corner. There is a corresponding missing pin on the socket of your motherboard. If you try to install the CPU in another other orientation you will end up with bent pins or worse if you apply power with the CPU in the wrong orientation. Lift the locking lever next to the socket and install the CPU in its proper orientation. DO NOT force the CPU down in the socket. It should drop in very easily. If it doesn’t there could be an alignment problem with the pins. Check to make sure all of the pins on the CPU are straight and try inserting the CPU again. When the CPU drops in easily you may then lock the CPU in place by returning the locking lever back to its locked position.

Next you should install the heatsink/fan on top of your socket 7 CPU. There are many different types of heatsink/fan combinations. Some attach directly to the CPU and require attachment before insertion of the CPU into the socket. Others attach to the motherboard by retainer clips. The retainer clip method is the most common today. Before installing either of these heatsinks you should apply a thermal transfer medium between the CPU and heatsink. Although this is not required it will make your CPU run cooler and as we all know heat is the prime cause of CPU failure.

The socket 1 Pentium II CPUs are somewhat easier to install but their heatsink/fans are a little more difficult than the socket 7 units. The Pentium II CPU is an inline unit with a notch, missing pin, on one end of the unit. this notch will orient with a spacer on the motherboard connector. These notches are installed to prevent improper orientation of the CPU. When installing the CPU you will should follow the installation technique for your particular motherboard. Each has its own method and we can not cover all methods in this article. The basic method is to install a retaining mechanism to four screws on the motherboard. The heatsink/fan is attached to the Pentium II CPU and this combination is installed onto the retaining mechanism previously installed onto the motherboard.

To install the motherboard into your case there are a few things to take into consideration. If this is an upgrade of a current system you are in need of the proper screws and standoffs. Many times the ones already attached to your current motherboard and case will work just fine. Be careful when taking these standoffs off of your old motherboard. Take a pair of needle nose pliers and squeeze the top of the standoff and press down slightly. The standoff can then be pressed out the bottom side of the old motherboard. You will also have metal standoffs that attach the motherboard to the case with a screw. These standoffs do not have to be removed from the case at this time. Take your new motherboard and hold it over the mounting slots in your case to check for alignment. If the motherboard lines up with your old spacers and standoffs in place you are all set. Otherwise you will need to make some adjustments. You should use a metal spacer in at least two locations. Most cases are manufacturer with the intent of installing 2 or 3 metal spacers. Other locations use the nylon standoffs. Make sure to use standoffs in all locations that have corresponding locations on the motherboard and the case. DO NOT use standoffs in locations that do not have slots in the case for attachment.

When installing into a new case you will have all the new screws and standoffs you might need to install your motherboard. Installation is the same as described above so I won’t go into detail here.

When connecting the power supply we run into two different methods. As mentioned earlier there are AT format and ATX format power supplies. Each of these have a different type of connector. The AT format has two six pin connectors and the ATX format has one twenty pin connector. The easiest to install is the ATX format. There is only one direction it can be installed and it will not fit the AT format connections at all.

In the case of the AT format connections, you will need to make sure they are installed properly. On each of the six pin connectors there are two black wires on one side or the other. With each connector oriented in the same direction put the connectors side by side with the black wires next to each other. When oriented correctly the black wires on both connectors will be next to each other. Installation onto the motherboard can then be made in the proper pin orientation.

The next item that should be installed is the memory. This will be covered in our next installment along with the com ports, printer port and drive ribbon cables.