Small Details on Motherboards
By Gabriel Torres on May 6, 2005
Seeing that the edge in performance between top of the range motherboards using the same chipset is very slight, frequently even negligible, manufacturers are increasingly turning more and more to details to attract the consumer. The first sign came when manufacturers started to give away relatively expensive commercial programs, like Norton Ghost, Drive Image and Partition Magic.
Some manufacturers have chosen to market motherboards in highly stylised packaging, so that their cases have more shop-floor appeal to the consumer than those of their competitors. Just look at the packaging of some of the EPoX (plastic) and Chaintech (extra-large size, with carry handles) motherboards.
The pictures below are just a sample at random from what you can find on the market. More and more manufacturers are lauching products using fancy boxes.
But this is mere window dressing. The important thing is that now several manufacturers are going a lot further, providing small details that can make a difference to their motherboards. And we stand to gain from it.
Some manufacturers like EPoX and ABIT are marketing motherboards with a diagnostic LED display soldered directly to the motherboard. This display operates in the same way as diagnostic cards sold on the market. If the computer does not turn on or freezes during start up, we just have to get the number that is displayed and look it up in the handbook to find the probable cause of the trouble.
Some other manufacturers, like DFI and MSI, use a more simple diagnostics device made of four LEDs. The principle is the same, if you computer doesn't turn on or freezes during start up you just have to take a look at the diagnostics LEDs and see on the motherboard manual what is going wrong based on which LEDs are turned on and which LEDs are turned off.
Fitting a motherboard with two BIOS circuits has been a normal procedure for some time in some models of motherboard, specially from Gigabyte and Albatron. This feature enables recovering easily a motherboard whose BIOS has been deleted by a virus (like the infamous CIH a.k.a. Chernobyl) or in the event of an unsuccessful BIOS upgrade, seeing that there will be a backup BIOS if the main BIOS is deleted. By the way, we have a full tutorial on how to recover a BIOS deleted by the CIH virus and also a good tutorial on BIOS upgrade.
Extra cooling is always welcome. First motherboard manufacturers started putting a passive heatsink on top of the chipset. Then, they started putting active heatsinks, i.e., with fans. Nowadays almost all motherboards have active cooling on the chipset. In order to attract case modders, manufacturers started using fans with colored LEDs inside. You can find motherboards that glow in several different colors like blue, green or even changes the color from time to time. Some motherboards look like night clubs! Take a look on some examples below.
But this kind of feature - putting a colored LED inside the chipset fan - is just cosmetic. Some motherboard manufacturers are really doing something different for improving the motherboard cooling.
Like we said, adding a colored LED on the chipset fan is just an aesthetic feature. Some motherboards manufacturers are really working on solutions to improve the motherboard cooling. ABIT, Chaintech and ECS have solutions to pull the heat generated on the voltage regulator region outside the computer case.
On the previous page we've seen a lot of fancy solution for removing the hot air generated by the voltage regulator transistors (which are also called MOSFETs). Some motherboards offer a simpler solution for cooling these transistors, putting a passive heatsink on them, i.e., without a fan.
In Figure 15 we can also see a very common feature, which is the manufacturer logo for you to stick it on your computer's case.
Gigabyte has a very fancy solution of dual voltage regulator called DPS (Dual Power System) on their high-end motherboards, where if the motherboard voltage regulator fails, the secondary voltage regulator keeps supplying power to the motherboard and your PC won't turn off and you also won't need to replace your motherboard. This system also provides a fan that helps motherboard cooling also giving an interesting visual aspect, since this fan uses a blue LED.
Usually motherboards with on-board audio have three connectors on the motherboard: mic in, line in and speaker out. For motherboards with surround sound (4 channel, 6 channel or even 8 channel audio) more connectors are needed and these extra connectors are usually provided at an extra bracket that comes with the motherboard. Some manufacturers are putting these extra plugs on the motherboard instead of at an I/O bracket. This is done to help users.
Another audio option some motherboard models have is the SPDIF connector (digital audio). To learn more about this feature read our tutorial on the subject. As it happens with the standard analog connectors, SPDIF connectors can be available at an extra I/O bracket or can be available directly on the motherboard. The bracket shown in Figure 18 has SPDIF outputs (digital and coaxial). The motherboard on Figure 20 has already SPDIF connectors soldered to the board itself.
The less brackets you have inside your computer, the better, because you will have better airflow inside your case, i.e., better cooling. That's why having all audio connectors soldered to the motherboard is interesting.
There are a lot of manufacturers shipping their motherboards with rounded cables. This kind of cable helps the computer internal cooling since it takes less space inside the computer case.
Our intention in this tutorial was to show you that the main motherboard manufacturers are investing a lot on extra features and to give you an overall idea of neat extra features you can find today. There is a lot of other nice features manufacturers are adding to their products we didn't mention, like front panels for you computer case with a lot of connectors, memory card readers, earphones, screwdrivers, remote controls and a lot more.
At the end, all consumers get better products. That's the nice thing about competition.