Motherboard manufacturers rarely advertise which features the BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) makes available to the end user, let alone how to use them. Two ways to preview this information are to read reviews or download the manual, but learning how to use them requires a more careful reading of both reviews and how-to articles such as our BIOS for Beginners.
Performance boards usually have far more performance-oriented adjustments than lower-market boards, plus overclocking features. For certain components this is an either/or proposition: Memory can often be configured with either enhanced latencies or higher frequencies. CPU overclocking is an option for those who desire the greatest performance. Underclocking is another option for users who seek the quietest possible air cooling and/or lower energy consumption.
Besides performance tuning and commonly used settings such as boot device order, the BIOS also allows the disabling of undesired onboard features such as sound controllers, modem and network interfaces, and unused ATA/SATA controllers. Once disabled, these devices no longer consume CPU resources and no longer need to be configured by the Windows Device Manager. Onboard PCI Express graphics is usually disabled in the BIOS by setting the amount of allocated memory to "None", and onboard AGP graphics can be disabled simply by inserting a card into the AGP slot. There is no excuse for buyers to claim they don't want certain onboard features because of a performance penalty, as these are easily and completely disabled.
Buying a motherboard shouldn't be difficult. Simply choose a processor, a chipset, and your preferred form factor, then choose a board and build the rest of the system around it. But even experts can stumble when a specific build requirement puts these decisions out of order, creating issues like "who makes a Micro ATX board with the chipset I want." In the end, buyers of all experience levels are often forced to modify their selection criteria.
If you've pre-selected anything other than a full-sized ATX case, be prepared to make compromises. The obvious cooling advantages of BTX require finding the right board from a sparse selection of candidates. Smaller boards required for use with smaller cases often have fully-integrated mainstream chipsets rather than top performance parts.
Determine your primary needs first, and then choose from motherboards that suit them. Be prepared to accept onboard devices you won't use, as these can be disabled. Try not to be upset about paying for unwanted features, as the cost of producing low-volume/reduced-feature boards (as separate products) often exceeds the cost of including unwanted features.
Luckily, beginners have access to all the resources that professionals use to determine their needs, through review sites like ours and support communities such as our Forumz.
Too often have the latest case trends come between the first-time builder and his or her perfect system. Watching as hundreds of readers flock to TG Forumz to find out how to put full-sized components into miniaturized systems, my first instinct is to tell anyone to "go big" from the outset. Choosing a full-sized motherboard, power supply and case offers a lot of assurance when it comes time for the next upgrade, but anyone looking for full-sized features in a smaller chassis may find Micro ATX an adequate alternative.
- Which Features Matter Most To You?
- Motherboard Component Overview
- Layout Considerations
- Choosing The Right Size (Form Factor)
- BTX Through Pico-BTX
- Choosing The Right Processor Socket
- Socket 478 (Intel Pentium 4, Celeron)
- LGA 775 (Intel Pentium 4, Pentium D, Celeron, Core 2 Duo)
- Choosing The Right Chipset
- Quad Data Rate Northbridge Technologies (S478, S775)
- The Southbridge
- Memory And Expansion Card Slots
- BIOS Features