The Motherboard: Overview

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The motherboard may be the most important piece of hardware, other than the CPU. What it is though, and what it does, can confuse people. In all, they call it the motherboard for a reason. And that reason is because it allows for the communication of all the peripherals inside the computer, such as your hard drive, graphics card, floppy drive, and CD-ROM. It is the mother of all boards, Printed Circuit Boards (or PCBs) to be precise. And they all plug in to the motherboard in one way or another. The motherboard has obtained a few other names over the many years, such as mainboard, system board, or just simply “mobo”. If you hear any of these than just know that it is all referring to the same piece of hardware.

When purchasing a motherboard, there are quite a few things to look at and think about when making a final decision. I will be covering some important aspects to look at, such as form factor, chipset and socket type, expansion slots, RAM, integrated peripherals, and a few other odds and ends to also think about.

Form Factor

The two most important form factors for desktop computers are ATX (Advanced Technology eXtended) and mATX (microATX).

ATX: 30cm x 24cm (12in x 9.6in) – This is the most common board used today, and also the bigger one of the two. This type of board will have the most connections, more RAM support, and most likely more features overall.

mATX: 24cm x 24cm (9.6in x 9.6in) – These boards are a little more limited, and require less power. For that reason they are often used in home theater computer systems. You will not see as many RAM slots or PCIe slots as you would on a full ATX board. These boards are used more for smaller cases, but will fit in to a full ATX system case (although not the other way around).

These are the two most common motherboards. There are smaller ones such as the mini-ITX, Nano-ITX, and Pico-ITX. Mini-ITX is a little smaller than mATX (170mm x 170mm) and is also found in home media systems, although less common. Pico and Nano (120mm x 120mm and 72mm x 100mm, respectively) are used for thin devices like personal video records, car PC’s, etc.

Overall, if you want to build a power-house computer for gaming or multimedia editing, then you should focus on an ATX board. If not, you can still opt for an ATX board for the extra features, but a mATX board could also be quite suitable for your needs. Be sure to delve deeply into both boards to see what is best for you.

Chipset and Socket Type

Usually, I pick a motherboard first before choosing a CPU. Some people prefer the other way. Whichever way you decide, make sure the CPU socket type is compatible with the socket type on the motherboard. Otherwise, you will be quite disappointed when you find out it doesn’t work. When it comes to socket types, Intel and AMD are of course the go-to competitors. Intel uses LGA, and AMD uses PGA and the AM series.

Land Grid Array:

LGA stands for Land Grid Array. Intel places the contact pins on the motherboard socket, while the processor has individual “lands” that each pin will make contact with. Intel labels their sockets by the number of pins they have, which is quite consumer friendly and less confusing if you ask me. For example, socket LGA1150 would have 1,150 pins. And the processor to fit this would have 1,150 “lands”, or contacts.

Pin Grid Array:

AMD on the other hand uses PGA, or Pin Grid Array. This is where the pins are on the actual processor. When the processor sits on the motherboard socket, these pins would go in to their corresponding holes. Unlike Intel, AMD doesn’t use the term PGA when referring to their sockets. Instead, they use AM, such as AM, AM2+, and AM3+. Another important thing about AMD processors before I move on to the chipsets is that AMD also has FM processors. The difference between the AM series and FM is the existence of integrated graphics. AM series sockets do not come with integrated graphics, whereas FM does. So be sure you keep this in mind when making a final purchase.

North and South Bridges:

There was a time when you had a Northbridge connection, and a Southbridge connection. The Northbridge was more or less a central point for all your high-speed connections, such as your PCIe slot (for high-speed graphics) and the RAM. These high-speed connections would have a direct connection to the Northbridge, and the Northbridge would then relay to the CPU through a direct connection on the front-side bus. The Northbridge chipset can be found as a large, square chip somewhere between the RAM slots, PCIe slots, and the CPU. The Southbridge on the other hand is responsible for all your slower connections, such as the PCI slots, SATA and USB connections, even the BIOS. Your keyboard and mouse communicate through the Southbridge. The Southbridge then connects directly to the Northbridge, which in turn (as you know) connects to the CPU. Just like the Northbridge, you can find the Southbridge chipset near the PCI slots, on-board SATA connections, and BIOS chip.

These days you may not even see a Northbridge connection or possibly even a Southbridge connection on the motherboard anymore. Why? Well, they both might be integrated right in to the CPU. Makes sense, right? Since it has to relay information there anyway, why not just integrate the whole thing?! Doing so allowed us to get information much faster and prevented bottlenecking.

Expansion Slots

The number of expansion slots is a very important part to take in to consideration when comparing motherboards. PCI and PCIe are your two most important expansion slots these days, with PCIe being much faster. And probably the only two expansion slots you may find now. The number of expansion slots you get will depend on the form factor you choose.

RAM:

As of 2016, you will find DDR4 memory in most computer systems. When looking for memory, you want to first determine what type of memory your motherboard requires. Next, you should think about how much memory you really need. If all you do is surf the web and write emails, 1-2GB should be plenty. If you are a power user, you might want at least 8GB. Graphic designers or high-end gamers should go for 8-16GB. I personally think anything more than 16GB is obnoxious and a waste. An important thing to look at when buying RAM is the speed. When compared to latency (CAS), the more speed you have, less latency should occur.

Integrated Peripherals

SATA Slots:

You could never have enough SATA ports! Just about everything you want to connect to your computer internally is going to connect via SATA. Usually you will find roughly 6-8 SATA connectors on a motherboard. This is a pretty good amount to look for. Also, make sure they are SATA3, which allows up to 6GB/s transfers.

Integrated graphics:

It is rare to find anyone using the motherboard integrated graphics for their main graphics, but that doesn’t mean you should be okay with so-so onboard graphics. HD integrated graphics support with at least 1GB of shared memory is nice to have. Look for Display Port and HDMI connections as well.

Fast Ethernet:

Here you are looking for 10/100/1000 Mbit support. 1000 Mbit would be your gigabit Ethernet. Two ports are better than one!

USB:

You will still find USB 1.1 on some motherboards, but you want to stick with USB 2.0 and 3.0. The more 3.0 connections, the better. You may come across a couple 3.1 Type C connections as well. Make sure you have plenty of USB ports on the back AND the front.

Temperature and Monitoring Sensors:

Most motherboards are integrating sensors in to their motherboards that allow you to check the temperature of the CPU, graphics card, fan speeds and fan failures, system voltages, and more. These sensors are of course very useful so keep this in mind when looking for your next motherboard.

As you can see, there are a lot of things to consider when buying a motherboard. Here I have only covered the most important components. The motherboard can be described in the great detail, but overall, what I covered is a good starting point for things to keep in mind. Be sure to do a lot of research because your motherboard is the base component and homes all of your other peripherals. It is after all the mother ship.

What Makes A Good IT-Tech?

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Good question! In order to give you a good answer, let us first look at this question from a different point of view – the point of view from an IT-Tech.

For those who wish to venture in to the IT field, the CompTIA A+ exams can be a very big first step for many! In the United States, these exams are a requirement for new techs at many companies. Here in Austria it is not required, but can help you out tremendously if IT is your career of choice. I was not a newbie at computers, but still wished to learn more about them before starting a business in computer repair. And so I took my exams in the last two weeks of June 2016. Just recently, the 800 series exams have been replaced by the 900 series exams. What is the difference between the 800 series and the 900 series? In a nutshell, the 900 series now also covers Windows 8 and Linux. I am not a huge fan of Windows 8 (or 10) and didn’t wish to learn about how crappy it is, so I rushed to take the 800 exams before they expired

I bought four books total, but I didn’t read all them though. I will tell you a little bit more about the authors and what I thought of their approach, including if it really helped or not. The first book I read (three times) was the CompTIA A+ Certification Exam Guide (8th Edition) by Mike Myers. Mike Myers is a great guy. I bet he is a really nice person in real life and has great stories to tell. He likes to talk a lot. And he likes to go in depth… way in depth. Perhaps too in-depth for the exams. From a learning experience, I found the book interesting, even though all his rambling and deep discussion was useless when it came to trying to pass the exams. The second book that I read and was quite satisfied with actually was the CompTIA A+ Certification for Dummies (3rd Edition) by Glen E. Clarke and Ed Tetz. The authors take a beginners approach and tell you the information without all the jumbo nonsense. I was a little skeptical on a “Dummies” book because I thought it would dumb everything down and waste my time, but all-in-all both authors explain the topics in a comfortable amount of detail. The third book gave me some problems. Titled CompTIA A+ Complete Study Guide (2nd Edition) by Quentin Doctor, Emmett Dulaney, and Toby Skandler. I tried really hard to read this book, and I couldn’t. I think I reached about a quarter ways through before moving on to the final book. From the beginning the authors would use acronyms without first defining them. Again, I’m not a newbie but then again I can’t name every acronym in this type of field right off the top of my head. So, I felt like I was researching a lot when reading this book. I mostly felt lost and found myself re-reading many paragraphs. The final book I used, and the most useful, was Exam Cram, the 6th Edition, by David L. Prowse. This guy made wonders when he wrote this book. He defines all terminology, leaves out all the useless knowledge, and makes you feel like he is on the same level with you while reading. Everything I needed to know for the exam and the practice was in this book. And the best part is that he is readily available for questions if you need help! I ended up emailing him about the steps of the printing process because it is explained differently in many books, and the next morning I woke up with a reply. His book was very knowledgeable.

It sounds crazy, but these are just the books that I used in order to prepare for the exam. As for online tools, I watched all of Professor Messer’s free 800 series videos. He explains every objective in much needed detail. The upside to videos is that of course you get to see everything you are learning, which helps a lot. He also had offered some notes for a small price that helped me repeating the most important things I needed to know. If you do think that this is all, you are wrong. I took notes when reading the study books. I recorded myself while reading the notes and would listen to those records while I slept. I repeated all the chapters until I completely understood the content before I moved on to the next. I purchased a hands-on simulator through Pearson IT and did a lot of practice tests. The more the better! I compared today’s technology as well as my own system to what I was reading. As I built my computer myself, I already know what is inside, but in order to follow the book, I tinkered around with it while reading. Studying took a lot of time away from my significant other. Even though my wife helped me tremendously with the studying!

I know that you can pass the exams with less stress. There are books that are well-aimed to prepare you for passing the exam. But what really makes a good IT tech? Certainly not just a certification.

I have always liked computers and the unlimited possibilities they offer and I have always tried to understand how computers and other electrical devises work. I like making things work. Not too long ago, my mother-in-law brought me an iPad Mini with a broken screen. Not once have I repaired an iPad Mini and honestly, I was a little bit scared to break it as it was the iPad of her boss. An overcautious IT tech would refuse touching this device as he would be too afraid to break something. It took me a while to figure out how to replace the screen, but I eventually figured it out. I try to learn as much as possible about all kinds of technology. I enjoy reading about computers and broadening my know-how about today’s technology. If I see a certain problem for the first time, I might be cautious, but I am not too scared to act. I research and stay patient.

It takes more than crazy technical jargon or a wall of certifications to make you seem like you know what you are doing. I could have started an IT business without a certification, but I like learning about computers. The CompTIA A+ Certification is a great foundation that I can build on with continuous learning.

In my personal opinion, a good IT tech is someone who is knowledgeable in the field, has a lot of passion and curiosity, as well as someone who likes to see things work.

Windows 10: Did You Make The Switch?

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The free upgrade to Windows 10 ended July 29th. Were you one of the many people who were suckered in to it? Or did you hold your ground on a 7, 8, or 8.1 platform? There have been many articles written about the new operating system, some of them being positive, and others not so much. There are many mixed reviews, and it is hard to say if people really enjoy the latest OS or if they regret their decision to upgrade. Today I will discuss a few… quirks, as to why Windows 10 may not be as great as you may think.

I, for one, did not make the switch. Not really, anyway. I have always been a Windows 7 user, and I would like to keep it that way until I have no other choice. I did install Windows 10 on an old laptop previously running Windows 7 though, just to see how it looked. And after hearing about all the bad news about Windows 10 – I turned it off, and haven’t really touched it since. So, when it comes to the good, bad, and the ugly – here is the bad and ugly:

If you were one of the few die-hard users that actually used Windows Media Center, then I’m sorry – you’re out of luck. Microsoft decided to finally do away with it. This is also true for DVD playback option support. Although it is free for a limited time for users switching from Windows 7, this is in fact limited.

Were you also one of the very few users who still used desktop gadgets or widgets? If so, then I think Windows 10 did YOU a favor when they decided this was no longer needed. This has been a big security issue from the start, so it is not a bad thing that this is no longer a “thing”. On that note, if you do still use desktop gadgets or widgets, I would advise you to switch to the many, many other options to get your news, weather, stock reports, etc.

As of now, the sacrifice has been minimal. But here is where it starts to get a little irritating:

The Start Menu! I don’t even know why they call this thing a menu anymore. A menu is not supposed to take up three-quarters of your screen when you click it! It is supposed to be simplistic. And don’t be surprised when you see a bunch of nonsense when you first open it. We were annoyed when Microsoft removed the Start menu in Windows 8. We missed it! And we were ecstatic when Microsoft decided to bring it back in Windows 10. In a nutshell – do you remember the Windows 8 Start screen? I introduce to you the Windows 10 Start menu. The good thing is that you are able to customize it to suit you, but I think the option goes only so far. Hopefully Microsoft will continue to chip at it piece by piece to resemble more of the classic Start menu but, until then – have fun.

One thing that users despise is the lack of control over Windows Update as well as forced updates. Users were stating that Windows would automatically download updates in the background, and then right when you’re in the middle of writing that long article about how much you don’t like Windows 10, it would decide to restart automatically and not give you the option to save your data. You can now change this a little. You will still get forced updates, but you can now tell Windows 10 to so kindly let you know when it needs to finish updates so you are able to save your data. Forced updates are still a big problem among users. So much that users are actually disabling Windows Update altogether – which is of course not recommended.

Now I’m not going to sit here and tell you that Windows 10 is a spy trap, but let’s be honest, it’s kind of like a spy trap. Take for instance, Cortana. This sweet little gadget is actually stalking your every move, from your speech to your typing history. She would love to know everything about you. Seriously. She is like the quiet boy/girl who sits in the back of the classroom and just… stares at you, trying to burn holes in to the back of your head. And then eventually follows you home to see where you live. This never happened to me – just an example. There was a time when you could go in to the settings and turn her off. Unfortunately with the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, Cortana is here to stay. Watch your back.

Next up: Start menu ads and targeted ads! Microsoft says that Windows 10 is great for advertisers. That’s great, but not for your users who don’t want to deal with it or see it. You will come across these ads in all places, from the Start menu, to the lock screen. In your Start menu you may come across programs that you don’t remember downloading. These are actually suggested apps that Microsoft thinks you would like. More or less: ads. Also, in Windows 10 you have your own unique advertising ID that’s linked to your Microsoft account. And Microsoft thought it would be nice to share your ID with third-party apps in the Windows Store. Your browsing history and preferences are all being secretly annotated. The good thing: you can also turn this off.

Software compatibility seems to be a growing issue due to Microsoft Upgrade Advisor is not being too reliable. This compatibility issue does not stop with just software, but refers to hardware as well. Especially legacy devices! If you love your old hardware (even the modern stuff) make sure you triple-check software and hardware compatibility with multiple sources if you do plan on making the switch.

Another irritating thing about Windows 10 is the amount of useless built-in apps. I’m talking about apps like Music & TV, Groove Music, Mail and Calendar, and the Xbox app. There are already tools that supersede these lackeys, and I guarantee you already use one of them and don’t wish to switch. Not everybody has an Xbox but they chose to add this as a built-in app anyway.

If you are a Windows 7/8 user, like myself, then you have surely been a victim of the Windows 10 advertisements that pop up daily. Microsoft has been quite determined in their goal of trying to push every Windows user to Windows 10. I couldn’t find a way of deactivating the notifications in Windows and eventually ended up downloading a program that hid them for me, to which I am very grateful for.

Microsoft was very thoughtful to those users who wished to “try out” Windows 10. If they didn’t like it and wished to roll-back to their previous operating system, then they could do so within 30 days. This was before though, and as with everything else – things change. The grace period was cut significantly to only 10 days.  In my opinion, I think this is still plenty of time for you to make the decision.

Overall I’m sure there are many good things about Windows 10 and there are probably a lot of users who find it useful, but as for what I’ve already mentioned the good doesn’t outweigh my personal privacy and convenience. The choice is obviously yours. If you do choose to stick with Windows 7 or Windows 8 then you will continue to receive security updates and patches until the year 2020 and 2023, respectively.