Have you considered what kind of features a gaming laptop’s motherboard would have? Surely the motherboard in a gaming laptop would have some differences from the motherboard of regular laptops.
If you intend on getting a gaming laptop, it is important to have an idea of what is embedded in a gaming laptop’s motherboard. This is why you should read through this guide, as we’re looking at the motherboard for gaming laptops in this review.
What is a motherboard?
The motherboard is one of the most important parts of your computer. This is the circuit board that almost every other component plugs into, from sticks of RAM to your wireless internet adapter.
Because it’s designed to integrate all of the components, your motherboard must be of high quality. This does not necessarily mean expensive, since you can often find them on sale. The motherboard role is essential, and if you experience lag, delay, or computing errors, a failing motherboard may very well be the reason.
Types of motherboard
Laptop motherboards are custom made and usually designed specifically for the laptop, while desktop PC motherboards follow certain design standards. This means you can always tell at a glance where to plug in a CPU, the RAM, or your hard disk, for example.
However, that doesn’t mean any component will work with any motherboard. While most hard disks and graphics cards will work with most motherboard models, CPUs are all over the place; they have to both fit physically in the motherboard’s CPU socket and be compatible with its ‘chipset’. If you’re replacing a motherboard, double-check that it will work with your particular CPU.
What’s on a motherboard?
Here, we’ll run through the various things you’ll find on a typical desktop PC motherboard. Laptop motherboards do the same job, but are custom-made and vary greatly in design and layout. Also, while a desktop PC motherboard is designed to have space for you to add extra components, on a laptop motherboard the only thing you can usually upgrade is the RAM.
- Form Factor
The layout of a motherboard is known as its “form factor”. The form factor affects where individual components can be placed and the shape of the computer’s case. There are several specific form factors that most PC motherboards adhere to, meaning they can fit into a standard case. For a comparison of form, factors check here.
A Chipset is basically the middle man in a PC as it transfers data from part to part. The chipset is the spine that connects the microprocessor to the rest of the motherboard, therefore to the rest of the computer. On a PC, you will see two basic parts, the Northbridge and the Southbridge. All the components of the computer communicate with the CPU via the chipset.
A bus is a word for a circuit that joins one part of the motherboard to another. The speed of the bus is measured in megahertz (MHz) and refers to how much data can move across the bus simultaneously, better quality buses can handle more data at one time, therefore ‘quicker’ calculations.
- CPU (processor) socket
This is where the CPU, or processor, plugs in. Modern computers all have large cooling devices on top of the CPU, normally consisting of a block of metal with fins and a fan. The socket is carefully designed so the processor will only fit in the right way around.
- RAM (memory) slots
Most desktop PCs have either two or four slots for RAM. More slots mean you can fit more RAM, up to the maximum specified in the motherboard’s manual. In laptops, RAM slots are often the only part of the motherboard the user can replace.
RAM modules are long and thin. The slots have a ridge part of the way along that corresponds to a notch on the RAM module, so the module will only fit the right way around. This ridge also makes sure you can’t fit incompatible RAM in a board, such as an old DDR2 module in a modern DDR4 motherboard.
- Expansion slots
These are for adding extra components to your PC, such as graphics or sound cards. There are two main types of expansion slots: PCI Express and the now-obsolete PCI. PCI Express slots come in three sizes and speed ratings: x1, x4, and x16, to suit different types of cards.
In many PCs, these slots may never be used. All motherboards have built-in sound, and many CPUs have integrated graphics components. However, PCs built for playing games often have powerful dedicated graphics cards fitted to a PCI Express x16 slot, and some audiophiles like to fit dedicated sound cards for improved audio quality.
- Storage connectors
These connectors are for mechanical hard disks, solid-state storage devices (SSDs), and optical storage devices such as DVD writers.
There are two types of connectors: SATA2 and the faster SATA3. SATA2 is fast enough for traditional mechanical hard disks and optical drives, while SSDs need SATA3 to run at full speed. SATA2 devices will work fine with SATA3 connectors, but SATA3 devices plugged into SATA2 connectors may run at reduced speeds.
- Keyboard and mouse PS/2 connectors
Most keyboards and mice now connect over USB, but there are still some models that use the older round PS/2 connector, which can still be found even on new motherboards.
- Graphics (monitor) connectors
If your CPU has built-in graphics, you’ll use these connectors to plug into your monitor. If you have a dedicated graphics card (see ‘Expansion slots’ above) you’ll use the connectors on the back of that instead.
Different motherboards have different connectors, such as DisplayPort, HDMI, DVI, and sometimes the older VGA. You’ll need a port that matches the one on your monitor, but bear in mind a DVI port can be used with an HDMI monitor and vice versa by using cheap adaptors (but it won’t transmit any sound).
- USB ports
Almost anything you plug into your computer on the outside, from keyboards to mice to printers, plugs into a USB port. There are two types of full-size USB that you’ll be familiar with: USB2 and USB3. USB3 is far faster, and better suited to devices such as USB3 external hard disks, where the extra speed will really make a difference.
Most motherboards have both USB2 and USB3 connectors, and all USB2 and USB3 devices will work when plugged into either port; they may just work a little slower over USB2.
- Network port
Not all laptops have wired network ports, but they’re still found on practically all desktop PCs. This is where you plug in an Ethernet (network) cable to create a wired, as opposed to wireless, the network connection to a home internet router or the office network.
All modern motherboards have Gigabit Ethernet ports, also called 10/100/1000, which means they can transfer data at 1,000 megabits per second (Mbit/s), or a theoretical maximum of 125 megabytes per second (MB/s).
How to choose a motherboard
In addition to investing in a brand and model that’s reputable, such as the Gigabyte Aorus AX370 Gaming 5 or the ASRock X299E-ITX/AC. Whichever motherboard you choose, make sure that it meets these criteria:
- The slot type matches your components
- The number of expansion slots is adequate for your ongoing computing needs
- The size of the motherboard works with your desktop PC
Of course, price is also a factor. Within each category of the motherboard, there are premium and economy models. Depending on what you’ll use your computer for, as well as how many hours a day you’ll use it, you can choose within each category to see how much you’ll need to spend.
Know your sockets and slots
If you have decided on a CPU or you are replacing a motherboard in an existing computer, be sure that the type of sockets on the board match the CPU. There are a few different types, with the most common being AM4 and LGA 1151v2, but there are variations to be aware of.
Look at the motherboard and read the specifications in the product description or packaging and compare it to the documentation for your CPU.
Inserting the CPU into the motherboard is a matter of snapping it in, so if you find that you are experiencing too much resistance, double-check that you have compatible sockets. Sockets are defined by the size and number of pins.
A Socket 775 has 775 pins, for example. Except for the Socket7, which has 321 pins, most socket type numbers match their pin count.
In addition to the CPU socket type, it’s useful to understand the other different kinds of slots on a motherboard. They generally fall into these types:
- PCI and AGP slots, where graphics, sound, and other card types are installed
- RAM slots, such as a DIMM and RIMM, which are specifically for sticks of memory
- BIOS slot, where the BIOS (basic input/output system) chip sits and the battery for the BIOS
- Power connector slots
- SATA, IDE, or optical disc drive connector slots for the storage system
There will also be connectors for the cabinet of the computer, where other lights, buttons, and connections will all feed in to. Most consumers don’t need to worry about these things because they come together on their own and are considered internal connections. You won’t be making changes to them.
All of this information may seem like overload, and it’s definitely a lot to take in for a first-time motherboard shopper. But when it’s time to choose the right motherboard for your gaming laptop, there are a few questions you can ask to narrow down the large field of available products.
- Do I want an AMD or Intel processor?
- What CPU am I interested in using? What slots and chipset work with that CPU?
- Will I need a small profile motherboard for a laptop or a slim desktop?
- How many slots do I need at a minimum? How many would be nice to have?
- Will I be gaming heavily or do I have an interest in overlocking my computer?
- What’s my price range?