How Computers Work – Part 4 – The Motherboard III [Mega Series]

The RAM Controller
If you don’t understand the concept of a bus on the computer, I suggest you read part 3 of the mega series (part 2 of the motherboard chapter). To the right of the CPU socket, you’ll notice a series of long slots that support a certain type of random access memory (RAM) card. We’ll go through this a bit later, but it’s important for you to know that the RAM controller bus holds all the physical memory cards of your computer. See the picture below to get an idea:

It might be important for you to know that the typical motherboard can have anywhere from 2-6 RAM slots.

The Chipset
The motherboard’s chipset manages the communication and message queue from different parts of the motherboard. Near the CPU socket, you have the northbridge chip, which manages the most important interactions, such as those with the CPU, the RAM, and any dedicated graphics.

Towards the bottom of the motherboard, you have the southbridge chip, which manages all other interactions, such as the PCI bus, the drives, and USB ports. Of course, the chipset can be more complex than this, but I prefer to give you a simpler description. It’s not like you’re going to make your own motherboard, right?

The IDE Controller
IDE stands for Integrated Drive Electronics, which represents the standard which all new drives use. Instead of having a circuit board separated from the drive, manufacturers now integrate them just below the body. It took them a decade or so to realize they can do this, when it takes a 3-year-old only a few minutes to realize that sticking a fork in a wall outlet isn’t a good idea. Both realizations require the same level of intelligence.

Besides gathering power from the PSU, a drive also needs a link that helps it communicate with the rest of your computer. The IDE controller helps make this happen with a couple of connectors. Depending on how old your computer is, the IDE controller could have some long and fat connectors with many teeth (ATA), or it could have a set of small and thin connectors that look much less scary (Serial ATA, or SATA).

The Back Panel Connectors
You can go your whole life without opening your computer and still see the back panel connectors, for as the name implies, they’re located on the rear end of the computer. The motherboard always manages the back panel connectors using a series of on-board chips.

On-board graphics are managed by the motherboard’s graphics chip. The USB ports on the back where you connect your USB humping dog are also controlled by the motherboard’s USB interface, and so on.