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How to Choose a Motherboard
And Not Be Sorry Afterwards


Slot latches

...They are not critical if you love yourself enough not to buy cheap low-quality PC cases. The history of latches on graphics slots (at first AGP, but now there appear latches on PCI-E 16x) is plain and simple: motherboard manufacturers had to do it under users' pressure, whose cards used to fall out of slots in closed and screwed PC cases. The reason was simple: our favourite chinese providers, united into a single huge concern "Noname", made PC cases of such a low quality, that they seemed rectangular only if you didn't look too close. To say nothing of preserving their shape in transit or just when moved from place to place... That's what the latches were used for. How strange, no one hit upon the idea to install latches on PCI slots – PCI cards used to fall out from their slots no less frequently. Slot latches are only a hindrance in good PC cases (well-designed and well-assembled), being of no use. I remember how troublesome it was to remove a video card from an AGP slot in a PC case... it had a very intricate latch... only the third attempt was successful... However, a latch can hardly be a disadvantage, it's too insignificant.

An exception should be made for owners (future owners) of video cards that look like a scoop of an excavating machine with their kilograms of aluminium in the form of various heatsinks and a couple of fans. The generic sign of such video cards: have a look at it and try to imagine it falling on your head from the second floor. If you are afraid it will kill you, it is one of these video cards. Such a video card needs a latch (in any PC case), even I admit it.

Rear panel vs. brackets

Most modern video cards cannot house all connectors on the rear panel, so their bundles include brackets – metal plates with connectors, which are inserted in place of face plates of expansion cards. The argument between users supporting the ideas that "everything must be located on the rear panel" and "maximum connectors must be located on brackets, to give a choice to install them or not" is presently almost completed... with the appearance of face plates in PC cases. As a rule, they contain 2-3 audio jacks (mandatory headphones and microphone) and several USB connectors. There are also brackets with FireWire ports.

My sincere advice is to buy such a case and a motherboard that allows to connect integrated audio and USB ports to the front panel of the PC case. Having plugged all necessary cables to the rear panel (mouse, keyboard, monitor, modem, etc...), you will most likely forget that the rear panel exists. Why do you need it? Headphones, microphone, and various hot plug USB devices can now be connected to the front panel. The other devices (in most cases) are used once a year. Frankly speaking, it doesn't matter where to plug a device once a year – to the rear panel or to a bracket. Brackets will take up some time to install, but you have already read how you should generally feel about "the time spent on assembling the system and its complexity".

Cooler headers

That's another fad: to count how many cooler headers exactly there are on a motherboard and rate it by this parameter. In fact, you will need maximum two vacant headers – for a CPU cooler and for a rear panel fan, if you are obsessed so much with cooling. That's all. You'd better pay closer attention not to the number of headers but to their placement: one of them must be close to the processor and the second – to the fan hole on the rear panel. Fan wires are thin and flexible, as a rule. So the shorter they are, the fewer chances they have to fly between fan blades. Cooling modules for hard disk drives, front panel fan, etc – they are for very specific tasks or for lamers (see the chapter "I need a fast motherboard!"). Don't follow their example. Playing games on a computer is quite a normal hobby, but playing with a computer – that's what I don't understand. Even two 7200 rpm hard disks will not overheat in a good PC case (I mean my computer), which is twice as much for a regular PC. To buy a bad PC case and then stuff it with fans in order to compensate for its quality – that's an occupation for those who have nothing to do.

IrDA, SMBus, WOL, WOM...

...And other on-board connectors with mysterious names. They are important only to those who understand their names. The latter know themselves what connectors they need from the above list. If you don't "recognize" any of them, you don't need them.

Vladimir Rybnikov (puree@ixbt.com)
February 1, 2004


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