PCDIY Glossary Part 3: Motherboard Terms

Welcome to Part 3 of our PCDIY glossary. In Part 2, we discussed some general and specific terms regarding CPUs. Today, we’re diving into motherboard terminology to make sure you are fully informed when shopping for a new motherboard. As one of the largest components inside of your PC, motherboards are naturally complex parts with tons of technical details.

Here are some simplified definitions to help you understand technical specs and features:

Socket Type

Socket type refers to the type of CPU socket a motherboard has. Unlike graphic cards, motherboards are not universal products and are made for specific types of CPUs. You cannot use a AMD socket type motherboard with an Intel CPU and vice versa. Some of the more common socket types are LGA 1151 (for modern Intel CPUs), AM3+ (for AMD CPUs) and LGA-2011-3 (for enterprise Intel CPUs).


Not to be confused with socket type, the chipset refers to a set of controllers on the motherboard that allow the processor to communicate with other components on the motherboard. Chipsets are usually how companies identify generations of motherboards. For example, one of the more recent chipsets is the Intel Z170. A different chipset could differentiate a motherboard both by its size as well as its features. It’s also important to recognize that multiple chipsets can support the same processors and therefore may have the same socket type.


ATX is a motherboard configuration that was developed to create a standard specification for motherboards. ATX is the “standard” motherboard size while m-ATX and mini-ITX are smaller motherboard standardizations. E-ATX and XL-ATX refer to larger motherboard configurations. Case manufacturers will also use these motherboard sizes to describe their case sizes in correlation of their supported motherboards.


The BIOS (Basic Input / Output System) is a type of firmware that is embedded into your motherboard. This firmware operates independently from your operating system (ie. Windows) and manages data flow and settings between all of your components and the operating system. The BIOS is accessed as the computer is turning on and is where advanced users go to overclock their systems.

I/O Panel

I/O Panel refers to the input / output ports in the rear of your motherboard. This is where motherboard manufacturers will specify things such as USB ports, HDMI ports and Audio ports. The I/O shield is a piece of metal that is placed between the panel and the computer case to help users identify ports.


Also known as Serial ATA, SATA refers to the computer interface that allows mass storage devices such as hard drives, solid state drives and optical drives. The number of SATA ports a motherboard has will indicate how many drives the system will be able to support. It will also identify the maximum speed at which they will be able to operate. For example, you want to make sure your modern SSDs are connected to a newer and faster SATA 3 (6Gb/s) interface rather than an older SATA 2 (3Gb/s)

Thanks for reading part 3 of our PCDIY glossary!

Please be sure to let us know if we missed any motherboard terms you’d love some simple explanation of. Otherwise, check back soon for our next glossary piece on Memory terms to help you understand the complexities of RAM.