PC Gear Lab

Motherboard vs Circuit Board – Quick Guide

If you’re reading this, I bet you are curious about motherboards and circuit boards and would like to know how they compare.

While these two terms can be mistakenly used to refer to the same things, some slight differences distinguish one from another. These differences can stem from attributes such as appearance and functionality.

After reading this article on motherboard vs circuit board, you will get a clearer understanding of what these two items are.

But in very simple terms, a motherboard is a glorified and specialized circuit board. All motherboards are circuit boards but not all circuit boards are motherboards.

Motherboard vs Circuit Board

The Circuit Board

Motherboard vs Circuit Board
Circuit Boards are commonly know and Printed Circuit Boards or PCBs

Often, a circuit board comes in the form of a Printed Circuit Board (PCB).

This is a physical component that is made up of an insulating material on which electrically conductive traces are made that allow the conduction of electricity through to the many different kinds of components that are mounted on it.

A circuit board is a crucial piece for most modern technologies and you will likely find one on most electronic devices.

With a circuit board, you get a host of electrical components like Integrated Circuits (ICs), chips, capacitors, and resistors alongside many other components that can be built in a way to perform certain functions.

These are the foundational technologies behind most modern electrical devices.

Also Read: Best Motherboards with Integrated Graphics

Origins

Before PCBs were ever a thing, wire wrapping was one of the main methods of building electric circuits.

This method involved using actual wires and wrapping them on boards to conduct current between different components just as the traces on a PCB do.

This meant that with larger circuits, the number of wires wrapped around would increase very quickly resulting in a mechanism that was difficult to maintain, let alone run a diagnosis in case of an error.

Then in the mid-30s, Paul Eisler invented a way of creating PCBs.

This involved connecting different components with routes made of copper printed on the circuit boards. This greatly reduced the size of the boards and was much easier to work with especially for larger circuit boards.

Functions of a Circuit Board

PCB with components
PCB with resistors, capacitors and inductors soldered on top.

Circuit boards are designed for different applications.

Depending on these applications, a PCB may perform certain tasks. In many cases, PCBs are built to integrate the many electronic components of a device.

In doing so, we see that electrical devices are getting smaller and smaller as a result of using more and more compact circuit board and electrical components design.

Circuit boards allow components to receive power from external power sources.

They do so by employing mechanisms to control the power input and handle power fluctuations. Many also account for external disturbances that may result in poor functionality of the systems.

What is a Circuit Board Made Of?

Different materials go into the construction of a circuit board.

Mainly, they are composed of layers upon layers of different materials stacked together to make the mainboard.

The base is in many cases fiberglass as it is not electrically conductive.

A laminate of copper and a non-conductive base is used and the tracks are made by etching unwanted copper from the laminate in an acid bath.

The process may vary between different manufacturers and afterward, the etched board is rinsed to remove excess acid.

Finally, a resin cover known as a solder mask is applied onto the board.

This is often green on many boards however other colors can also be used. It helps prevent solder bridges from forming when you solder between two solder pads that are very close to one another.

After the process is done, you end up with a board that has the conductive tracks. In large productions, sophisticated machines are used to lay the components and solder them to the board but this can also be done by hand easily depending on the size of the board and the components to be placed.

The Motherboard

motherboard

The motherboard is not a new thing.

It was invented as a way of having more components connected on a single device instead of using a backplane as was the case some decades ago.

Backplanes were essentially groups of connectors for electrical instruments, like bridges that allowed you to connect multiple devices. They had no processing capabilities whatsoever.

Motherboards, on the other hand, could integrate an onboard processor and allows extension by connecting other circuit boards.

Ultimately, a motherboard is, in essence, a circuit board in that it is composed of multiple components connected with conductive tracks.

Motherboard is an electronic device and does not necessarily relate to a Personal Computer Only. 

Motherboard is generally the largest circuit board in any electronic device including a PC. The term Motherboard also denotes to its modular add-on capability.

The modular add on capability is simple to implement thanks to the myriad of connectors including slots, sockets, headers, pin array and jacks

Devices or PCBs inserted on top of Motherboards are called Daugtherboards or Circuit Card Assembly (CCA). Some CCAs include a graphics card, RAM, Sound Card etc.

Another major defining component of a motherboard is either the integration of a micro-controller or a microprocessor.

While a circuit board is just a board that can be mounted with components, a motherboard is capable of offering the necessary parameters for sophisticated functions to be carried out by a computer and other advanced devices.

Also Read: Best Motherboards with Thunderbolt 3

Summary

So In Summary

Functionality

Like a circuit board, a motherboard in a computer takes care of connecting all the computer’s components by using conductive traces running across its surface.

However, a mother is a step up as it allows of advanced communication not just between components, but also inter-chip communication.

The Circuit Board

A circuit board is simply the basis for interconnecting electrical devices without having to resort to using wires for your connections.

This lets you have the freedom to make complex circuits fit into smaller areas and have much fewer components.

While a motherboard needs to have some amount of processing capabilities, a circuit board may not necessarily need that. It may only serve the function of conducting current between different components.

The Motherboard

Allows different components like memory and storage to work together and share data with the processor. The motherboard also contains the chip with the necessary instruction sets for the components to communicate properly.

Additionally, it has slots that let you connect other smaller circuit boards that bring on additional functionality to the computer.

Final Words

In this article we reviewed in simple terms the differences between two concepts motherboard vs circuit board.

A motherboard starts as a circuit board, and is still one.

However, as we increase its complexity and add more devices, it attains different functionality and does more than just transmit current.

A motherboard happens to be the main board of a computer as well as other sophisticated devices while a circuit board can exist in any electronic device like a toaster.

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