PC Gear Lab

Motherboard vs CPU – Learn the Difference

Computers are very sophisticated devices. They are built to perform tasks that would take a human a lot of time with great speeds and with a great deal of accuracy.

The millions of calculations that the computer performs when communicating internally, via the inputs and the resulting output requires  many different components.

The different components carry out different functions, however, it is quite evident that all the components are somehow connected and special software is used to ensure the seamless operations between them.

Furthermore, when studying computers, it can get quite difficult to distinguish between myriad of components. Two such confusing components are the CPU and the motherboard.

In this article, we briefly look at the essential comparison and contrast between motherboard vs CPU.

Summary

The most important part of a computer is its Central Processing Unit (CPU). This is the part that does all the work of running your programs, processing data and input and providing useful output.

However, the CPU doesn’t work alone. It needs memory and storage. Here, memory refers to the RAM of the computer. This is where all the programs are loaded first before the processor executes them.

And storage refers to your hard drives and SSDs where the programs and data are stored when not in immediate use.

Now the storage and RAM (along with other components like sound card etc) are not directly located on top of the CPU. They are separate components, yet essential to the functions of a CPU and the computer as a whole.

That is where the motherboard comes in. If CPU is the brain of a computer than the motherboard is its body or the nervous system; the RAM, Storage and other peripherals are its limbs.

A place that has all the essential lines of communication that can send information to and fro the CPU to the components is called the motherboard.

In the following text, we will go a bit deeper.

Also Read: Best Motherboards with Bluetooth

Motherboard vs CPU

A direct comparison cannot be made between these two devices since they are far more different than they are similar – albeit they work for the same goal.

As such, it is wiser to understand what the two actually mean and what function do they perform instead of drawing direct comparisons.

The CPU

Motherboard vs CPU
CPU placed on top of a CPU socket on a motherboard.

The history of the development of the CPU is marked by many events from the invention of transistors to the creation of integrated circuits.

The CPU as we know it today has been years in the making and is more powerful than ever. Just to imagine that a a few decades ago transistors were the size of a key, and now they can measure in nano meters and are about to defy quantum mechanics is mind boggling (Read Quantum Computers).

CPU Semiconductor Technology

Early transistor
Early transistor

Silicon is one of the elements that is largely used to create CPUs. It is a semiconductor and it’s a very common occurrence on the earth’s crust.

It, however, goes through a meticulous refining and production process before it can become a CPU.

Decades ago, we strayed from the first generations of computers which used vacuum tubes for processing.

These devices were inefficient and error-prone, not to mention large and cumbersome to install and maintain. The invention of transistors changed the game and a modern CPU will have Billions of these tiny switches.

Since transistors were smaller, they aided in the miniaturization of the processor. Just a few decades ago, a single computer could fill a large room and now, card-sized computers like the raspberry-pi can fit in your pocket.

Functions of a CPU

In a computer, the CPU is responsible for not only the processing of data but also the allocation of resources to various components and processes.

The CPU carries scheduling where resources such as RAM and threads are allocated to various processes.

This is important as it lets you multitask on a computer seamlessly. With the CPU’s scheduling functionality, a process can use the CPU while another is waiting and the switching between the different processes is done very fast giving the illusion that the processes are running synchronously.

It does this by making use of several algorithms that help it decide which processes to allocate processing time to and in which order.

Two of the biggest computer processor manufacturers are Intel and AMD. These brands are synonymous with computer processors and have made a lot of improvements to CPU computing.

Scheduling helps allocate scarce computer resources more efficiently, therefore, preventing issues such as deadlock that can cause the computer to perform unexpectedly.

CPU Sockets

CPU socket is directly related to its physical shape and design. A socket is simply the series of pins located located at the bottom of the CPU chip.

This pins have to align perfectly with the housing on the motherboard.

As such, different processors have different sockets and they are thus compatible with different motherboards.

For example an Intel Processor with LGA 1151 Socket can only fit on a motherboard that has compatible LGA 1151 socket housing as well.

Multi Core Processors

Die Map Processor
Ivy Bridge Die Map for Core i7-3770K

Each Core in a processor is defined as separate CPU entity that has its own set of sub components including ALU, L1 cache, L2 cache and the BUS (line) for communicating with the components like RAM and harddisk etc.

Multi Core processors have 2, 4 or even 64 Cores in a single chip. As such, a processor with many cores can carry out multiple simultaneous processes at a time.

The Motherboard

The motherboard is a crucial part of the computer’s performance. A good analogy is that if the CPU is the brain then the motherboard has to be the nervous system and the body of the computer.

What is a Motherboard?

In the most basics of definition, a motherboard is nothing more than Printed Circuit Board made out of fiberglass, and copper circuitry.

However, while any printed board with a structure of capacitor, inductor and a chip can be called a PCB, a motherboard is far more than that.

Consider a motherboard to be a highly specialized and MODULAR circuit board. This is a circuit board that can expand its functionality via the addition of components (often called daughterboard i.e RAM, VGA cards etc).

Motherboard used to be called backplanes. While it wouldn’t be incorrect to still refer to motherboard as backplanes, the differences matters when referring to modern terminology.

Essentially, a motherboard, as we know it today, is an “active” backplane as supposed to “passive” backplane since it has all the basic circuitry AS WELL AS many controllers and chips to facilitate communication between components.

Functions of the Motherboard

Just as our body holds the brain and is composed of billions of neurons that help communicate with limbs, the motherboard also holds the processors and is composed of integrated circuits (wires) that help communicate with various components of the computer.

As such, the motherboard handles the connection between the CPU and all other components in the computer including external components.

The motherboard is responsible for power supply to all the components. Additionally, it ensures that the components are always connected and can freely share data when needed to.

The motherboard is an advanced circuit board that can allow compatible components to be plugged into its available standard slots thus increasing its functionality.

Here are some of the things that the motherboard does.

Also Read: What is a Motherboard

Cradles the CPU

The motherboard contains the slot where the CPU is placed (Socket).

While the CPU takes care of processing data, the motherboard ensures that it receives and sends the requests and commands for data to be processed. Therefore, it connects the CPU to memory and other components through this slot.

Power Supply

The computer will need to be supplied with a given amount of power. The computer’s power unit plugs into the motherboard from where the power can be distributed to all the device’s components.

Since it’s the main connection between all these devices, it is easier to connect all the devices to the same motherboard backbone and use it for power distribution.

Albeit some larger components like graphics cards and harddisk may require a dedicated power source through the power supply.

Booting

BIOS ROM
A small ROM that contain BIOS situated on the motherboard

When you start up the computer, it goes through a series of steps before the Operating System can start running.

The startup process is controlled by the BIOS which is itself stored on the motherboard. The Bios makes sure that all the components of the computer are in shape to run before the OS can be loaded into memory.

RAM, Storage and Modularity

A computer is made up of modular parts that may come from different OEMs.

A motherboard will, therefore, tend to be designed to handle certain standardized parts.

As such, components for memory and storage can easily be changed on many devices because of this standardized modularity and this allows for heavy customization.

That said, the motherboard handles the connection between these different parts and the processor. It contains numerous slots such as the PCIe lanes, DIMM, SATA, M.2 etc for additional graphics cards, hard drives and SSDs, as well as for RAM expansion.

Other Components

The motherboard has ports that let you plug in other components like networking cards and external devices like keyboards and mice.

These allow you to use your device for the many tasks you would like to uses.

Conclusion

The motherboard and the CPU work hand in hand on a computer.

While they are both quite different in terms of function, they both work together for the same goal that is to help process data.

In this article we looked at the difference between motherboard vs CPU not by comparing both directly but by learning their definitions and their functions.

The CPU takes care of the computing and processing of the data it receives from the user and its components while the motherboard ensures that the CPU gets all the resources it needs to perform optimally.

All the components inside the computer are interdependent and the motherboard bridges the gap between them.

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