Why Motherboard is called Motherboard? – Interesting Read

I’m sure at one point in time, a geek in you must have wondered why motherboard is called motherboard? I mean of all the fancy high tech terms that the technology industry could come with, why did they choose to go with the term “mother”.

Sometimes a lot of thought goes into a name and it stems from people’s ideas and how they perceive something. Other times, the name comes from how the thing works, sort of like a description like “printer”.

However, when we come to the crux of this matter, certain questions arise. While the motherboard is a board (Printed Circuit Board), what about it attracts the name “mother”?

Scouring the internet brings forth a lot of theories, ideas, and assumptions that all aim to explain why it is called so, and I’d like to share these with you. To understand this, first, let’s look at the development of motherboards and their evolution.

Also Read: Motherboard vs CPU

How Motherboards Came to Be

In much older computers, a motherboard was not present. Instead, they used backplanes.

Why Motherboard is called Motherboard
Top left: Backplane, Disk, Serial I/O and CPU. Source: classiccmp.org

A backplane is nothing more than a connector that is used to join several other circuits together. This forms a sort of bus (cable) for the computer that allows different devices to work together.

Older computers used backplanes to connect several components. Being a group of connectors arranged in parallel sequence, they allowed the larger older computers to have a connection between their subsystems.

The main difference between the backplane and the motherboard is that the backplane lacked anything onboard. It was just a skeleton and nothing more. Basically, it had no active components. It was inherently a sort dumb bridge between the different subsystems of a computer.

The earlier backplane actually had copper wires sticking out, however, as thing evolved Printer Circuit Board became the standard. Imagine that everything including audio cards, I/O card for mouse and keyboard, RAM and processor card had to be  housed separately.

In the 1980s with the advent of personal computers, things started to move forward as PC demanded standard chips for peripherals, audio, disk drives to come already mounted on the backplane. This inclusion of controllers or active components gave birth to the modern motherboard.

Modern motherboards have grown smaller in size but grown larger in terms of onboard component slots.

Also Read in Detail: What is a Motherboard?

Active vs Passive Backpanel

It should be made clear here the difference between a passive and an active backpanel.

  • Passive Backpanel: This is what we refer to when we talk about old computers. These were dumb bridges that only had the required circuitry and wires that is it.
  • Active Backpanel: The modern motherboards are of this sort. These backpanels have many controllers along with the essential circuitry to FACILITATE the communication between various components.

Also Read: Best Motherboards with M.2

So Why Motherboard is called Motherboard?

1. Because it’s the Main Circuit Board in a Computer

One of the most compelling reasons why the motherboard is named so is because it is the main circuit board in a computer.

A computer can have more than one circuit board to house several different components and perform certain functions. However, the main one is the one that holds the most essential parts.

So, the motherboard is called a motherboard because it is the main circuit board and a computer can have multiple circuit boards and these can as well be used to extend the motherboard.

2. Because it’s the Mother of Other Components

All the daughterboards that a motherboard can support. Source: computerhope.com

As mentioned earlier, a motherboard can extend it capability by adding or plugging additional circuit boards to it. Not surprisngly enough, these additional circuit boards are curiously, and quite appropriately, named “daughter boards”.

We may not refer to the VGA cards, network card or the storage as daughter boards in common terminology, but that is the technical idea behind them.

Well, not exactly the mother in the sense we are familiar with. This PCB is called a motherboard because it can be expanded. Having this expandability as a feature makes it possible to connect other smaller boards onto it. And, these smaller boards are the children.

This, in essence, will allow the motherboard to function as the mother of these components by allowing them to access its resources and use its channels to convey their data.

Technically, these smaller boards will depend on the motherboard just as children depend on their mothers.

The smaller boards can be separate peripherals that can be used to improve the overall performance of the computer or add to its features but are not crucial to the normal running of the computer.

3. It Contains the Chip with the Instructions to Run a Computer

A motherboard contains what is widely known as the ROM chip which houses the instructions that make up the BIOS.

These instructions are what is used to initialize the computer at startup. They perform the necessary checks to ensure that the computer correctly performs its startup.

Furthermore, these instructions are used to ensure that the operating system is correctly loaded onto the computer.

It also works to ensure that the drivers associated with all the components used by the computer. This lets the CPU access and use other connected components through the motherboard.

4. It is Viewed as the Center of Life for the Computer

If we take the computer and anthropomorphize its components, all the parts that are connected to the motherboard can be seen as members of the same household.

Connected and sharing information and resources constantly.

Nothing in the computer will work without the motherboard as it takes charge of connecting all the components, ensuring they are well fed with power, taking care of making the conditions right for working, and also holding the components together.

It also ensures that all the components which can be seen as children communicate and share their resources.

Also Read: Best Motherboards with WiFi

Alternative Views

There are several reasons why the motherboard was named so. However, some believe that there is no particular reason behind the name.

Chances are that in the early days of its inception, someone randomly decided upon the name. It wasn’t based on the role played by the component or its relevance to the computer as a whole.

At the time, maybe it was just a name. And it stuck. As time went by, and as more and more people came to learn about computers, the name increased in popularity until things got to where they are today.

So Why Call Motherboard a Motherbard and not a Fatherboard?

Why large spaceships are called “motherships” and not “fatherships” – it just doesn’t have the same vibe.

Perhaps for the same reason why a large spaceship is called a “mothership” instead of a “fathership”.

A mothership holds smaller crafts and has the facility to “nurture” and maintain them.

Similarly, a motherboard holds smaller boards and facilitates them.

In Summary

There is no official reason that I have found to explain the reason behind the name. However, most people seem to point to the fact that the device is named so because of the role it plays which can be compared to the role that a mother plays in the family.

It takes care of the components it is connected to. In essence, we see that every bit of instruction and every single byte of data that is held in memory is essentially held in the motherboard. The motherboard keeps the family of components together.

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