Motherboard makeover

Windows Middle East’s Senior Technical Editor Jason Saundalkar details subtle changes he’d like to see on future motherboards so that they’re easier to work with

Tags: Advanced Micro Devices IncorporatedIntel CorporationUnited Arab Emirates
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By  Jason Saundalkar Published  June 2, 2009

Each month I receive, at the very least, three new motherboards and while these boards differ from each other in terms of cost and what they offer, they all have one thing in common – they’re a nightmare to work with once they’re sitting inside a tower chassis.

In the 17 years I’ve been involved with IT, I’ve built thousands of machines and while putting them together isn’t too much of a chore, I cringe the second I hear that an upgrade is in order. If you’re like me and you’re the resident ‘go to guy’ when it comes to upgrading machines, I’m sure you share my sentiment because motherboards are far from ideally designed for convenience.

Perhaps the most annoying upgrade you have to deal with - when a board is already in a tower case - is a CPU or heatsink upgrade. Both AMD and Intel switched back to socket-based processor years ago and since then, fitting or removing CPUs or heatsinks has been a horrid affair.

In both cases you’ll have to lay the tower case down on its side so that you can fit or remove these parts without dropping and possibly damaging them or some other component in your PC. The problem is that if you don’t have space on or beneath your table (to lay the case down), you’ll have to disconnect your machine entirely and move it to a place where you can work. This is annoying to say the least. If motherboard manufacturers and indeed AMD and Intel could come up with a system where the CPU and heatsink could be fitted or removed without changing the orientation of the machine, I and indeed anyone who works on PCs would be ecstatic.

Since this was possible back when both firms were shipping slot-based CPUs, I’m sure a convenient solution shouldn’t be too difficult to come up with. (Perhaps a simple solution would be to have a detachable riser card, which could hold the CPU and heatsink. You could then simply pull this card out, perform the CPU or heatsink swap and simply slot the card back into the board when you’re ready.)

Another issue has to do with the design of the locking mechanism employed by PCI-E x16 slots. Regardless of vendor, I’ve found these are an absolute nightmare because in most cases, the locking mechanism itself is hidden behind the graphics card. This makes it inaccessible and thus completely unusable when you actually want to remove the card in question. I’ve become so infuriated with these locks that I’ve removed (broken) them on every system I own (before the board goes in the case), so that I can easily install or remove a card without tearing my hair out.

While we’re on the subject of locks, I also have to point out that the lock/notch systems used by the ATX power connectors is quite difficult to work with. While the locks themselves are easy enough to operate, I’ve noticed that the majority of board vendors actually place other circuitry or components too close to these connectors and this makes it quite difficult to release the lock. This is an easy fix however – don’t place anything too close to these power connectors.

The changes I’ve detailed above aren’t earth shattering but they’d certainly make it easier to upgrade machines that have already been built. Moreover, these changes would also lessen the chance of damaged components, which in itself is a worthy cause.

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