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PC Hardware Cont.............

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Motherboard

The biggest and most important circuit board in a computer is the motherboard. It's called the motherboard because every other part of the computer is connected to it. The CPU plugs into the motherboard, and so does the memory. And all the components that plug into the back of the case, like the keyboard and monitor, are connected from there to the motherboard. It is also called the system board.

There is a set of slots near the back edge of the board for plugging in other circuit boards, called adapter cards. These plug-in slots are for things like modems, sound cards, network cards and just about any other add-on feature you can think of. There is a set of traces connecting these slots to each other. A trace goes from Pin 1 of the first slot to Pin 1 of each of the other slots, and other traces connect each of the Pin 2s, each of the Pin 3s, etc. These traces then go on to connect to the memory, CPU, disk drives and other parts of the computer.

The Bus

These traces are called a bus, and they provide a way for each part of the system to exchange information with every other part. There are different types of bus that have been developed over the years, and your computer may have more than one. The most common one, found in every PC sold today, is called the PCI bus. An older version, still seen in some new computers, is the ISA bus. These are fairly easy to tell apart, because the connector that fits in the PCI slot has smaller pins and more of them.

One of the differences between PCI and ISA is that PCI supports a feature called Plug-and-Play, which allows you to add new hardware and have the system detect and configure it automatically. As anyone knows who has used the old method, plug-and-play is a great convenience.


Since just about everything in the computer uses the bus to exchange data, there must be a way to decide whose turn it is. This is done with something called an Interrupt Request, abbreviated IRQ. Each component or device that will need access to the bus is assigned an IRQ level, from IRQ 0 to IRQ 15, and there are lines on the bus that correspond to these levels. When a device needs to transfer data on the bus, it tugs on the appropriate Interrupt Request line and waits until the CPU grants an interrupt for that level. It's all very nice and orderly. IRQs are an example of a system resource, which is a feature available in limited quantity that must be assigned to specific components.

There are other resources too. Each device must have a unique memory location where their data is stored as it is transferred to and from the bus. These locations are called I/O Ports. For the BIOS and any other devices that use ROM, there must be a range of memory set aside, so that ROM and RAM are not trying to use the same addresses. These ROM addresses are a resource just like the IRQs and I/O Ports. Some devices need to transfer large amounts of data directly to and from memory without using an interrupt for each little piece of data. These devices, such as disk drives, are assigned a resource called DMA, for Direct Memory Access. Like IRQs, there are 16 DMA levels.


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