While many small business computer purchases are guided by a focus on processing power or storage speed and capacity, most companies rarely if ever pay any attention to the motherboard of the desired unit. They figure that if the motherboard can accommodate the desired CPU, has enough slots for the required RAM sticks, and has the right sockets to hook up peripherals, that’s all that’s required. In fact, the choice of the correct motherboard for your system can have a significant impact on not only the performance but the service life of your entire system and the number of problems you’ll be facing during that life. It’s a fundamental mother(board)hood and apple pie issue!

Get down to basics first

The basics are so basic that they really don’t require statement: Of course your motherboard must have the correct socket for the CPU you want to plug in there. So as long as you have your Intel LGA 1155 and LGA 2011, or your AMD FM1 and AM3 family socket straight you’ll be just fine. Most motherboards have two or four RAM slots and that’s more than enough for most people but LGA 2011 gives you the option of eight, and that can be a godsend to users of memory hog apps such as Photoshop. Form factor is also important as not only does it need to fit into the case but needs to provide you with the expansion capabilities you want. You’ll get a lot more PCIe slots in an ATX than you will in a micro ATX as it’s physically larger. You can go down to a Mini ITX which is a bare 6.7 inches on each side, or with a massive Workstation ATX which measures 14 by 16.75 inches.

Opt for the thickest layer cake

Where it gets more complicated is in the actual component features of the motherboard itself. First of all find out how many layers it has. Motherboards are built like a cake with multiple layers and a general rule of thumb is the more the better. Not only will the motherboard be far more sturdy and less likely to crack when manhandled by clumsy IT nerds, but it will also run cooler and have less chance of stray signals finding their way into neighboring traces.

A chipset off the old block

Chipsets are the next item for your attention as they regulate what characteristics your motherboard can provide. For example, the Intel’s Ivy Bridge series of CPUs can accommodate six chipsets: B75, Q75, Q77, H77, Z75 or Z77, and each has its very specific feature set. For example if you want RAID you’ll be out of luck with B75, and if you want the maximum number of PCIe slots you have no choice but Z77. Similarly some chipsets can handle on-die GPU integration into the CPU (an increasingly popular feature) and some can’t. In chipset features as in motherboard layers, it’s always a case that the best configuration is the one that provides you with the highest number.

UEFI Killed The BIOS Star

If you’ve ever plunged into your system’s BIOS you’ll recognize how frustrating it is to navigate through an interface that looks and works like it belongs in a 1979 CP/M operating system. Fortunately a growing number of motherboards have tossed that prehistoric interface in favor of the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) which places the user back into a very familiar mouse-driven graphical interface. There are also myriad advantages that will warm the cockles of any BIOS nerd heart such as support for partitions greater than 2 TB and 4 of them per drive, Secure Boot, and the avoidance of Legacy ROM constraints, but all you need to know as a small business user is that if something should go wrong in the bootup sequence you won’t need to call in a consultant to navigate an obtuse and antediluvian BIOS.

Using the best motherboard for your expected uses is going to pay dividends down the line in less frustration, faster performance, and greater durability and reliability. So do what you’ve been told your whole life long: Respect your mother(board)!