Motherboard Port Guide: Solving Your Connector Mystery

Gigabyte 990FXA-UD7

Next we'll turn our attention to a motherboard that supports AMD CPUs. Note that AMD-chipset boards support many of the same features as Intel-based boards--that's the great thing about industry standards.

An AMD-compatible motherboard: the Gigabyte 990FXA-UD7.

24-pin ATX power: This connector exists on all current ATX-based motherboards, and is the standard means of connecting power from power supplies. This connector delivers power to all interfaces, including 3V, 5V, and 12V. The typical ATX12V version 2.3 PSU delivers up to 75W for PCI Express graphics cards; but numerous modern graphics cards need more than that, which is why you'll often find secondary six- or eight-pin power connectors on the graphics cards themselves.

ATX4P: This unusual item is actually a SATA power connector for delivering power to SSDs, hard drives, or optical drives from the motherboard itself.

TPM connector: Some off-the-shelf PCs and laptops use the Trusted Platform Module connector to link to a cryptographic processor module for storing encryption keys and handling dedicated encryption chores such as hard-drive encryption and certain types of digital rights management (DRM) decryption.

USB 3.0 front panel: This connector is used to drive front-panel USB 3.0 connectors. It requires more pins than USB 2.0 connectors do, but it drives two USB 3.0 ports instead of one. If your PC case lacks a USB 3.0 internal cable, you won't be able to use it. Like back-panel connectors, front-panel USB 3.0 ports are often color-coded blue.

AMD CPU socket: I'm calling out this component because its style differs from that of a modern Intel CPU socket. AMD CPUs still have pins, whereas Intel has moved the pins to the motherboard socket.

Intel DZ77GA-70K

I'm using a photo of just one section of this board, to call out some specific connectors and to get a little closer in. The Intel DZ77GA-70K motherboard is designed to accommodate the latest Intel Z77 chipset.

Part of the Intel DZ77GA-70K--a motherboard that hosts the latest Intel Z77 chipset.

Case fan header: As noted earlier, most higher-end motherboards have several of these fan headers scattered around the board. If enough of them are available, you should connect your fans to them, so that the BIOS can monitor and manage the fan speeds--unless you're a serious overclocker who uses separate fan-control modules.

PCI Express x4 slot: This relatively rare physical and electrical PCIe x4 slot is used for higher-performance networking cards and for some storage controller cards.

S/PDIF digital audio: This older type of connector was originally used to connect to CD-ROM drives. Today it's still used to connect to some optical drives and other audio devices that support S/PDIF (Sony/Philips Digital Interface) digital audio.

USB 3.0 front panel: The DZ77GA motherboard ships with two front-panel USB 3.0 connectors, driving up to four USB 3.0 ports on the front of the PC case.

High-current USB 2.0 front panel: This is a slightly different type of USB 2.0 connector. Though it acts as a normal USB 2.0 port when sending or receiving data, it can deliver extra current to permit fast charging of mobile devices, and it can even charge devices (like Apple's iPad) that requires more current than standard USB 2.0 normally delivers.

Consumer IR: This connector is used to attach front-panel infrared receivers, which enable users to control the PC via a standard programmable remote.

Diagnostic LEDs: Most motherboards have simple LEDs that light up or change color if the board experiences problems. A few higher-end boards, however, have these status LEDs, which flash an alphanumeric code that helps the user narrow down the source of a boot problem.

That wraps up our tour of various motherboard connectors, pins, and ports. Though I haven't covered all of the possibilities by any means, the ones listed here account for the vast majority of connectors you'll encounter on today's motherboards.

Rarely will you use every single connector on a board, but understanding these connectors should help you choose a PC case that suits your needs, or that accommodates new devices that you plan to add in an upgrade. Also, if you have a specific need, you'll be better able to shop for a motherboard capable of handling your application.

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