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PCB vs. Motherboard – Understanding the Differences

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What is the difference between a PCB vs. motherboard? We wrote this comparison post to explain the structure and application of each product type. First, here’s the answer to one of the most asked questions about the two devices: whether they are the same thing.

Is a PCB the Same as a Motherboard?

The simple answer is no, it isn’t. The actual definition of a PCB is a circuit board with only the conductive pattern printed on it. It does not include the components. At this stage, the PCB is called a bare board.

Once mounted with components, it becomes an assembled circuit board or PCBA and is ready for installation in an electronic device — including being used as a motherboard!


To be called a motherboard, the PCB must act as the main board in a device, or the central hub, with smaller circuit boards and other components connecting to it.

Computer motherboard or mainboard
Computer motherboard or mainboard
Resource: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PrXwe21biJo

Difference between PCB and Motherboard

As you can see, the difference between PCB and motherboard is in the function scope and the types of components used on each. The parts of a printed circuit board depend on its intended use and may range from simple types like resistors to complex ICs.

A motherboard is a central system board that uses specialized devices like data processing or storage units and information transfer or communication ports. These features make it a highly customized electronic product.

An example of a bare printed circuit board before assembly
An example of a bare printed circuit board before assembly
Resource: https://www.edaboard.com

PCB vs. Motherboard

To compare the differences between the printed circuit board and motherboard, we will see how the two vary in functionality, components, size, scalability, cost, and use or application.

Functional Difference

The term PCB strictly means the bare circuit before assembly. It only has copper traces. You can only use it if you mount it with components to enable power and signal transmission. The mounted parts determine its function.

On the other hand, a mother board is a type of assembled PCB. It derives its name from being used as the heart of an electronic system or gadget like a PC. It also has well-defined functions, including data processing, information storage, and communication.

Components Diversity

The variety of components in an assembled PCB is significant. They generally include ICs, transistors, diodes, capacitors, resistors, and inductors. The parts mainly transfer power and signals using conductive elements.

A mother circuit board’s components are more tailored for its application. They include data processing components like a central processing unit (CPU) and memory modules like RAM (Random Access Memory).

Other main components include GPUs, hard drives, or SSD storage. It also houses I/O ports to connect external devices. They include USB, Ethernet, VGA, audio jacks, etc.

Size and Form Factor

PCB sizes are widely varied. They range from the tiny types used in miniature electronics to the large ones measuring over a meter long and designed for industrial applications.

A PCB motherboard is typically large-sized, being the main board of a computer or other information processing device. In the electronics industry, computer mainboard sizes follow various form factors.

Example sizes include ATX (Advanced Technology Extended) types, Extended ATX, and micro-ATX or mini-ITX. The classifications determine compatibility when used with different computers.

Scalability

A PCB has a specific use and is usually not scalable. In comparison, a motherboard has a modular design. It can connect with other smaller boards to increase power and functionality or perform an upgrade.

For example, it’s a common practice to solder audio or graphics boards to computer mainboards. Other options include communication boards to enhance information transmission and reception capabilities.

Cost Difference

A PCB costs less; it’s only a substrate with copper traces. The panel is only a few steps away from becoming functional at this stage. Mounting it with electronic parts increases the production cost.

A mother PCB uses more complex components, making it more expensive. Depending on its size, it can cost many times the price of a bare PCB. The cost depends on the number of parts and their complexity.

Application

A bare PCB is not ready for use. When assembled, it becomes usable in many electronic systems, from consumer gadgets to industrial equipment; the list of applications is almost endless.

In other words, PCBs form the basis of any electronic device or system. For instance, you can use it to run an electric motor, light up and control the working of an electric bulb, or link the parts of an electric system.


A PCB motherboard has its use defined, which is to serve the role of the main board. It processes and stores data in a computer, laptop, or tablet, interfacing with external devices to improve functionality.

A motherboard circuit board for enhancing capability
A motherboard circuit board for enhancing capability
Resource: https://forum.vcfed.org

What is PCB on Motherboard?

A motherboard circuit board is called a daughterboard. It improves the motherboard’s functionality and can serve various purposes, such as adding more memory, processing audio graphics, and other uses.

Daughter boards are usually directly soldered to the mother PCB. Sometimes, they attach to an expansion card instead.

Mother board circuit boards provide functions that the main board cannot. You can also use them to upgrade the main board instead of discarding it, which helps reduce costs. Examples include.

  • Graphics and audio cards that enhance processing capability
  • RAM modules to expand random access memory
  • SSD storage boards to expand storage (or upgrade it from HDD storage)
  • Network interface cards with Ethernet ports or Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connectivity

Conclusion

To sum up, let’s answer this pertinent question: is a motherboard a circuit board? The answer is yes. However, it is an assembled one with a defined role, which is to serve as the main circuit board. A PCB is a general term for a printed circuit board before assembly. As you can see, motherboards are just large PCBs, but PCBs cannot be said to be motherboards.

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