We ripped apart a motherboard to show you how it works

This motherboard died, so we dissected its body for science.

biostar motherboard
For science!

It could’ve been just another sad day when a confused power supply recently fried our Biostar Z97WE motherboard (pictured above). But rather than simply chuck it in the trash and move on to a new one, we decided to rip it apart piece by piece to show you—yes, you—some of the key hardware and technologies hiding inside that help motherboards serve as the central nervous system of your PC.

Disclaimer: One motherboard was brutally dismembered in the making of this article. Let’s dig in.

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Credit: Thomas Ryan
Ruining RAM

The easiest parts to tear off a motherboard are the RAM slots. They’re held on with small metal tabs that can be easily released from the underside of the motherboard. Upon removing the plastic RAM slot, you’ll be able to see the pins that lead up from the motherboard and into the plastic slot to make the electrical connection with the memory. The plastic slot itself is a rather sturdy device that you basically can’t break with your hands.

Once you pull one RAM slot off of your motherboard, getting the other three off takes no time at all. Some motherboards have RAM slots of the same color. The Z97 Biostar motherboard we’re literally tearing apart here is not one of those. It features alternating slot colors: yellow and black.

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Credit: Thomas Ryan
PCI-weeeee

Next, we pulled off the PCI-E slots, which are used for connecting graphics cards and storage to your PC. These slots were held on by the same small metal tabs as the RAM slots, but required a bit more force to remove—we had to use a screwdriver as a simple lever. Of course, with the PCI-E slots removed, there are even more unprotected pins protruding from the PCB of the motherboard, so be careful if you try this at home.

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Credit: Thomas Ryan
Spoiling the southbridge

Next, we used a screwdriver and a bit of wiggling to extract the southbridge heatsink. The southbridge oversees a computer’s input/output signals, like USB, the system BIOS, PCI-E, and audio. Emblazoned with the Biostar logo, this low-profile heatsink cools the logic of Intel Z97 chipset.

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Credit: Thomas Ryan
Bringing up the rear

This is the bottom of the southbridge heatsink, leftover thermal paste and all.

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Credit: Thomas Ryan
The brains of the BIOS

Near the southbridge sits the memory chip that stores the BIOS for our Biostar motherboard. This particular chip sits in a small socket, which means it’s technically a replaceable part. This particular chip’s made by Winbond and has 64MB of memory.

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Credit: Thomas Ryan
Inveterate VRMs

Here’s an important piece of motherboard hardware that we couldn’t yank off: the power delivery hardware, dubbed voltage regulation modules (VRMs). These grey capacitors, dark grey ferrite chokes, and small black MOSFETS all work together to make sure your CPU gets the consistent power it needs to work correctly.

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Credit: Thomas Ryan
Taking the heat

The VRMs often get quite hot while your PC’s doing its thing. That’s why high-end motherboards often feature hefty heatsinks like the ones we have here, which were pulled off the VRMs highlighted in the previous slide. You can still see the impression of the MOSFETS in the squishy thermal pads on top of these heatsinks.

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Credit: Thomas Ryan
Bricking the CPU bracket

We return to our trusty screwdriver to unseat the CPU retention bracket. True to the ideals of any good bracket, this one’s a sturdy hunk of metal with a lever that puts pressure on the CPU to hold it firmly in the socket.

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Credit: Thomas Ryan
Bottom's up

Here we have the underside of the CPU retention bracket. Most aftermarket heatsinks include a bracket that mounts to the underside of the CPU socket. That would attach to this bracket.

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Credit: Thomas Ryan
Knocking down pins

We didn’t manage to rip the actual CPU socket off our motherboard but we did crush a few pins inside the socket—which reminded us that the pins inside of the socket are actually pretty neat-looking.

On a practical level, the pins connect the CPU to the motherboard, while the retention bracket ensures the CPU maintains a tight connection to the socket pins, and is key to swappable processors. If it weren’t for the pins and the bracket, the processor would have to be soldered to the motherboard.

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Credit: Thomas Ryan
This is the end, beautiful friend

Finally, we have our stripped-down motherboard. With everything removed, this once-mighty mobo looks rather pedestrian. The only real indication of what it once was are the lonely CMOS battery, the dozens of pins lined up where the slots used to sit, and all the bare chips surrounded by white squares on the surface of the PCB (which you can’t rip off without doing serious damage). 

Speaking of which, are you thirsting for more destruction? (You know, for science.) We’ve also chopped up a memory stick to show you how RAM works.