Motherboard Design Process

..:: Introduction ::..

Have you ever just looked at a motherboard and wondered how it was designed? How did the design engineers decide where to place certain chips, or components? What are these strange components placed all over the board? Why do motherboard manufacturers make a big deal out of multi-layer PCB’s? Today we’ll be taking a good look at what exactly goes into the process of a motherboard’s design, from the planning stages to the finished product. Since this can be a very complex topic, I’m not going to be covering every last step, and I won’t be going into incredible depth in areas that do not require it to be done. Not everyone out there is an aspiring CE or EE and has prior knowledge or the time to set aside and learn some of the more complex topics that I’ll be discussing today. This article is based off of both continuing personal research, and aid from Rob Bruckner, a Senior Motherboard Design Engineer at Intel Corporation. This article is now in it’s third revision as new information has been added, as well as modifications made to reflect upon current motherboards. The goal for the article remains the same, that you’ll leave with a grown respect for the immense amount of thought and work that goes into the design process for a modern motherboard.

..:: Planning Groups ::..

In the infant stages of the motherboard design process, there are processes taken out that do not deal with the design itself, rather they deal with the end user will be wanting down the road. Remember, planning for processors, chipsets, and motherboards begins many months before they’ll ever end up on the retail market. In this time, manufacturers will evaluate hat they feel their consumer base will want, and also how to make a distinctive product that will stand out against the rest of the pack.

The first steps in the design process for Intel start out with studies by various groups and individuals within the company detailing new chipset and integrated features. These groups are responsible for developing ideas and gathering feedback from the industry on what exactly it is that the consumers want in future products. Once this information has been gathered, Intel will decide which features it will want to implement in the future, and work then begins on next generation chipsets that will support these features. As these new products are developed, the information is passed on to the various motherboard manufacturers along with some reference designs and tools that they’ll need to accomplish their work in time for the product launch.