One of the most underrated metrics when it comes to choosing motherboards. I have to list this as one of the top few of my list. Why? The motherboard layout determines how easy it is to install your other components by the position of their sockets or connectors. It also influences air flow in the case by determining how cables are routed through the case. Since this is a really important albeit subjective metric, I'll guide you through it a simple checklist of things to look out for.
ATX Power Connector – One of the most important things when it comes to layout. Why? Because the ATX cable is 24 wires thick, and presents a major routing impedance if the connector is situated somewhere odd. For example, the EPoX liked to place the ATX power connector halfway down the motherboard and close to the I/O shield (near the back of the case). It was a total pain to route since it limits the height of coolers you can use, and it blocks air flow to the CPU cooler as well as the rear case exhaust fan. Because of it has a tendency to hang across the CPU cooler, it sometimes gets caught in the fan blades as well. Needless to say, case modders do not like it as having the cable string across the board like that makes the case look ugleee....
Processor Socket – You can generally ignore this for Intel-based motherboards because Intel imposes requirements on their processor sockets. They even have a Keep Out Zone (KOZ) around the socket, for example. Normally, processor socket placement shouldn't be an issue, but some motherboards like the DFI Lanparty series of motherboards for the AMD Athlon 64 processor do take a lot of liberties with socket placement. What you should look for in socket placement is a general alignment with the rear exhaust fan, a lot of space around the socket (to place third party coolers if you wish), an easily accessible retention mechanism and last but not least, a location that allows for good air flow.
Memory Socket – Take this into consideration in tandem with the CPU socket, because both are usually close to each other. It's better to get more airflow you get over the memory modules, but keep in mind the distance between the memory slots and the CPU socket because some coolers are HUGE. Wide coolers like the Thermalright XP-120 or Thermaltake Big Typhoon can interfere with the installation of the memory modules. In fact, if you are using memory modules with finned heatsinks like the Corsair Dominator, they may not even fit! So, make sure you check out the distance.
IDE & SATA Connectors – Seems like a trivial affair to most, but if you ask me, they really aren't. Don't you hate it when your case blocks your IDE ports? I installed my NVIDIA GeForce 7950 GX2 only to realize that the humongous card blocked access to the SATA ports. The only way to get my SATA cables connected was to bend them into an uncomfortable position. The best advice I can give here is to choose motherboards that have their SATA and IDE connectors placed at the edge of the board and facing outwards. This allows for easier cable routing although they may be blocked if your case is too small. If you are using smaller cases, make sure the SATA and IDE connectors are placed out of the way of the PCI Express slot where large graphics cards can seriously ruin your mojo.
PCI Slot – Har har, people always seem to neglect this aspect, even in these times when hot graphics cards and their bulky cooling solutions can take up more than one slot. With such cards, proper arrangement is serious business! Imagine buying a new Sound Blaster X-Fi sound card only to open up the case and find that your graphics card's cooler is blocking the PCI slot. High-end graphics cards often take up two slots and it is always a good idea to install your cards away from them as they do produce a considerable amount of heat. So, rule of the thumb would be to give even normal graphics card the space of two slots, and high-end graphics cards three slots.
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