Motherboard search is like a blue plate special.

Question: What motherboard is best when upgrading? I have often heard that a computer is only as good as its worst component. What do I look for? – Frank

Answer: The secret of motherboards lies in a little curbside culinary wisdom I once got from my father on a trip to the Maritimes.

We had stopped at a roadside lunch joint that specialized in deli-type sandwiches. I wanted something exotic, so I ordered spaghetti. While the rest of the family munched on fabulous Reubens and turkey buns, I was faced something akin to a B-movie special effect on a plate. My Dad’s wisdom was this: Always order the house specialty and you will never be disappointed.

As it applies to motherboards: Buy one from a company that specializes in making them. “ASUS is a motherboard company, while Intel is a chip manufacturer that happens to have been drawn into the motherboard market,” explained Kirk Reid, a CompuSmart tech support guru in Edmonton. Reid recommends ASUS because it offers great support for its motherboards, and the company is always updating its BIOSes.

A BIOS is a built-in program stored on a motherboard ROM chip that has system-critical information about the hardware on-board. This data is crucial for the computer to work. A BIOS upgrade can give a motherboard added features and can fix bugs. “Try to get support on Intel motherboards,” says Reid. “See if you can find a BIOS on Intel’s Web site.” Intel boards are good, but the company makes its money off processors. “In terms of performance, ASUS and Intel boards are typically top performers,” adds Reid. “Both are well engineered, but neither are immune to failures.” Reid also recommends the cheaper Shuttle motherboards.

Meanwhile, over at Edmonton’s Campus Computers, Jim Hendy has more motherboard wisdom. “Most stores will push what they normally use. I would be more worried about the features on the board than the brand name,” he explained. Chipset is more important. A chipset is a group of chips that controls how the motherboard works, said Hendy. “The two most popular are 430VX and 430HX, both from Intel.” The difference between the two? “The 430HX is faster out of the blocks but the 430VX supports more and newer technology,” said Hendy.

You also want to find out if the motherboard you’re about to buy has a USB or Universal Serial Bus. “USB is the new, coming soon, way to connect peripherals to your computer,” said Hendy. Effectively, USB allows you to hook multiple devices, such as keyboards, scanners, and printers, through one high speed port on the PC.