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The mainboard, or motherboard, is the center of a computer; it connects all the different parts together. The mainboard chipset controls the interaction between the pieces of hardware connected to the mainboard. A common mainboard chipset is composed of two different parts; the northbridge and the southbridge. A northbridge chip controls high-speed hardware and the southbridge controls integrated peripherals and slower hardware.
Even though the mainboard chipset is vital to a computer, many users have never heard of it. The chipset works like a road system. It provides a means for signals to move around to get to the locations where they need to be. It also manages and prioritizes those signals, so information that needs to get somewhere now will get there quicker than information that nothing depends on.
The speed at which a chipset handles information has a distinct impact on the speed of the computer as a whole. While nearly every piece of computer hardware has an associated speed, they are all limited by the speed at which the chipset allows them to talk. If a computer has a slow chipset, there is no way to improve its speed beyond it.
Nearly every computer has two chipset divisions; the northbridge and the southbridge. These chips may be physically connected, but they operate independently of one another. Both chips are required for a computer to function, but the northbridge is often seen as the more important of the two.
The northbridge chip connects the main memory, processor and graphics system. The chip's perceived importance stems from the parts it connects. These three areas are at the center of the computer’s speed and appearance, from a user’s standpoint. While it may be annoying if a computer’s sound system doesn’t work, a lack of speed is noticeable by any user.
The southbridge part of the mainboard chipset controls everything else. This includes the expansion slots—except graphics—, any ports on the back or front of the machine and keyboard and mouse interaction. In the last several years, motherboards have been integrating more parts into their design rather than using expansion cards. These integrated systems, such as network and sound controllers, are also governed by the southbridge chipset.
To keep a mainboard chipset operating smoothly, it is important to update the component’s drivers. These drivers help the software that uses the chipset organize their data more efficiently for transmission. The more efficient this process is, the faster the computer operates. Chipset drivers may be found on the motherboard manufacturer’s website.