PCB vs Motherboard: What’s the Difference?

Are you confused about the difference between PCB and motherboard? If you’re a tech enthusiast searching for a comprehensive explanation, then you’ve come to the right place.

Motherboards and printed circuit boards (PCBs) are both critical components in electronic devices. The motherboard, in particular, is responsible for interconnecting various hardware components, whereas PCB is used to build complex circuits and systems.

The motherboard and PCB have similarities, yet each has its distinct features. In this article, we’ll discuss the differences and similarities between PCB and motherboard to enhance your understanding of these critical components in electronic devices. Let’s dive in!

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    What Is a Motherboard?

    Motherboard for computer

    A motherboard is the primary circuit board in a computer or digital device. It acts as the central hub for the rest of the components and peripherals connected to the device.

    Most motherboards are designed to connect to one or more daughterboards or replaceable components.

    For example, the typical computer includes a motherboard containing a CPU and BIOS. Memory cards and graphics cards are inserted into slots on the motherboard instead of being integrated into the board itself.

    How Do Motherboards Work?

    Motherboards serve as the main boards in the design of a computer or device with a wide range of components. Motherboards are found in almost all computers.

    A common feature of a motherboard is facilitating communication between components. Most motherboards include 6 to 14 layers. The layers contain various copper traces, capacitors, resistors, and transistors to help carry signals between components.

    Chipsets, CPU sockets, BIOS, and connectors for peripherals are included on a PC or laptop motherboard. Memory cards, graphics cards, and other components connect to the board.

    The power source also typically connects to the motherboard or a separate power board that plugs into the motherboard. Other devices and components receive power through their connection to the motherboard.

    Benefits of Motherboards

    Some of the main advantages of a motherboard include:

    • Easy integration of components
    • Standardization
    • Simplified testing
    • Cost-effectiveness

    Easy Integration of Components

    Using a motherboard in the design of a computer or other type of device makes it easier to integrate other components. It reduces the complexity of the overall design of the PCB, resulting in a more efficient system. Fewer components are permanently soldered to the board.


    A motherboard can include standard interfaces for connecting with different components. It increases the potential for expansion. For example, you can include expansion slots for connecting peripherals, such as storage devices.

    Simplified Testing

    A motherboard can simplify testing. You can test and debug individual components and isolate the problem with greater ease without affecting the rest of the system.


    Including a motherboard in your design is also often cost-effective. Integrating other components, simplifying testing, and the other benefits described help reduce the overall cost of the system.

    You may also incorporate existing motherboards into your design, further reducing the cost and the development process. For example, your project may rely entirely on existing equipment instead of designing a new board.

    Disadvantages of Motherboards

    Some of the potential disadvantages of a motherboard include:

    • Limited customization
    • Decreased compatibility

    Limited Customization

    Using a proprietary motherboard limits customization and compatibility, as it locks you into a standardized format or set of components. A custom-built PCB offers greater customization for incorporating specialized components or features not available on a standardized motherboard.

    Decreased Compatibility

    A motherboard may increase the overall size requirements for the project. Using a motherboard may also require the use of specific form factors. Motherboard form factors may not be suitable for all applications.

    What Is a Circuit Board?

    Printed Circuit Board

    A circuit board is a thin board containing an electric circuit. The most common example of a circuit board is a printed circuit board (PCB), which contains a printed circuit on one or more layers of material, such as fiberglass.

    The circuits are made with copper traces that connect the various components. Depending on the type of PCB, the board may contain a wide range of capacitors, resistors, transistors, and integrated circuits (ICs).

    While a motherboard is technically a circuit board, a custom PCB can also be designed as a single board. The components are soldered or connected to a single board instead of using a motherboard and one or more daughterboards.

    How Do Circuit Boards Work?

    A circuit board may contain one to dozens of layers with copper traces that carry the electric signals between components. Holes or copper pads are included for soldering components.

    The board provides a pathway for electrical signals. A motherboard is a type of circuit board. However, most motherboards are designed to conform to a specific set of standard interfaces and sizes.

    Custom PCBs are often used when existing motherboards do not meet the needs of the project’s design. For example, you may need a custom size or need to work with components from a variety of manufacturers.

    Advantages of PCB Board

    The main advantages of using a custom PCB instead of a motherboard include:

    • Greater flexibility
    • Custom form factors

    Greater Flexibility and Customization

    A custom circuit board gives you greater flexibility and customization compared to a motherboard. You are not limited to the components and peripherals designed for a single motherboard.

    Custom Form Factors

    Using a single circuit board instead of a motherboard also allows for custom form factors. A single circuit board can be designed to fit any enclosure, including a custom enclosure made specifically for your project. You gain a wider range of design options and increased compatibility.

    Disadvantages of PCB Board

    While a custom circuit board has many advantages, it also has several potential drawbacks:

    • More work to adding components
    • Testing and debugging challenges
    • No updates or expansion

    More Work to Add Components

    Integrating components on a custom circuit board involves more work compared to working with a motherboard. The interface for each component must be carefully considered and included in the PCB design.

    Testing and Debugging Challenges

    Testing and debugging also involve more work. You cannot isolate the components or peripherals, as everything is integrated into one board.

    If one component fails, you cannot simply unplug it and add a new one. You may need to rework the PCB to replace the component.

    No Updates or Expansion

    A printed circuit board cannot be updated or expanded after printing. Incorporating expansion slots into the design essentially makes the PCB a motherboard.

    The limitations of a custom PCB come from the integration of components on a single board. Modifying, testing, or expanding the circuit board requires more effort and higher costs compared to using a motherboard.

    PCB vs Motherboard: Main Considerations

    When comparing PCB vs motherboard features, some of the main considerations include the price, design, and selection of components. Here is a closer look at each of these details.


    If price is a factor, a motherboard is often the most cost-effective choice. You have the option of using a standardized design and form factor that accepts common peripherals. You may also use existing motherboards that fit the needs of your project, reducing the need to design a board from the ground up.

    Creating a custom circuit board involves more work. Any mistakes or changes also require a redesign of the entire board. This can become costly when issues are detected after the initial production run.

    With a motherboard, you may be able to change components without altering the overall design. If an issue occurs with a component, you can unplug it and replace it.


    Using a motherboard can simplify the design process. The standardization and interoperability of a motherboard allow you to incorporate existing designs. You can use common interfaces and components instead of developing solutions from scratch.

    A motherboard can also increase the size of the device. A circuit board with integrated components often requires less space, as the components are arranged on a single plane instead of across multiple PCBs.


    A motherboard allows you to easily integrate other components into your design. You can also make the components removable or swappable, which may not be an option with a standard circuit board.

    A single-use board often includes components soldered into place. The typical custom PCB is not designed for upgrades or expansion.

    However, a circuit board may allow you to incorporate components from a wider range of manufacturers. Many components are designed to work with specific boards or interfaces. A custom circuit board eliminates the need to stick with a specific interface.


    PCBs and motherboards are two distinct components of a computer system, although they are often used interchangeably. PCBs are used in a wide range of electronics; motherboards are specific to computers and are responsible for connecting and controlling various components.

    Understanding the differences between these two components can help you make informed decisions when building or upgrading your computer system.


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