A motherboard (sometimes alternatively known as the mainboard, system board, planar board or logic board, or colloquially, a mobo) is the main printed circuit board (PCB) found in computers and other expandable systems. It holds and allows communication between many of the crucial electronic components of a system, such as the central processing unit (CPU) and memory, and provides connectors for other peripherals. Unlike a backplane, a motherboard contains significant sub-systems such as the processor and other components.
Motherboard specifically refers to a PCB with expansion capability and as the name suggests, this board is often referred to as the "mother" of all components attached to it, which often include sound cards, video cards, network cards, hard drives, or other forms of persistent storage; TV tuner cards, cards providing extra USB or FireWire slots and a variety of other custom components (the term mainboard is applied to devices with a single board and no additional expansions or capability, such as controlling boards in televisions, washing machines and other embedded systems).
Prior to the invention of the microprocessor, a digital computer consisted of multiple printed circuit boards in a card-cage case with components connected by a backplane, a set of interconnected sockets. In very old designs the wires were discrete connections between card connector pins, but printed circuit boards soon became the standard practice. The Central Processing Unit (CPU), memory, and peripherals were housed on individual printed circuit boards, which were plugged into the backplate.
During the late 1980s and 1990s, it became economical to move an increasing number of peripheral functions onto the motherboard. In the late 1980s, personal computer motherboards began to include single ICs (also called Super I/O chips) capable of supporting a set of low-speed peripherals: keyboard, mouse, floppy disk drive, serial ports, and parallel ports. By the late-1990s, many personal computer motherboards supported a full range of audio, video, storage, and networking functions without the need for any expansion cards at all; higher-end systems for 3D gaming and computer graphics typically retained only the graphics card as a separate component.
The most popular computers such as the Apple II and IBM PC had published schematic diagrams and other documentation which permitted rapid reverse-engineering and third-party replacement motherboards. Usually intended for building new computers compatible with the exemplars, many motherboards offered additional performance or other features and were used to upgrade the manufacturer's original equipment.