PC Mainboard Identification
Every now and then, we see questions in the PC911 Forum regarding identification of the mainboard installed in a PC. Many users simply don’t know the make and model of the mainboard (motherboard or mobo) that their systems are built around. Does this really matter? No … not unless and until something goes wrong where you need that info to effect a repair. Or, until you decide to perform some DIY system upgrade and suddenly you need to know something specific about the board.
If all was done according to Hoyle when you purchased your system, you received some sort of documentation with it. Many times, that documentation will include at least a spec sheet itemizing the individual components, and at best it will include a User’s Guide or manual for the mobo.
Several types of system upgrades might require the user to have this documentation. Sometimes, you will need to change jumper or DIP switch settings when installing a processor of a different type or speed. Some memory changes will also require such changes. Then there are such tasks as enabling or disabling integrated sound, modem, and video features. Or, maybe you’re just plain curious! If you find yourself in the position of needing to identify an unknown mainboard, fret not – there are several workable alternatives to throwing darts at a list of mobo makers.
In this article, I will concentrate on the American Megatrends and Award BIOS’es, as they are by far the ones most commonly used by modern desktop systems. I will address three basic methods for use in determining your mainboard manufacturer.
The “Lookatit” Method
The first thing to do, and probably the last thing that many folks think of, is to simply “look at it”. Many mobo makers will screen-print their ID right on the board. Ideally this ID will be on the upper (visible) surface of the board, but this is often not the case with “generic” mobo’s. With some of these boards, if they are ID’ed at all, it is on the lower surface, which is normally not visible on an installed board.
Look carefully at the entire surface of the board, including those areas that may be hidden behind drives, cables, or the power supply. Many boards are labeled between their expansion slots. Another common location on newer boards is in the area of the CPU slot or socket. Also, be aware that while the board may not have its maker’s name showing, it just may have its model name or number printed there for all the world to see.
While you are searching the board for make and model info, take a minute to note the location of any jumpers or DIP switches on the board. If you are doing an upgrade requiring resetting any of these devices, it will help to know where they are located. Figures 1A through 1E illustrate the mainboard identification schemes used on four different mainboards
|Figure 1A – Two model numbers on same board, on side of ISA slot|
In Figure 1A, we can see the markings applied to a generic model. The markings here are somewhat unusual in that it would appear that there are two different model numbers identified – 8500TVX and MBD-5VX2. This is sometimes the case when a basic board from one manufacturer is sold under another brand name. There are several mainboards on the market, under widely varying names, all made by one company. This situation is a real problem when the manufacturing company is just that – an operation that builds and sells generic boards for other (marketing) firms without providing any real end-user support. The support responsibilities fall on the seller, and often there is little or no support to be had as a result. A web search for these models via www.google.com returned enough hits on the 8500-TVX to make it obvious that the board is a Biostar board. A similar search for the MBD-5VX2 designation returned no hits. A quick hop to Biostar’s website www.biostar-usa.com and a little bit of detective-type browsing through their museum showed the board to be a model MB8500TVX-A version 1 board. For the record, this board is also screened with that information on its surface, as shown in Figure 1B below.
|Figure 1B – MB8500TVX-A surface marking|
|Figure 1C – Board ID between ISA slots|
In Figure 1C, we can see the markings on an older 386 mainboard. Here, the model number and revision level are clearly evident, but the manufacturer is again not shown. Get used to that. As a general rule, the top name-brand boards will usually headline their brand name, but the lesser-known boards are going require some digging. This particular board can be identified as a product of Edom International, but not with a simple web search. Once identified via an advanced search, using MA013 and 386DX as the search strings, it becomes evident that the board was an Edom product.
|Figure 1D – Board ID on edge of board, near cache slot|
In Figure 1D, we see another model number, AP5C/P. This time, a simple web search on that string returned numerous (102) hits. Among the top ten hits, six were for pages on Acer or AOpen sites. A couple of clicks later and we’re at http://english.aopen.com.tw, the English-language home page for this manufacturer. Pretty sweet, huh? Let’s take a look at the last picture, Figure 1E.
|Figure 1E – Board ID between PCI slots|
Here again we can see a model number and revision level only. First step, which by now should pretty apparent, is a web search. In this case, the web search leads us to www.dcscomputer.com.tw, the home page for the board maker DCS Computer Systems.
So what does all of this mean – why did I go through all of this if it is so obvious? Well … because it is only obvious once you’ve done it a time or two. Sometimes the most obvious alternative gets overlooked simply because we think that it can’t be that easy! Moral of this story – start out with what you can see – “Lookatit”.