Motherboards are generally air cooled with heat sinks often mounted on larger chips, such as the Northbridge, in modern motherboards. If the motherboard is not cooled properly, it can cause the computer to crash. Passive cooling, or a single fan mounted on the power supply, was sufficient for many desktop computer CPUs until the late 1990s; since then, most have required CPU fans mounted on their heat sinks, due to rising clock speeds and power consumption. Most motherboards have connectors for additional case fans as well. Newer motherboards have integrated temperature sensors to detect motherboard and CPU temperatures, and controllable fan connectors which the BIOS or operating system can use to regulate fan speed. Some computers (which typically have high-performance microprocessors, large amounts of RAM, and high-performance video cards) use a water-cooling system instead of many fans.
Some small form factor computers and home theater PCs designed for quiet and energy-efficient operation boast fan-less designs. This typically requires the use of a low-power CPU, as well as careful layout of the motherboard and other components to allow for heat sink placement.
A 2003 study found that some spurious computer crashes and general reliability issues, ranging from screen image distortions to I/O read/write errors, can be attributed not to software or peripheral hardware but to aging capacitors on PC motherboards. Ultimately this was shown to be the result of a faulty electrolyte formulation.
- For more information on premature capacitor failure on PC motherboards, see capacitor plague.
Motherboards use electrolytic capacitors to filter the DC power distributed around the board. These capacitors age at a temperature-dependent rate, as their water based electrolytes slowly evaporate. This can lead to loss of capacitance and subsequent motherboard malfunctions due to voltage instabilities. While most capacitors are rated for 2000 hours of operation at 105°C, their expected design life roughly doubles for every 10 °C below this. At 45 °C a lifetime of 15 years can be expected. This appears reasonable for a computer motherboard. However, many manufacturers have delivered substandard capacitors, which significantly reduce life expectancy. Inadequate case cooling and elevated temperatures easily exacerbate this problem. It is possible, but tedious and time-consuming, to find and replace failed capacitors on PC motherboards.