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[ The PC Guide | Systems and Components Reference Guide | Motherboard and System Devices | The Motherboard | Motherboard Integrated Components ]

Voltage Regulators

The advent of processors and other devices running at different voltages--in the "old days" they all used to run at the 5V provided by a standard power supply--has led to the necessity of one or more voltage regulators on most modern motherboards. These regulators reduce the 5V signal to those voltages typically needed by processors: 3.3V or lower.

Processor manufacturers, in their never-ending battle to cram more on the chip without making it melt due to the heat generated by its millions of transistors, incorporate a dual voltage or "split rail" voltage scheme into their latest designs. The processor is fed two voltages: the external or "I/O" voltage is typically 3.3V, while the internal or "core" voltage is lower: usually 2.8 to 3.2 volts. The voltage regulator (and the jumpers that control it) is responsible for generating the correct voltage for the processor.

The voltage regulator can normally be identified by the large heatsinks that are placed on it; voltage conversion generates a great deal of heat. The regulator is controlled via processor voltage jumpers, which are set to the appropriate voltage for the processor being used. Processor voltage specifications are discussed in this section. On many motherboards the cooling level of the entire system case is important to ensuring that the voltage regulators are cooled satisfactorily. Overheating regulators can cause lockups and other problems.

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