What Protects the Motherboard?
The motherboard in a computer connects every component together. This allows all the components, including the central processing unit, hard drive and optical drive, to communicate with each other. Without the motherboard, a computer would not be able to function at all. For this reason, it's vital that the motherboard is protected from outside elements, heat and moisture.
The most obvious piece of a computer that protects the motherboard is the computer's case. The case is the plastic or metal "shell" that surrounds and protects every internal component of a computer. The motherboard is usually attached directly to the case and held in place by screws. This prevents the motherboard from moving around and ensures that all the component's connections remain secured. Cases come in many different shapes, sizes and colors, but all serve the same purpose -- to protect the motherboard and components from outside elements like moisture, dirt, and direct contact.
Since the CPU is directly attached to the motherboard, heat is generated that can cause damage if not properly vented. All CPUs have a heat sink and fan that help to cool the processor and prevent it from overheating. CPUs generally run anywhere from 70-90 degrees Celsius, and should never exceed 95C. Temperatures above 95C can cause permanent damage to the CPU and motherboard it's attached to. To help remove the heat that is generated by all the components, most cases have additional fans that constantly run to disperse the hot air. Without these fans, the motherboard and CPU could shut down and suffer permanent damage.
Liquid of any type can damage a motherboard beyond repair. Some motherboards, like the Intel 8 Series from ASRock, feature a protective coating called a Conformal Coating. Although it is not 100 percent effective, accidental exposure to water and other liquids may not cause as much damage as they would to a motherboard without the coating. In addition to protecting the motherboard from liquid damage, the Conformal Coating also helps to protect against dirt, corrosion, and high temperatures. You'll have to check with your motherboard's manufacturer to see if this feature is included with your current hardware.
In addition to liquid damage, motherboards are also prone to damage from static electricity and power surges. You can help protect your motherboard and other components by using a surge protector or uninterruptible power supply. A UPS protects your computer by providing a constant source of power in the event of a power outage or power surge, typically providing five to 15 minutes of additional power. This gives you the opportunity to shut down your computer properly to avoid electrical damage. Surge protectors, while they do not provide additional power, reroute electrical surges away from computer components caused by events like lightning strikes. Both products help protect the motherboard from damage caused by electricity.