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A backplane (or "backplane system") is a circuit board (usually a printed circuit board) that connects several connectors in parallel to each other, so that each pin of each connector is linked to the same relative pin of all the other connectors forming a computer bus. It is used as a backbone to connect several printed circuit boards together to make up a complete computer system. Early personal computers like the Apple II and the IBM PC integrated an internal backplane for expansion cards[citation needed]. While a motherboard may include a backplane, the backplane is actually a separate entity. A backplane is generally differentiated from a motherboard by the lack of on-board processing and storage elements.

Backplanes are normally used in preference to cables because of their greater reliability. In a cabled system, the cables need to be flexed every time that a card is added to or removed from the system; and this flexing eventually causes mechanical failures. A backplane does not suffer from this problem, so its service life is limited only by the longevity of its connectors. For example, the DIN 41612 connectors used in the VMEbus system can withstand 50 to 500 insertions and removals (called mating cycles), depending on their quality.

In addition, there are bus expansion cables which will extend a computer bus to an external backplane, usually located in an enclosure, to provide more or different slots than the host computer provides. These cable sets have a transmitter board located in the computer, an expansion board in the remote backplane, and a cable between the two.


Active versus Passive backplanes

Backplanes have grown in complexity from the simple ISA (used in the original IBM PC) or S-100 style where all the connectors were connected to a common bus. Because of limitations inherent in the PCI specification for driving slots, backplanes are now offered as passive and active though the general usage is referred to as passive even when active components are present in the bus.

True passive backplanes offer no active bus driving circuitry. Any desired arbitration logic is placed on the daughter cards. Active backplanes include chips which buffer the various signals to the slots.

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