What should you look for when choosing a motherboard? The best CPUs can get all the attention, but the choice of motherboard can be just as crucial. We’ll show you how to shop based on the features you need, without breaking the bank.
Choose your CPU and chipset
Your first decision also involves the CPU. Your choice here is AMD or Intel. Motherboards only work with the specific processor families for which they are designed. Our guide to the best CPUs can help you choose the ideal processor for any budget; your needs there should drive most of your decision making.
Without getting too far into the heated CPU wars, let’s take a look at some objective reasons why you would choose Intel or AMD over the other party.
- Do you need Thunderbolt? You probably want an Intel motherboard. Some select AMD motherboards support the technology, but it is primarily found on Intel boards, as Intel helped create it.
- Do you need the best multicore performance? You will want AMD here. Threadripper or Ryzen 5000 chips have a significant core count advantage over existing Intel HEDT options.
- Do you need the best gaming performance? In most cases, AMD Ryzen 5000 is your choice here. Intel offers a good value proposition with some chips like the Core i5-11400 and the Core i5-11600K.
Choose your form factor: ITX, M-ATX or ATX
Most PC manufacturers should select a motherboard based on the standard ATX form factor. If you are looking to make a smaller build, you will be limited to mini-ITX motherboards.
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Mini-ITX motherboard prices will be higher for the features you get, and it will have fewer physical PCIe slots, which are used for graphics cards, storage, sound cards, and other add-on cards. But in return, you get the ability to create a compact gaming PC. Some smaller motherboards, like the mini-DTX-based Asus ROG Crosshair VIII Impact with AMD’s x570 chipset, even offer excellent VRM cooling performance for their size. That being said, many smaller drives typically offer less cooling performance than a similarly priced ATX motherboard, as they simply can’t squeeze in extra heat sinks or fans.
Micro-ATX (or M-ATX) motherboards, while less common, are at the center of the other options. This is true for both its size and the overall feature set.
Larger E-ATX motherboards, like the Gigabyte Z590 Aorus Extreme, are physically wider, much wider. These enthusiast-level units are generally packed with features, priced to match.
Choose the features you need
Buying a motherboard based on the features you need is vital to the selection process if you want to maximize price and performance. These are some of the most important features to consider:
- Upgrade path. Want to upgrade your Ryzen 3000 CPU to a Ryzen 5000 chip at some point in the future? Choosing a newer chipset like x570 can make this possible, and AMD has a history of supporting multiple generations of CPUs in a given motherboard socket, but keep in mind that Intel and AMD sometimes switch to new sockets when introducing new chips. In fact, the motherboards used by AMD’s Ryzen 5000 processors and Intel’s 11th Gen Core chips are expected to be replaced by the next generations of those chips.
- Port selection. Do you need a lot of USB or audio connections? Do you want USB-C or Thunderbolt? How about HDMI built into the motherboard? Be sure to read the specification list. Not all motherboards are the same!
- Network considerations. The way your motherboard connects to your home network cannot be overlooked. Will a normal Ethernet LAN connection work? Virtually all motherboards offer that. Wi-Fi support is less common and generally more expensive. If you are an advanced user, you may want to look for motherboards with advanced 10GB Ethernet support to avoid using additional cards later on.
- Internal connectivity. Some motherboards offer more M.2 SSD slots or PCIe slots for expanded connectivity.
- Cooling. Motherboard cooling shouldn’t be a major concern for most people, but if you plan to buy a high-end CPU or overclock your processor, you may want to invest in a motherboard with more robust VRMs, heatsinks. larger heat pumps, active fans and others. exceptional cooling characteristics to keep heat levels low.
Buying based on the features you need will direct you to the right budget level. You don’t need a fancy doctored motherboard like the $ 700 + Asus ROG Rampage VI Extreme Encore if you just want to play games and not overclock. On the other hand, you’ll want a board like that if you plan to run multiple NVMe drives, overclock your CPU, use 10GB networks, and need a ton of USB ports.
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Many PC creators will find themselves in the Goldilocks area, right in the middle, right! You’ll want a motherboard with enough features, performance, and aesthetics for most power users, while still being more economical than higher-tops, which may include features that were over the top, such as fan controllers, power adapters. PCIe NVMe drive, etc. If you’re running a standard PC gaming rig, you can probably find a decent build motherboard to suit your needs for between $ 150- $ 300, like the $ 260 MSI MPG X570 Gaming Pro Carbon WiFi.
Choose your aesthetic
Choosing the features you want is not limited to practical considerations. Want to sync a carefully crafted RGB light show between your motherboard, graphics card, cooler, and case? You’ll want a motherboard that has built-in RGB headers. Many offer built-in software to help coordinate all the colored lights, such as Asus’ Aura Sync software. Even if you prefer to take a “dark” approach without bright LEDs, a nice clean design can also add to the aesthetics of your build.
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What is the difference between cheaper and expensive motherboards here? More expensive motherboards will often include more RGB integration, along with fancier thermal shields and “Armor” plates to cover what’s underneath. Cheaper motherboards may have more of the revealed black or green PCB and more limited RGB options (if any).
Choose your price
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Now that you’ve gone through the CPU / chipset choice, size, feature set, and aesthetic preferences checklist, you can cut your budget. If you like an inexpensive and simple setup and never plan to overclock, most mid-range motherboards perform absolutely fine, especially with mainstream gaming processors like the AMD Ryzen 5 5600X and the Intel Core i5-11600K. Avoid the absolutely cheaper options though, as they can often slow down your CPU performance due to limited cooling and cutbacks in other aspects of the design.
If you’re happy with the standard “middle ground” feature set, you’ll do very well even with a high-end CPU like a 16-core AMD Ryzen 9 5950X or the 8-core Intel Core i9-11900K if you stick with the motherboards. base. from established enthusiast brands like Asus’ Strix or Hero lines, MSI’s Ace offerings, and Gigabyte’s Aorus Master series.
If you absolutely must have the best, you will have to pay for it. Some feature-packed motherboards (again, like the $ 700-plus Asus ROG Rampage VI Extreme Encore) may offer the features you need, but you’ll often pay for other unassociated extras to get them.
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However, don’t overpay for a name. At the end of the day, the branding of many expensive motherboards also plays a role in the price. You can often go for a cheaper mid-range motherboard that offers the vast majority of the same features as its more expensive cousins for a considerably lower price; Take the Asus “Extreme” line of motherboards versus the much more affordable Strix line, for example. The actual CPU performance difference between those mid-range and high-end boards is usually negligible, so you’re paying more for those extra features that you might never end up using.
Keep this list in mind, shop smart, and you’ll have the perfect motherboard to match your sleek new CPU in no time.