This is the all-new complete guide to buying the right motherboard for your Personal Computer.
And, in this super amazing guide, you will learn about all the components, elements, and other stuff you would require for choosing the right motherboard.
You will also learn about the size of RAM, storage, and connections for setting up the right choice of motherboard.
Note: Our experts, through their knowledge and testing, have put together this guide to explain hard technologies in super simple words.
What is a motherboard?
A motherboard, referred to as a printed circuit board, binds up everything allowing a variety of crucial components to communicate, and that provides different connectors for components such as the central processing unit, graphics processing unit, memory, and storage.
Made from a very firm sheet of non-conductive material, the thin layers of copper or aluminum foil referred to as traces are printed onto this sheet. These traces are very narrow and form the circuits between the various components.
If you analyze from the top of the motherboard, you’ll see a collection of circuits, sockets, slots, transistors, capacitors, heat sinks, and more. These all combine to power up and route signals throughout the PC.
Note: Some of the details are beyond the scope of this guide. We will, therefore, only get ourselves involved in some of these details that are important to your buying decision.
Form Factor (Its Physical Size)
The form factor of a motherboard is simply its physical size or the footprint. These give you the flexibility in building your PC to fit into your environment.
They come in three variants:
Here’s a brief of their specifications.
Platform (Choose the brains of your PC)
Here’s the thing. Choosing between Intel or AMD is like selecting between a Mercedes or a BMW.
Now, both offer CPUs ranging from entry-level options good enough for web browsing and low-end gaming making their way up to ultra-powerful beasts that can blow off through video editing projects and run the most exclusive games – at high frames per second.
Intel has now been on its ninth-generation of CPU’s and AMD has recently introduced its Zen 2 architecture, with Zen 3 expected soon, and third-generation Ryzen CPUs.
But, Which One Is For You?
See, it depends. If you’re most worried about apps that can use multiple processor cores then Ryzen might be the option. If, however, you want games that benefit from the fastest single-core performance – then that might favor Intel’s Core processors.
Sockets and Chipsets You need to Know
It should be known which socket and chipset you pick after you’re done deciding on the CPU.
Relax, We will explain everything easily.
A processor socket is computer hardware. You may assume it as a CPU socket or a CPU slot. So, what it does is that it provides the mechanism through which a CPU is firmly attached to a motherboard.
A chipset, in contrast, is an electronic component on an integrated circuit. It manages the transfer of data between the CPU, RAM, storage, and I/O devices. As a result, it allows all the various components to communicate.
Here’s a brief on this:
Though it’s not super important to understand and seep through everything that goes into making a chipset, it is vital to understand that your CPU choice will dictate the need for a compatible chipset and the socket.
You should, however, know that different chipsets provide support to the different combinations of components such as RAM, GPUs, and others.
Which chipset should you get?
If you want a chipset for the high-end consumer, Intel or AMD chips (Core X or Threadripper), you’ll only want (X299 for Intel or X399 for AMD). But, for the mainstream users who want to install a single graphics card and a few drives, you may want to go with the chipset below Intel’s Z370 or X370/X470 for AMD.
If you choose an H370, Q370, B360, or H310 board on the Intel side, you’ll lose the option to overclock, though only a handful of mainstream Intel chips are unlocked for overclocking anyway (those with product names that end in the letter “K”). But these stepped-down chipsets are actually newer than Z370, and so offer some features (like integrated/native USB 3.1 Gen2 support) that Intel’s Z370 lacks. For the latest and greatest features on the Intel side, plus overclocking options, you’ll want to pick up a Z390 motherboard.
On the AMD side, the B450, B350, and B300 chipsets still support overclocking. Although you will lose some fast USB and SATA ports over the X370 chipset, enough of those connectivity options remain to support most mainstream computing tasks. If you need more ports and drives, stepping up to an X370 or X470 board for $20-$30 (£15-30) more than a comparable B350 option is worth the money.
Do you plan to overclock?
It depends. If you want to increase the CPU’s performance to use that extra clock rate to play your favorite games, then you might need to overclock.
However, it will generate extra heat as it would consume extra resources, and your laptop would drain much sooner than you might expect.
Hence, if your PC has proper vents to maintain CPU temperature, and your workload isn’t being fulfilled at the base speed, then you might need to overclock.
Although, the motherboard does not directly affect the gaming experience, however, the Overclocking within a motherboard’s BIOS can increase overall performance.
Now, if you plan to overclock on the Intel side, you’ll need to opt for a Z370 or Z390 chipset and a CPU with a “K” in its model name (like the Core i7-8700K), or step up to the high-end X299 platform and a Skylake X chip.
For the AMD variant, it’s not hard at all. Unlike Intel, which only allows overclocking on certain chips, all AMD Ryzen processors are overclock-ready.
It’s not a compulsion to overclock the processor. This is because you’ll likely spend extra on an enhanced cooling system and a high-end motherboard. By the time you factor in all these extra costs, you’re probably better off budgeting another $50-$100 (£40-80) for a CPU that comes with higher clock speeds out of the box.
RAM stores information. It stands for Random Access Memory. Most PC’s are commonly equipped with at least 4 GB of RAM. The upgraded models come with 8 GB or higher.
The RAM plugs into a motherboard via a rectangular slot. The number of DIMM slots on a motherboard determines how many RAMS you can add. It varies from two to eight.
How Many RAM Slots Do You Need?
Normally, mainstream boards have four slots. The compact Mini-ITX models often have just two. High-End Desktop Computing offers eight.
Mainstream tasks and games might adjust with 16 GB but, 32 GB would be great. But, to install the 32 GB kit, you would have to slightly pay a premium that uses 16 GB sticks. When choosing the right motherboard, make sure to have enough slots so that you have a spare room for memory upgrades in the future.
What expansion slots do you need?
PCIe is an interface standard for connecting high-speed components. Every motherboard has a number of PCIe slots that you can use to add GPUs, Wi-Fi cards, or SSD add-on cards. These, however, depend on the motherboard you buy.
You will encounter either the short PCIe x1 slot (often used for things like USB and SATA expansion), and the longer PCIe x16 slot (used for graphics cards, RAID cards, and extremely fast PCIe storages). If you plan to install a single graphics card, a couple of SATA/M.2 drives, and perhaps a video capture or sound card, you should be fine with most ATX or Micro-ATX boards. These offer at least one x16 slot and one or two x1 slots.
Despite the fact, you can not figure out the number of drives and cards you need. Even if you have a decent number of physical slots, it’s still going to be tricky. This is because there’s a limited number of HSIO (high-speed input/output) lanes and PCIe lanes that all of your computers must share.
So, it works in this way: Mainstream motherboards compensate for bandwidth limitations by switching some connections off when you install hardware in specific slots.
Let’s say you are adding a PCIe M.2 drive. This might disable some SATA ports. If you are installing a card in a third PCIe slot, chances are that the second or third M.2 slots disable. Therefore, it is recommended to consult the online manuals before actually stressing up the board with lots of components.
If that’s the case and you want to have lots of drives and cards on your PC, then high-end HEDT platforms are desirable because they have more PCIe lanes.
- AMD’s Threadripper processors have 64 lanes (60 from the CPU, 4 from the chipset).
- Intel’s competing Core X platform provides up to 44 lanes, depending on the CPU, and up to 24 more from the chipset.
High-end platforms are best for those who want to mount multiple graphics cards and a RAID array of PCIe/NVMe storage, or other bandwidth-hungry hardware into the system.
GPU’s are super important. They drive and pull off high-quality gaming experiences, producing lifelike graphics and visuals and super-slick rendering. You, therefore, need one that is good enough for your intended use.
Some Intel Core CPU’s come with integrated GPUs that provide the power to display and render images and pixels to a monitor. AMD on the contrary has its own version of the same thing called Accelerated Processing Unit (APU) that combines a CPU with a GPU on the same package.
These are great for usual productivity tasks, but not for high-end or demanding games where you’d likely want a standalone GPU. If that’s what you’re going to do, then you might want to connect a GPU to your motherboard
Connecting Your GPU’s
The standard type of expansion for connecting high-speed components like GPU aka video or graphics card, RAID cards need a PCIe slot or a number of slots. These slots are on the motherboard and depend on the motherboard you buy.
Most GPUs connect via PCIe slots. Often they use PCIe x16 slots or x1 PCIe slots. Anyways, the number after the ‘x’ tells you how many lanes (how data travels to and from the PCIe card) that the PCIe slot has. A PCIe x1 slot has one lane and can move data at one bit per cycle. A PCIe x2 slot has two lanes and can move data at two bits per cycle (and so on).
In addition, most contemporary GPUs require PCIe 3.0 or later. You have to also take into account the width of each PCIe slot. If you’re a gamer, you’ll want to have at least one full-speed PCI Express x16 slot and you’ll need multiple of those if you want to connect multiple cards.
Sound cards, Wi-Fi adaptors, and other connectivity expansions consume smaller PCI express slots while others require standard or much ample connectivity expansions. But, a word of warning. You do need to check the compatibility of the PCIe slot to your GPUs specification. Compare carefully your GPU specification to your motherboard specifications.
If you want to connect two or more GPUs, called “Scalable Link Interface” or SLI by NVIDIA and crossfire by AMD, then you’ll need two available PCIe slots and a compatible motherboard. Remember to check it before you make a decision. Check your GPU requirements against your motherboards and make sure everything fits together correctly.
Data and applications need to be stored somewhere in some sort of way. That means choosing the right storage device is essential. This generally means choosing between a hard disk drive (HDD) with spinning/rotating platters that store data and a Solid State Drive (SSD) with faster flash memory.
The HDD’s cost is less for more storage space. SSD’s are expensive. They, however, offer extra speed for holding the Operating system and applications. You need to consider a few main storage connectors that you’ll want for your motherboard. That includes both – the kinds of connections and how much you need them.
The most common being the Serial ATA normally called SATA. SATA 3.0 is a connection that provides up to six gigabits per second (GB/s) transfer rate. Motherboards contain several SATA ports so you can likely buy HDD and SSD, both that support SATA 3.0. connections.
There are also variations of SATA 3.X. These provide faster speed and different connections including SATA revision 3.2 that uses an M.2 form factor. There’s another common storage connection type. It is the NVM Express or NVMe that connects via the PCIe bus. This offers increased bandwidth, lower power, lower latency, and other advantages. Common NVMe SSDs usually provide theoretical speeds of over 3GB/s read and 1.5GB/s write.
There are two form factors to consider: Cards that plug into PCIe slots and compact versions that plug into M.2 connections. There are few other storage connectors that you will be considering before choosing a motherboard. These include connections like internal or external.
large HDD and A Small SSD
Choose a relatively small SSD for the operating system and application for better performance or choose a large HDD for storing data like photos and videos. Whatever your requirements are, you have to ensure that it supports or works with your motherboard. You can do this by carefully studying the motherboard’s specifications. You can also attach an external storage device to carry around the data you need.
What about the audio?
Audio is important. In fact, it is the key element for gamers – in particular. Motherboard audio quality is primarily defined by the audio codec (also known as the audio processing chip). This is used in the sound cards on PCs. So, if you want the audio to be amazingly good, you have to look up the codec a given board uses before picking a motherboard.
Alternatively, you can opt for a dedicated sound card or the USB speakers that move the DAC (digital to analog converter) hardware outside of the PC altogether. An example of this is the Audioengine A2+.
We have covered almost the basics of components to connect to the motherboard. This includes PCIe, DIMM slots, and storage connections. There are other connection types that motherboards can support and you need to understand them carefully.
There are other internal and external ports you have to connect on the front, top, sides, or rear of a case. You also have to understand what ports your case supports and the required internal connections to choose the right motherboard. Motherboards also have externally-accessible connections in a rear input/output (I/O) panel that fits into a generally standard location on the rear of a case.
There are several components that you also have to consider. For example, you might want multiple USB ports that require multiple internal USB headers. Also, some water-cooling systems require specific headers for connecting to software that controls lighting and thermal sensors. Therefore, you need to make sure that your motherboard has all the necessary heads to support all the add-on components and case features.
These are some common connections on modern motherboards. Not all motherboards have all the connections. You have to make sure that the motherboard you choose has all the connections that you need.
|Audio for rear panel||Internal||Allows connecting to a case’s rear external audio jack (if any).||1|
|Audio for front panel||Internal||Allows connecting to a case’s front external audio jack (if any).||1|
|Digital audio header||Internal||Allows connecting to a digital audio jack.||1|
|Front panel header||Internal||Provides pins for connecting to font panel LED lights and buttons, such as for power and reset.||1|
|8-pin CPU power connector||Internal||Allows for power delivery from the power supply through the motherboard to the CPU. On modern motherboards, this is usually an eight-pin connector.||1|
|24-pin main power connector||Allows for power delivery from the power supply through the motherboard to a variety the connected components, such as PCIe components, RAM, and certain kinds of storage. On modern motherboards, this is usually an eight-pin connector.||1|
|Ancillary power connectors||Internal||In addition, there might be power connections for fans and other additional components.||Varies|
|USB||Internal or external||Provides for USB connections, including USB-A 2.0, USB-A 3.X, and USB-C 3.1 ports. There will be internal connectors available for external case ports as well as USB ports for direct connections on the motherboard’s rear I/O panel.||Varies|
|Firewire||Internal or external||An older connection, it allows hooking up a Firewire device.||Varies|
|SATA||Internal||These are the connections for SATA HDDs and SSDs.||Varies|
|Display ports||External||If you have chosen a CPU with integrated graphics, then you will want to use one of the display ports that are in the rear I/O panel. These can include VGA, DVI, DisplayPort, and HDMI ports.||Varies|
|Audio jacks||External||If your motherboard has built-in audio, and most do today, then it will have audio jacks to connect speakers and microphones. How many jacks and what kind of speaker setups they support (from stereo up to 7.1 channel surround sound) will vary based on the motherboard’s audio system.||Varies|
|Ethernet||External||Today’s motherboards typically come equipped with gigabit Ethernet ports for connecting to wired networks.||1|
|Wi-Fi antenna jack||External||If your motherboard includes built-in Wi-Fi networking, then there will typically be a screw-on jack for connecting an external antenna.||1|
Does Aesthetics Matter?
If your case has a window, you should get a board that you like looking at–with lights if you like them. Else if you see your system’s innards when it’s powered down with the side panel off, there’s no reason to opt for RGB lights or flashy I/O covers and Heatsinks.
If you plan for a dark motherboard, it will make the building or updating your system more RGB lights or flashy I/O covers and difficult, as on-board labels will be harder to see. However, if you are focused on a cleaner and minimal system, then look for a board that has the fan and USB headers placed around the edges and SATA and USB 3 header ports that point to the side, rather than sticking up vertically.
Best budget motherboards
AsRock B460 Pro4
ASRock B450M Pro 4
Best mid-range motherboards
Best extreme motherboards
ASRock TRX40 Taichi
The extreme will definitely churn up the processing and rendering terribly good. These boards integrate Intel’s Core X Series and AMD’s 3rd-generation Ryzen Threadripper chips. You will find extreme core counts, memory configurations, boatloads of storage, and premium network connectivity.
Let’s talk a bit more.
If you install a Core X chip supporting 48 lanes, you can install the full 256GB amount overclocked to 4,333MHz. However, if the Core X chip only supports 44 lanes or lower, you’re locked at a 128GB maximum and a 4,200MHz overclock.
Its competitor AMD allows you to have unlimited memory with the AMD 3rd-generation Threadripper clips. Both the boards are monsters when they come to gaming. The Intel board supports both Nvidia SLI and AMD CrossFireX configurations. Meanwhile, the AMD board supports Nvidia SLI and AMD CrossFireX along with Nvidia NVLink via two GeForce RTX cards
The intel-based product includes two Thunderbolt 3 ports (via USB-C) while the AMD board offers USB-C connectivity. They both offer Wi-Fi 6 connectivity and dual Ethernet ports.
Thank God the guide is over – finally.
Well, we have covered the required details to make things understandable.
We compared Intel to AMD and concluded that both are hyper-powerful when up to their maximum.
We also discussed the core components of motherboards and provided the best value for each option ranging from budget to extreme.
In case, you feel that we missed something, do let us know in the comments.