How to choose the right motherboard for your PC? When buying components for PC, we give special attention to the processor, graphics, and other fancy parts but the motherboard is one of those which are equally important, but its importance is largely undermined.
Apart from storing all the essential components and being the common connection between all the other components, a good motherboard can also decide how your PC performs and to what extent you can upgrade it.
The use of motherboards in PCs was started very soon after the invention of the microprocessor. Before it came into being, computers of old had multiple circuit boards kept together in cases, in something known as a backplane system.
By the 1980s, most peripherals were being placed in the motherboards, which started having inbuilt audio, video, and other expansion features.
The good thing about motherboards is that you may buy one under $150, while there are boards up to $1000, so there’s no shortage of variations.
What is a Motherboard?
The motherboard is the chief circuit board of any computing device that is the principal hub of various connections that are present in the system.
It is a PCB (Printed Circuit Board) meaning that it is made by sheets of copper laminated over or between layers of a non-conductive material, also placed in sheets.
The various ports and slots are soldered in them, thus some can be electrically connected, while others require you to connect them physically to establish a connection.
They hold necessary components like the CPU, RAM, etc, and all of the connections shared between the various peripheral devices and expansion cards and the CPU, and data buses originate from it.
Every motherboard usually has the following parts of a PC:
This includes the place to hold processors.
Naturally, these are more expensive than the other type that can house only a single CPU.
Sockets can be of three main types:
The BGA or ball grid array type of socket is found in some of the SoCs and older laptops mainly.
In this, the processor is soldered directly into the motherboard, thus upgrades are not possible.
This is done by reheating the solder balls already placed below the CPU, so that they heat up and it gets fixed on the spot.
They aren’t exactly what you will see in modern CPUs, but are still worthy of being placed here because of the functions they serve.
They are useful since a large IC can be fit in a small case.
The PGA or pin grid array package is another type of CPU socket utilized by Intel previously in some of their processors, and still by AMD for the AM4 sockets.
It has pins on the lower side, and so the CPU has to be placed in the part of the motherboard which has holes for fixing these pins.
The process of putting the CPU is simple, but the pins are very delicate, while the motherboard is secure.
The land grid array package has been used by Intel since 2004, and unlike PGA the CPU has pads with contact points.
The motherboard rather has the pins and the CPU simply needs to be placed on it, in the proper place of course.
Now, the LGA 1151 has 1151 number of contact points on the CPU, and that is how they are named.
The main advantage it has is that the chances of CPU damage are less since there aren’t any pins present.
Along with the CPU socket, one also needs a chipset in their motherboard.
This chipset forms a connecting interface between the CPU and the other components like RAM and other peripheral parts, and also the buses for data travel.
- RAM slots
The RAM that you use in your PC is placed on the motherboard in the form of modules that fit into the dedicated slots.
Thus, the motherboard also decides how much RAM you can have in your system, and the count of RAM modules.
2 RAM slots mean that your PC supports dual-channel memory, while modern consumer motherboards have 4 of those slots and thus quad-channel memory is present in new PCs.
- Memory Chip
A PC’s storage is neither concentrated in a single place nor consists of a single type of storage.
Thus, you have RAM, cache, external storage, and likewise.
But, there is also a non-volatile flash ROM chip present on the motherboard that stores the BIOS files necessary for the booting process.
The newer motherboards also even allow you to rewrite the BIOS settings without removing the chip.
- Clock Generator
The CPU’s clock cycle is determined by this clock generator, which is an electronic oscillator.
It produces the clock frequency on which the CPU works, and the operations it performs depends on it.
The overall CPU speed also depends on it.
- Expansion Card
An expansion card can be of many types, that utilizes the expansion bus to increase the video, audio, wireless and USB interfaces and various other capacities.
This is also one of the features of the motherboard that is highly useful.
- Power Connector
Only the presence of the PSU is not enough and your PC needs connections so that it can be fed power.
This is done by power connectors present on the motherboard that have wires connecting directly to the PSU.
Thus, comes the ATX (Advanced Technology eXtended) interface for the power connectors and the various types of motherboards.
- Storage Drive Connectors
The motherboard has both, and depending on your type the number of the spare slots also alters.
- Input and Outputs
The input and output connections necessarily are available on the motherboard.
This includes the USB ports, video and audio ports, and so on.
You cannot run the monitor, keyboard or mouse, or any such other device without a dedicated input in the motherboard.
So, every component, no matter what its use is somehow connected to the motherboard and this is why it is so important.
Types of Motherboards
Modern motherboards are of 3 types and depending on this, you get to choose whether you will have a compact system or a usual one.
The motherboards in desktops are different than those used in laptops, and in the latter case, more components are placed on the motherboard.
This is why laptop repairs are expensive since a fault in any one of the components may result in the replacement of the entire motherboard.
- ATX (For full tower or Mid tower case)
The ATX is the full-size motherboard, with all the rings and bells that one requires.
The general advantage it has over the other types is that there are more expansion slots, upgrades can be easily done and numerous other features.
Also, an ATX case can store Mini and Micro ATX motherboards, so the case size isn’t an issue. But the opposite is not possible.
A typical ATX motherboard can be anything between 9.6 * 12 inches and 10 * 12 inches in extended boards.
- Micro ATX
Next, the mini ATX boards are for those who intend to build a budget system and want a small case for their computer.
It measures 9.6 * 9.6 inches and is the most popular for desktops and SFFs.
The slots are however lesser than ATX motherboards and they have only a single PCIe lane.
- Mini ITX
This is the smallest type of motherboard that you will find and is suitable for mini PCs.
They are 6.7 * 6.7 inches in size and thus require much less space than a micro ATX does, so go ahead and buy the compact case.
But, it would be more expensive than a micro ATX, and the RAM slots would also be limited.
The type of motherboard you choose depends on how you want to use your PC. If you are building the PC for performance, there can be nothing better than an ATX motherboard. You will surely need all the extra PCIe, RAM, and further room for expansion in future.
For budget concerned gamers, the micro ATX would come cheaper, and yet you won’t miss out on functionality.
Mini ITX is suitable in case you have very limited space and want to keep the computer as small as possible.
Factors to Consider While Buying a Motherboard:
Before we get into the individual CPU details, you must decide whether you would be buying an Intel or an AMD CPU.
Why? Because the type of CPU sockets that these two uses are different, and one would not fit in the other.
Intel CPUs require LGA 1151, 1200, etc based on the type and generation of the processor in question, while all AMD Ryzen CPUs need an AM4 socket.
So before buying the motherboard, make it certain that you are decisive regarding the processor.
For Intel CPUs:
Every generation of an Intel CPU doesn’t work with a similar socket, and with every series, the socket type also varies.
This is mainly due to the change in the number of connecting pins and their sizes, while a change in the bus speed can also be observed.
For example, the Pentium 4 required a socket 423, while the Celeron worked with a socket 495.
Fast forward to roughly 10 years, and the Intel Kaby Lake, Skylake, and Coffee Lake CPUs required an LGA 1151 socket.
Presently, with the launch of the 10th gen or Comet Lake processors, the socket type has changed to LGA 1200, while the Intel Xeon CPUs need an LGA 3647 socket.
The Skylake X Processors need an LGA 2066 socket. So over the years, there has been a change in the type of socket being used.
The difference prevails not only for the CPU socket but also for the type of chipset used.
Many CPUs share the same socket but are not compatible with the same chipset.
For instance, the 6th generation of the Intel processors which have been discontinued now needed the 100 series chipsets which were named Sunrise Point.
For the current versions, the 200 series chipsets or Union Point work with the Kaby Lake or 7th gen processors. These were released in 2017. Examples are the B250, H270, etc.
The Coffee Lake CPUs (9th gen) share the same socket with the previous two generations but have a different chipset type. They require the 300 series chipsets and motherboards like Asus Prime Z390-A, Gigabyte H310M, etc.
The latest 10th gen CPUs require the 400 series chipsets.
You already know that the Ryzen and those CPUs ending with the suffix ‘G’ and ‘GE’ need an AM4 socket. But what about the threadrippers? Well, you can see the sockets used by the various generations below:
- Threadrippers based on Zen and Zen+ Architecture: 1st and 2nd gen Threadripper CPUs like 1950X and 2970WX use the sTR4 socket.
- Threadrippers based on Zen2 and Zen3 Architecture: The 3000 series of the AMD Threadrippers use the sTRX4 socket.
However, the relevant socket type for Zen3 based 4000 series threadrippers is not yet known.
The chipsets used by the processors manufactured by AMD are kind of similar to the ones made by Intel in naming.
They are the 3rd, 4th, and 5th generation chipsets used by different types of processors.
Now the system here is much flexible and with a few exceptions, you can use any chipset with any generation of the Ryzen Processor.
So, the 2nd gen Ryzen 2700 processor can be used with a 3rd gen A320 motherboard. Following are the exceptions:
The A320 motherboard will not support a 3rd gen Ryzen Processor viz. Ryzen 3700X.
The X570 motherboard will not support 1st gen Ryzen Processor viz. Ryzen 1800.
The motherboard is surely very important but it doesn’t ask for a large part of your total budget.
Unless you are a performance fanatic, you can go for cheap to mid-range motherboards, depending on the socket and chipset type.
Indeed, these may not have all of the features of an expensive board, but the ones that you will get should be enough and you can spend the money saved on other parts that can have a more dominant effect on the performance.
You may have noticed that every motherboard has its chipset type preceded by a prefix. To give you a brief idea about prices, here is what every prefix means on a motherboard:
Motherboards with prefix Z: These are usually the expensive types that allow you to overclock along with more PCIe slots, more RAM support, and so on. If you are looking for better performance, these are the ones to choose from.
Motherboards with prefix H or B: They are the cheaper alternatives that won’t allow you to overclock even if your CPU supports it. This is one adjustment you have to make for a lower price tag, along with lesser ports.
Motherboards with prefix X: Motherboards like the X570 are expensive and more suitable for enthusiasts, so if you are a budget buyer it would be better to steer clear of them and go for cheaper alternatives.
Motherboards with prefix B: Speaking of cheaper alternatives, you have the B450 motherboards which might cost less, but do not compromise on performance and features. The X570s might be better, but for an average user, the B450 should be good.
Thus, we can now divide the budget ranges as per the following:
Cheapest: Motherboards within $100
- MSI H110M Micro ATX
- Gigabyte Z390 UD
- ASRock B250M Pro4
- Asus Prime B350M-E
Mid-range: Motherboards within $200
- MSI MPG Z390
- Asus Prime Z390-A
- MSI B450 Gaming PLUS MAX
- Asus AM4 TUF Gaming X570 Plus
High end: Motherboards above $200
- Gigabyte Z490 Aorus master
- AS Rock Z390 Phantom Gaming ITX
- AS Rock X399 Taichi sTR4
- Gigabyte X399 designare
RAM Bays and Capacity
The RAM that is most widely used is the DDR4 type.
The DDR RAM isn’t backward compatible, so make sure you buy the correct type.
Every motherboard has its RAM capacity, and this also depends on the type of CPU you use. For a modern user, 64 GB should be enough.
For someone more into 3D modeling or deep learning, you might want to have 128 GB.
You may not need all of the RAM, but it would be better to not come short.
Most motherboards today support Quad-channel memory, and you may even use fewer modules than 4, and the PC would work as efficiently.
But even then, it would be right to check how many RAM modules your motherboard support.
For high-end motherboards like the X299 and X399, there are slots to use up to 8 RAM modules. But since they are better for high-tech workstations or servers, you shouldn’t need it.
Quad-channel memory is enough for all you have to do, and since the amount and speed of RAM in the PC makes more of a difference in performance, you don’t have to worry about having more modules.
The PCIe or PCI express slots are one of the most versatile interfaces that you can see on your PC.
They support GPUs, sound cards, SSD drives, and such others, therefore becoming a necessity increasingly.
Usually, the newer generation and latest, thus more expensive motherboards have more of these slots.
PCIe slots can be present in between x1 and x16 lanes. If you want to add a GPU, then these are inseparable.
The stronger the GPU, the more PCIe lanes it would use. Your motherboard should have x16 lanes so that the GPU can work in its full prowess.
Not only the number but also the generation of the PCIe matters to you.
Currently, only the X570 motherboards support the PCIe 4.0, while all others are 3.0.
PCIe 4.0 is much faster than the other, and if you are ready to spend more for your motherboard, then it is something you should look out for.
The PCIe interface is backward compatible and this is an advantage.
Other Expansion Slots
Along with PCIe, there are also some other expansion options that a motherboard must support. These include:
- Sound Card: For better audio outputs. Necessary for those involved in the music or video editing industry.
- SATA: Free SATA ports allow you to add more storage drives, and are thus useful.
- Modem: It is one of the hardware components that allow your PC to modulate the signal, and thereby receive or send data over telephone cables.
- RAID Cards: The motherboard must have slots to add RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive discs) cards which are crucial for managing the hard drives and SSDs. The RAID controller keeps your data safe by keeping copies.
Wired and Wireless Connections
The first matter to ensure in this department is that in your new motherboard, there are enough USB ports present. The types of USB that you must have are:
- USB 2.0
- USB 3.1 Gen 1
- USB 3.1 Gen 2
- USB Type-C
- Thunderbolt port (for faster file transfers)
The number may vary from one user to the other, but the more you can have the better. Along with this are multiple video ports like HDMI, VGA, or DVI ports that will allow you to add more monitors to your setup.
Next, is Audio output and inputs. Generally, HD audio and surround Audio features are present, so all you need is to ensure that there is a place for the mic, headphone, and PDIF or Optical S ports for proper speaker outputs. Having audio headers at the front would also be beneficial.
Internet connectivity is one of the most important things to have on your PC. You can never utilize all of your PC’s potential unless you go online, be it for simple web browsing or serious multiplayer gaming or streaming, etc.
So you should have internal WIFI adapters present on your motherboard, or at least the necessary slots to add one later on.
The Ethernet port should be present anyway, so you already have wired connectivity. The newest WIFI 6 is speedy, but if not WIFI 5 would also work. Dual-band WIFI would be better here.
Then there is Bluetooth connectivity, and this too is very important to have today. In this case, too, internal arrangement or slots to add adapters would be preferred. The latest Bluetooth version to look for is the Bluetooth 6.
Will You be Overclocking?
Overclocking is one of the things that is not done by all of the users. This is partly because they don’t need to, and partly because their processor doesn’t support it.
But if you are one of those who are interested in overclocking, then you must also have a compatible motherboard that will allow you to do so. Such motherboards are more expensive than non-overclockable ones, and make sure you have your priorities known beforehand.
Now only the Intel CPUs with a suffix ‘K’ can be overclocked, and chipsets that support it start with a ‘Z’ and end with a ‘70’ or ‘90’, so the Z390 will support overclocking.
For AMD, all of the processors support overclocking and so do all of the chipsets, except the A320. The only rule is that you must use a Ryzen 3000 or newer processor with the motherboard.
Some Extra Features
- Power and reset buttons
Many motherboards have an added feature of physically powering it on or off with dedicated buttons present on the surface.
This could be useful if for some reason your PC is acting up and you need a fast solution.
- LED coding
A LED coding (usually 2 digits) could be quite helpful when you aren’t an expert regarding the motherboard.
LED lighting in the form of a coding indicates that some sort of a problem has taken place. This coding is easy to learn too.
Is RGB Motherboard Worth it?
The users all over the world have different views on this, and while some would prefer a simple motherboard with no lighting, others like to have some colorful patterns, either only on some of the components inside the chassis or all of them.
RGB is only a color scheme and no difference would be made in terms of performance, and so it depends on your personal opinion.
But, you must check for the presence of the other features first and if after all of them are in place, you may look whether or not it supports RGB lighting.
Doing the opposite and sacrificing any important feature for it would not be wise.
Also, the price difference between an RGB and non-RGB motherboard should not be significant, and if things are not in your favor, you know better to choose the non-RGB type and instead go for more features and/or better performance.
We hope you wouldn’t be troubled about buying a new motherboard after going through this article. For more such guides and other counsel related to computers, stay tuned with us.