How To Pick a Good Motherboard
13 May 2014
Choosing a motherboard for a new custom PC can be a difficult task at the best of times; with form factors, sockets, PCI expansion slots, onboard chips, available outputs and aesthetics all playing their parts. The good news is that today's motherboards are feature-rich (all including onboard sound) and most allowing the use of the inbuilt graphics core of their CPU counterpart, meaning that it is no longer necessarily a requirement to purchase a GFX card, especially if the computer is being used for office use.
Due to the immense number of different motherboards offered on the market, it’s often best to filter your searches by the most discriminative factor:
- Do you want your motherboard from a particular vendor? (ASUS, Gigabyte, Asrock, MSI, EVGA etc.)
- Or perhaps you wanted an l33t themed gaming board? (the Republic of Gamers, Sabertooth, TUF, MSI Gaming, MSI power, Asrock Fatal1ty or Gigabyte Sn1per series)
- Would you like the potential to run SLI or a CrossFire setup now or in the future?
- Does the PCB (the ‘board’ / main visible component) need to be a certain colour for aesthetics looks like the heatsinks and PCI lanes need to be highlighted a certain colour to match your build?
The above questions may seem nitpicky or superficial but let's make this crystal clear. There is no empirical evidence suggesting that current the gen motherboards tangibly affect the measured and perceived performance when gaming or running applications. That is to say that your coin will yield more performance per dollar when spent towards a better CPU, GPU or storage configuration.
Here's a more detailed look into how to choose the right motherboard:
As a quick overview and before you begin to make sure that you know what CPU you are going with and from what partner Intel or AMD as this will determine what socket and chipset you will need. For example, those who are interested in overclocking on the Intel side should go with a z87 chipset for a Haswell 4th gen processor on socket 1150. Alternatively for the AMD side overclocker’s should look at the 990fx chipset for bulldozer/piledriver processors on the am3+ socket.
If you are not interested in overclocking you should start by filtering your search via the required socket then have a look at the form factor (whether it will fit in the PC case you want). The three main ones: are standard form factor ATX generally used in large cases, mATX used in medium sized and ITX used in, you guessed it, smaller than average-sized cases. Just to be on the safe side look at the specification of the case you desire as it will tell you if a particular form factor of the motherboard is supported.
Once the CPU is chosen and the socket defined the hard part is done. This is where the fun begins. As there are so many options on the market all that is left that needs to be determined is what kind of expansion or upgrade path did you want your motherboard to allow and how much RAM you want.
First start by determining how many PCI-e / PCI expansion cards (one thing to take into consideration is that some expansion cards such as GFX cards can occupy multiple slots so make sure you have enough!) you would like to run (these include GFX cards, Wifi adapters, SATA expansion cards, discrete Soundcards). Followed by how many HDD / SSD’s you want to attach as storage (this will determine the required number of SATA ports. Likewise, decide on a number of USB 2.0 or 3.0 ports you want / need.
Lastly remember to look at the motherboards RAM (Memory) frequencies and voltages, which should be equal to the motherboard's specified specs. E.g. if "X" motherboard required frequencies and voltages are 1333, 1600, 1866 etc... and voltage = 1.65v. Then the RAM's frequencies & voltages should be the specs just listed to have full compatibility.