Building a PC is like putting together a bunch of really expensive components, and there is no doubt that every component is quite important. However, among all the important components, the motherboard definitely comes out on top. It is so important that it alone can make or break your entire system.
These are the key takeaways from 11 Things To Consider Before Buying A Motherboard:
- Figure out which platform your PC will be built on; AMD or Intel.
- Go over the socket support and chipset of your selected processor and look for motherboards that support that.
- Select which form factor is suitable for your needs.
- Choose which RAM you want, whether DDR4 or DDR5.
- If you need high-speed SSD support, then ensure the motherboard offers plenty of powerful storage options.
- Always consider the price and your budget. Never overspend on any component.
- If you plan to overclock, then consider the VRM, PCB layers, and cooling capabilities of the motherboard.
- Always consider the RGB lighting and the color of the motherboard if you’re a fan of aesthetics.
- Go over the port options to determine whether the board offers enough ports for your needs.
- Ensure that the motherboard offers adequate expansion slots for your needs.
- Audiophile? Choose the board that comes with a high-quality audio codec and has 5.2 or 7.1 channel support.
The motherboard brings all the other components together in one place. From giving power to the CPU to making the GPU and CPU work together, every job falls on the motherboard’s shoulders.
Hence, when building a PC, buying the right motherboard should be your top priority. The perfect motherboard will ensure that your PC is stable, reliable, fast, and compatible with other components.
Things To Know Before Buying a Motherboard
There are 11 important factors you must always consider before buying a motherboard.
Before you begin your search for the perfect motherboard, you need to keep one thing in mind, that is, you shouldn’t buy the motherboard first and then pick the components which are compatible with it later. Instead, you need to buy the processor first and buy the perfect motherboard for that processor.
This way, you will have a platform in mind. Also, remember that your processor choice should be something that sits well with your budget while offering the performance you need.
So, first and foremost, you need to decide which platform your PC will be built upon, and by platform, we mean you need to decide whether you want an AMD rig or an Intel one. Just selecting the platform first will narrow down your search for the perfect motherboard by half.
Once you have decided whether you want to go with Team Red or Team Blue, you can begin to factor in the other things that we will discuss below.
Also Read: Intel 13th-Gen Vs. AMD Ryzen 7000 Series
Socket And Chipset
Just like the platform narrows down the search for the perfect motherboard, figuring out which socket your processor supports can also remove irrelevant options from the choice pool.
Put simply, the motherboard socket is the physical place where the processor will be installed. The socket is basically a connector that connects the processor to the motherboard. So, when it comes to processor sockets, there are many options out there depending on the manufacturer and the generation of the processor you have selected.
For instance, the 12th and 13th-generation Intel processors use the LGA 1700 socket. So, any LGA 1700 motherboard is compatible with both of these generations. However, the AMD Ryzen 6000-series and 7000-series processors use different sockets. The Ryzen 6000 uses an AM4 socket, while the latter uses AM5. This means that you can’t use the same motherboard for both of these generations.
Also Read: AM4 vs. AM5
Therefore, once you have settled on a processor, you will know which socket it uses, and hence, you will know which socket motherboard to look for.
There are also two major types of CPU sockets, called LGA Sockets and PGA Sockets. We have covered an in-depth guide on LGA vs. PGA Sockets, so if you want to learn more about sockets, then be sure to check that out.
Along with the socket, the motherboard chipset makes all the difference in the world as well. While a socket is basically a connection point for the processor to communicate with the motherboard, the chipset, as the name suggests, is a chip that the motherboard is based on.
Basically, it’s the chipset’s responsibility to manage the flow of data transfer and communication between all the components of the PC, including the CPU, GPU, RAM, SSD, and everything else. The chipset support can also vary depending on the processor.
For instance, the 12th-generation Intel processors use Intel 600-series chipset motherboards. However, since the 13th-gen CPUs use the same socket, they can also work with Intel 600-series chipset boards.
Not only that, but Intel also launched the Intel 700-series chipsets with the 13th-gen line-up, meaning that both 12th and 13th-gen processors can work with both Intel 600 and 700-series motherboards. It should be noted here that Intel 600-series motherboards do need a BIOS update to support 13th-gen processors.
So, what’s the difference between each chipset generation? And each variant of each generation? Well, you might have noticed that in LGA 1700 socket alone, there is a plethora of different chipset motherboards available, so it is understandable that this question pops up in your mind.
Intel 700 Series Chipsets
To make things simpler, let’s continue to discuss the Intel 700 series chipset that was released with the 13th-gen processors. There are three chipsets that you will be looking at in the 700 series, namely, Z790, H770, and B760. There is also a W790 chipset, but that’s for workstations, so you can ignore that.
Here, each chipset has a specific target audience, which is very clear from the pricing and specification of the boards that use them. For instance, the motherboards with the Z790 chipset are the highest end. They come with the strongest VRMs, the most overclocking potential, a plethora of USB ports and connectivity, and, as you can guess, the highest price.
Also Read: Z790 vs. Z690
So, if you think you’re gonna need the highest-end motherboard, then you need to search for the one with the Z790 chipset.
However, if you want something more pocket-friendly that still offers good overclocking potential with strong VRM, RGB, and an adequate number of USB ports and PCIe lanes, then the B760 motherboards are your friend.
Lastly, if you are on a tight budget and do not want a gaming-oriented motherboard that offers enough functionality to support a home PC or a basic work machine, then you should go with H770 motherboards. They are nowhere near as powerful as the other two, but they are very affordable.
Just like Intel released Intel 700 Series Chipsets with their Raptor Lake processors, AMD released AMD 600 Series Chipsets with their Zen 4 processors. There are 4 chipsets that fall in this generation, namely, X670E, X670, B650E, and B650.
Also Read: X670 vs. B650
Fundamentally, you can say that there are two AMD 600-series chipsets and two Extreme variants of those chipsets. The differences between them are quite straightforward; the Extreme variants offer PCIe 5.0 support for the graphics cards, along with more usable PCIe 5.0 lanes.
Of course, there is a price difference between all four, with the X670E being the highest-end and most expensive and the B650 being the least expensive. While the X670E, X670, and B650E support PCIe 5.0 storage, the B650 only supports PCIe 4.0 storage, with PCIe 5.0 being an option.
For these AMD chipsets, your choice should go with whichever chipset board you can afford. They are all quite similar fundamentally, and everything comes down to your budget.
So, this is all the difference that a chipset can make, and knowing what you want out of your PC can significantly help you figure out which chipset motherboard you need to go for.
Motherboard Form Factors
Once you have settled on a chipset, you will notice that motherboards are available in various form factors, denoted by names like ATX and Mini-ITX. So, what does it all mean? And which form factor is perfect for you?
There are lots and lots of motherboard form factors, but the most common ones are Mini-ITX, MicroATX, ATX, and E-ATX. Every form factor has a specific size, which defines its capability to offer various RAM modules and PCIe lanes configurations.
Let’s go over each of these form factors briefly to figure out which one is perfect for you.
As the name suggests, these motherboards are the smallest of the bunch, with a square size of 6.7″ by 6.7″. You can already guess that these motherboards are aimed at those users who don’t have a ton of space for their PC.
So, if you’re tight on space and want to build a PC that can fit, then you need to go for Mini-ITX boards. While the small size is definitely a blessing for such users, there are a few disadvantages to this form factor, the biggest one being just 2 RAM slots and one PCIe lane.
The lack of multi-GPUs won’t affect you much. However, if you were planning to equip some enthusiast-grade memory into your PC, then you will face issues. Additionally, Mini-ITX boards, in general, aren’t capable of extreme overclocking. So, you shouldn’t expect any additional performance out of your PC from them either.
They rarely ever have RGB, which actually makes sense because, in a compact PC, you won’t have any place left to look for RGB, either.
Overall, Mini-ITX motherboards are perfect for you if you need to build a small form-factor PC. Pair it with the Best Low Profile CPU Cooler, and you’ve got yourself a compact but powerful machine.
If ATX motherboards and Mini-ITX motherboards had a child, it would be called a MicroATX. Measuring 9.6″ by 9.6″, these boards are bigger in size than Mini-ITX but smaller than ATX. Hence, you can still build a rather compact PC with them while still getting more connectivity and features as compared to Mini-ITX.
Depending on the motherboard, you can find anywhere between 2 to 4 RAM slots and multiple expansion slots. So, if you’re building a budget gaming rig or you don’t have a bunch of space, then MicroATX motherboards are your friends.
The most popular and commonly used form factor is ATX. It measures a solid 12″ by 9.6″ and is perfect for you if you don’t have any space constraints. You get plenty of expansion options, 4 or more RAM slots, RGB, strong VRMs, and everything else that is required to build a beast gaming PC.
If you have the space for it, then we highly recommend you go for ATX motherboards, as they are very flexible, and from budget to high-end, you can build any type of rig on them.
As you can probably guess from the name, Extended ATX (E-ATX) motherboards are even bigger than ATX, with a size of 12″ by 13″. Length-wise, they measure the same as ATX motherboards, but they are 3.4″ wider.
Compared to ATX boards, the E-ATX form factor usually offers 4 to 6 more PCIe expansion slots. Not only that, but the RAM slots can also be anywhere between 6 to 8.
Generally, E-ATX motherboards are aimed at those users who plan on building powerful workstations or video editing machines. Obviously, you can build a high-end gaming PC on such a form factor, but you can also achieve the same with an ATX board.
Now that we have gone through the four most popular motherboard form factors, you know exactly which one is perfect for you. So, after selecting the form factor, your options for the right motherboard will further shrink down, making it easier to pick from.
Remember how we mentioned that the platform, chipset, and socket support of a motherboard is directly influenced by the processor you choose? Well, the RAM support is no different, either.
So, once you have picked a processor, you will know which RAM it supports, that is, DDR4, DDR5, or both. If your processor is from the AMD Ryzen 7000 line-up, then you can only select a DDR5 RAM-supported motherboard.
However, if your processor is from the Intel 12th or 13th-gen line-up, then you have the option to choose between DDR4 and DDR5.
Also Read: DDR4 vs. DDR5
Unless you’re on a tight budget or are planning to upgrade soon, we highly recommend you go with DDR5. That’s because, while DDR5 motherboards and kits are a bit more expensive than their DDR4 counterparts, the performance you get from a DDR5 build will make up for it.
Along with the generation, you also need to figure out how much RAM you’re going to need. Generally, a DDR5 RAM of 32GB with a frequency of around 6000MHz is perfect for high-end gaming.
Hence, we recommend you go with a motherboard that can support such a frequency and has enough DIMM slots. Of course, if you think you’ll require more RAM, then you can always go for high-end motherboards according to your needs.
Also Read: How Much RAM Do You Need For Video Editing?
All in all, when buying the perfect motherboard, you cannot skip its RAM support as it is very important, and overlooking this factor can lead to future regrets.
Going over the storage options is very important when buying a motherboard, and it all comes down to your preference and needs. Are you going to need lots of storage or just enough to get you through the day? Similarly, are you going to buy high-end, really fast SSDs, or just the normal ones are enough for you?
Most high-end ATX motherboards will give you 4 to 5 M.2 slots and 6 SATA slots, and as you move down the pricing, you will notice that the slots decrease to around 3 to 4 M.2 slots and 4 to 5 SATA slots.
You should go with the motherboard that offers enough storage options to satisfy your needs. In addition to that, many high-end motherboards will also offer dedicated heat sinks and cooling solutions for the M.2 slots.
These thermal solutions are necessary if you’re planning to equip your motherboard with really fast and high-end SSDs. Of course, this goes without saying; the more storage options and efficient thermal solutions you go after, the more you’re going to pay.
Nevertheless, it would be best if you always considered storage options when searching for the perfect motherboards. The motherboard which offers the exact options that cater to your needs is the perfect one for you.
It should come as no surprise that you need to consider the price a lot when buying motherboards. In fact, this goes for every component you’re looking for.
You need to look for only those motherboards that fall within your budget. Because if you overspend, then you will be short on other components, which might cause you to cheap out and ultimately regret it.
So, first, go over your budget and decide exactly how much you can spend on the motherboard. After that, look for motherboards that you can afford and apply all the factors we have discussed and will discuss on just those motherboards.
As you know by now, the chipset each motherboard is based on heavily influences its performance and overall features, which consequently affects its pricing as well. Therefore, if you are planning on building the ultimate gaming rig, then you will go with high-end motherboards with chipsets like Z790 or B670E.
Similarly, if you’re on a budget and want a gaming PC, then you will probably settle on a motherboard with a B760 or B650E chipset.
You can also refer to our guide on How Much Does It Cost to Build A PC to have a good budget estimate.
Cutting down on motherboards that you simply cannot afford will significantly reduce the options you have, which is perfect because this way, you will only get the motherboard that is under your budget.
Overclocking: VRM & PCB Layers
Overclocking is when you feed your CPU, GPU, RAM, or other components with additional power to get more than stock performance out of them. So, if you plan to overclock your rig, then you’re going to need a strong motherboard that is capable of overclocking.
Also Read: Does Overclocking Reduce CPU Lifespan?
The overclocking potential of a motherboard relies heavily on its VRM structure, PCB layers, and overall cooling mechanism. The VRM structure is responsible for delivering smooth and stable power to the CPU. This way, if you feed additional power, then the VRM should be capable of handling the extra load and should not cause any stability issues.
Therefore, if you want to overclock your rig, then you need a motherboard with a high-end durable VRM. However, VRM alone cannot dictate the overclocking potential. Because, since you’re feeding extra power, you’re also going to generate extra heat.
Hence, if your motherboard is not equipped with an adequate cooling solution, then it will not perform up to the mark. To judge a motherboard’s cooling capabilities, you need to go over its PCB layers because the more layers are used, the higher temperatures the PCB can resist.
For instance, an eight-layer PCB is great for overclocking. Furthermore, the motherboard should also use massive heatsinks, high-quality heat pipes, and thermal pads for the VRMs to keep them cool. This way, your motherboard’s VRMs will stay at their optimal temperatures during overclocking.
Also Read: Can Overclocking Damage The GPU?
In short, if you plan to overclock your PC, then you need to scrutinize the motherboards based on their VRM design, heatsinks, thermal pads, and PCB layers because all of these features directly affect the overclocking potential.
This factor is totally subjective. Some people want gorgeous-looking PCs with lots of RGB and other flashy bells and whistles, while some people don’t care about these features and just want a PC that can get the job done.
Well, if you’re one of the first types, then you need to consider this factor. There are many RGB options available when it comes to motherboards; some of them have subtle RGB around the chipset, while some have lots of flashy RGB all over the heatsinks and rear IO cover.
Not only that, but many people prefer to have an all-white aesthetic or an all-black aesthetic. For that, you will have to look for motherboards that can go along with your overall theme.
Also Read: How To Connect RGB Fans To Motherboard
It should be noted that the more flashy features you go after, the more the price tag will climb. Therefore, it is highly recommended to keep your budget in mind when you’re looking for visually appealing motherboards.
Ports You Need
Another factor to keep in mind when looking for motherboards is the selection of ports they offer. There is a chance that your work might require your to have a couple of Type-C and/or Thunderbolt 4 ports. Similarly, you might also need to have a bunch of USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports.
Therefore, it is necessary to go over the port selection of different motherboards and select the one that offers enough ports to cater to your needs. Sure, if you have bought a motherboard that does not come with adequate ports, then you can always read our guide on How To Add More USB Ports To A PC?
However, we highly recommend you check the port’s configuration before purchasing so you don’t have to look for third-party solutions later.
Next up we have the expansion slots, another specification that you need to go over before you select your perfect motherboard. If you think you’re going to need a few expansion slots, then you can’t go with a Mini-ITX motherboard. That’s because those compact boards only offer a single expansion slot.
Similarly, the ATX form factor motherboards utilize the extra surface area and give you access to more than 4 expansion slots. However, it is also necessary to note which mode these slots are working on, as some might work at x8.
As a general rule, you should also skim through the expansion slots each motherboard is offering, and if you think the offering is plenty for you, then, and only then, you should go with that board.
If you’re an audiophile or if your work requires you to have a solid audio solution, then you also need to consider the onboard audio of the motherboard you’re selecting.
First of all, check which audio codec the board is using. If the chip is a high-end model of Intel or Realtek, then you’re good to go, as it will provide you with a crisp sound. Furthermore, channel support is also necessary to consider.
If you have 5.2 or 7.1 audio set up, then make sure your motherboard also supports this channel, as it can make all the difference in the world. Other than that, audio frequency also plays an important role in determining the overall audio quality of a motherboard; hence, always go for a motherboard that supports a decent frequency.
Other audio features like the availability of HDMI audio, 3.5mm audio jacks, and/or optical audio also play a role in the overall audio quality of the motherboard. Additionally, check if the motherboard comes with special software that can be used to enhance the audio quality through further customization.
In the end, it all comes down to your use case, that is, whether you’re going to utilize these features or not. For some people, having a high-end onboard audio solution makes all the difference in the world, while some people may not even notice the difference it can make.
Some Extras To Consider: Diagnostic LED, Power Button, Wi-Fi Module
Apart from the above 11 factors that you must always consider if you’re in the market for the perfect motherboard, you must also look for a few additional options just to get the best product available.
However, it should be noted that these features might increase the price. Therefore, you might not find them in the budget options
First, if the motherboard you’re going for has diagnostic LED lights, then it’s a huge plus one. The diagnostic LED, as the name suggests, is a really handy feature that can help you figure out what’s malfunctioning in case of any fault. The LED might blink in a particular pattern or flash with a specific color to indicate what’s wrong.
Similarly, having a dedicated power button right on the motherboard is also good to have. This power button will prove its worthiness when you’re in the middle of diagnosing an issue, and you need to power up the motherboard without connecting it to the chassis.
In addition to that, the power button is also useful when you’re using the motherboard as a test bench. However, the lack of the power button should not be a deal breaker, as you can always jump-start the motherboard.
Last but not least, having an integrated Wi-Fi module will never hurt. It gives you an easy option to connect to the Internet without having to use Ethernet. Of course, if you want the best performance, then you might still go for LAN, but you will still have the option to connect to Wi-Fi if your board supports it.
It should be noted here that motherboards with Wi-Fi support are generally more expensive than motherboards that don’t support Wi-FI.
The motherboard is one of the core components of your PC. Hence, it makes sense to do extensive research before buying one. Now at first, when you look at the variety of different motherboard options available on the market, you might feel overwhelmed.
However, with proper guidance and research, buying the perfect motherboard is not a difficult task. In fact, if you follow the points we have outlined, then you are destined to make the right purchase.
So, after going through our guide, you can rest assured that you will purchase the perfect motherboard for your PC. Apart from the 11 most important factors, we also discussed additional features like Diagnostic LED, Power Button, and Wi-Fi Module; you can look for these features as well if you think you are going to use them.
All things considered, this guide offers you the best guidelines when it comes to buying the right motherboard, so be sure to follow every point and keep your use case and preferences in mind.
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