How To Choose The Perfect Motherboard
When building a PC, it’s crucial to pick a motherboard that is appropriate for your build. You need one that isn’t too big for your case, is compatible with the rest of your components, and has enough slots to make any upgrades you might be considering possible.
While picking one out might seem simple. You don’t want to pick up a motherboard that doesn’t suit your needs. Otherwise, you could end up purchasing another in a few years’ time, when you find it doesn’t have the space for that extra graphics card you wanted to fit.
In this little guide, we’ll explain all the things you need to look for when buying a motherboard. So no matter your gaming ambitions, you’ll be able to find one that suits you.
What Does a Motherboard Do?
Your motherboard allows the rest of your PC’s components to communicate with one another.
It means your CPU, GPU and RAM can work together in harmony. They all plug into your motherboard in order to work (the motherboard is the equivalent of a computer’s Central Nervous System), and having a good motherboard will ensure the communication between them is nice and smooth.
If your motherboard breaks or is incompatible with any of these other components, then they’re just not going to function, and you’ll be left frustrated, and with a hefty bill for new parts too.
So ensuring you’ve got a motherboard compatible for your build can be the difference between smooth gaming, and massive frustration.
Things to Look For
Now we’ve established how important your computer’s motherboard is. We can talk about the things you need to think about before making a purchase.
(What a socket looks like)
This is what you need to think about before anything else. Motherboards have CPU sockets. These are where (you’ve guessed it) the CPU connects to the motherboard. However, not all CPUs will work with all motherboards. Some simply aren’t compatible with one another.
For this reason, it’s essential you pick a motherboard and CPU that work with one another. Failing to do this will result in a lot of frustration and wasted time.
My advice is to pick a CPU you like first, and then look into getting a motherboard that works with it.
If you do it the other way around, you risk getting yourself a motherboard that has all the features you wanted but simply isn’t compatible with any of the CPUs you’re interested in. So definitely pick out your CPU first… after you’ve done that you can start thinking about which motherboards are compatible with it.
To check which are, head over to the manufacturer’s website (whether that be Intel or AMD), they’ll have a list of CPUs and the type of socket they use, if this matches up with a motherboard that you’re interested in then you’re in luck! If not keep looking.
It’s important to note here that AMD and Intel CPUs and motherboards are not cross compatible. So Intel CPUs will not work with AMD motherboards and vice versa.
Remember you must get a motherboard a CPU that are compatible with one another. There’s no workaround for this. If the socket doesn’t fit that’s it. So make sure you double check and get yourself one that matches.
The next thing you’ll need to consider is the size (or form factor) of any motherboards you’re looking at. By size, I’m referring the actual physical size of the motherboard, rather than size regarding memory or anything else.
Bigger motherboards will just require a larger amount of space, and therefore a bigger case.
This isn’t a problem if you haven’t bought a case yet, but if you’ve already picked one up, then you’ll be limited in size by how big your case is.
Larger motherboards have more slots, more features and can accommodate a greater number of additional components. So, if you’re interested in constantly upgrading your PC, you’ll need a larger motherboard which will give you that kind of capability.
You also need to think about the number of graphics cards and other add-ons that you’re interested in using. If you’re planning on using multiple cards at once and making the most of your gaming capabilities. Then you’ll need a large one, and you’ll have to pay more for it too.
If though, you think you’re just going to build your PC and then not upgrade it much, you probably won’t need a motherboard with many additional slots beyond what you’re already using. This means you can save, both on space and on cash as well.
It just depends on what you need it for and how much casing space you have available.
If you’re looking at a motherboard, but aren’t sure whether it’s small enough to fit in your case. Then you need to find out how big it is before you buy. To do this, just google “form factor” followed by the type of motherboard it is (for example “ATX”). This will bring you up its dimensions. You can then compare that to the space available in your case, and you’ll know whether you can accommodate it or not.
Are you thinking about overclocking your CPU? If you are, you’ll also need to make sure you get a motherboard with a chipset that supports it. Otherwise, you won’t have the option.
At the time of writing the vast majority of AMD motherboards support the option of overclocking, so if you’re going down that route, you haven’t got much to worry about. However, before you buy, I would head over to AMD’s website and just check that your motherboard does give you that option.
For Intel, motherboards which give you the ability to overclock are a little more restricted. You’ll be looking for those with either “z” or “x” marking, such as the Z97. All these will let you overclock your CPU provided you have an overclockable one.
If you want to overclock, avoid motherboards such as the H170 which you can’t.
Your motherboard is an integral part of your PC. Therefore you need to make sure it’s of good quality. If it isn’t, the rest of your PC will run poorly and eventually you’ll have to replace it.
Thankfully, nowadays most motherboards are very reliable. The two main manufacturers (AMD and Intel) are very reputable, and anything you pick up from them should have no issues with reliability.
However, you always want to be as careful as possible. It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes you get batches of products that don’t turn out as well, maybe they were mishandled in delivery, or maybe their wiring is just a little off. Whatever it is, you want to make sure there’s as little chance of you accidently picking up one of these as possible.
The first step to avoid this is to read reviews. Sometimes batches of products have things wrong with them, the first thing a disgruntled customer will do after receiving a poor product is leave a bad review on amazon or somewhere else. So go and have a look at the reviews and see what people are saying, pay particular attention to more recent reviews as the products they got are going to be a better indication of what you’ll get if you order.
If the recent reviews are bad, then I would recommend staying away. Especially if any of the complaints are about the reliability of the product.
Assuming there aren’t a load of bad reviews on the motherboard you’re looking to buy (there’ll always be one or two, you’re looking for a load at one time that might indicate a bad batch), then you can move onto the next step. That is, having a look at the warranty and customer support available with your motherboard.
You want a long warranty so that if your motherboard does go wrong for any reason, you can get it replaced without it costing you anything extra. Long warranties demonstrate a manufacturer’s confidence in the product. So if there’s a ten-year warranty, you know they consider it well made and unlikely to break. On the other hand, if it comes without a warranty, it might be because they know it wasn’t made to the highest standards and think that it might not last that long.
Something else you’ll need to consider is the price. Luckily, while motherboards aren’t dirt cheap, they are one of the less expensive pieces of hardware you’ll need to purchase.
However, it’s crucial that you don’t look to save too much money on a motherboard because it quite literally determines the other hardware that you can have as part of your build.
You can always buy something like more RAM at a later date, but if you get a motherboard that limits your upgrade options, you’re stuck with it unless you want to get a new one and completely overhaul your build.
So although they’re inexpensive, make sure you get one that you’re happy with. If you want to upgrade your specs, be certain it has those capabilities, if you want to add more graphics cards, make sure it can do that too.
You can certainly get a good deal on a motherboard, but please don’t look to get a cheap one with the aim of saving money. You will regret it in the long term.
Age of Product
(You don’t want something from this kind of period)
Unless you have a particular reason not to. You’re better off picking up a new model of motherboard rather than an older one.
This is because some of the older motherboards just aren’t compatible with some new hardware. Even though they might work fine with your CPU, if you start thinking about upgrading anything in a few years’ time, you might find that a lot of stuff doesn’t work with your motherboard.
So even if you can save a bit of money this way, generally you’re better off with newer rather than older models.
The final thing a lot of gamers will be concerned with are the aesthetics of their motherboard.
Frankly, what my motherboard looks like is of no interest to me, as long as it does the job well, I don’t care.
But, some gamers are interested in what all their gaming components look like. If this is you, then you’ll want a stylish model that fits in with the rest of your build.
Fortunately, motherboards come in a wide range of different styles and looks, so you’ll almost certainly be able to pick one out to suit you.
So that’s it for our list of things to look for in a motherboard! By now you should know exactly what to look for and what things to avoid too.
Is there anything we missed out on? What motherboard do you have in your PC? Comment below!