How to Choose a Motherboard for Your PC: What to Look for. How to find the best motherboard

Open the computer casing and check where the spacers should be placed. Please refer to the manual and install the brackets according to the instructions. The location of the spacer depends on the aspect ratio of the motherboard.

How to Choose a Motherboard for Your PC: What to Look for

Ian Paul

Ian Paul is a freelance writer with over ten years of experience writing about technology. In addition to writing for How-To Geek, he regularly collaborates with PCWorld as a critic, reporter, reporter, deal hunter, and columnist. His work has also appeared online on The Washington Post, ABC News, MSNBC, Reuters, Macworld, Yahoo Tech,, TechHive, The Huffington Post, and Lifewire. His articles are regularly distributed to many IDG sites, including CIO, Computerworld, GameStar, Macworld UK, Tech Advisor, and TechConnect. Read more.

Inside of a gaming computer showing a water-cooled motherboard.

Kreabobek /

New PC builds follow a common trajectory: You decide your GPU and CPU in whatever order is important to you. Then you typically decide your motherboard based on your budget (and CPU of choice), case, and then everything else.

Motherboard Basics

Since the CPU and graphics card have the greatest influence on the performance of your computer, it’s worth starting with them. However, a motherboard can also make a big difference. This can come down to its overall quality as well as the specifications needed for construction.

Let’s take a look at some of the key factors to consider when purchasing a motherboard. We won’t go into detail about anything as basic as the socket type here – obviously you’ll need a motherboard with the socket type that suits your CPU of choice. In short: if you buy an AMD processor, you need an AMD-compatible motherboard. If you are purchasing an Intel processor, you will need an Intel compatible motherboard. The motherboard must not only be compatible with AMD or Intel, but also with the specific generation of CPU you are using.

Another important consideration is the size of the motherboard. There are many different sizes of motherboards for different purposes, but most people will be looking at standard ATX boards for traditional desktop computers.

Aside from that, let’s jump in.

All connections are made on buses, which are essentially motherboard circuits. Buses can be faster or slower. For example, a slow bus will slow down a well-functioning CPU; however, a high-speed bus cannot improve CPU speed. So these two components must be carefully selected to work well together.

Choose your CPU and chipset

Your first decision is also for the CPU. Your choice is AMD or Intel. Motherboards only work with the specific processor families for which they are intended. Our guide to the best processors will help you choose the perfect processor for every budget; Your needs should drive most of your decisions.

Without getting too deep into the hot CPU wars, let’s share some objective reasons why you choose Intel or AMD over the other side.

  • Do you need a lightning bolt? You’ll likely need an Intel motherboard. A select few AMD motherboards support this technology, but you can find it most often on Intel motherboards because Intel helped create it.
  • Need the best multi-core performance? Here you’ll want AMD. Threadripper or Ryzen 5000 chips have a significant advantage in core count over existing Intel HEDT options.
  • Need the best gaming performance? Most of the time, AMD Ryzen 5000 is your pick here. Intel offers a good value-for-performance ratio with some chips, such as the Core i5-11400 and Core i5-11600K.

Choose your form factor – ITX, M-ATX, or ATX

Most PC manufacturers should choose a motherboard based on the standard ATX format. If you want a smaller build you’ll be limited to mini-ITX motherboards.

dark hero mb

Thiago Trevisan / IDG

Prices for mini-ITX motherboards will be higher for the features you get, and you’ll have fewer physical PCIe slots that are used for graphics, storage, sound cards, and other expansion cards. But in return, you get the option to build a compact gaming PC. Some smaller motherboards, such as the Asus ROG Crosshair VIII Impact with the AMD x570 chipset based on the mini-DTX, even offer excellent VRM cooling performance for their size. That said, many smaller units typically offer less cooling performance than similarly priced ATX motherboards because they simply can’t squeeze in extra heat sinks or fans.

Micro-ATX (or M-ATX) motherboards, while less popular, are in the middle of other options. This applies to both its size and its overall feature set.

Larger E-ATX motherboards such as the Gigabyte Z590 Aorus Extreme are physically wider – much wider. These enthusiast-level units are generally full of features, with appropriate pricing.

However, not all is lost if that super cool motherboard you need doesn’t have enough headers for your 9 byillion case fans, or in case your motherboard headers don’t have enough pins.


Perhaps the first decision you need to make is to choose a CPU to serve as the brain of your computer, which means choosing between two companies: Intel and AMD. Both offer processors ranging from basic options good enough for web browsing, productivity and low-end gaming, to ultra-powerful beasts that can tear through video editing projects and run today’s most demanding high-frame-rate games. (FPS).

Both companies are constantly modernizing their products, which can make this information obsolete very quickly. However, as of writing this tutorial, Intel is on ninth-generation processors, and AMD recently introduced its Zen 2 architecture, with Zen 3 and third-generation Ryzen processors expected soon. Which one is right for you will depend on your needs, for example, whether you are most concerned about applications that may be using multiple CPU cores (which may favor AMD Ryzen processors) or if you are most concerned about gaming which use the fastest single-core performance (which may favor Intel Core processors).

Intel motherboard

Once you’ve decided which CPU is best for you, you’ll need to choose a motherboard that uses the correct socket and the correct chipset. Basically, the CPU socket is the mechanism by which the CPU is firmly attached to the motherboard. A chipset is a motherboard software and hardware that comes together to allow communication between different components.

Sockets and Chipsets to know

Here are the most important sockets and chipsets today:

Electric socket Processors supported Chipsets
LGA 1200 intel Core 10th generation Comet Lake (10th generation): Z490
LGA 1151 eighth and ninth generation intel Core Coffee Lake (8th generation): H310, B360, H370, Q370, Z370
Coffee Lake (9th generation): Z390, B365, B360
LGA 2066 Skylake-X / Kaby-Lake X X299
sTRX4 aMD Ryzen Threadripper 3rd Generation TRX40
sTR4 AMD Ryzen Threadripper X399
AM4 AMD Ryzen, the seventh generation A series and Athlon A300, A320, B350, B450, X370, X470, X570

It’s not so important to understand everything that goes into creating a chipset, but it’s important to understand that you need to choose a motherboard with the correct chipset – and the correct socket – for the CPU you plan to buy. It’s also important to know that different chipsets support different combinations of components such as RAM, GPUs, and more.

Comparing motherboards at is easy

Form factor

ASUS Strix motherboard

Motherboards come in a variety of sizes which means you have some flexibility in building your PC to suit your environment. If you’ve got plenty of space, you can use a full-size tower case, and if you’re building a home theater PC (HTPC) that’s going to sit under the TV in your family room, you’ll probably want the much smaller case.

That’s why motherboards come in a variety of sizes or forms, and these standards define not only the size of the motherboard, but also the number of components they support. There are differences with the latter, but overall, the larger the physical size of a motherboard, the more components it will support. Not all cases support all case types, so make sure your motherboard and case match.

Motherboard form factors to know

Below are some of the more popular aspect ratios and their most common specifications:

Size 9.0 x 7.5 inches 9.6 x 9.6 inches 12×9.6 inch
Expansion slots 1 4 7
RAM slots 2 Up to 4 Up to 8
GPU Up to 1 Up to 3 Up to 4
SATA ports Up to 6 Up to 8 Until 12

These are general guidelines for some of the most popular motherboard types. There are more of them and they differ in their abilities. The most important thing is to decide what size computer you want to build or buy, how many components you want to configure now and in the future, and then choose the motherboard format that best suits your needs.

Overall, Mini ITX motherboards only have 2 RAM slots, but they have all the other regular bells and whistles that come along with any combination of chipsets and slots.

The 6 Best Next-Gen Motherboards for Your PC

The motherboard is the heart and brain of every computer. Find the best of the best among our top rated motherboards.

next-generation motherboards

When it comes to building your own computer, the motherboard is the heart and brain of the entire operation. Everything from the graphics card to the case fans passes through the motherboard. As such, choosing the perfect one can be a bit overwhelming, especially since motherboards are very technical pieces of hardware. We’re here to help you break the jargon and make some recommendations for the latest and greatest motherboards available.

What to Look For

From a distance, the most important thing to look for in a motherboard is compatibility. Since all other parts of your computer will pass through your motherboard, it’s important that all of them are compatible with that motherboard. We will pay attention to connectivity and compliance for each of our recommendations.

Key Terms

Motherboards are very technical and packed with terminology. While it might look like word soup at first, here are some important terms to understand:

Form Factor: physical size of the motherboard, broken down into ATX (full size), Micro-ATX (medium size) and Mini-ITX (small size).

Socket type: The physical socket in which the processor is located. The socket is designed to fit either an Intel or AMD processor.

Chipset: motherboard guts. A chipset affects everything from feature set to compatibility with other parts. The chipsets are designed to be compatible with either Intel or AMD processors.

CPU Support: Indicates which CPUs are compatible with the motherboard.

Memory support: how much and what kind of RAM can be connected to the motherboard.

Expansion slots: Often referred to as PCIe slots, these are used for things like graphics cards, sound cards, or video capture cards. PCIe slots come in a variety of sizes and their capabilities can be influenced by the CPU.

Memory slots: The types of memory drives that the motherboard can support. Modern motherboards support both internal M.2 slots, which connect to the motherboard itself, and traditional SSD and HDD drives, which connect via a SATA port.

USB ports: Indicates how many USB ports are offered by the motherboard.

Video ports: Indicates what video cables can be connected to the motherboard.

Network: Indicates what type of internet and Bluetooth connection is supported.

Another rather interesting detail about the E-ATX format is that many motherboards with two slots (two CPUs) have to use the format due to its size.

How a Motherboard is Tested

If you do research online, you will see that reviewers test motherboards in several ways. There are several features that tell a lot about the motherboard test winner. Pay attention to the following.

Range of features

How the motherboard is tested in the review

Each motherboard has a different set of functions. For example, some come with Wi-Fi support and some don’t. While some have two m.2 SSD slots, others only have one. The feature set is one of the first metrics by which motherboards are judged.

Overall computer performance

Running synthetic benchmarks and seeing how different software tools work on your PC is another great way to test how your motherboard is performing. Comparisons can be made by using the same PC components on different motherboards. The results will be an objective assessment of the tested motherboard.

Motherboard temperature under load

Using the most demanding software tools is a great way to test your motherboard. It is during high loads that it is possible to measure the peak temperature of the motherboard under stress. Why is this important you may be wondering? High temperatures will make your PC choke and also negatively affect the lifespan of your components. The lower the temperatures are, the better your motherboard will perform, keeping all components in top condition at all times.

Quality of VRMs (voltage regulator modules)

These modules are used to supply the right amount of power to the processor. Therefore, these modules must be of extremely high quality. Many online reviewers spend special time testing VRM behavior, especially on motherboards designed for CPU overclocking.

It is a good idea to check how the VRMs perform in these tests, pay attention to their temperature under load.

Firmware and software

There are two important things about firmware and software. It’s ease of use and regular updates. You can find many reviews online mentioning BIOS and Windows firmware for your motherboard. This is an important measure as good brands offer better firmware and software updates and support.

Here are some of the most important metrics used in motherboard testing. However, when you are looking for one, there are a few other things you should pay attention to. Let’s take a look at this.

What to Pay Attention to When Buying a Motherboard

Purchasing a new computer is a very exciting process, but thorough research is needed to find the components you actually need. We believe that there are a few key things to consider when purchasing a motherboard for your PC.


Take note of these tips when buying a motherboard for a game review winner

Pick a brand that has had a streak of amazing motherboards over the past few years. Take a look at the section below to read about some of the motherboard manufacturers.

Form factor

What is the size of your computer case? See what motherboard it supports. Usually the ATX format has the most features. However, if you plan on using a smaller case, you can always go for MicroATX or even Mini-ITX. The mini case is an ideal option for compact computers.


In this section you can choose Intel or AMD. But that’s not all, each of these brands offers several chipsets. Usually there is a budget version, a mid-range version, and an enthusiast version. Since we’re talking about gaming motherboards, you should look for high-end and enthusiast versions of motherboards.

Chipset support

If you’re looking to future-proof your system and want to keep an upgrade option available, review AMD or Intel’s plans to support the chipset for years to come. This could allow you to upgrade your CPU or graphics card in three to four years.

Motherboard I/O

We suggest you take a close look at the inputs and outputs on the back of the motherboard. While this isn’t important to everyone, if you plan on using multiple USBs and other ports, see how many are available. In most cases, cheaper motherboards will have fewer of them.

Number of PCIe lanes

To provide enough space for devices on the motherboard, and for future-proofing, we suggest choosing motherboards that support as many PCIe lanes as possible.

Do you need Wi-Fi? Ideally, a gaming PC or one that routinely uploads or downloads large files will have a wired Ethernet connection to the Internet. If you need built-in Wi-Fi it will cost extra. If you don’t have a Wi-Fi enabled motherboard, you can always purchase a PCIe Wi-Fi expansion card at a later date.

Onboard Connectors

Depending on what case you have in mind, you may want to make sure your motherboard has all the connectors it needs, otherwise you may find yourself in a situation like mine where you don’t have enough headers for your water cooling fans.

Fan Headers

fan headers

The first thing to look out for is of course the fan headers.

Do you have enough headlines for the number of fans you expect?

It’s really that simple.

However, not all is lost if that super cool motherboard you need doesn’t have enough headers for your 9 byillion case fans, or in case your motherboard headers don’t have enough pins.

Some motherboard fan connectors only have 3-pin connectors, although this is less common these days as more modern motherboards typically only have 4-pin fan connectors.

This fourth pin allows you to simply control the fan speed on the PWM fans without changing the fan voltage.

Anyway, for those in need of wazoo fans, companies like Corsair and NZXT are making fan hubs that align fans with the USB header.

It also often allows RGB fans to be controlled using programs on the computer.

USB Headers

motherboard USB headers

One problem you may run into when buying a decent case with a cheap or old motherboard is having the correct USB headers.

Some older boards don’t have built-in USB 3.0 headers, so you won’t be able to use any USB 3.0 front panel in your case without an adapter, and even after getting a full USB h adapter, you won’t be able to reach full 3.0 speeds.

Likewise, you may not have enough USB headers, but the probability of encountering this problem is almost zero.

SATA Ports


One thing people often overlook when choosing a motherboard is the number of SATA ports.

If you plan on running simple gaming hardware with 1-2 HDDs / SSDs, this shouldn’t be a problem, but many content creators have encountered the problem of missing SATA ports for new hard drives.

Make sure you have the number you want directly from the bat or get ready to set up external storage.

M.2 Slots

M.2 memory isn’t mandatory, but it’s definitely useful. Make sure you have enough M.2 ports on your new motherboard.

Luckily, even some inexpensive motherboards are starting to ship with M.2 ports included, so unless you’re opting for the full low-cost mode, you should be ready.

The Used Market

While we advertise used parts quite often, this is not for everyone and we urge you to be even more careful when purchasing used parts as you will not receive any warranty or guarantee of longevity.

However, the cost savings that a used market can provide can make you do it anyway.

Used Gaming Hardware

Buying a used motherboard for gaming builds is much more difficult than most other parts.

You don’t know what kind of minting it might have been subjected to, you don’t know how long it has been in use, and if it’s a gaming motherboard you might not even find a very good price for it.

If you do decide to buy a used gaming motherboard, you can move away from motherboards that have been advertised for their overclocking capabilities, as it’s very possible they’ve been sucked out of them by high overclocking.

Definitely read the descriptions and look for descriptions like “used for games only” for best results.

You can even go back a generation and still get very good performance as long as you stick to Intel.

Older AMD chips do not stand up to today’s market, but Intel chips with the LGA1150, LGA1156, and LGA775 can do quite well even in modern games.

These older boards are usually much cheaper, and you can save some cash on slower DDR3 memory.

While DDR4 memory has gotten incredibly cheap these days, I’d say a smarter choice is to shell out a little extra cash on a motherboard that supports DDR4 RAM and a newer CPU.

Used Server and Workstation Hardware

The used market is probably one of the best places to find discounted workstations and server hardware as prices will continue to drop as developers release more and more new hardware to take control over the years.

Motherboards, however, are one of the most expensive parts.

One of the better things is that many old workstations are adaptable to small-scale home servers and will cost you a fraction of the actual price.

Sockets such as the LGA2011 socket boast cheap processors with a large number of cores, and with this socket you can find relatively cheap workstation boards.

In addition, you can find functional dual-socket LGA2011 motherboards from China on sites like AliExpress to increase server performance even more cheaply and, as with many older sockets, support cheap DDR3 RAM.

Even some LGA2011-3 workstation motherboards can be found fairly cheap, with CPUs losing price overnight.

You can get an overclockable 6-core, 12-thread beast, similar in performance to 2nd-gen Ryzen for just over $ 100, and a board for less than $ 100. Additionally, this slot runs on newer and faster DDR4 memory.

For now, all you need to know is that the latest consumer socket for Intel CPUs is the LGA1151-v2 socket, although many motherboards do not specify this marking, so be careful.

Does Motherboard Brand Matter? (Best Manufacturers)

There are only so many manufacturers (brands) when it comes to choosing a motherboard. For maximum reliability and quality, you’ll want to stick to the four big names in the game on your motherboard which are Asus, Gigabyte, MSI, and ASRock (in any order).

There are other companies that make some motherboards (such as Biostar and EVGA), but unless you have a good reason and don’t know exactly what you are doing, we don’t recommend moving away from the big four. But of course, not all models are created equal, so just because a board is made by one of these manufacturers doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good buy.

Always do your research. When it comes to which motherboard manufacturer is best between Asus, MSI, Gigabyte, and ASRock – there is no clear-cut winner standing above the rest. As mentioned, it comes down to comparing specific models as well as personal preferences, because once you start using a lot of different boards in your DIY life, you may find that specific vendor boards and / or software (such as BIOS) will be easier and / or more fun to use.

For specific, current recommendations for the best gaming PC motherboards, check out the constantly updated recommended gaming PC designs and take a look at the included boards in each kit for a solid example of inexpensive motherboards worth considering at different price points. Don’t just take our word for it, though, and don’t blindly choose the first motherboard you see; always do your homework to make sure the specific model you are going with has all the features you need, especially if you have additional requirements compared to the average computer user.

Motherboard Features FAQ

Here, we’ll go over some of the other specific aspects of choosing a motherboard. Not all of these things apply to all of them, but some of them may be important depending on your setup.

What Are Motherboard Fan Headers? How Many Do You Need for a Gaming PC?

Fan slots (also known as system fan connectors or case fan connectors) are connectors on the motherboard that attach to any case fans installed in the computer case (whether they’re backup fans or secondary aftermarket fans). Motherboards ship with a varying number of fan headers, with the cheapest motherboards only having 1, and the most advanced motherboards having up to 6 or more.

Most decent motherboards will have at least 2 fan slots, preferably 3 to 4, which is enough to plug in most fan configurations as gaming PCs typically don’t require more than 2-4 fans. If your motherboard doesn’t have enough fan connectors for the number of fans you want to install in your case, you can purchase a splitter cable / adapter so that you can connect more than 1 fan to one motherboard fan connector.

Alternatively, you can plug the case fans directly into the PSU if your PSU has Molex power connectors, but that means you won’t be able to control the fan speed (sometimes no big deal). Additionally, if your fan cable is 3 pin, you will need a 3 to 4 pin adapter to connect to Molex (Molex is 4 pin). Some aftermarket fans come with this adapter.

Finally, if you are combining multiple fans, you can purchase an RGB fan hub / controller or RGB fan hub / controller if you have RGB fans.

How Many PCIe Slots Do Gaming PCs Need?

As explained earlier, PCIe slots (also known as expansion slots) are where the graphics card and other add-on cards, such as wireless adapters, are installed. Most gaming PCs will only need one PCIe slot for a graphics card and maybe 2 to contain a network card as well, but any modern motherboard will have at least 2 (even smaller motherboards). Only considering the number of PCIe slots on your motherboard is really important if you are doing something unusual, such as installing multiple graphics cards (because you need to make sure you have 2 full length PCIe slots as the PCIe slots come in different sizes as explained in our PCIe FAQ).

How Many USB Ports Do Gaming PCs Need?

If you plan on using multiple USB devices, you can check your motherboard specs for the number of rear USB ports to make sure you have enough, although most modern motherboards will. Besides, you can always buy a USB hub if you’re running out of.

Remember that motherboards not only have rear USB ports, but also internal USB connectors, which are the connectors for all the USB ports on the front panel that the computer case has. If you are selecting a computer case with more than 1 USB 3.0 port on the front, you want to check that your motherboard has enough (internal) USB connectors on the front panel to be able to connect both of these ports on the front. Any half decent modern board (even cheaper) will be fine for that.

Do All Motherboards Have USB Type-C?

No, many cheaper motherboards don’t have USB Type-C ports (neither as an internal front panel connector, nor as a standard motherboard rear port). If your case has a front USB Type-C port (rare, but some people like the NZXT H510), to actually use that port, check that your motherboard specs include an internal USB Type-C header.

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