How to Choose the Best Motherboard for Your Gaming PC

This beginner-friendly quick-start guide will explain how to choose the best motherboard for a new custom gaming desktop build. The motherboard is an integral part of any new system and there are some important things to keep in mind when picking one.

If you think of the processor as the brain of a computer, then the motherboard could be described as the heart and/or central nervous system, and it is responsible for relaying information between all the internal components. In other words, it acts as the central hub of your machine that your other components connect to.

When choosing the best motherboard for your needs you'll need to consider things such as compatibility with your other components (such as your CPU, RAM and case), the quality and reliability, price, and making sure it has all the specific features that you need now and potentially later on down the track.

Let's take a bit of a closer look into the exact things you should keep in mind to choose the best motherboard for your specific wants and needs.

Check CPU Compatibility

First things first - there are basically overall types of motherboards on the consumer market that you can get. There's Intel based motherboards which are only compatible with Intel CPUs, and then you've got the AMD motherboards which are, you guessed it, only compatible with AMD CPUs.

But it's not just a matter of picking any Intel motherboard if you've chosen an Intel processor - you must match up what's called the CPU socket type, also known as the processor interface.

All that means is this. Let's say you've picked the Intel Core i5-6500 processor for your new build. That particular model has a socket type of LGA 1151, which you'll find listed quite clearly in the specs.

You must simply pick a motherboard that has the exact same socket type as your CPU (in this case LGA 1151). This will also be clearly listed in the motherboard specs. That's it.

Check RAM Compatibility

When choosing the best motherboard for your needs you also need to check compatibility with your RAM. There are 3 things to consider here:

  • RAM Type - You've basically got two choices when it comes to RAM. You'll either get DDR3 which has been around forever, or you'll get the more recent and slightly faster DDR4. A motherboard will only support one or the other, so if you buy DDR4 RAM you can only pick a DDR4 motherboard.
  • RAM Speed - As well as making sure your motherboard supports your type of RAM, you must also check that it supports the specific speed of your RAM. So if you buy a RAM stick with a speed of 2133 Mhz, check in the motherboard specs that it supports 2133 Mhz RAM.
  • RAM Capacity - It's also good to know the maximum amount of memory your board can take on, especially if you're building an extreme performance system with a ton of memory. This shouldn't be a problem for most builders though as you'll never get close to the maximum amount (it's usually a huge amount like 32, 64 or 128 GB etc).

Motherboard Size (form factor)

Motherboards come in different sizes, technically known as form factors. You need to be aware of this to be sure you pick a case that is suitable for your motherboard.

The two most common sizes you'l come across are mATX (short for Micro ATX) and ATX. mATX boards are smaller in size and usually come with less features such as add-on ports and slots. ATX boards are the most common, but there's nothing wrong with getting a mATX board if you're building a small and/or budget-friendly system.

An ATX motherboard will NOT fit in a mATX case, so if you're getting a standard sized ATX board then you'll need to find an ATX case. However, a mATX motherboard WILL generally fit in a ATX case. So if you're getting a mATX due to a restricted budget or another reason, you have the choice of choosing either a mATX case or an ATX case. Won't matter.

PCI, PCI-E and USB Ports

If you'll be making upgrades to your build down the line or are adding some extra cards such as a sound card, network card, second graphics card, etc, you will want to check that the motherboard you pick has enough PCI and PCI-E (PCI Express) ports. These days graphics cards, sound cards, and even network cards come in the PCI-E format.

You should also keep in mind the number of USB ports to make sure your board has enough. Most modern motherboards will have plenty of USB ports so it'll rarely be an issue. You'll also want to get a board with USB 3.0 support these days, although most modern boards will.

Networking Needs

Every modern motherboard will come with LAN (wired cable internet) support so you don't need to worry about that. However, few motherboards, and typically only the more expensive high-end boards, will come with built-in wireless (AKA WiFi) support. 

So if you want wireless support in your new gaming desktop, you have two choices. Pick a motherboard that has WiFi, or simply buy an add-on wireless adapter. Adapters come as either a PCI or PCI-E card that will fit into a spare PCI/PCI-E slot on your motherboard, or you have the option of getting a USB dongle adapter. Either will work just fine.

SLI and CrossFire Support

If you're going to be setting up a dual graphics card setup with either NVidia SLI or AMD CrossFire technology then your motherboard will need to support this. Simply check the specs to confirm. If you're doing more than 2 way SLI/CrossFire, such as 3 or 4 way, then you'll want to investigate support for that too.

Stick to the Best Brands

When it comes to choosing the best motherboard, you definitely want to stick to trusted motherboard manufacturers such as Asus, Gigabyte, AsRock and MSI. Brand name does matter when it comes to gaming hardware.

Personally, I would NOT recommend veering away from those big 4, although it would definitely be hard to do so as those names make up the vast majority of the market!

As for which specific models to buy, your best bet is to check out our continuously updated Budget Gaming Build Examples and High-End Gaming Build Examples and taking a look at the included motherboard recommendations.

That will give you a good place to start from as we only include some of the current best boards for your money in those component lists. Simply pick one that fits into your budget, but of course do your homework and look into whether it has the features you need as we explained in this guide.

So that's really all you need to know about selecting a good motherboard. There are other advanced features and specs (and considerations like aesthetics if you care about the look of your build), but the above are the most important to know about as a beginner build and is enough knowledge to navigate the market with confidence.

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