How to Choose the Best Motherboard for Gaming

Last Updated: Oct 2, 2017

This beginner-friendly guide will explain how to choose the best motherboard for gaming when building a new PC. When deciding which motherboard is best for your needs and for your money, there's a few important considerations to take into account.

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. It's responsible for relaying information between all the internal components and acts as the central hub of your machine where your other components such as the CPU, RAM and graphics card all connect to.

When choosing the best motherboard for gaming you'll need to consider things such as compatibility with your other components, the quality, reliability, and sturdiness, and the feature-list that you'll need now and down the line if you plan on upgrading your PC. You also want to make sure you're getting good bang for your buck.

Alright gang, let's take a closer look into these exact things so after reading this article you'll be in-the-know to easily pick the best motherboard for your needs.

The 2 Types of Motherboards

First things first - there are basically two types of motherboards you can get. Intel based motherboards which are only compatible with Intel CPUs, and then you've got AMD boards which, you guessed it, only fit AMD's range of 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 these days. 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, particularly 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).
  • Number of RAM Slots - This might also be a factor for you. Say for example your motherboard only has 2 RAM slots and you buy 2 sets of 4GB of RAM to make a total of 8GB (pretty standard amount). You've now taken up both slots, and so if you wanted to upgrade with more RAM have no slots. In this case you'd want to get a single stick of 8GB instead of 2x4 if you knew you may very well upgrade later.

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.

Expansion Slots & USB Ports

If you'll be making upgrades to your build down the line or are adding some extra cards from the get-go such as a sound card, network card, second graphics card, etc, you will want to check that the motherboard you pick has enough expansion slots such as PCI and/or PCI-E (PCI Express) ports. 

These days graphics cards, sound cards, and network cards typically come in the PCI-E format, so I wouldn't worry so much about PCI unless you know you'll be needing it.

You should also keep in mind the number of USB ports to make sure your board has enough for your needs. 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 have that covered.

As well as USB ports, you may have a need for other ports such as FireWire, microphone ports, and so on, so check for that if you need it.

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.

WiFi 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 and is how many gamer's get by for fast, reliable WiFi.

And if you need Bluetooth support for whatever reason - check your motherboard specs!

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 either now or down the line 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 as only higher-end motherboards will allow for this.

If you're building a budget system and won't ever need the beastly, costly power of two graphics cards then just ignore this.

Motherboard Audio

Modern motherboards will come with decent built-in audio capabilities, so there's no need to get a dedicated sound card unless you have the cash to splurge on one for whatever reason as they're more of a luxury item.

To be honest, you won't notice much of a difference with a dedicated sound card as opposed to your motherboard's built-in sound unless you're dropping a ton of money on top of the range speakers/headset and really want to maximize the quality and volume to the absolute fullest.

Read Do You NEED a Sound Card for Gaming to learn more, but as a general rule of thumb I'd say 80% of builders will be totally happy with built-in motherboard audio capabilities. 

Stick to the Best Brands

When it comes to choosing the best motherboard for gaming, you definitely want to stick to trusted motherboard manufacturers such as Asus, Gigabyte, AsRock and MSI. 

Personally, I would not recommend veering away from these big 4 names in the motherboard game, although it would definitely be hard to do so (good luck trying to find 

Although keep in mind that not all models are created equal, and even if a board is created by one of these 4 giants doesn't mean it's a good buy.

The Best Motherboards for Gaming in 2017

For specific, current recommendations on the best motherboards check out our continuously updated Budget Gaming Build Examples and High-End Gaming Build Examples and take a look at the included boards in each build to get an idea of which motherboard is best for different budgets. Don't pick blindly though, and always do your homework to make the particular model you go with has all the features that you want.

So that's really all you need to know about selecting a good motherboard. There are other advanced features and specs, and considerations like the design, LED lighting, etc, if you care about those things, but the above are the most important to know about as a beginner builder.