How to Choose a Motherboard in 2021

How To Choose A Motherboard

First things first, building a gaming PC can be daunting and extremely complex when you have zero knowledge about the components. To be honest, no one is born intelligent. It takes time to understand a complex topic, and especially if you are new to PC gaming. This is exactly why this article is targeted at those who are looking forward to building a new gaming PC for them; hence the question “How to choose a motherboard”.

To begin with, custom PCs take a great deal of time because you need to deftly sieve through a myriad of entries. Currently, the market is filled with top-notch products, and this is where you might get coerced or cajoled into buying something erroneous just in the name of a brand. No one loves losing money on some garbage. Do you? Probably, not. For what it’s worth, the motherboard is a foundation or a building block that will support all the other components. If anything is misleading, even in terms of performance, there you go, your gaming PC in shambles. This is why I’m constantly enforcing or highlighting the need for having a functional, robust, and durable motherboard.

The next session of the article will be a quick skim-through for those who are in a hurry. So, if you don’t want to read the complete article, avert your gaze to the next session.

How do I choose the right Motherboard?

Socket type

motherboard Socket

Each motherboard is different (Yes, they are when Intel and Ryzen are concerned) because many of them are developed with discrete lineages in mind. For example, the earlier motherboards might use AM3 or AM2 chipset or different LGA chipsets (for intel) to sustain individual processors. This is where you need to be wary of which type of socket to root for since your processor will build its foundation on it.

Form Factor

Motherboard Form Factor
Image Credits “whatintech”

It might not concern you at first, but it’s a very crucial factor to consider before buying any motherboard. Form factor stands for “Size”, and majorly there are four in the market: Standard-ATX, micro-ATX, Mini-ITX, and E-ATX for more slots and features. The bigger the motherboard, the more extra features like WIFI and Bluetooth support it will house in.

Value-added features

Well, the value-added features stand for having features like WIFI, USB 3.1, PCIe 4.0, Bluetooth, Thunderbolt 3, and etc. It entirely depends on you and your requirements; thus, the features will shapeshift accordingly.

Budget

The majority of the motherboards will not cost you higher than $200 margin, but there are some that can exceed mundane expectations. For example, threadripper motherboards are usually expensive and might touch a $400 or $300 margin, so you need to be wary of this while making a selection.


In essence, what’s a motherboard, and why does it even exist?

I want to make myself crystal clear before talking about anything onwards from here. The rest of the article is quite detailed, and if you are in a hurry, kindly read the preceding heading that summarizes everything up for you.

Well, you can assume the motherboard as a backbone to everything; everything in a PC. For what it’s worth, a motherboard is a printed circuit (transistors, capacitors, and exactly what not) board that houses in or proposes a civil discussion between two or more components. These components are connected through connectors, wires, a sort of required medium to communicate efficiently. It’s worth mentioning that most of the devices today use motherboards at their finest because, without them, no component can exist.

In particular, you will come across all sorts of internal components like pins, connectors, and slots on a motherboard. And this is where the conundrum of picking up a working board falls in. I still remember those days when I bought an HP motherboard without even considering the core idea behind such an entry. It wasn’t up to the mark, to say the least. I fell for it, and I suffered. This is why, my fellow gamers, pay special heed to the sub-parts of a motherboard. They play a vital role in determining the overall strength and power of your gaming PC.

I know you must be timid by just looking at a motherboard. How on earth would you be able to solve this excruciatingly difficult puzzle? To be honest, it’s really not difficult when you know the best combination available to you. Don’t worry, just stay tuned since I will be talking about what platform, socket types, GPUs, RAM modules to go for with a generalized concept of a motherboard in detail.

Just do remember that whatever motherboard you root for, it should last for a pretty good deal of time. Obviously, you don’t want it to die out within a year or so. Do you? Definitely not, because you will be spending hundreds of dollars on it; savor it till you can.

How to determine the socket type/ Platform for your motherboard?

This heading will be a little longer since we will be having an extended pep talk between the two most competitive rivals: AMD and Intel. These two companies are the only entities that are known for selling/pitching-in renowned processors. I haven’t heard of any other brand selling processors, to be very honest, and If you are rooting for an XYZ brand that sells processors apart from AMD and Intel, your PC is doomed.

First things first, both Intel and AMD are the brands that are well-versed in top-notch manufacturing processors for your motherboard/gaming PC (it doesn’t matter). You get to behold anything from entry-level to a high-end processor from both the companies, and this is where the problem kicks in. Which brand to choose from? Because AMD at its finest is rather targeting multi-core/threading performance, whereas Intel is currently focusing on enhancing its single-core performance. To be honest, both brands are crusading against each other since the early days, and I have personally seen the ups and downs of both. So, my opinion won’t be biased; I can assure you that.

Not to mention, recently, AMD released their new 3rd generation Ryzen processors, including many new threadrippers, don’t forget to check them out before making any decision. On top of that, you would need to get a motherboard that will easily slot in all the latest processors from either Intel or AMD. I know it’s sad because you really can’t interchange motherboards. For Intel processors, the pins are directly located on the motherboard, whereas for the AMD processors, it’s on the chip itself; hence you would need to make a rational decision about the processors beforehand.

As far as the intel is concerned, you look up 10th or 11th generation processors. Well, you can still live on with 8th or 9th generation candidates, but the issue resides on the Intel side. It’s due to the rampant release of new generations, which somewhat hampers the previous generation sockets’ performance. That is why you need to be very careful when selecting the processor from the Intel brand as Number one; there are many, and Number two, the generations create chaos for the user. For now, you can look up to LGA 1200 socket or LGA 1151 socket for 10th, 11th, and 9th generation processors, respectively.

You can have a look at this table as it summarizes everything regarding chipsets and sockets.

Socket TypeSupported CPUs
AM4AMD Ryzen 7-generation A-series, Athlon, or any processor from different generations.
sTR4AMD Ryzen threadrippers generally.
sTRX43rd generation AMD threadrippers
LGA 11518th and 9th generation Intel processors
LGA 120010th generation Intel processors
LGA 2066Skylake-X and Kaby-Lake X

Form factor (how does it affect the overall performance of your gaming setup?)

I have already explained succinctly in the first heading, but here we are going to take a look at different types of form factors and how exactly they affect the overall performance. Huh? How is even performance related to the size of the motherboard? Let me explain this with the help of an example. Imagine you have a tray, and on it, there are a couple of apples. Well, wouldn’t the size of the tray affect the overall number of apples on the tray? It does, right? That is exactly what happens when you buy off the smallest possible motherboard to date. Although there will be all fundamental and pivotal sockets, connectors, DIMM rackets, and whatnot, the motherboard will be lacking value-added features like WIFI and Bluetooth support.

At times, smaller motherboards tend to have only 2 RAM slots, which means you can only slot in up to 64 gigs of RAM. In short, form factors really affect the overall status of your motherboard. If you are looking forward to using all types of features and enhancing the capability of your motherboard, I would recommend you to go for standard ATX motherboards.

The table below summarizes everything for you.

 E-ATXATXMicro-ATXMini-ITX
Size12 * 13 inches12 * 9.6 inches9.6 * 9.6 inches9.0 * 7.5 inches
Expansion slots7+ (up to 10)741
GPUs4 (quad)4 (quad)31
SATA ports12+1286
RAM slots8842

RAM slots requirement

motherboard ram slots

There’s a fine line between what we call overkill and the bare minimum. For today’s gaming standards, the bare minimum is eight gigs of RAM, whereas an overkill is slotting in 32 gigs of RAM. But do remember that for professional game editors and animators, 32 gigs of RAM is a bare minimum, and their overkill might station at 128 gigs of RAM. As I said, it entirely depends on the usage. In this heading, we will not be talking about the ideal capacity of the RAM but how many slots your motherboard should harbor as a safe side. I would say at least 4. If you are into Mini-ITX, then sorry to say you will be only getting 2 slots of RAM, and as we progress further, 2 slots will cease to exist.

It’s worth mentioning if your intentions are not to game and only do office work on your PC, then 2 slots of RAM are enough. Just slot in 4 gigs of RAM or 8; it won’t matter since normal day-to-day applications don’t consume much RAM. For simplicity, just remember that the motherboard can slot in from 2 DIMM slots to anywhere in between 8 DIMM slots inclusive. For the capacity, just calculate how much RAM will be required and slot-in accordingly.

Motherboard Expansion slots

Motherboard Expansion slots
image credit: pearsonitcertification

I would be honest here! Without expansion slots, your motherboard is nothing. Technically speaking, you need these expansion slots to power on different components on your motherboard-For example, GPU, M.2 SSD, Hard disks, etc. For these, you need expansion slots because, without them, you won’t be able to run any of the required components. As far as today’s standards are concerned, all the expansion slots have been condensed down to having PCIe 3.0 or 4.0 slots on the motherboard. In essence, PCIe is the most important expansion slot as it allows any type of component to get connected with your motherboard at its finest.

Basically, these PCIe expansion slots come in different sizes, indicating the type of component that needs to be connected over an XYZ size. For enumeration, the PCIe slots come in 4 different sizes: x1, x4, x8, and x16. Well, the largest one is used for GPUs.

Apart from this, you also need to ensure that your motherboard is decently equipped with other expansion slots as well if required (including SATA ports).

What ports to look out for in a motherboard?

The I/O area is the most fundamental and important place since it houses all types of ports that you would need for future usage.

  1. Audio ports: a requirement if you are looking forward to connecting speakers
  2. PS/2 ports: Best for ancient keyboards and mice
  3. USB 2: Ables to connect a myriad of day-to-day peripheral devices
  4. USB 3.1/3.2 Gen2: Do look out for these ports as they are known for delivering data at 10Gbps. Not many peripherals make use of this; still, having them for any by-chance device is a plus point.
  5. USB 3/USB 3.1 Gen1: Runs with every peripheral; better to have them through extensions as well.
  6. HDMI/DisplayPort/VGA: These ports are a must as they allow your monitor to get connected with the GPU

GPU slot

I have already mentioned it in the expansion ports heading, but it’s crucial to reiterate the same concept as GPU is the most fundamental component of your gaming PC. For GPUs, you will come across a plethora of ports, depending on their size and purpose. But today, everything has boiled down to having the PCIe port on your motherboard that allows your GPU to enjoy the freedom and reach its maximum possible potential.

Currently, you can benefit from having the PCIe 3.0 for your GPU, but all the new arrivals are extensively making use of the PCIe 4.0 expansion port. It’s better to have PCIe 4.0 than PCIe 3.0.

For what it’s worth, you would also need to be focused while making a choice for the GPU. In short, CPU and GPU have to correlate, and on the basis of these two components, you will be buying a motherboard. So, just be wary of everything, as your choices will affect the system’s future performance.  

Overclocking support

Not every motherboard has the overclocking potential, and it also entirely depends on your processor and GPU. Basically, Intel processors are a little weird in terms of overclocking. Only the “K” versions are unlocked, so in short, if you have Intel core i5 6600, it won’t overclock, but the other variant with “K” can be overclocked (Intel Core i5-6600K). For the Ryzen processors, they all are subject to overclocking, which means there’s no such restriction of having different types of variants. That’s why I love Ryzen processors so much.

Also, do bear in mind that chipsets like Z490 or above are only capable of pitching in overclocking support for Intel processors. As for the Ryzen, you can rely on any type of motherboard; it doesn’t matter.

Aesthetics

Truth to be spoken, Aesthetics aren’t as important as anything else. But again, it depends on your taste buds. If you are into having lush and energetic motherboards, then go ahead since they allow you to twin RGB lights with the core aesthetics of the motherboard itself. Just do remember that you are not supposed to spend too much on a motherboard just for the sake of buying off aesthetics. What matters is the performance, and if the motherboard you have chosen doesn’t even care a shred about performance, then sorry to say you have made a wrong choice.

Storage devices

As far as storage devices are concerned, you pretty much would be in a dire need to get hold of decent slots for HDDs and SSDs. The only issue will be the supporting nature of your motherboard. It’s always better to look out for such motherboards that allow you to expand on your storage devices because sooner or later, you will run out of space, and deleting the files won’t be an option. Thus, it’s always a plus point to have more SATA ports on your motherboard for connecting SSDs and HDDs.

For what it’s worth, the SATA 3.0 provides up to 6 gigabits per second of transfer rate, whereas SATA 3.XYZ version tops off even that speed. So, it’s all about gathering information about your motherboard as it will be the one determining the speeds of all the components. The same formula applies to NVMe SSDs as well.

Features that aid in amplifying your PC’s performance

Please make sure to look out for these features as they will help you a lot in diagnosing your PC if something erroneous happens. For example, LED diagnostic readouts are beeping sounds that come from the on-board speaker on the motherboard. This allows the user to diagnose the PC by listening to the beeping lights and reading the light combination on the motherboard. This is a life-savior because, at times, these LED diagnostic lights help you in fixing your PC. You never know if it’s the issue of RAM or GPU. Not to mention, you also would be required to look out for on-board on/off switches and ethernet ports as they are a must for day-to-day usage.

Connection dilemma

At times, plugging in the right connector can be daunting because of the lack of information. It’s always better to read off everything from the manual as it helps you understand in-depth about each connector and port on the motherboard. On my first time, I spent 2 days figuring out what type of connector to fit in the XYZ port, and it was one hell of a task. So, it’s my advice to always skim through manuals and picture-esque guides for educating yourself.

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