A Guide on How to Choose Your Gaming Motherboard
by Stephen P
At the core of any good gaming PC is its motherboard, and it can be tricky to figure out which motherboard would be best for your needs. While a CPU can be thought of as the brains of the operation, the motherboard is more like the central nervous system of your gaming rig. With the seemingly endless range of models out there, it might seem overwhelming when trying to figure out the right one for your system. We have done the key research to help you understand what goes into choosing an ideal gaming motherboard.
While you don’t necessarily need an overly pricy motherboard to get the job done, you’ll ideally want to avoid cheaper models to ensure you aren’t missing out on any key features. Generally speaking, anything in the ballpark of $100 – 150 is likely to be ideal for a mid-range system. If you’re building with a powerful CPU like an Intel i9 or AMD Ryzen 9, you’re naturally going to want to pay a little extra for a more appropriate board.
Otherwise referred to as its form factor, a motherboard’s size will come in one of four main types. The first of these is ATX, typically the standard size of a board. ATX motherboard will fit in any mid-tower or full tower case. Thanks to their size, they can offer a full range of features.
Next up is Micro ATX, also known as mATX, which is somewhat smaller than the ATX. This is ideal for smaller or more budget-minded builds. The smaller size naturally comes with the trade-off of features, along with fewer expansion slots and potentially fewer RAM slots. That said, many mATX boards will be more than sufficient for a gaming rig.
Mini ITX is the smallest motherboard available, at almost half of the size of the standard ATX. These can be tricky to work with and are only suitable for specifically compatible cases, so they are generally not recommended for first-time builds.
Finally, we have the Extended ATX, which is the largest size available. These are rarely used in typical builds and are often only preferred for dual-CPU, and Quad-GPU builds by only the most well-versed in PC building.
You’ll want to ensure that your motherboard is above all compatible with your components. The first consideration is the CPU socket type, with AMD often using AM4 sockets and Intel using LGA 1151 and LGA 1200 with their newest products. It’s imperative that you do this portion of the research in your own time to make sure you’re getting the right components for each other.
Another important consideration in purchasing a motherboard is that it will work with your chosen RAM modules. You must ensure that your board supports the specific RAM type, speed, and capacity.
The current standard type for RAM is DDR4, although older models may still rely on DDR3. We may also see DDR5 on the horizon, but that shouldn’t be too much of a concern right now. Motherboards will only ever support one RAM type. You would be best off purchasing DDR4 RAM in the current climate, and, therefore also a motherboard to match.
Depending on the speed of your RAM modules, you should also ensure that this speed is clearly stated in your motherboard’s list of supported RAM speeds. In some cases, you may see “OC” written after some of the listed speeds, meaning you will need to fiddle around in the BIOS a little to run the module at the desired speed.
If you want to run your PC on a lot of RAM, then make sure to check the maximum capacity of your motherboard. It’s rare to ever reach the maximum supported capacity of a board, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Also, think about the number of RAM slots you’ll need. It’s no good buying a board with only 2 slots if you’re looking to be running 4 sticks of RAM at once.
Aside from all of the core components, you may also want to spare a consideration for the brand of your motherboard. There are four main motherboard manufacturers known for their quality and reliability - Asus, Gigabyte, MSI, and ASRock. Unless you know your stuff, it’s a good idea to stick with a model from one of these brands, as you know you’ll be getting a good piece of equipment.
While there is much more to a motherboard than is covered here, the above factors are the main considerations to keep in mind. Using this overview as a baseline for your research, you should be in good stead for purchasing an ideal board for your gaming rig.