How To Choose A Motherboard

How To Choose a motherboard (Buying Guide)

If you are building a new computer, you need to know how to choose a motherboard. The motherboard is the foundation on which you add other components, like your CPU, GPU, RAM, and SSD.

But how to choose a motherboard? What should you pay close attention to? There are many factors that you have to take into account when picking the motherboard for your next build. By reading this you will know what those factors are and how to choose a motherboard.

What CPU Will Work With Your Motherboard?

First and foremost, you have to choose a motherboard that will work with the CPU you picked. Usually, you first choose what CPU you want and then get a motherboard based on that. You may find the term “platform” used to describe the socket.

The most important sockets currently are AMD AM4 and Intel LGA 1200. There is also the Socket TR4 for AMD Ryzen Threadripper CPUs and the Scalable LGA4189 socket for Intel Xeon CPUs. But you probably already know that Threadripper and Xeon processors are for workstation computers because of their large number of cores and threads.

In the end, it does not really matter what CPU you have as long as you know which socket it is. You can find that information on the manufacturer’s website and then you will know how to choose a motherboard accordingly.

What Slots Do You Need on Your Motherboard?

There is a number of different slots on a motherboard. The CPU and RAM slots are there to accommodate your CPU and RAM. Most motherboards have one or sometimes two CPU slots and two to eight DIMM slots for your RAM.

There are also a few different PCI slots used for different extension devices. The most important one is the PCIe x16 slot that you will use for your graphics card. Pretty much every motherboard nowadays has at least one PCIe x16 slot and a few different PCI slots for network cards, modems, tuners, sound cards, and so on.

Remember that there is a difference between PCI and PCIe (the “e” stands for express). PCIe slots have higher transfer speeds, which is why they are used for graphics cards.

There are also SATA slots used for storage devices like SSD and HDD. Essentially all motherboards have a few SATA slots. Most motherboards nowadays come with 6 SATA slots, but the number varies.

Speaking of storage, an important slot that you should pay close attention to is the M.2 slot. It is used for very fast NVMe SSDs as well as regular SSDs. Not all motherboards have M.2 slots and high-end motherboards usually have more than one.

Internal Connectors / External Ports

It is also worth mentioning that you should pay attention to both internal connectors as well as external ports. Internal connectors allow you to, for example, connect the USB slots on your PC case to the motherboard.

And when it comes to power, your PSU has a few different cables that you have to connect to the motherboard’s internal connectors. The 24 pin power for the board and the 8 pin power connector for the CPU are the most important ones and must be connected.

As far as external ports are concerned, they are not a huge issue for most people. You can look at the rear I/O to see what kind of ports there are. Look for newer standards like USB 3.2 and USB Type-C when buying a motherboard as these ports will be relevant in the future, if not right now.

Remember that your internal USB connectors can be utilized to connect more USB devices, should you need them.

Also, it is especially worth mentioning that the number of case fans that you can connect to your motherboard is important when it comes to cooling. Pretty much all motherboards have at least one CPU fan connector and one case fan connector.

If you want to connect three or four case fans to your motherboard, you will need to have a large number of 3-pin or 4-pin fan headers. So, how to choose a motherboard that has enough fan headers? Generally speaking, the more expensive the motherboard is, the more fan headers will it have.

But then again, if you really like a motherboard and it has all the features you could wish for but does not have enough fan headers, you can always connect the case fans directly to the PSU by getting a 4-pin molex fan adapter cable.

Also, if you are into RGB, you absolutely have to get a motherboard with RGB headers. Pretty much all new motherboards come with one or two RGB headers, so that shouldn’t be difficult to find.

How Many SATA Ports Do I Need?

If you do not know how many SATA ports you need, ask yourself this: “How many HDDs and SSDs do I plan to get?“. If your answer is one SSD and one HDD, you are not alone. Most people will never use more than two SATA ports, especially if they also have an M.2 slot that they can put an NVMe SSD into.

Nonetheless, if you ever plan to get more storage, it is nice to know that pretty much all motherboards come with at least 6 SATA slots. High-end motherboards like the ones used with AMD Threadripper CPUs often have more than 6 SATA ports, but you probably won’t need that much storage in the first place.

SSD Technology  

SSDs are great because they are significantly faster than traditional HDDs. You will definitely feel the difference between your old HDD and a brand-new SSD. But did you know that there is a huge difference between an NVMe M.2 SSD and a SATA SSD as well?

That’s right. NVMe SSDs are around five times faster than SATA SSDs, which is why they cannot use the traditional SATA port. Traditional SSDs can use M.2, though, so bear in mind that not all M.2 SSDs are NVMe.

And then there are PCIe NVMe SSDs. These are arguably faster than the NVMe SSDs that are connected to M.2. But the difference between those two is not that important for most people. So, how to choose a motherboard then? Simple – just look for a motherboard that has at least one M.2 slot that you can use in the future if not now.

Compatible RAM With Motherboard

Yet another important topic when it comes to choosing a motherboard is the RAM. RAM goes into dual in-line memory module (DIMM) slots. The more DIMM slots there are on your motherboard, the more sticks of RAM you can install.

The types of channels are also worth mentioning. All new motherboards support at least dual-channel memory, but there are also triple-channel and quad-channel. There are some diminishing returns, so you should not worry too much about it. Just make sure that you put the same RAM sticks into the same colored DIMM slots to have Dual-channel because of the huge performance difference.

When choosing a motherboard, it is important to make sure that your RAM will work nicely with it. You should definitely check the motherboard’s memory compatibility list to make sure that your RAM and motherboard are compatible. You can find the list on the manufacturer’s website. Remember that RAM is typically always compatible, even if not listed, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Motherboard Sizes / Form Factor / PC Case Size

The motherboard form factor is another very important factor to pay close attention to when picking a motherboard. Generally speaking, the larger the motherboard is, the more features it has. That also means that it is more expensive. On the other hand, tiny Mini-ITX motherboards are great for small cases that go under the TV.

Most people get a MicroATX or ATX motherboard because that is the perfect size for a mid or full-tower build that has great airflow, expandability, and features. You can easily fit two or three graphics cards into an ATX build, but the question is if you really should.

And if you need a ton of space and want a huge computer, get an E-ATX or XL-ATX motherboard. Bear in mind that there is a small difference between the two, but it is often overlooked.

Whichever motherboard size you decide to get, make sure that it has enough room for all your extension cards and other components. More importantly, check if your PC case can fit the motherboard size you want without any problems.

What Is I/O Plate?

The I/O plate is a thin piece of metal that goes on the back of your PC case. It comes with your motherboard and it can only be used for the motherboard model that you have. Make sure that you put in the I/O plate before you put in the motherboard.

It serves to protect your motherboard from dust and to keep electromagnetic radiation inside of your case. Besides, nobody likes to have ugly holes in the back of their computer.

What Extra Features Do You Need?

Pay close attention to the feature set that a motherboard offers. If you need Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, bear in mind that not all motherboards come with it. You usually have to pay a bit more to get it, but it’s not a big deal. The same is true for 10 Gbps LAN.

Pretty much all motherboards come with an integrated sound card and network card nowadays, so you don’t have to worry about that. 

Do You Plan to Overclock?

And if you are an overclocker, how to choose a motherboard then? Well, you have to get a motherboard that has high-quality and many VRMs. It is worth mentioning that some motherboards come with specially designed cooling for the VRMs and chipset that makes overclocking easier.

But before you even plan to overclock, you should know that both your CPU and motherboard have to support it. Again, refer to the manufacturer’s website and make sure that overclocking is possible. You will need a B or X motherboard for AMD or a Z or X motherboard for Intel.

GPU Support

All GPUs are compatible with all motherboards, thanks to the PCIe standard. However, if your graphics card is especially heavy, how to choose a motherboard based on that?

Easy! Just get a motherboard that has reinforced PCIe slots that are designed to hold heavy motherboards without the risk of bending or breaking. You may have to pay a bit extra for that, though.

What You Need to Know About BIOS?

Not all motherboards have a great BIOS. Again, the more you pay, the more features you get. Nowadays, all motherboard manufacturers have well-designed BIOSes that you can navigate through to get to the settings you need.

You may prefer one manufacturer’s BIOS over another. For example, Asus and Gigabyte make vastly different BIOSes that make it a bit difficult to switch from one to another. Nonetheless, you probably won’t spend a lot of time in the BIOS in the first place, so it should not affect your motherboard choice too much.

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Conclusion

Getting the right motherboard for you is not as easy as you might think, but it is not a nightmare either. There are many things that you have to pay attention to, such as the form factor, RAM compatibility, the number of SATA slots, and so on. So, how to choose a motherboard?

You first determine what motherboard you want to get based on the CPU you own or plan to buy. Once you know whether you need an Intel or AMD motherboard, choose what form factor you want to go with. Make sure that the motherboard can fit inside your case.

Once you know all that, look at the different features that each motherboard manufacturer offers for their model. If you do not notice any significant differences, you can then simply pick the motherboard that looks the best to you!