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The motherboard is a vital part of your PC; you can compare it to the nervous system being in all respects a computers communication center – all components connect to the motherboard and through it, they “talk” to each other -, so you need to make sure that it sports the best chipset in order to ensure that all other internal components reach their full potential. Your choice, therefore, can make or break your PC.
So, while a motherboard is not as “exciting” as the CPU and GPU, it is all the same very important. Thus, unless you want to rebuild your entire PC from scratch, we recommend that you allocate a generous part of your budget to purchase a quality “mobo”.
Which motherboard is best for me?
As we said, the motherboard is the foundation of every PC. As such it must be a stable and reliable base on which to build the entire system.
For the average user, motherboards do not directly affect performance. As long as your motherboard “plays well” with all other components, you are golden.
Do I need an expensive motherboard?
While the motherboard does not have a direct impact on PC performance it plays a key role in determining which components you can put into your build. The cheaper the motherboard and the more limited you will be.
Cheap motherboards usually do not offer support for CrossFire or SLI; they also feature fewer USB ports, no niche connections (USB-C, M.2, SATA Express), and have minor or no overclocking capabilities. Also, they don’t offer extra features like built-in WiFi and Bluetooth. However, if you are not going to use any of these, then you can save some money by opting for a basic model.
On the other hand, if you choose a mid to high-end motherboard, in addition to the extra features that you can take advantage of right away, you’ll also have plenty of possibilities for future upgrades — like installing a better (newer) CPU.
In addition, the more expensive the motherboard, the better its support for overclocking and the ability to house and use high-end components.
Ultimately, if your budget is limited, you can definitely choose a cheaper motherboard. And if all you need is a basic PC, then you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on a premium motherboard.
What to look for in a motherboard
Generally speaking, the choice between motherboards is reduced to a question of socket, size, and quality:
The socket is where the CPU “sits”. Before choosing the right motherboard, you have to know which processor you intend to use.
A motherboard’s form factor affects – more than anything else – the size of your PC. In fact, opting for a smaller format doesn’t necessarily mean sacrificing performance or features; a single PCIe slot is more than enough for most users, while some mini ITX motherboards come with two M.2 slots.
The size, however, will have an impact on price. It is interesting to note here that Micro ATX cards are often the cheapest, while mini ITX boards can be among the most expensive.
Finally, the best motherboards can be somewhat future-proof — whatever that means in our fickle and fast-paced technology landscape — whether by having a socket or chipset capable of housing and running tomorrow’s processors, or one that supports next-gen interconnections, such as PCIe 4.0.
Motherboard buying guide
Anyhoo, finding the right motherboard can be incredibly difficult, and for some users, the tech jargon and fear of making a compatibility mistake can become a hindrance.
ATX, Micro ATX and mini ITX
These three are the most typical form factors, from the biggest to the smallest, that determine the size of the PC case and (generally speaking) the number of expansion slots available.
Peripheral Component Interconnect (express) – in sort PCI and PCIe, the latter being a longer and faster version of the former – are slots for additional cards such as graphics cards, sound cards, network cards, SSDs, etc. PCI(e) slots are have a length (x16, x8, x4, x1) and a number of data transmission lanes (again x16, x8, x4, x1). It is possible that a PCIe x 16 slot has only 8 data lanes, which means that its maximum theoretical data transfer rate is effectively half (although in most cases fewer lanes don’t make a difference).
Basic expansion cards like a WiFi adapter require a small PCI slot, while larger and more powerful cards like a GPU require a longer and faster PCIe slot.
Make sure beforehand that your motherboard has enough PCI(e)slots to connect all your expansion cards.
The Dual In-line Memory Module (DIMM) slots are where the RAM resides. the maximum amount of RAM you can have depends on the number of slots, along with the type of chipset and version of the operating system.
The chipset tells you which processors (or rather which generations) are compatible with the motherboard.
Serial Advanced Technology Attachment (SATA) ports are for installing storage drives (HDD, SSD) and optical drives (DVD/Blu-ray players). These ports determines the total amount of drives that can be connected to the motherboard.
Things to consider in order to choose the best motherboard
Before choosing a motherboard there are a number of essential factors that should affect your decision-making process:
The form factor determines the motherboard’s dimensions and therefore the PC case’s size and thus the desktop’s overall footprint. If you have space and want to build a high-end system, larger form factor “mobos” are the way to go.
Choose the right socket for your AMD or Intel CPU
Whichever processor you choose, you need to make sure that the motherboard has the correct socket to accommodate it. You can not install an Intel CPU on an AMD motherboard (they don’t fit) and vice versa.
Choose the right chipset for your AMD or Intel CPU
In addition to having the correct socket, Intel motherboards are equipped with Intel chipsets that work only with certain Intel processors, and the same applies to AMD. So, you need to make sure that a motherboard’s chipset corresponds to the CPU model. Furthermore, the chipset also determines a motherboard’s extra features — from the number of PCIe lanes to overclocking (even if you use an unlocked processor it is the motherboard’s chipset that lets you overclock it).
RAM and headroom
Some processors do not play well with very slow or very fast memory. When it comes to checking RAM compatibility, you need to pay attention to four things:
- Maximum memory supported
- Memory speed
- Multichannel support
- How many memory slots (DIMM) are present
Always check the official specs on the motherboard’s website; this will let you know exactly what RAM (type and speed) to buy.
In addition, some motherboards will have their DIMM slots a little closer to the CPU socket than others. Sometimes this can cause a problem with the CPU heatsink. If you want to install a big heatsink, or a beefy RAM module (some come with their own heatsinks) it’s a good precaution to make sure there is enough headroom for both.
Voltage regulator module and cooling
VRMs (Voltage Regulator Modules) and their cooling are both equally important. You want a stable delivery of power to the CPU, especially if you plan to overclock it.
Multi-phase power delivery is the ideal solution, especially in the case of overclocking. It is a feature usually reserved for the most expensive motherboards.
The selection of rear connections simply determines which ports will be available to your peripherals. It is the least important factor in choosing a motherboard since most of them are equipped with a similar set of ports.
The last thing you have to make sure of is to have enough headers for the fans and/or RGB lights that you intend to use.
Pay extra for high-end connectivity only if you need it
Do not spend money on an integrated wireless module if you intend to use a wired connection. On the other hand, your PC will be more future-proof if it has support for USB 3.1 Gen 2 and/or Thunderbolt 3 ports.
Below, we have gathered the best motherboards on the market. Whether you’re looking for an Intel or AMD (make sure it comes with the right socket and chipset), budget or premium, ATX or mini-ITX, there is a motherboard perfect for you.
To simplify things we have divided this list into two parts, first we have the best Intel motherboards and secondly the best AMD motherboards.
Best Intel motherboards
MSI MEG Z490 Godlike: best premium Intel motherboard
Premium motherboards cost a small fortune, but if you can afford one like the MSI MEG Z490 Godlike (Check on Amazon), you can rest assured that you’ll get the best possible performance, at least among Intel’s range.
The MSI MEG Z490 Godlike is in fact the best Z490 motherboard and the best Intel motherboard yet. It has a solid built, it’s easy to install and customize, offers excellent thermal performance, and has extraordinary overclocking possibilities.
It is very similar to the previous MSI MEG Z390 Godlike motherboard but boasts the new Z490 chipset that implements more features and controllers like 10GbE Ethernet, three PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 slots (each with its own M.2 heat shield), and Thunderbolt 3 Type-C connectivity.
In addition, the MSI MEG Z490 Godlike includes two Thunderbolt 3 Type-C ports on the rear panel and support for up to five PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 slots using the Xpander-Z Gen4 M.2 add-on card (included among the motherboard’s accessories) which adds two extra M.2 slots.
The rest of the spec is similar to the previous MSI MEG Z490 Godlike: this motherboard also uses an E-ATX format and sports Mystic Light RGB and an OLED display showing all debugging codes and temperatures. The connectivity module on the back panel includes (beyond the two Thunderbolt 3 Type-C ports that we already listed) two USB 3.2 G2 Type-A ports, four USB 3.2 G1 Type-A ports, and two USB 2.0 ports. We also find two buttons for USB BIOS Flashback and CMOS reset.
Network connectivity is entrusted to an Aquantia AQC107 10G and a Realtek RTL8125B 2.5G controller, while the Intel AX201 module is responsible for Wi-Fi 6 and BT 5.1 connectivity. As for SATA devices, MSI includes six SATA ports with support for type 0, 1, 5, and 10 RAID. Finally, the four dual-channel DDR4 memory slots support a total capacity of 128GB and can now handle speeds of up to 5000MHz.
This is an incredible motherboard that finishes in front of the similarly priced Asus ROG Maximus XII Extreme (Check on Amazon) and Gigabyte Z490 Aorus Xtreme (Check on Amazon). If you think that you will use all of its extra features, then this is definitely the best Intel motherboard you can buy right now.
MSI Z490-A PRO: best value Intel motherboard
The best bang for your buck Intel motherboard is the MSI Z490-A PRO, a motherboard that delivers a lot of performance without any expensive bells and whistles. The MSI Z490-A PRO offers you everything you need to build a low to mid-range desktop PC, taking full advantage of Intel’s 10th generation CPUs, at a price we can hardly believe (Check on Amazon).
There are many chipsets (H410, B460, H470, and Z490) that support the Intel LGA 1200 socket and therefore many options for the consumer. However, our choice uses the latest high-end Intel chipset that allows users to overclock the 10th generation Comet Lake processors.
In fact, none of the budget H410, B460, and H470 chipsets officially support overclocking or faster RAM (the MSI Z490-A Pro supports up to 128GB of RAM with clock speeds up to 4800Mhz). The MSI Z490-A Pro is not only one of the cheapest Z490 models on the market (Check on Amazon) but is also the best once you consider the sheer number of high-end specs including a 12-phase VRM (Voltage Regulator Module), the Realtek ALC1200 HD audio codec, two full-length 3.0×16 PCIe slots, two PCIe 3.0×4 M.2 slots (one of which is supplied with a heat sink), six SATA slots (four right angles, and two straight ones), the Realtek RTL8125B 2.5GbE Ethernet controller and a USB 3.2 G2 Type-C port on the back panel.
As for the rest, it is a fairly standard motherboard with the back panel offering five USB 3.2 G1 Type-A ports and two USB 2.0 ports. It also includes two video outputs (one HDMI and one DisplayPort) for users who want to take advantage of Intel’s integrated UHD graphics card, and six 3.5mm audio jacks.
The MSI Z490-A PRO features a simple and elegant design without drawing too much attention to itself given the absence of RGB. Buy it without thinking twice if all you want is a solid Intel LGA 1200 motherboard, featuring the latest high-end Z490 chipset, but without having to pay an arm and a leg for it (Check on Amazon).
Asus ROG Strix Z390-I Gaming: best “cheap” Intel Mini-ITX motherboard
With the recent fall in prices and the previous model (based on the Z370 chip) beginning to disappear from the market, the Asus ROG Strix Z390-I Gaming (Check on Amazon) wins first place in the ITX segment.
Despite its small size, the ROG Strix Z390-I Gaming offers excellent performance. Capable of stable 5GHz overclocking and memory speeds that can reach 3600MHz, its single PCIe x16 slot can push high-end graphics cards at speeds that match or exceed most other Z390 motherboards.
The small Strix also has a long list of features, including two PCIe Gen3 x4 M.2 slots, Intel v219 Ethernet, Wi-Fi AC, and the ALC1220A audio codec.
If all this wasn’t already enough, its clean design also allows for a quick assembly.
Note: while it’s getting harder to find, the previous generation ROG Strix Z370-I (Check on Amazon) remains a great alternative, especially at a discounted price.
Asus ROG Strix Z390-E Gaming: best Intel motherboard
If you are looking for the best Z390 motherboard for your high-end gaming PC, then look no further than the Asus ROG Strix Z390-E Gaming (Check on Amazon).
This ATX motherboard supports Intel’s 8th and 9th generation CPUs and features two M.2 slots, 2nd generation USB 3.1 ports, addressable RGB, built-in 802.11AC Wi-Fi, and sports a cutting edge thermal design with M.2 slot heatsinks and glorious AURA RGB lighting that give it a fantastic look.
Overclocking performance is also best in class, with Asus including its PRO clock technology (AI Overclocking, FanXpert 4, OptiMem II, TPU insight, EPU guidance, DIGI+ VRM, turbo app, etc) which makes overclocking a child’s play.
The Z390-E also features three PCIe 3.0 lanes and support for multi-GPU configurations (2-way SLI and 3-way CrossFireX). You can also install up to 64GB of DDR4 memory in dual-channel mode and overclock it up to a maximum of 4266MHz.
Yes, it’s an expensive motherboard, but the build quality, features, and aesthetics are something to be marveled at and definitely worth the price.
Gigabyte Z390 Aorus Ultra: best mid-range Intel motherboard
This Gigabyte motherboard is not as flashy as other well-known motherboard manufacturers (ASUS and MSI) but has managed to accumulate a lot of recommendations lately. Combined with an affordable price, the Gigabyte Z390 Aorus Ultra (Check on Amazon) is the clear mid-range winner.
The Gigabyte Z390 Aorus Ultra features three M.2 slots, Intel Wi-Fi Wave2 and Ethernet, full RGB lighting, and ALC1220 audio. Both ASUS and MSI offer similar features only with their premium motherboards. Thus this motherboard offers the best value for money.
It is perhaps a little too flashy for a more sober (not gaming) look. Fortunately, you can disable all RGB lights from the BIOS. This is a small criticism of an otherwise excellent card.
MSI MPG Z390M Gaming Edge AC: best Intel Micro-ATX motherboard
If you want a good mid-range Intel motherboard but don’t have much space on your desk, then you’ll need the best Micro-ATX motherboard you can find, i.e. the MSI MPG Z390M Gaming Edge AC (Check on Amazon). It has all the features offered by a full-size ATX model but at a fraction of the size and price.
It comes with the latest Intel Z390 chipset, some useful extra features, and as is the norm for premium motherboards is complete with RGB lighting. Despite its smaller size, you get the same two M.2 slots, support for SLI and Crossfire configurations (it has two PCIe x16 slots), and all the performance Intel’s Coffee Lake Refresh processors have to offer.
ASRock Z390 Phantom Gaming: best Intel Mini-ITX motherboard
Even if you’ll never use the Thunderbolt 3 port, it’s hard to not praise a motherboard that does everything better than the competition and can be found at a lower price. If you are looking for a Mini ITX motherboard to pair with a high-end Intel processor (such as the Intel Core i9-9900K), the Z390 Phantom Gaming (Check on Amazon) should be your first choice.
Best AMD motherboards
MSI B450 Tomahawk: best AMD motherboard for most users
If you intend to build a mid to high-end AMD PC the MSI B450 Tomahawk is the best choice for most users. It costs (Check on Amazon), but offers some high-end features such as the possibility of light overclocking – even if you’re not interested in overclocking right now, having a B450 board at least gives you the ability to overclock later along the way – and support for AMD dual graphics card configurations connected in CrossFire.
Its B450 chipset was built for second-generation Ryzen processors but is ready for the latest third-generation Ryzen processors – although there are reports of minor problems with them.
Essentially you get everything you need from a mid-range motherboard with the addition of quality VRMs and large heatsinks on both the Vcore and the VRM SoC that can handle even a slightly overclocked Ryzen 9-3950X processor without problems.
In the end, if you don’t need multiple M.2 slots or support for PCIe 4.0 (available on motherboards with the X570 and B550 chipsets) and don’t want to pay a fortune for a solid AM4 motherboard, the MSI B450 Tomahawk is your best choice right now.
Asus X570 ROG Crosshair VIII Hero (Wi-Fi): best high-end AMD motherboard
While this choice may seem a bit expensive for most of you, the quality of this motherboard is simply unparalleled.
The Asus ROG Crosshair VIII Hero (Wi-Fi) (Check on Amazon) is an excellent premium motherboard that offers many high-end features at a lower price. Not only does it have all the features you would expect from a premium board, but it also uses the latest AMD chipset.
Gigabyte X570 Aorus Xtreme: the best
If you’re building a PC using a high-end 3rd generation Ryzen processor, and you want to pair it with the best motherboard ever, then you won’t find a better one than the Gigabyte X570 Aorus Xtreme (Check on Amazon).
Its AM4 socket is designed to handle extreme core clocks and cover the power needs of even the most demanding third-generation Ryzen processor.
The X570 chipset is also equipped with full support for PCIe 4.0, and graphics cards such as the AMD Radeon RX 5700 and 5700 XT. In addition, each individual port is tilted to a 90-degree angle to make cable management even easier and you’ll also find a ton of RGB lights on board.
Asus ROG Strix X470-I Gaming: best AMD Mini-ITX motherboard
Big things can come in small packages. Everything we find in this small motherboard is designed with performance in mind. This extends to the BIOS where you can find a stress test for overclocking even before launching Windows.
In addition, despite the Mini-ITX form factor, the ASUS ROG Strix X470-I GAMING (Check on Amazon) comes with two M.2 slots and sports a fantastic look, complete with RGB lighting. It is not cheap, but with regards to other mini-ITX motherboards, it is more than worth the price.