If you are looking to build your own PC or to buy a pre-built PC or computer that you might to expand or upgrade in the future, then there is one component that will serve as a foundation. So, that component is the motherboard and it is an incredibly important piece of the PC or computer puzzle.
In addition, it determines many of the other components that you will be able to choose, and at the same time some other choices such as the processor that you will use in your new PC or computer determine which motherboard you can use.
Moreover, picking a CPU and a complimentary motherboard will typically be the next component you select for your build. Let’s break down your motherboard selection into a few easy steps. Before we get started though, here is a big tip.
One way to make your decision very easier is to use the final rating comparison feature. Although, if you go to the final rating motherboard page, then you can select up to five top-quality motherboards and also receive a detailed look at how they compare in terms of many of the topics discussed in this how-to.
What’s a motherboard?
The motherboard is a printed circuit board that creates a kind of backbone that allows a variety of components to communicate and provides different connectors for components such as the central processing unit (CPU), graphic processing unit (GPU), memory, and storage as well.
Furthermore, most computers made today including smartphones, tablets, notebooks, and desktop computers or PC, use motherboards to pull everything together, but the only kind that you will typically purchase yourself are those made for desktop PCs or computers.
Looking at the motherboard top down, you will see a collection of circuits, transistors, capacitors, slots, connectors, and heatsinks, and many more that all combine to route signals and power throughout the PC or computer and allow you to plug in all of the required components.
It’s a complicated product that we have ever seen and many of the technical details are beyond the scope of this how-to. However, some of these details are very important for your buying decision, though, and we will outline them for you below.
As you are deciding on the right motherboard for your computer, then you will want to make sure that it meets your needs both today and tomorrow.
If you know that you will never want to upgrade your PC or computer beyond its original configuration, then you can choose a motherboard that provides exactly what you need to get up and running your computer.
But, if you think, then you might want to expand your PC or computer later and you will want to make sure your motherboard will support your needs as they require.
Perhaps, the first decision to make is which CPU you want to serve as the brain of your PC or computer, which means choosing between two companies including AMD or Intel.
Both offer CPUs ranging from entry-level options good enough for web browsing, productivity, and low-end gaming all the way up to ultra-powerful beasts that can rip through video editing projects and run today’s the most demanding or popular games at high-frames per second.
Additionally, both companies including Intel and AMD have constantly upgraded their products and so this information can become stale very quickly.
As of when, this how-to was written, though, Intel 9th generation processors, and AMD has recently introduced its Ryzen 2 architecture with Ryzen 3 expected soon and 3rd generation AMD Ryzen processors.
Which one is right for you which will depend on your needs such as whether you are most worried about applications that can use multiple processor cores or you are the most worried about games that benefit from the fastest or quickest single-core performance.
Once, you have decided which CPU Is best for you, then you will need to pick the right motherboard socket and right chipset as well.
Basically, a processor or CPU socket is the mechanism through which a CPU is firmly attached to a motherboard. A chipset is a motherboard software and hardware that combines to allow all the various components to communicate.
The motherboard comes in different sizes which means that you’ve some flexibility in building your PC or computer to fit in your environment.
If you’ve plenty of space, then you might want to use a full-size tower case, while if you are building a home theater PC or computer that is meant to beneath your family room TV, then you will likely want a much smaller case.
That is why motherboards come in various sizes or form factors and these standards define not only the size of the motherboard, but also how many components they tend to support.
There’re variations in the latter, but generally speaking the larger motherboards’ physical size the more components it’ll support. Note that, not all cases support all form factors and so you will want to make sure your motherboard and case match up.
Motherboard expansion options:
PCI is the most important or essential port and the one you will use to connect most components today. There’re four sizes of PCIe slots and the latest standard in common use is PCIe 3.0 with PCIe 4.0 available on the latest AMD Ryzen and Intel Comet Lake compatible motherboards.
Although these four sizes dictate both the throughput of the connection and its size, you will want5 to make sure that you’ve enough expansion slots and that they are of the right sizes to support all of your present and future needs respectively.
Moreover, the four size slots are x 1, x 4, x8, and x16 with x4 and x16 being the most common. Motherboards vary widely on how many slots that they include and also on their placement.
You will want to be sure that you’ve enough slots and that they have enough space around them to fit all your required components.
Some Intel core processors come with integrated GPUs that provide the means to display output to a monitor and AMD has its own version of the same thing called the accelerated processing unit that combines a CPU with a graphic processing unit on the same package.
Furthermore, if you need a more powerful graphics processing unit (GPU) either for gaming and for more demanding games like video editing that can make use of a GPU for the fastest or quickest processing, then you will likely want a sandstone GPU.
In that case, you will want to keep in mind which kinds of GPUs you can connect to your motherboard & even how various GPUs of your motherboard can support.
We have covered several different ways to connect components to a motherboard including PCIe, DIMMs slots, and storage connections as well.
There’re a host of other connection types that motherboards can support today and once again you will want to consider your needs very carefully when selecting the right motherboard.
Also, some connections are located directly on the motherboard and internal to the case and they are sometimes meant to connect to ports on the front, topsides, and rear of the case as well.
In addition, you will also want to consider what ports your case support and make sure a motherboard provides the required internal connections. The motherboard also has externally accessible connections in the rear input or output panel that fits into a generally standard location on the rear of the case.
Some of the best or well-known motherboard manufacturers are Asus, Gigabyte, MSI, and ASRock as well. You can easily view the different options from those companies as well as others on our best motherboard page.