How to choose the right motherboard


What should you look for when choosing a motherboard? The best CPUs might get all the attention, but motherboard choice can be just as crucial. We’ll show you how to buy based on the features that you need—without breaking the bank.

Choose your CPU and chipset

Your first decision also involves the CPU. Your choice here is either AMD or Intel. Motherboards only work with the specific families of processors they’re designed for. Our guide to the best CPUs can help you pick the ideal processor for any budget; your needs there should drive most of your decision making.

Without wading too deeply into the heated CPU wars, let’s breakdown some objective reasons why you’d choose either Intel or AMD over the other party.

  • Need Thunderbolt? You’ll likely want an Intel motherboard. A few select AMD motherboards support the technology but it’s mostly found on Intel boards, as Intel helped create it.
  • Need the best multicore performance? You’ll want AMD here. Threadripper or Ryzen 5000 chips have a significant core count advantage over existing Intel HEDT choices. 
  • Need the best gaming performance? In most cases, AMD Ryzen 5000 is your choice here. Intel does offer a good value-to-performance proposition with some chips such as the Core i5-11400 and Core i5-11600K

Choose your form factor – ITX, M-ATX, or ATX

Most PC builders should select a motherboard based on the standard ATX form factor. If you’re looking to do a smaller build, you will be limited to mini-ITX motherboards.

dark hero mb Thiago Trevisan/IDG

Prices for mini-ITX motherboards will be higher for the features that you get, and you’ll have fewer physical PCIe slots, which are used for graphics card, storage, sound cards, and other add-in cards. But in return you gain the ability to create a compact gaming PC. Some smaller motherboards, like the mini-DTX-based Asus ROG Crosshair VIII Impact with AMD’s x570 chipset, even offer terrific VRM cooling performance for their size. That said, many smaller units typically offer less cooling performance than a similarly priced ATX motherboard, since they simply can’t squeeze in extra heatsinks or fans.

Micro-ATX (or M-ATX) motherboards, while less common, sit square in the middle of the other choices. This holds true for its size as well as general feature set.

Larger E-ATX motherboards, like the Gigabyte Z590 Aorus Extreme, are physically wider—much wider. These enthusiast level units generally are packed full of features,  with prices to match.

Choose the features you need

Buying a motherboard based on the features you need is vital to the selection process if you want to maximize price to performance. Here are some of the most important features to consider:

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