How to Choose the Best Motherboard for Gaming

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The motherboard, widely known as the “mobo” for short, is a crucial part of your gaming PC. Although it won’t directly affect your gaming performance, the motherboard you choose will dictate the overall quality, stability, and upgradability of your build so it’s important to pick the right one. But how do you pick the best motherboard for gaming?

There are a few factors to consider to make sure you make the right choice for your particular needs. Buying a motherboard can be overwhelming for some because of the many boards out there all with different specifications and features. In this article I will explain in simple terms exactly what you need to know to make an informed decision to pick out the right motherboard for your new gaming PC.

Processor Socket

motherboard cpu socketThe type of processor you decide on for your build will dictate the type of motherboard you can get, so you should choose a processor first and then pick a good motherboard to match it. For example, if you pick the Intel Core i5-4570 processor the socket type for that particular processor is “LGA 1150”, therefore you will need to find a motherboard with a socket type of “LGA 1150”. Easy.

Motherboard Size

Not all motherboards are the same shape and size, but there are certain standards in place to ensure you can find a motherboard that will fit with your computer case. The most common sizes (also known as form factors) are ATX (Advanced Technology Extended) and the various derivatives of ATX such as micro-ATX and extended-ATX to name a couple.

For your new gaming build you will most probably want to stick with the standard ATX size, and find a matching ATX case. The reason you will want to stick with the standard size and not anything smaller is because the board will contain more features such as extra PCI-E slots, more USB slots, and more SATA ports. As you can imagine, on a smaller motherboard there is less room for all these extra features that you may need now or in the future.

Chipset

To put it simply, a motherboard’s chipset is how your CPU, video card, memory, and peripherals all communicate with each other. The chipset has two main parts, the Northbridge and the Southbridge. The Northbridge is responsible for the high speed linking of the CPU, video card, and RAM together, and is where you will get high performance features like SLI/CrossFire and DDR3 memory compatibility. The Southbridge connects other features like USB 3, SATA, and PCI-E.

The chipset of a motherboard will also dictate whether you can overclock your CPU or not (for those who don’t know, overclocking is when you increase the speed of your CPU past its base levels to increase performance). If you plan on overclocking then you will need to pick a motherboard that supports it. For Intel-based motherboards, you will need a motherboard with a Z75 or Z77 chipset to be able to overclock your CPU. As for AMD-based motherboards, all boards with a socket type of AM3 or AM3+ allow for overclocking.

To be honest, when choosing a motherboard you don’t really need to concern yourself with the chipset. Basically all you need to know about the chipset is that it tells you which features the motherboard will support. So when comparing different boards just look at the features it has and choose one that has all the features you need, also taking into account any upgrades you may need to make in the future.

For example, if you are building your gaming PC with one graphics card now, but you think you may add a second graphics card to boost performance in the future, then make sure the motherboard you get has 2 PCI-E slots to allow for installation of 2 graphics cards.

Memory Support

This is an important detail you need to get right. You don’t want to end up buying your motherboard and your memory/RAM blindly only to find out they aren’t compatible when you get to installation. You will need to know what type and how much memory your motherboard can support. A motherboard will have a certain amount of memory slots, a certain type of memory support (such as DDR3), a certain maximum amount of memory (such as 32 GB), and an amount of memory channels that it supports (ie dual channel memory).

I will take you through a simple example of checking RAM compatibility with your motherboard for beginners who need the extra guidance. So let’s say you want to use the common choice of 2 x 4 GB of DDR3 memory (a total of 8 GB) that has a speed of 1600 MHz for your build. First you’ll need to check that the motherboard you choose has support for DDR3 memory and also support for the speed of 1600 MHz. You will also need to check that there are at least 2 memory slots on your motherboard that can accommodate 4 GB of memory per slot (this is pretty much a given with mobos these days, but it never hurts to check). Additionally, if your memory is dual channel memory, then you must check for compatibility with that too.

Storage Devices

Another important thing to take into account is the type and amount of storage devices your motherboard will support. There are different types of hard drives out there such as SATA (Serial ATA) and PATA (Parallel ATA) to name a couple of the most common.

For a custom gaming build these days you will usually only need one or two SATA hard drives and most modern motherboards will support this. But if you want to have a different setup of storage devices for your system for whatever reason, then obviously you should ensure your motherboard will support it.

Other Features

There are a few other notable features to concern yourself with when selecting the best motherboard for gaming:

  • Expansion slots: Most boards will come with a few extra PCI and PCI-E (short for PCI-Express) slots to accommodate for extra components and peripherals such as a second graphics card, sound card, networking card, firewire card, etc. Simply work out how many slots you need for your build and pick a motherboard with enough slots.
  • USB and other ports: Make sure your board also has enough USB ports for your needs for things such as a mouse, keyboard, printer, speakers, etc. For older peripherals you may also need a PS/2 port. Support for the latest USB 3.0 technology may also be important to you, so check for that too.
  • On-board Audio: Most motherboards these days will come with decent built-in audio that will please most gamers so you don’t have to get a separate sound card. Unless of course you have the extra money to spend and want to take advantage of high quality speakers or headphones for the very best sound quality.
  • Ethernet/Networking: Again, the majority of boards will come with built-in Ethernet so you can easily connect to the internet and/or a LAN network for gaming. But if not you will need to buy an Ethernet card. As for wireless support, not all motherboards will have this built in so you will need to find out if you wish to connect your computer wirelessly to a network or the internet. Wireless adapters don’t cost too much and come in either USB or PCI form.

Conclusion

Hopefully you now have a much better idea of how to choose the best motherboard for gaming. If your aim is to put together a well-balanced and future-proof PC (as it should be!) a quality and reliable motherboard is a wise investment, and simply buying the cheapest board you can get your hands on will most likely cause problems for you now or further down the track.

As well as picking a board with all the features that you need as I’ve explained in this article, you should look for a board from a trusted and reputable manufacturer. Brand name does matter when it comes to computer hardware. I would stick with quality motherboard makes such as Asus, ASRock, Gigabyte, Intel and MSI to name a few of the best. These companies produce excellent boards the majority of the time. It’s also a good idea to look for a motherboard with many positive reviews from both industry experts and consumers.

For my own recommendations on choosing the best motherboard for gaming check out The Best Gaming Motherboards For 2014. I have reviewed the very best bang for your buck motherboards on the current market for the most popular socket types to help you pick a good board for your new system.

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