How to choose a motherboard?
Though a PC comprises many vital components, each signifying its importance and functionality in the system. Here is one element serving as the PC’s backbone, fulfilling the hectic job of creating a network and helping each component perform its duty. This component is the motherboard, which decides the fate of other elements. Here we will discuss the different form factors of a motherboard, and the guide on how to choose a motherboard will help connect and install PC components in its casing. The number of slots and ports on a motherboard helps define the peripheral devices' placement.
If the number is sufficient to hold all the plugs, you can have the best connectivity in your machine. But sometimes, when slots are limited, connecting even the basic units becomes challenging, and you may have to sacrifice one element. Not just the peripheral devices, the destiny of main components like the CPU, the GPU, and memory modules is set by the motherboard. For connecting a CPU, a compatible chipset and CPU socket are the mandatory components of a motherboard. A motherboard has versatile and extensive features that incorporate all other PC units.
A motherboard supportive of future upgrades and advancements can upscale your system beyond the operating capacity of a standard computer. Open the motherboard user manual and determine the types of ports it offers. You can utilize all of these slots in pairing PC components at the same time. Instead of a single RAM chip, a motherboard can bear two or three modules that will fasten the PC performance. We have broken this comprehensive guide into understandable short steps.
What is a motherboard?
A motherboard consists of a circuit board with an electric supply to be functional. This circuit works as the linking unit and offers spaces to all PC parts to better communicate and help flow information. Starting from the beastly operating units like the CPU, GPU, storage and memory, and other input devices like keyboard and mouse, all have one end plugged in the motherboard. That is why this board is termed a computer brain. However, this unit is necessary for all operating systems, like notebooks, mobile phones, tablets, and laptops, but you can not get separate boards for each device.
You can only replace the desktop motherboard with a new one individually purchased from the market. This technical tool is not easy to understand; it comprises transistors, circuits, capacitors, connectors, slots, heatsinks, and power supply. All these internal elements collaborate to direct instruction and signals throughout the PC. However, you must keep an eye on the specifications of a motherboard while making a purchase. Do they allow flexibility for an upgrade soon, or can they just keep up with your PC’s current demands? These considerations are necessary to keep your PC updated with the latest improvements and boost its performance.
The first thing to influence your decision and choice is the variety of products available in markets. So many companies offer their products ranging in prices and features. But this puts us into more effort while picking up the item of our needs and choice. However, you can not directly jump up to selecting the motherboard for your computer. First, pick a CPU and then get the board that is compatible with it. The top-notch CPU developers are Intel and AMD. Both companies keep on introducing their latest generations from time to time, where one has more unique features than the previous one.
They offer various CPUs, from entry-level to mid-range, ultra-powerful beasts. Entry-level devices are optimal for modest operations such as web browsing, low-level gaming, and downloading files. Mid-range devices help in some functions like supporting aggressive games, running multiple programs, and performing productive tasks. Whereas ultra-powerful CPUs are designed to beat intensive tasks smoothly. These include supporting titles of highly demanding games, editing video projects, and fluently working professional tools and software. These activities depend upon the number of cores a processor contains. Undoubtedly, the latest processor with more excellent cores will deliver high-end performance and smoothness in information flow.
Some programs and applications require multiple processors to help them operate; they show glitches if installed on a low-core CPU. In the same way, some gaming titles need a more efficient system and a CPU. So your duties help you pick a CPU better suited to your system. After that, like a motherboard that is compatible with it. It must have the right chipset and socket to plug the CPU into the board. You might not know which socket and chipset are relevant to a CPU. Below we have enlisted some of the popular processors with their working hardware so you can get the idea.
Sockets and Chipsets to know
However, you do not need to dive into every detail about a chipset, like how it is composed. You should only have the proper knowledge that helps you understand which is the right chipset and socket for your processor. Chipsets are not limited to just a processor; they enable you to pair different components like the GPU, memory, and storage. So it is crucial to have a basic understanding of a motherboard’s chipset and socket behavior. For this, we have a tip for you. When you go to buy a motherboard, do some analysis and compare their specifications. We hope you will get all the supportive features necessary to fulfill the desired job.
Below are given the essential CPU sockets and chipsets.
|LGA 1200||10th-generation Intel Core||Comet Lake (10th-gen): Z490|
|LGA 1151||8th and 9th-generation Intel Core||Coffee Lake (8th-gen): H310, B360, H370, Q370, Z370 Coffee Lake (9th-gen): Z390, B365, B360|
|LGA 2066||Skylake-X/Kaby-Lake X||X299|
|sTRX4||3rd-generation AMD Ryzen Threadripper||TRX40|
|sTR4||AMD Ryzen Threadripper||X399|
|AM4||AMD Ryzen, 7th-generation A-Series, and Athlon||A300, A320, B350, B450, X370, X470, X570|
We see numerous motherboard sizes, but what is the purpose of such a wide variety? Different form factors help users pick the right product for their room. Form factors correspond to the exterior shape and physical layout of a device. Let us first count motherboard form factors and discuss their purpose and benefit. The most commonly known motherboard form factor is a full-sized ATX motherboard. People who do not want to miss any update and grab the new components as they are launched prefer this size. Other popular measures include Micro-ATX, Micro Mini-ITX, Micro Nano-ITX, and Micro Pico-ITX.
In a setup, the physical room and your choices help configure the size of individual PC components. Limited space in a structure makes consumers pick smaller units. If the surface area to place a PC is large, you can choose large-sized units having enough space to incorporate advanced features and tools. Like you can purchase a full-sized ATX motherboard and place it alongside the monitor. This case will add to the appearance of a system and be ready to include more and more elements.
However, in case of space shortage, a small motherboard like Micro-ATX is the best pick. This case easily fits in a small setup, but later, it will not be of any significant value for you, as it will not have room for the latest units. Moreover, due to limited space, if this board is kept under your table surface, there is no need to go the extra mile. You can have a standard motherboard that can meet your work criteria.
Motherboard form factors to know
The motherboard is such an integral unit that we must consider it’s present and future use and flexibility while buying it. Keeping in mind the size and the prospects of the final PC we want, we can pick any of the below-mentioned motherboards. However, a lack of understanding regarding form factors can repress the potential of many other PC components. Therefore, follow these general guidelines and build a basic understanding of the inter-relation between PC units.
|Size||9.0 x 7.5 inches||9.6 x 9.6 inches||12 x 9.6 inches|
|RAM Slots||2||Up to 4||Up to 8|
|GPUs||Up to 1||Up to 3||Up to 4|
|SATA ports||Up to 6||Up to 8||Up to 12|
Motherboard Expansion Options
A socket is a dire need to connect a CPU with the motherboard the same way a specific number of ports is required to connect different components. Each component fits in a unique port. Some need a USB-C slot, and someplace in others. While purchasing a motherboard, make sure of these two things, one is the number of expansion slots, and the other is free space around them. It must have sufficient places to fulfill your future needs, and the free area around a slot ensures a strong and hassle-free connection. The most common, or you can say the multi-functional port is the PCI Express port.
Before the slot started appearing in motherboards, we observed an enormous complexity in connecting different parts of the board, like the graphics card, storage modules, expansion cards, and sound cards. But with this port, things are sorted to a considerable extent. This port can plug in most PC units on your board. However, the dock features four sizes, indicating their connections' throughput size. These include the two most common PCIe x4 and PCIe x16, the other two being PCI x1 and PCI x8 slots. Out of all the PCIe ports, PCI Express x3 is the standard one used for many devices, whereas other types are only compatible with some specific CPUs.
The graphic processing unit is a crucial component for professional players and gamers. One GPU might not be enough for such high-demanding work, and you may require more than one graphics card to support the heavy applications. So check out whether the board can keep more video cards. So while buying, you can count the number of ports and slots specifically built to accommodate just GPUs. Checking the motherboard, whether it has compatible ports for your GPU or not, is highly important. You might buy a GPU and a board, not have any compatibility, so none of these benefits you.
One other thing is to consider whether the GPU is worth fulfilling your demands or not. GPUs mostly come as integrated components, pre-installed in the CPU. A graphics card helps other PC components process the command information and let it display on the screen in visual form. The GPU displays all the images and videos on the monitor and helps run heavy gaming titles smoothly. Many processors come packaged with a GPU, like Intel core CPUs. However, in some circumstances, you need to buy discrete GPU units and install them on the corresponding slot on a motherboard.
However, some GPUs are low-powered and work best with daily tasks involving less productivity. On the other hand lie powerful beastly GPUs, which can be efficient in video editing, 3D graphics processing, and graphics-intensive gaming. So if you are a professional dealer, you might know which sort of GPU can meet your demands and needs. A standalone, high-powered GPU can fulfill all your requests, but make sure the motherboard supports it before purchasing.
Connecting your GPUs
We hope you have picked a GPU that can sit appropriately in the motherboard and also fits your job demands. You have to install the video card in a relevant slot; it would probably require a PCIe x16 slot. If you have an old graphics card, you may not need this port; you can check out the PCIe x3 slot, as most old units can slot in it. Once you find the exact place, ensure it is provided with proper bandwidth. Having enough bandwidth is necessary as when we insert a graphics card in a PCIe slot, it occupies the space of two ports.
If the motherboard does not offer proper bandwidth and there are adjacent slots, one of them will become inaccessible after installing the GPU. This bandwidth can still be okay if there are plenty of spaces on the other edges or if you do not need more slots. But if you need sufficient slots, this may be an issue for you later. However, you may need to compare the specifications of a motherboard and a video card. It is necessary when graphics cards are too power demanding. You can directly slot it in the port if it needs a regular power supply.
But if it needs more power, you must connect it to a significant power source via six or eight-pin connectors. So ensure the motherboard ports are the correct target and are sufficient in number to install all your required components.
RAM, the Random Access Memory, is a drive where all the information related to computer operations is stored. This memory chip is well-popular for delivering fantastic performance and retrieving data in nanoseconds. Standard computers are equipped with basic 4 GB RAM, and the capacity increases steadily with increasing price and demand. The general recommendation is to have a safe storage size of 8 GB, which is helpful only for low productive duties. For high productivity tasks and graphics-intensive gaming, massive storage up to 16 GB is considered the best option. This chip also finds its place in a PC via the motherboard.
A slot named Dual In-line Memory Module (DIMM) is square, which allows this chip to plug into the motherboard. A computer can work well with a single RAM chip; however, a motherboard is equipped with two to eight DIMM slots, which means you can have many RAM sticks installed in your PC. However, you must be careful, as you can not slip a RAM stick into any random DIMM slot, and you can not even install more than one stick at a time. The DIMM slots vary in capacity; some have 1 GB, and others may have 128 GB.
So when a RAM module is purchased, it comes in a complete kit, having a memory chip and a suitable number of DIMM slots. To equip your PC with 8 GB RAM, you must buy equipment having two 4 GB DIMM slots. For installing 16 GB RAM, buy a kit with either two 8 GB DIMMs or four 4 GB DIMM slots. So this discussion concludes that to advance your system with time, ensure there are extra DIMM slots that support the future upgrades and allow a chip with massive storage to get seated inside it.
A computer needs a permanent storage drive that keeps the data alive even if you turn it off. Storage is an essential point regarding how to choose a motherboard. This device could be either a hard disk drive or a solid-state drive. A hard drive is composed of physically moving elements like a platter that spins on a disk to read and write data. This drive is through conservative but less expensive than modern drives. While the other type, the solid state drive, is a bit pricey option, it is still preferred over old chips because of its flash memory’s extra fast speed. This module does not consist of spinning elements; it operates on an electric charge supply.
The read and write speed of a hard drive is almost 1500 megabytes per second, while the data transfer speed of a solid state drive is much greater, up to 600 MB/s. So pick a unit of your choice; a hard drive is the best bet if you want massive storage capacity and can compromise speed. But if you want excellent performance with modest storage, an SSD chip is the recommended option. A motherboard features suitable connectors to install these storage drives on a PC. These include ATA and SATA, which deliver different data transfer rates.
The SATA serial has gone through three revisions, and the latest one is SATA 3.0, whose data transfer rate is 6 gigabits per second. You can pick both the hard and SSD drive that need a SATA connection and then grab the compatible motherboard to install them. However, another new and popular connector type is NVM Express, and the SSD card supported by this type comes in two form factors. One is a bit large card plugged in a PCIe slot, and the other is the smaller one that fits in an M.2 connection. Some of the peculiarities of an NVMe slot is that it works at lower power and minimizes latency. It also features enlarged bandwidth and secures an easy connection.
A small SSD and large HDD
In a PC, we store a massive amount of data, and the perfect device for it is a hard drive. However, massive data without good performance is annoying. Imagine accessing your favorite data, which is taking much of your time. Here is the trick you can use to optimize both the necessities. Install a hard drive that will retain all the massive data like heavy games, applications, and files. Then grab a small SSD unit and pair it with the motherboard; it will help speedy retrieval of the stored information, deliver data for running programs, and ensure excellent performance.
Now we get the point of having a flexible motherboard; it allows for future advances and space for multiple components.
In addition to the methods discussed in the above sections, like NVMe, PCIe, storage connections, and DIMM slots, a motherboard offers many other ways of slotting devices. It hosts several internal and external contacts to install PC units, which you can assess according to your needs and utilize. Some internal connections are present internally to the case but can be accessed directly from the outer surface of the board.
However, the external connections are located on the rear side of the board at the I/O panel fitted into the case before mounting the motherboard. This I/O panel is a thin metal-plated sheet with brackets and holes to stay in the spaces given in the motherboard. It is a strengthening bar that holds rear ports in shape and secures the plugged units. So assess your PC needs and the method to mount your devices on the motherboard, and select carefully.
Motherboard connections to know
A motherboard helps make internal and external connections with other elements, but these connections require internal headers supporting onboard objects. These include RGB lighting systems, external ports, fans, and other add-on components. Every port or association must have its header in the motherboard. Let us take the example of a cooling system. The cooling system must have access to software to control its thermal sensors, which is possible through the header. Moreover, for all the USB ports, the same headers are required. So make sure your motherboard has all the headers to support its ports.
Every motherboard features some particular connections, and you can not enjoy all of them in a single one. The more complex your PC becomes, the more you have to understand your motherboard specifications. Each connector varies in number, location, and purpose of action. So you have to select a board with all the connections that make sense to your system and set it up. Below we have enlisted the names of some essential connector types, their location, and purposes.
|Audio for rear panel||Interna||1|
|Audio for front panel||Interna||1|
|Digital audio header||Internal||1|
|Front panel header||Interna||1|
|8-pin CPU power connector||Interna||1|
|24-pin main power connector||1|
|Ancillary power connectors||Interna||Varies|
|USB||Internal or externa||Varies|
|Firewire||Internal or externa||Varies|
|Wi-Fi antenna jack||Externa||1|
Until now, we hope you have identified many aspects that can help you distinguish one board from the rest of the others. Our guide may have helped you look at your desired motherboard’s specifications and list them on paper. Next, when you look at the market scenarios, you find several motherboard manufacturers, and you must pick one. Some famous names in the motherboard manufacturing list are ASUS, MSI, and ASRock.
You can first go to their website and get the idea of which company’s product is relevant to your listed requirements. Because companies target audiences in a particular spectrum, they either develop products for general users or gamers. Gaming motherboards have tons of space to fulfill today’s and tomorrow’s needs. The latest graphics cards and memory modules can be easily placed on these boards to stay updated with gaming requirements.
A motherboard, the foundational unit of a PC, helps components collaborate and work in coherence. Without this board, a computer loses its integrity and fails to operate. But many of us do not know how to choose a motherboard out of so many options. This guide helps establish a louder stance on the motherboard and its compatibility.
A pre-built system you purchase from the market consists of a fixed number of components. They may or may not allow future changes, mainly if the motherboard is compact and small, and they do not even think of opening it. However, with a larger motherboard, or a self-made PC, upgrades are not a difficult task.
You can transform a computer’s performance, frame per second rate, latency, and data transferring speed by adding additional RAM, a more competent video card, and a large-sized hard drive. You only have to understand the requirements of each component. No PC unit works in isolation; one unit sends information to another department to perform a task. After flowing through the interlinked parts, the mission is accomplished. Not just in function, their physical connections also depend on one another. A motherboard features slots of different nature and sizes to establish visible links. These include PCI, NVMe, USB, and DIMM slots; each has a distinct set of specifications, which makes it suitable for only a specific component.
Other Guides When Building a PC
- PC Building
- The best motherboards for Ryzen 9 5900X
- The best motherboards for Ryzen 5 5600X
- The best motherboards for Ryzen 7 5800X
- The best motherboards for Ryzen 7 5800X and RTX 3080
- The best motherboards for i7 12700K
- The best motherboards for Ryzen 9 5900X and RTX 3080
- The best motherboards for Ryzen 5 5600X and RTX 3070
- The best motherboards for Ryzen 7 3700X and 2070 Super
- The best motherboards for Ryzen 9 5950X and RTX 3090
- What is a Motherboard?
- How to choose a motherboard?
- CPU Cooler