The computer motherboard is perhaps the most misunderstood and overlooked component of a PC. It’s true that the CPU and GPU are going to play a bigger role in most gaming rigs, but if you can’t find the right one within your budget for a gaming motherboard, it’s likely that of these components will work as well as it should. It’s basically glue that holds your computer in place.
Whether you’re looking to build a new gaming PC from the ground up or just get a better understanding of the specs when buying an already built model, our guide can help. Along with providing gaming motherboard reviews for 10 of the best models, we’ve also included a breakdown of some of the most important things you need to know.
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Buying guide for the best gaming motherboards
If you’re looking to build a new gaming computer, you almost never want to start with the motherboard. The CPU and GPU will play the most critical role in a computer’s performance, and since motherboards have very specific capabilities with these components, the ones you have available will be limited by your base specs.
That’s why it’s important to understand what these specs mean at a glance. The ability to browse a motherboard’s specs and immediately understand which ones will work with your components will allow you to quickly narrow down the results to those that are applicable to your build. We present the main features below so that you can easily understand what you are looking at. Once you’ve figured out which cards work with your processor, you can start digging deeper into their specs to see which is the best fit for your needs.
The most important consideration when looking for a new motherboard is what processors it is compatible with. The processor is the living brain of any gaming PC, and finding a powerful processor for your gaming needs will be one of your main considerations when building it. Three of our specs relate to CPU compatibility: socket, chipset, and CPU.
These three specifications can be considered as family, genus and species. The socket type can tell you at a glance which manufacturer’s processor the motherboard supports. Modern Intel processors use 1151 or 2011 form factors, while current AMD processors use AM4 sockets. If you have a specific brand in mind but haven’t decided what kind of processor you want to use yet, this can be a useful identifier.
The chipset is a little narrower, as it directly identifies the group of processors compatible with a motherboard. While AMD and Intel both offer a huge selection of chipsets, the fact that we deal exclusively with gaming motherboards narrows the possibilities considerably. Either way, you have to look to the chipset when trying to pair the right processor combo to the motherboard.
The majority of motherboards on our list are Intel boards. The letter on the front of an Intel chipset tells you its general function. Class H chips are a good choice for basic gaming performance. They are compatible with most modern Intel processors and offer a wide selection of ports. Z-class chips are basically the same, but they have overclocking potential. Class X chipsets are compatible with Intel’s X-series processors and use a 2011 form factor socket.
The main difference between 370 and 390 chipsets is the native inclusion of 802.11ac WiFi and USB 3.1 Gen 2, but many manufacturers have integrated these protocols into 370 motherboards. Only two AMD gaming motherboards made our list. The B450 is a budget-range processor broadly equivalent to Intel’s H-series, while the X470 competes with Intel’s Z390. It is important to understand chipset classifications, as they are not limited to compatible CPUs. It can also give you an overview of the features and variety of ports available.
When looking at which Intel processors are compatible with a motherboard, you want to keep an eye out for which ones support eighth and ninth generation Core processors. Core is the recognized standard for gaming rigs. The eighth generation is a major leap in quality from the previous generation, so anyone looking for a gaming PC that will be equipped to really get the most out of it. party of next-gen games will want to make this a priority.
Random access memory (RAM) is not the only factor that determines the speed of your computer, but it is an important factor. RAM is basically your computer’s short-term memory. The more space you have for RAM, the more information your computer can hold is easily accessible. This reduces the workload on your central processor and results in faster performance. Two factors should be considered when evaluating memory: the number of available slots and the maximum transfer speeds of those slots.
Any good gaming motherboard offers four DIMM (dual in-line memory module) slots, but some high-end models offer eight. Eight slots are a great choice for running servers, but four should be enough for most players. 32GB of RAM is more than enough for the biggest AAA games, and that can be achieved with just two modules. It can’t hurt to have more, but you don’t have to worry if the board you’ve chosen only has four.
DDR (double data rate) is the other important definition. It allows RAM modules of the same design to pair together to increase data transfer rates. The current standard is DDR4, and it supports a maximum bandwidth almost twice that which can be achieved with DDR3. If you want to get the most out of your RAM, you’ll want to pair modules of the same capacity and design. Two 8GB modules paired together will have significantly better performance than a single 16GB module.
Today’s biggest games can take up an awful lot of space, and until streaming is a viable alternative to traditional games, it will remain a bottleneck for gaming PCs. hard drives is determined by your motherboard, so you need to make sure you have a reasonable amount of space. Of course, if you’re a dedicated Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed player, your demands will be higher than if your Steam roster is mostly loaded with Indians. There are two formats to consider here: SATA and M.2.
SATA has been the standard used for a long time, and its main advantage is its wide compatibility. SATA slots can be used to connect traditional hard drives, optical drives, and solid state hard drives. SATA also comes in different speed categories. SATA 3, for example, offers a maximum data transfer rate of 6 Mbps. Almost all modern motherboards will carry the SATA 3 designation.
If you’re really looking to maximize those data rates, you should dig a little deeper and look at the supported RAID protocol. This allows multiple drives to work together to transfer data faster. RAID support often varies from SATA port to SATA port in motherboards.
M.2 slots are definitely more modern, but they’re consistently available on all the motherboards we reviewed. M.2 drives are designed like traditional SSDs, but are significantly more compact. They’re a great way to provide more efficient storage in a smaller space (and SSDs are universally superior to HDDs), but M.2 drives come in a number of different lengths, so you’ll need to check and make sure you get an M.2 that fits comfortably on your motherboard. The M.2 slot can also be used to connect some WiFi cards, and they often use their own heatsinks.
A motherboard’s form factor refers to its size and component layout, and it can have a major impact on the type of features and connectivity options available. But you also need to consider the size of your computer case. If a motherboard doesn’t fit in your tower, it won’t do you much good. While there’s a wide variety of form factors on the market, there are three you need to consider when building a gaming rig: ATX, micro ATX, and mini ITX.
Standard ATX motherboards are the most common option in the consumer market, and they are the standard used in most PC towers. They generally offer dimensions of 9.6×12″, although this may vary a bit depending on the manufacturer. If you have room for them, they will be the best choice since they offer the largest selection of slots. Micro ATX motherboards are the middle option, often used in desktop cases. At around 9.6″ in size, they offer fewer slots than a standard ATX, but usually enough slots for graphics cards and a few additional cards. Mini ITXs are the smallest standard, with a standard square dimension of 6.7″. They usually offer only one expansion slot.
Unless the idea of a small frame computer is particularly appealing to you, you’ll almost always want to go with a standard ATX board. This is especially true when you’re looking to build a gaming PC. Even if you don’t have the space to use all of the available expansion slots, a larger board allows you to strengthen your machine over time. without having to replace the entire motherboard.
Finding the right balance between your budget’s max specs and your actual needs is one of the biggest issues gamers face. In some cases, such as the number of expansion slots supported, choosing more will allow you to expand your PC in the future. In other cases, such as over-purchasing RAM capacity, this potential will almost certainly never be utilized. Dual-CPU gaming motherboards generally fall into the latter category.
That doesn’t mean dual processors can’t be useful in hypothetical terms. Packing two separate CPUs into a single computer can result in impressive improvements to your multitasking, and dual CPUs tend to come with extra PCIe and RAM slots. But the four cores that make up the standard baseline for gaming processors are more than enough to meet gamers’ needs. There is a plateau where the CPU value flattens out and the GPU becomes the main area where improvement occurs. Ultimately, a single high-end CPU will outperform two dual-budget cards, and once you start thinking about putting two high-end CPUs in one machine, you don’t just have to deal with expensive installation. You also care about performance that far exceeds gaming needs.
There is an exception to the rule. If you want to stream your games at a professional level, a dual CPU gaming motherboard might be what you’re looking for. Streaming and gaming at the same time can monopolize your performance, and many professionals use separate computers to distribute the workload. A dual CPU can be a reasonable solution that doesn’t require building two separate machines.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Can you put 2 GPU on any motherboard?
The short answer to this question is yes, you can. You can put two identical cards on any motherboard and there should be no problem doing so. However, there are some limitations to the dual GPU setup as well.
Since each GPU runs independently of each other and has its own dedicated RAM and VRAM, you will still only be able to run one card at a time on your system.
Is it better to run 2 GPUs or 1?
While running a dual card configuration is the optimal choice for gaming, there are some benefits to having a single GPU setup as well. Dual GPUs tend to run hotter (over 400-500 degrees at stock speeds), and they also use more power than a single card.
Also, if you have the space to fit everything, I would recommend getting both cards and running them on their own separate power supplies. This gives you full control of your GPUs and will give you higher quality performance in games so it’s hard to argue with that decision.
Can I use 2 GPU at the same time?
Yes, you can absolutely use two graphics cards at the same time. Some motherboards even have a PLX chip, which allows for a x8/x16 connection to each card so that you can run them at full speed.
How many lanes does my motherboard need for multiple GPUs?
It’s extremely important to understand how many lanes your motherboard has available before purchasing a high end dual GPU setup.
Are dual GPU cards worth it?
While the general consensus is that the 2 GPU setup will outperform one of the cards on it’s own, there are some systems out there that are not designed for dual GPU setups at all.
If you have a system that is already overclocked past what the PCI-E lanes allow for or if you plan on overclocking your GPU in the future, then I wouldn’t recommend purchasing a dual card setup unless you have the proper support.
How many GPUs Can a motherboard support?
Most motherboards come with support for multiple GPUs, however not all of them are made equal. Motherboards tend to use the PCI-E x16 lanes which is a terrible way to run 2 GPUs.
Most dual GPU setups use a single PCI-E x16 slot, or if they have a PLX chip they will be using some of the PCI-E x1 lanes.
What motherboards support SLI?
In order to run SLI you will need a motherboard with an x16 PCI-E bracket. If you have a graphics card that does not support SLI, then your computer will only run one GPU at a time and you will have no advantage over running one GPU by itself.
Can I put 2 different GPUs in 1 slot?
It depends on the motherboard, but most do not allow for multiple graphic cards to be placed in the same slot.
How many PCI-E slots do I need?
It doesn’t matter how many PCI-E slots you have available, but it does matter how many you can use at the same time. A motherboard with 16 lanes can technically support 4 dual GPU setups, but that would be overkill unless you are looking for a server grade build.
How much RAM do I need for SLI?
This also depends on your motherboard, but most motherboards will support 2x4GB of RAM.
Compared to buying specs for a GPU or CPU, a motherboard might seem boring. This means that it can sometimes be overlooked by new builders, but that’s not a mistake you should make. The motherboard may not offer much direct performance on its own, but the choice you make will ultimately determine your computer’s maximum performance threshold. In particular, it is crucial to determine the right CPU combo of the gaming motherboard.
That’s why it’s important not to jump into the deep end of the pool without knowing what you’re talking about. Check out our guides to the best CPUs and GPUs for gaming, and combine them with the knowledge you’ve learned in this guide to create a balanced machine that’s within your budget.
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