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How to Choose a Motherboard

Motherboards are like the brain of your PC. There are hundreds of boards out there, and picking the bet motherboard for your build is critical in getting the most out of your computer.
October 26, 2020

In this Article:

What is a Motherboard?

The newest and most desirable form factor for solid-state drives is called M.2.

Chipsets

The best way of discovering all the features of a motherboard is by looking at its chipset.

Compatibility

Motherboards are built with particular processors in mind.

Form Factor

The next factor you will want to consider is the size of your finished PC build, also known as form factor. 

Important Features

Here are some key specs to know to help you find the best motherboard for you.

Types of Ports

Which peripherals and devices your PC supports is determined by the ports available on your motherboard.

Tips to Remember

Here are a few final tips to consider as you choose your motherboard.

Motherboards are like the brain of your PC. There are hundreds of boards out there, and picking the bet motherboard for your build is critical in getting the most out of your computer. Every other component in your machine is connected to the motherboard in some way. That is why it is crucial you know everything you can about motherboards before making a purchase. We’re here to help. Here’s everything you need to know about how to choose a motherboard!

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What is a Motherboard?

Motherboards are PCB (Printed Circuit Boards) that contain connections and sockets for all other PC components to communicate through. Motherboards are often one of the first components to consider, along with a CPU, when building a new computer. Your motherboard determines everything from the number of fans you can have to what processor your system supports. 

Chipsets

The best way of discovering all the features of a motherboard is by looking at its chipset. While connecting to a motherboard is how all your PC's internal components communicate, the hardware and software that maintain and use those connections are called the board's chipset. By knowing the chipset of a motherboard, you can learn what technologies are supported by that board. CPU's can require specific chipsets, but the components are not mutually exclusive, so make sure to check exactly how your chipset and CPU support one another.

Compatibility

Along with the chipset, the first thing you want to consider when choosing a motherboard is its processor compatibility. Motherboards are built with particular processors in mind, and ensuring both devices are compatible is paramount to successfully complete an upgrade or new computer build. Beyond core functionality, you also want to compare the motherboards chipset with your chosen processor. Some CPUs can utilize multiple chipsets with different features. 

Form Factor

The next factor you will want to consider is the size of your finished PC build, also known as form factor. Motherboards typically come in three sizes. Each size ultimately determines the possible dimensions of the final build. Whether you want a micro PC to display on your desk or a massive powerhouse workstation that needs a desk of its own, the most important thing to consider is how much space you will have for the motherboard:

  • ATX. The largest and most common form factor, ATX, is easy to build with and offers the greatest possibility for upgrades and system expansion down the line. ATX boards range in price from budget to luxury and everything in between. If size is not an issue for your build, ATX is an excellent choice of motherboard. Shop Now
  • Micro-ATX. Only slightly smaller than the full ATX, Micro-ATX offers very similar performance to ATX, but typically with fewer expansion slots and room for future upgrades due to the board's smaller size. Shop Now
  • Mini-ITX. The smallest and often most expensive form factor for motherboards, Mini-ITX boards can make incredibly small PC builds a reality. Ideal for computers where space is a concern, the main drawback to Mini-ITX boards is their severe lack of expansion slots. Most ITX boards only have one expansion slot and limited connections for extra storage or RAM. Shop Now

Important Features

There are many other features and specifications to consider when learning how to choose a motherboard. Here are some key specs to know to help you find the best motherboard for you:

  • RAM Slots. RAM plays a massive role in how fast your PC feels. Having more RAM allows you to run more programs at once and better utilize more resource-intensive programs. For older machines, RAM upgrades can add years to the computer's life. As more complex and feature-intensive operating systems come out, more RAM is needed just to navigate the OS. That is why it is important to consider how many memory slots a motherboard has. Most builds will only ever utilize two sticks of RAM, but as time goes on and especially as video game system requirements rise, there will be a need to increase RAM. Motherboards with four memory slots are perfect for hardcore gamers or professionals using graphics-intensive programs or doing any 4K video editing.
  • Ports & Connectors. Many users need to use specific peripherals for work, school, or gaming. The ports on your motherboard tell you what devices your PC supports. Connections on the motherboard such as SATA and fan headers can also significantly impact the performance and aesthetic of your build. You can buy a case with six fans, but if your motherboard only has four fan connections, you can not properly utilize that case and its fans. The same goes for SATA storage devices and the associated connections. You can only increase system storage to the point of possible storage connections on your motherboard.
  • Expansion Slots. Graphics cards, sound cards, and network interface cards can provide significant upgrades to your computer, but each requires its own expansion slot. For that reason, you must consider exactly how you want to use your computer and if you will need such upgrades in the future. ATX motherboards have the most expansion slots and allow users to maximize their system's potential. 

Types of Ports

Besides a keyboard and mouse, there are several peripherals you will want to use with your computer. Which devices your machine supports or how many devices your machine can support is often determined by the ports available on your motherboard.

Most motherboards will have six or more USB ports, which are plenty for the average user or student. Users interested in streaming or using specialized equipment and technology need to consider the ports available on motherboards carefully. Below is a list of the most common ports found on motherboards and their common uses:

  • USB 2.0. USB 2.0 ports are slower USB connections ideal for devices such as a keyboard, mouse, or USB headset. These ports will be plentiful on most motherboards, and USB hubs can easily increase the number of 2.0 ports on a system.
  • USB 3.0/3.1. These USB ports can sometimes be blue in color and are capable of blazing-fast speeds that make them ideal for any USB peripheral. The best motherboards will feature more of these ports in addition to multiple USB 2.0 connections.
  • USB-C. Common on newer phones and mobile devices, USB-C is USB 3.1 just with a different connector. It is capable of the same super-fast speeds. Over time, USB-C ports are becoming more common due to their smaller size and versatility of orientation.
  • VGA/DVI. These are legacy display connections that can still be found on some motherboards and monitors. VGA ports are shaped like a rounded blue rhombus and have 15 pins. DVI ports resemble a white rounded rectangle and are capable of better resolutions than VGA, but both are less desirable than HDMI or DisplayPort.
  • HDMI/DisplayPort. These are the most common modern display connections. Both can transmit high definition video and audio signals. DisplayPort looks like HDMI but is not symmetrical and is capable of resolutions up to 8k on high-end cables. DisplayPort is quickly becoming the desired standard due to the possible higher refresh rates and resolutions. By far, HDMI ports are the most common display connection in technology and are ideal for anything at 1080p resolution.
  • Ethernet. The Ethernet port on your motherboard will ultimately determine the maximum connection speed possible on your computer. Other factors, such as bandwidth and speed package from your ISP, will play a role in final achievable speeds—but you will always know your maximum speed because of the limit of the port on your motherboard. 
  • PS/2 Port. These are old ports for legacy keyboards and mice. Purple and teal, these ports are becoming increasingly rare in modern motherboards but can be desired still by some users.
  • Audio Ports. Now, more than ever, how we hear and how our computer hears us is crucial to the workplace and any virtual communications. Headphones and microphones can have multiple types of connections ranging from USB to dedicated in and out, so you should consider how you will be using your machine to communicate and ensure the motherboard you choose can suit your needs accordingly.

Tips to Remember

Here are a few final tips to consider as you choose your motherboard:

  • Upgrade Issues. If you plan to upgrade components in the future, choose your motherboard carefully. You can upgrade a motherboard, but it is an incredibly meticulous and lengthy progress were compatibility issues could quickly become a nightmare. For these reasons, it is recommended to allow a larger budget for your motherboard to maximize the component's longevity.
  • Ease of Build. When purchasing components for a build, you should always consider how the parts will fit together and the amount of space it will require in a case. Mini-ITX motherboards can enable some cool small builds, but they can also be painstakingly challenging to build in. ATX boards, on the other hand, allow the most space possible and are ideal for first time builders or users using larger, more powerful components like high-end graphics cards.
  • Overclocking. Most users will have no interest in overclocking their PC. For most tasks, stock performance is beyond ideal. Only in specific benchmarks and high-end gaming can users see significant benefits from overclocking. That being said, overclocking specific components such as your CPU and GPU can, in certain areas, provided substantial performance gains. To overclock your PC, you need to have a supporting chipset on your motherboard.

Summary

Purchasing any computer component is an investment and requires careful research, but none more so than the motherboard. Often the first thing you decide on besides the processor is your motherboard. The chipset of your motherboard, along with the available ports and connections, will tell you the many different peripherals and features you can use with your computer. Remember to consider factors like future upgrades, build difficulty, and final PC size when you choose a motherboard. Upgrading a motherboard is not as easy as other components, so take it slow and make sure you are getting the best possible component for your build.

Looking for the best motherboard for your build? Shop CDW today!

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