Gaming Motherboards: Choosing the Best

There is a mountain of gaming motherboards you can choose from these days. With the high number of motherboards available, shoppers either blindly pick something that is recommended by the site they are shopping with or they spend days pouring through research slowly driving themselves mad over making the right choice. Neither of these approaches is optimal but it doesn't have to be that hard. Here are some questions to ask before choosing.

First of all, what CPU do you plan to run? The answer to this question will cut the pile of possible gaming motherboards down to a manageable list. Once you have chosen the socket and chipset you need, you will find different levels of performance. Two of the most popular CPUs currently being used by gamers, both mainstream and enthusiast, are the Intel Skylake CPUs and the AMD FX CPUs.

Chipsets Matter

For the AMD FX series CPUs, an AM3+ socket is necessary. With the AMD AM3+ chipsets you see a range of options from 990FX (which boasts 42 PCIe  2.0 lanes and supports CrossFire with up to 4 cards and three-way SLI support for Nvidia as well) to the 760G which has integrated graphics and is best for non-gaming applications.

As for the Intel LGA1150 chipsets, you see motherboards that only have what was once called the Southbridge but has now been renamed the Platform Controller Hub (PCH). The Northbridge functions have been moved onto the Intel LGA 1150 based processors. At the top of this group you have the Z170 which supports either DDR3 or DDR4 DRAM and has 20 PCIe 3.0 lanes. The Z170 is the new chipset that supports the Skylake-S CPUs. At the lower end there is the H81 chipset which supports the 4th Generation Intel CPUs and is meant for mainstream use.

Expansion Card Slots

Not too many years ago, builders had to worry about finding room on a gaming motherboard for things like network cards and sound cards. Modern motherboards now have networking and sound integrated which frees up space and utilities for things like multiple graphics cards, M.2 SSDs, or RAID controllers; however, you still need to be careful in choosing a motherboard that will support all of the components you are planning to run. This means that the motherboard needs to have the space, circuitry, and voltage rating to run your chosen components. For example, double-slot graphics cards can block the availability of PCIe slots; however, M.2 SSDs usually will fit under the cooler of a graphics card.

A Few More Things to Consider:

Will you be using SLI or CrossFire to set up dual graphics cards? If so, you will need to check if your board will support that technology and if it will allow for more than two cards.

How about RAM? How much RAM can you add and what speed RAM can you add.

If you picked out a case first, make sure to choose the correct gaming motherboard form factor; these range from an ATX to a Mini-ITX. An ATX motherboard will never fit in a Mini-ITX case.

Will You Overclock? Make Sure Your Gaming Motherboard Can Handle It

For those users who prefer to overclock and tweak their systems, a motherboard with sufficient voltage regulator modules (VRM) is necessary. Most newer motherboards designed for overclocking will sport an array of onboard heatsinks to support the VRM. Also, it is important for those who plan to be hands-on with their system to check out what the UEFI (BIOS) on their chosen motherboard offers in the way of overclocking.

As long as you check compatibility of your motherboard and you choose one that is somewhat future-proof you should do well in your choice. For instance, if you are interested in the soon to be released AMD Zen CPU then you will need to wait for an AM4 socket motherboard. No use in buying any motherboards currently on the market since they won't accommodate the Zen CPU.


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