How to Pick a Motherboard

Choose the right form factor and chipset for your PC

This article explains how to pick a motherboard, including how to pick the right motherboard for your computer case, how to pick the right motherboard for your central processing unit (CPU), and other things to look for.

How Do I Decide What Motherboard to Buy?

The motherboard is one of the most critical components in your computer because the rest of the computer is assembled around it. The CPU plugs into a special socket on the motherboard; expansion cards like your video card also plug into the motherboard, as does your hard drive and everything else.

When deciding what motherboard to buy, the two most important factors are the CPU socket and the form factor. The type of CPU socket a motherboard has determines what CPUs you can use with the motherboard, and the form factor determines what kind of case you can put the motherboard into.

If you have a computer and need to replace the motherboard due to component failure or to upgrade it, then you need to select a motherboard that has a socket that will fit your existing CPU and will also fit in your current case, unless you also want to buy a new CPU and case.

If you’re building a brand new computer, look at the available CPUs and cases and select a motherboard that will accommodate the CPU you want and fit in the case you chose. Once you’ve narrowed it down, look at the remaining options and choose the one with enough PCIe ports to support the graphics card and other expansion cards you think you’ll need. It should also have the necessary connections for the type of drives you want to install and support any other options or connectivity you want.

How to Choose a Motherboard for Your CPU

When building a PC, one of the first things you need to determine what CPU you want to use. Once you’ve figured out what CPU you want, you can check to see what socket it fits in. For example, an Intel i7 Core i7-9700F processor requires a motherboard with support for the LGA 1151 socket, and an AMD Ryzen 9 5900X needs a motherboard with support for the AM4 socket.

To find out what socket you need, check the documentation that came with your CPU or look it up on the CPU manufacturer’s website. If you’re shopping online, the socket is usually found somewhere on the listing for the CPU.

How Do I Know if a Motherboard Will Fit?

When building a PC, it’s also important to decide what kind of case you want. Aesthetics plays a part, of course, but the more important consideration is the size of the case and what type of motherboard it supports.

Here are the main types of motherboards you’ll use when building a custom PC:

  • ATX: This is the form factor used in most desktop computers. It’s 12 inches long and 9.625 inches wide and offers a lot of room for expansion cards and peripherals.
  • Micro-ATX: This is the same width as the ATX but two inches shorter. That means it fits in smaller cases but doesn’t have as much space for expansion slots.
  • Mini-ITX: These motherboards are only 6.75 inches wide and 6.75 inches long, so they fit in small cases but don’t have much space for expansion slots. You may get one expansion slot or none at all.

Decide which case you want, and check to see if it’s an ATX, Micro-ATX, or Mini-ITX case. From there, you can look for an ATX, Micro-ATX, or Mini-ITX motherboard that matches the socket of the CPU you want to use.

The form factor of the motherboard doesn't affect the type of CPU you need to use. The same CPU can be used with an ATX, Micro-ATX, or Mini-ITX motherboard if the motherboard has the right socket.

What Else Does My Motherboard Need?

After the CPU socket and form factor, the next most important factor to consider is how many expansion ports the motherboard has and how many expansion ports you need. The two most common ones to look for are PCIe x16 slots which can accommodate graphics cards, and PCIe x1 slots used for other expansion cards like adding extra USB ports. If you want to install two video cards, make sure the motherboard has two expansion ports that can accommodate video cards.

Most motherboards support PCIe 3.0, but some support the newer PCIe 4.0, which provides more bandwidth. If you have any PCIe cards or want to future-proof your selection, then look for a board with PCIe 4.0 support.

It’s also important to look at how many RAM slots the motherboard has and how much total RAM the motherboard supports. This factor isn’t crucial if your computer will only need to stream media, surf the web, and play basic games, but having the option to install more RAM is vital if you do video or photo editing or play resource-intensive games.

It’s also worth looking at the ports built into the motherboard. Motherboards will include a mix of USB-A, USB-C, HDMI and DisplayPort, audio ports, and even legacy ports like VGA, PS/2, parallel, and serial ports. Motherboards can also include Ethernet ports and other connectivity like built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Consider which ports you’re most likely to need, and select a motherboard that fits your needs so you won’t need to add an expansion card or USB hub right away.

  • How do you pick the right case for a motherboard?

    If you're building your own PC, you must make sure all the parts you need for your PC fit in the case, so get the exact dimensions of the motherboard and other components before deciding on a case. Your motherboard will work in any case as long as it fits.

  • How do you pick a motherboard for gaming?

    Your motherboard must be compatible with your processor and other components, and it must support the amount of RAM you intend to install. The best gaming motherboards include the ASUS ROG Maximus XI Hero (Intel) and the MSI MPG X570 Gaming Pro Carbon Wi-Fi motherboard (AMD).

  • How do I pick a sound card for a motherboard?

    Most standalone sound cards will perform better than ones integrated into the motherboard. Some of the best sound cards include the Creative Sound Blaster Z and the EVGA NU Audio Card.

  • How do I pick a GPU for a motherboard?

    Some GPUs are integrated into the CPU or motherboard, and some GPUs come as standalone cards. Either way, most GPUs are compatible with most motherboards. Some of the best graphics cards include the Nvidia RTX 3080 and the MSI GeForce RTX 2080 Super.

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