Buyer's Guide to PC Motherboards

Tips on selecting the right motherboard for your desktop PC

Three kinds of motherboards

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Motherboards are the backbone of all personal computer systems. The choice of a motherboard determines the type of processor you can use, how much memory it can have, what peripherals can be attached and what features it can support. Because of all this, it is important to know what you need when selecting the right motherboard.

Processor (CPU) Support

A motherboard typically has a specific processor socket type. This socket will determine the physical packaging of the AMD or Intel processor that can be installed on it. In addition to this, the motherboard's chipset will determine what specific model processors can be used with the motherboard.

Because of this, it is often best to get an idea of what processor you intend to use with your desktop computer before you go about picking the motherboard.

Motherboard Size or Form Factor

Are you looking to put together a feature-packed desktop tower for lots of performance? Maybe you want something a bit more compact? Motherboards come in three traditional sizes: ATX, micro-ATX (mATX), and mini-ITX. Each of these is defined by the specific dimensions the boards have.

The physical size of the board also has implications for the number of onboard ports and slots that they have. For instance, an ATX board will often feature around five total PCI-Express and/or PCI slots. A mATX board will generally only have three total slots. The mini-ITX board is so small that it typically only features a single PCI-Express x16 graphics card slot. The same is true for the memory slots (4 for ATX, 2 or 4 for mATX, 2 for mini-ITX) and SATA ports (6 or more for ATX, 4 to 6 for mATX, 2 to 4 for mini-ITX).


As mentioned above, the chipset plays a direct role in selecting what processor can be used with a motherboard. The chipset also determines what type and speed of memory that can be installed.

The motherboard size and number of memory slots will also determine the total amount of memory that can be installed. Consider how much memory you will need on your computer as well as if you want to be able to add more later.

Expansions Slots and Connectors

The number and type of expansion slots and connectors are important for what will be placed in the computer. If you have peripherals that require a specific connector or slot type, such as USB 3.0, eSATA, Thunderbolt, HDMI, or PCI-Express, you want to make sure that you get a motherboard that supports that type of connection. It is possible to get an expansion card to add some connectors, but they often perform better when integrated into the motherboard chipset.


Features are extras added to the motherboard that are not required for operation but are useful to have. They can include things such as onboard wireless, audio, or RAID controller. If the board has more features than you need, it is not a problem since many can be turned off in the motherboard's BIOS. These features can save money by not requiring additional expansion cards.


If you plan on overclocking your processor, you want to make sure the board will support it. For instance, the chipset must be able to support adjustment of the CPU multipliers and voltages which not all chipsets will allow.

Also, motherboards that offer improved power management and solid capacities can offer a better level of stability. Finally, overclocking can stress the components so any additional heat-dissipating elements can also be beneficial if you are going to be doing major overclocking.