If the RAM, graphics card, and CPU are the vibrant limbs of your PC, the parts that toil to get work done and fire up your favorite games, the motherboard is the skeleton—and the connective tissue. Oh yeah, it’s the circulatory system, too. And, if you stretch things into metaphysics? Maybe it’s even the soul.
The soul? No pressure picking the right motherboard for your next PC build or upgrade then, right?
Sure, the other components play a larger role in determining your PC’s overall performance and capabilities. But without the correct motherboard, they are just loose parts. Indeed, likening a PC motherboard to any single system in an organism way undersells it. It connects most everything in the PC together, and it helps the components you choose live up to their operating potential. If you’re looking to build a PC, or upgrade an aging contoh, you start with the motherboard. And this guide will help you pick the right one for your needs.
We pondered a whole bunch of possible approaches to buying a motherboard. Do you start with the CPU you want to install, and launch your search from there? Do you start with the usage case, then drill down? (Say, gaming versus productivity work lawan performance tweaking for fun.) Do you start with the core chipset, and filter your picks from that element first? Or something else?
We’d argue that every PC you’re building or upgrading starts with a vision, and in that vision is what size that PC is, or should be. So let’s start our utama at the practical: How big a PC are you trying to build?ATX, MicroATX, Mini-ITX: Which Size of Motherboard Should I Get?
Over the years, several sizes of motherboards, typically referred to as “form Distributor Motherboard medan factors,” have swirled around the PC market. Of these, three have risen above the rest and, today, are by far the most common: ATX, MicroATX, and Mini-ITX.
Think of these sizes as large (ATX), medium (MicroATX), and small (Mini-ITX). The first thing you should do when picking a motherboard is decide which of these form factors is best for you. All three have advantages and disadvantages.
Motherboard sizes compared: ATX, MicroATX, Mini-ITX boards (left to right)(Photo: Molly Flores)
For some people, Mini-ITX will be the most attractive option. The smallest of standard motherboards, Mini-ITX boards fit into compact PC cases. They are the best pick if you’re in a cramped office or are building a home theater PC (HTPC) that will sit in your living room.
The downside is that Mini-ITX systems and boards, since they are smaller than the rest, tend to have fewer connectors for peripherals, and fewer expansion slots to install components. These boards will have only a single PCI Express x16 slot (typically reserved for a graphics card) and limited storage connections, such as Serial ATA ports and M.2 slots (more about those later). Another downside is that these boards cost a bit of a premium versus equivalent MicroATX and ATX boards. In the case of Mini-ITX, “less” costs more.
At the other end of the size spectrum, ATX motherboards (and a few larger, less common variants) take up the most space, but they also gain you the most expansion options. ATX motherboards can have up to seven PCI Express expansion slots, which means you can install several cards alongside your graphics card. Multiple-GPU desktops were once a big deal in elite gaming PCs, but with the last few generations of GPUs from AMD and Nvidia, support for multi-card CrossFireX and SLI/NVLink configurations has fallen by the wayside. So the need for three or four PCI Express x16 slots has fallen off most users’ wish lists.
Still, some folks will want access to multiple full-size PCI Express slots for a graphics card, a wireless-networking or video capture solution, a pro-level audio card, and other specialized needs. Plus, ATX boards frequently have more robust integrated hardware. This can mean better onboard audio circuitry, more connections for storage devices (the larger circuit board, or PCB, should have more room for M.dua slots, for one thing), and in some cases, better overclocking performance, thanks to a more robust power delivery system.
As you shop, you’ll also run into a few other form factors out there that are larger variants of full-size ATX, notably the oversize Extended ATX (EATX) and XL-ATX formats. Know that your PC case needs to support that larger board size specifically. Plain ATX support is not enough.
Big boards: An ATX board (left) lawan a wider Extended ATX contoh (right)(Photo: Molly Flores)
If the size of your PC case is not a factor in what hardware you buy, an ATX board is the default choice. Even if you don’t expect to use all the extra features and ports, having them gives you more options for expanding the system with new hardware down the road. Furthermore, ATX motherboards tend to be among the most affordable due to economies of scale. Though, conversely, the most expensive, tricked-out boards on the market are also usually ATX, you can find ATX boards with better features priced lower than equivalent Mini-ITX solutions.
The third common motherboard form factor is MicroATX, which is the middle option between ATX and Mini-ITX. Some shoppers prefer this size as a “Goldilocks” just-right compromise. It provides you with a balanced solution that’s more space-efficient than ATX, but it also offers significantly more onboard components and connections than a Mini-ITX board can. Most MicroATX boards have up to four expansion slots and can comfortably accommodate two graphics cards, or a GPU plus an expansion card or two.
On MicroATX boards, other onboard elements, including the circuitry for handling power and audio, are typically on par with what you get on ATX motherboards. In terms of size, MicroATX is closer in size to ATX than it is to Mini-ITX. This is MicroATX’s main drawback, as a MicroATX system won’t sit quite as neatly in a compact office PC chassis, or on an entertainment stand, as a Mini-ITX system would. MicroATX PC chassis just aren’t as small.
Here’s a handy cheat sheet to typical motherboard sizes. But know that if a PC case says it supports one of these board sizes, you don’t have to get out your ruler if the board uses that form factor. It should just fit.Which CPU Socket Should I Consider?
Okay, you’ve settled on a motherboard size! Next up: the CPU socket. This socket on the motherboard is one of the key determining factors that controls what hardware the motherboard will support (but especially, the processor). In this regard, it’s second only to the chipset (which we’ll get to in the next section), but it makes more sense to discuss the CPU socket first.
The concept of the CPU socket is simple to understand: Its only job is to hold the processor chip and enable it to connect to the motherboard and thus, the rest of the system. The motherboard and CPU both must support the same socket protocol for them to work together. A given motherboard supports only one socket type, and it works with a specific family of AMD or Intel processors, never both. Each of the two big chip makers also offers multiple families of chips on different sockets. Not all AMD chips fit in all AMD sockets, and Jual Motherboard likewise with Intel chips and boards. Also, older chips from a given family may not work in newer sockets, and vice versa. (See our deep-dive guide to the best CPUs.)
Under no circumstances should you try to install a CPU on a motherboard unless you are 100% sure that the chip is going into a compatible socket on the board. Installing an incompatible CPU into a motherboard at best will do nothing, and at worst, can fry any or all of the hardware in the system.
At this writing, for mainstream processors, AMD’s only terbaru socket is known as AMD AM4. A new socket for AMD’s upcoming Ryzen 7000-series chips, known as AMD AM5, is expected to emerge in the second half of 2022. If you are looking to build or upgrade to an AMD Ryzen-based system and it doesn’t have an AM4 (or later, AM5) motherboard, you should steer clear, as the board you are looking at is likely old technology.
AMD’s AM4 Socket(Photo: Molly Flores)
The one exception is if you are looking at AMD-based boards for the company’s Ryzen Threadripper line of high-end desktop (HEDT) chips. These are expensive, specialized boards for AMD’s stripped-down server processors known as Threadrippers, and they use either the sTRX4 (current third-generation Threadripper) or earlier TR4 (first- or second-generation Threadripper) sockets. (A third variant, Threadripper Pro, uses a socket called sWRX8, but you won’t see it Supplier Motherboard medan much.) These chips are very large, and the sockets are not compatible with chips from the (much smaller) mainstream AMD Ryzen line.