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What is a motherboard?

Even the most enthusiastic home improvement DIY-er may not yet have tackled building his or her own computer. Constructing a computer can be a fun and satisfying project, though, allowing you to select the exact components and features you want.

Any DIY computer project needs to start with the motherboard, which holds all of the PC’s components. The following guide can help you learn what to look for when shopping for a motherboard. We’ve made some recommendations, including our top choice, the MSI MPG Z390 Gaming PRO, which has a very reasonable price point, while delivering strong features for gaming, including a multi-GPU configuration.

Considerations when choosing motherboards

When shopping for motherboards, you need to pay attention to — and likely pay a little more for — the following in order to receive a higher level of performance and speed.

  • Quick startup: The BIOS (or basic input/output system) ships as part of the motherboard’s firmware and handles the boot process for the computer. It determines startup speeds.
  • Memory for bandwidth: The motherboard’s RAM sockets connect to the motherboard, and the board then uses lines imprinted on the board to move the data. The bandwidth of these lines plays a role in the computing speed.

Additionally, pay attention to the power usage of the motherboard, during both idle and active times. Motherboards that use extra power will increase your electric bill, but they also will generate extra heat, which may force you to install a more powerful cooling system.

Motherboard features

When comparing motherboards, you’ll want to pay attention to a few different features that will determine the types of components that you can connect to the board.

  • CPU and chipset socket: The sockets built into the motherboard for the central processor unit and the associated chipset will determine which type of CPU you can use with the motherboard. Because the CPU is such an important part of any computing setup, you need to carefully select a motherboard that will match the CPU that you want.
  • Size: The size, or form factor, of the motherboard, is another important feature to consider. The form factor determines which size case you can use with the motherboard.
  • Memory: The motherboard will have multiple slots for adding memory chips. Large form factor motherboards usually will have four memory chip slots, while smaller form factors will have two slots. The more memory (or RAM) a motherboard can support, the higher level of performance you will be able to achieve.
  • Expansion slots: With expansion slots, you can add expansion cards to the computer, giving you extra features inside the computer. Motherboards with larger form factors should have several expansion slots, while smaller form factors may only have two or three slots.

If you will be overclocking or gaming, make sure your motherboard can support the cooling system you want to use as well.

How much you can expect to spend on a motherboard

For the most basic needs, a motherboard will cost $50-$150. These will be smaller boards with fewer slots and ports. Motherboards made for gaming will cost $150-$500 or more.

Motherboard FAQ

Q. Can I upgrade the motherboard in my current computer?

A. Yes. However, you do need to make sure the motherboard’s form factor will fit in your tower case, and that the motherboard has a CPU socket that matches the processor you want to use.

Q. What components does the motherboard come with?

A. Unfortunately, not much, other than sockets and ports. You typically need to purchase separately a CPU, GPU, memory, a chipset, and any expansion cards you want.

Motherboards we recommend

Best of the best

MSI MPG Z390 Gaming PRO LGA1151

MSI MPG Z390 Gaming PRO LGA1151

Our take: Offers an excellent mix of value and strong gaming features.

What we like: Provides support for the latest Intel microprocessors. Includes a light-up feature with 16.8 million colors, so you can personalize the look of the computer’s interior lighting.

What we dislike: Some users report that the motherboard could cause repeated PC crashes.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Best bang for your buck

ASUS ROG Maximus XI Hero

ASUS ROG Maximus XI Hero

Our take: Includes a premium cooling system, so you can overclock without worrying about overheating.

What we like: The cooling system does not require a lot of electrical power. Offers a customized set of LEDs to create fun color patterns for use with a transparent case.

What we dislike: Can be a little tricky to install because of the screw pattern. Pricey.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

EVGA Z490 Dark

EVGA Z490 Dark

Our take: It’s expensive, but this is one of the most powerful and best-looking motherboards on the market.

What we like: Includes a larger-than-average heatsink coverage area for effective cooling. Well-designed pattern of ports on the board for cable organization.

What we dislike: You’re on your own with installation because of poor instructions.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon


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Kyle Schurman writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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