How to choose a motherboard

Choosing the correct motherboard is important when building a gaming computer.


What is the motherboard’s function?


The motherboard acts as a central connection point for all the components in your computer, linking them to the CPU. It also manages the flow of electrical power from the power supply to your components. Additionally, the motherboard determines which storage devices, memory modules, and graphics cards, along with other expansion cards, can be connected to your PC. In this section, we’ll go through motherboard anatomy and offer you the knowledge you need to know how to pick a motherboard for your build.


Anatomy of a Motherboard:


The main circuit board of a computer is known as the motherboard. Expansion cards, hard drives, and memory modules may be easily connected and replaced, even if the motherboard’s aesthetics alter over time. When comparing motherboards, you may encounter terms like form factor, chipset, socket type, RAM slots, PCIe slots, and storage connectors. 


Socket for the CPU:


Motherboards usually have a processor socket where the CPU, which is like the computer’s brain, and other essential components connect. They also have expansion slots for adding memory (RAM), storage, and peripherals. Check your CPU’s documentation before buying a motherboard to ensure it’s compatible. By varying the pin array, sockets may accommodate a wide range of goods, from the most basic to the most advanced.


The LGA 1151 socket, which supports 9th Gen CPUs, features 1,151 pins for connection. Some expansion slots on modern Intel motherboards may store performance-critical components like GPUs and storage drives. The CPU is directly linked to the RAM, which stores instructions for running different applications. The CPU contains the memory controller. However, the chipset manages various expansion slots, SATA connections, USB ports, sound, and networks, enabling many other devices to communicate with the CPU. 




The chipset is a silicon backbone incorporated into the motherboard that is compatible with specified versions of processors. This component manages communication between the CPU and different storage and expansion devices. Higher-end chipsets offer more PCIe slots and USB ports, as well as support for newer hardware configurations and alternative PCIe slot arrangements, with many directly connected to the CPU.


Deciding on a Chipset:


Modern chipsets combine several functions that used to be separate components on motherboards. Intel chipsets now include built-in audio, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and encryption software. High-end chipsets, such as the Z390, offer benefits like support for overclocking and faster bus speeds. However, newer Intel chipsets offer additional improvements beyond these features.


  • Only 20 PCIe lanes are supported.
  • Support for as many as four different USB 3.1 Gen 2 devices
  • B-Series
  • No support for overclocking
  • Only 20 PCIe lanes are supported.
  • only USB 3.0 ports 


Thanks to these distinct solutions, you may get into the 300-series chipset’s advantages at some pricing points.


Slots for Additional Features:




High-speed serial expansion buses, such as PCIe, are built into the CPU or the motherboard’s chipset. This method may install graphics cards, solid state drives, network adapters, RAID controller cards, and capture cards into the PCIe slots on a motherboard. PCIe is also used to connect the motherboard’s built-in peripherals. PCIe links have a certain number of data lanes, referred to by abbreviations 1, 4, 8, or 16. There are two cables on each route, one for transmission and the other for reception. A PCIe 1 connection has one data channel and transfers one bit every cycle with current-generation PCIe implementations. A PCIe16 lane contains 16 data lanes with a transmission rate of up to 16 bits per cycle, making it the most extended slot on a motherboard (and the most often used for a graphics card).


In the future, upcoming PCIe versions might increase the data throughput by doubling it with each clock cycle. There has been an increase in bandwidth in each iteration of PCIe, which implies that PCIe devices will perform better. The max bandwidth for a PCIe 2.0 connection is 16 GB/s, whereas the PCIe 3.0 link may reach 32 GB/s. While many solid-state drives use the 4-lane connection, which has a maximum theoretical capacity of 8 GB/s, GPUs use the 16-lane connection, providing four times the bandwidth. As an alternative to slots with fewer lanes, PCIe allows using spaces with additional lanes. For example, a 4 expansion card may be used in the same length as a 16 expansion card. As a result, its throughput is identical to that of a 4-slot device since the extra 12 lanes are not utilized.


For instance, motherboards that feature both M.2 and PCIe slots may require additional PCIe lanes. In a motherboard with seven x16 slots, PCIe lanes could use up to 112 pathways. However, the CPU and chipset may only have 48 lanes. PCIe slots often reduce bandwidth if all of their lanes are in use. If two 16 PCIe slots are used to install two GPUs, the connections may operate at eight instead of 16 (current GPUs are unlikely to be bottlenecked by a PCIe 3.0 8 connection). However, some high-end motherboards maintain the slot lane configurations by using PCIe switches that spread out the physical lanes. Enthusiast-grade motherboards in the Z-series provide more PCIe lanes and extra choices for PC builders. The Z-series of enthusiast motherboards offers more PCIe lanes and additional options for PC builders. 


U.2 and M.2 several:


The compatibility of an M.2 device with a specific motherboard socket is determined by its “key,” which refers to the arrangement of gold contacts at the end of the M.2 device. The most prevalent M.2 cards employ four PCIe low-latency data lanes or the older SATA bus. The small size of M.2 cards makes it easy to add extra storage or system features to a small system. Unlike traditional SATA-based devices, which require a separate connection to the motherboard, M.2 cards do not need this. 




SATA (Serial ATA) is an older computer bus used to connect 2.5″ or 3.5″ hard drives, solid-state drives, and optical drives for playing DVDs and Blu-ray discs. However, it is less commonly used nowadays due to newer and faster interfaces.  The standard SATA 3.0 interface enables data transfer rates of up to 6Gbit/s. However, it is slower than PCIe. Two PCIe lanes are used in the newer SATA Express (or SATAe) standard to achieve speeds of up to 16Gbit/s. External SATA (eSATA) should not be confused with the external connector used for conveniently connecting portable hard drives that comply with the standard. 




Module slots on motherboards allow you to insert RAM sticks and small pieces of flash memory that may be accessed quickly. A standard ATX motherboard has four slots. However, a smaller form factor like mITX has only two. Up to eight may be found on HEDT motherboards, such as those for the Intel® CoreTM X series of processors (and server/workstation motherboards based on the Intel® Xeon® platform). Dual-channel memory architecture means two separate channels transport data between the CPU’s memory controller and a stick of DIMM (dual in-line memory modules) RAM.


This is referred to as the “Form Factor”:


Module slots on motherboards allow you to insert RAM sticks and small pieces of flash memory that may be accessed quickly.  A standard ATX motherboard has four slots. On the other hand, a smaller form factor like mITX typically has only two RAM slots. In contrast, HEDT (High-End Desktop) motherboards, such as those designed for Intel® CoreTM X series processors and server/workstation motherboards based on the Intel® Xeon® platform, can have up to eight RAM slots. Dual-channel memory architecture means that data is transported between the CPU’s memory controller and a stick of DIMM (dual in-line memory module) RAM through two separate channels. 


The motherboard’s form factor not only determines the size of your computer case but also dictates the number of expansion slots you’ll have and how the motherboard’s layout and cooling system are organized. Larger form factors offer more DIMM slots, full-size PCIe slots, and M.2 slots. For the benefit of both users and manufacturers, the dimensions of desktop motherboards are pretty consistent. Due to the space constraints of laptop motherboards, manufacturers often use different form factors for these components. Pre-built desktops may also have unique form factors. 


For desktop motherboards, the following form factors are common:


  • ATX (Advanced Technology Extended): This is the standard full-size motherboard form factor, measuring 12″ x 9.6″. A consumer ATX motherboard typically features seven expansion slots spaced 0.7″ apart and four DIMM (memory) slots. 
  • eATX (Extended ATX): This is a larger version of the ATX form factor, measuring 12″ x 13″. It is designed for enthusiast and professional use, offering more space for flexible component combinations. 


The Mini-ITX motherboard (6.7″ x 6.7″) is the ideal solution for tiny PCs that don’t need fan cooling. One full-size PCIe slot and two DIMM slots are commonly provided.


You need to know the basics of BIOS:


The BIOS, or Basic Input/output System, is the first thing you see when your computer boots up. This firmware tests all connected hardware, which loads before your operating system. Users and motherboard labels often use the term “BIOS” to refer to the firmware on newer motherboards. However, it is generally UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface). Improved user-friendliness features include:


  • More significant storage partitions.
  • Faster boot times.
  • An updated graphical user interface (GUI) (graphical user interface).


UEFI tools, commonly included by motherboard makers, make it easier to overclock the CPU or RAM of a PC and provide preconfigured settings. Other enhancements include a more attractive design, the ability to record and take screenshots, boot from a different disk, and display information such as memory use, temperature, and fan speed. 


UEFI also supports the earlier BIOS functionalities. Users sometimes boot into Legacy mode to address compatibility issues with older operating systems or utilities, which is also known as CSM (Compatibility Support Module). However, by choosing Legacy mode, users miss out on UEFI’s more advanced features, such as the ability to create partitions larger than 2TB.


Connectors inside the body:


To power up the entire motherboard, cables from the power supply and the computer case need to be connected to the motherboard’s connectors and headers, which are exposed pins. To ensure that each cable is connected to the correct connection, look to your manual’s visual reference and the tiny text silkscreened onto your motherboard (such as CPU FAN).


Connectors for Power and Data:

  • 24-pin auxiliary power socket
  • The CPU power connection on a motherboard requires either an 8-pin or 4-pin 12V connector.
  • Connections for SATA Express and SATA 3
  • M.2 interface connections




  • Pins for the power button, reset button, hard drive LED, power LED, internal speaker, and casing features make up the front-panel header.
  • The headphone and speaker ports receive power through the front panel audio header on the motherboard.
  • CPU, system, and water cooling fan and pump headers
  • USB 2.0, 3.0, and 3.1 headers. ‘
  • S/PDIF (digital audio), or “header”
  • Strips of RGB


Input/Output Ports:


The I/O controller on your motherboard serves as the central hub for all of the external devices connected to it. Connectors on consumer motherboards are used to connect the CPU’s integrated graphics to a monitor, peripherals such as a keyboard and mouse, audio devices, Ethernet cables, and other devices. Upgraded ports like USB 3.1 Gen 2 offer faster speeds. The “I/O shield,” which covers the motherboard’s external ports, is typically made of metal. It is grounded by making contact with the metal casing, providing protection against electromagnetic interference. 


Data Transfer and Peripheral Devices:


One of the most common ports found on computers and mobile devices is the USB port. With USB 3.2, it can reach speeds of up to 20 Gbit/s, providing both power and data transfer capabilities. This port is a high-speed Thunderbolt™ 3 port that uses a USB-C connection. Thunderbolt™ 3 technology supports DisplayPort 1.2 and USB 3.1, allowing for data transfer speeds of up to 40 gigabits per second. It also enables the daisy-chaining of multiple DisplayPort-compatible displays, all driven by the same PC. Another common port is the six-pin connector used for keyboards or mice, which has been in use for a long time. 




The display ports on your motherboard are connected to the onboard graphics solution. If you install a graphics card in one of your expansion slots, you’ll have access to its display port options. With the HDMI 2.1 generation, HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) can support resolutions up to 8K at 30Hz. DisplayPort 1.4 supports displays with a maximum resolution of 8K and a refresh rate of 60Hz. Graphics cards generally have more DisplayPort compatibility than motherboards. However, many motherboards feature Thunderbolt 3 ports, which can be used to connect to DisplayPort displays. DVI (Digital Video Interface), introduced in 1999, is a 29-pin connector that supports both single-link and dual-link configurations. Dual-link DVI supports a resolution of 2560 x 1600 at 60Hz. The analog 15-pin connector supports resolutions up to 2048 x 1536 at an 85 Hz frame rate; VGA (Video Graphics Array). This old-school port may still be seen on motherboards from time to time. The better the resolution or, the shorter the connection, the more likely it is to experience signal deterioration. 



Headphones (headphone out) and a microphone (microphone in) are often found on the front of a computer casing (mic in). Connecting a multichannel speaker system to the motherboard’s back panel requires a bank of six color-coded typically and labeled 3.5mm analog audio connectors. For digital speakers, home theater receivers, and other audio devices that use S/PDIF (Sony/Philips Digital Interface), your motherboard may include a S/PDIF (Sony/Philips Digital Interface) connection. This could be a useful option if your device doesn’t support audio transmission through HDMI.


A PCB is what?


Many motherboard marketing materials and manuals mention the PCB (Printed Circuit Board) assembly processes used by different manufacturers. It can be useful to understand a few key terms in this context. Other components are installed on or socketed into layers of fiberglass and copper on a modern motherboard. Modern printed circuit boards (PCBs) typically have around ten layers, which means they are much more interconnected than they appear. The lines you see on the surface of the board, called “traces,” are special electrical pathways. These pathways help different parts of the board communicate with each other. The visible lines on the board’s surface, known as “traces,” are a unique electrical connection. You can’t use your computer correctly if one of these traces is broken. The PCIe slot may no longer power the inserted expansion card if a trace connecting from a PCIe connection to the PCH is severely damaged. Producers apply a conventional green polymer coating that acts as an oxidation barrier to protect the solder mask. Because of this, slight scratches or bumps during motherboard installation won’t interfere with signals. 


What Else Do the Manufacturers Throw-In?


Motherboard manufacturers don’t create their own chipsets, but they do make important decisions about how their motherboards are made, how they look, and how they’re laid out. They also decide on cooling systems, the features of the BIOS (the basic software that helps the motherboard communicate with other parts of the computer), and the software that works with Windows on the motherboard. While it’s impossible to explore all of these qualities in-depth, there are a few main categories that they come under. 




High-end motherboards often come with features that make it easier to overclock your CPU, GPU, and RAM. Overclocking means running these components at higher speeds than they were originally designed for, which can improve performance but also requires careful adjustment of settings. These motherboards may include automatic testing and tweaking tools, so you don’t have to manually adjust settings in the UEFI environment (a kind of software that controls the motherboard). They might also have an integrated clock generator to help fine-tune CPU speed, a better VRM (Voltage Regulator Module) for more stable power delivery, extra heat sensors near components that are being overclocked, and physical buttons on the motherboard to easily start and stop overclocking. If you’re interested in learning more about overclocking your PC, you can find more information here.




The heat generated by motherboard components like the PCH and VRM is substantial. Motherboard manufacturers use various cooling techniques to keep them at safe operating temperatures and prevent performance issues. They often include heat sinks for passive cooling, which absorb and dissipate heat from hot components. Additionally, some motherboards may use small fans or even water-cooling systems for more active cooling, ensuring that the components stay cool and perform optimally. 


Differentiate Between Active and Cooling Method:


Maintaining your motherboard is made easier with software packages designed for this purpose. These packages help you keep your drivers up to date and safely update your motherboard’s BIOS (Basic Input/Output System), which is essential for ensuring your motherboard runs smoothly. Some manufacturer’s software goes even further by scanning for outdated drivers, monitoring network activity, and providing advanced power-saving settings that may be more comprehensive than those offered by Windows 10. This software can help you optimize your motherboard’s performance and keep it running efficiently. 


Red, Green, and Blue LED Lighting:


LED lights with programmable colors and effects may be powered via RGB headers found on high-end motherboards. A single-color LED strip gets its power from non-addressable RGB headers, which can vary in intensity and products. These headers allow for many different colors to be displayed simultaneously, thanks to their addressable nature. LEDs can often be easily configured using pre-installed software or smartphone applications, making customization simple and convenient.


Make a Decision:


Understanding the components of your gaming motherboard is essential, whether you’re planning a new build or updating an existing PC. Choosing a gaming motherboard will be easier if you understand what each component accomplishes. To ensure your computer runs smoothly, you need a motherboard with a socket that supports your CPU (Central Processing Unit), a chipset that maximizes your hardware’s potential, and a set of features that meets your computing needs. It’s important to make a list of several compatible motherboards and compare the advantages and disadvantages of each before making a final decision. This way, you can choose the motherboard that best suits your requirements and get the most out of your equipment.