Assembling a PC from scratch is supposed to start with choosing a motherboard. The possibility of picking other devices and further potential to use more powerful hardware depends directly on its characteristics. Many people believe that choosing a motherboard is the trickiest and most complicated stage of assembling a PC, so let us bust this myth once and for all!

What Does a Motherboard Consist Of? Its Most Essential Characteristics

So let’s take a closer look at the motherboard characteristics to pay attention to when choosing a motherboard.

A Chipset

This is an embedded motherboard CPU. The two manufacturers dominate the market nowadays, they are Intel and AMD.

The key point is that if your CPU is Intel, the chipset should also be Intel. The same goes for AMD.

The chipset are classified according to their performance.

The Intel classification is the following:

  • H is the basic class chipset.

  • P;Z are the middle class chipsets.

  • X  is the high-end chipset.

  • B;Q are the chipset with additional safety and control options, are aimed at business segment mostly.

AMD classifies its chipsets as follow:

  • A45; A50; A55; A58; are the basic class chipsets

  • A75; A78 are the middle class chipsets

  • A85; A88 are the high-end chipsets

Manufacturer Basic class Middle class High-end Extra functions
Intel H P;Z   X B;Q 
AMD A45;A50;A55;A58  A75;A78   A85;A88  


The main thing about choosing a chipset is its correspondence and compatibility with the selected CPU. Other details will be useful for the geeks only.

Further reading:

Best Affordable AMD Chipset-Based Motherboard

Best Intel Chipset-Based Motherboard

A CPU Port (Socket) 

The type of socket is listed among a CPU’s characteristics. It’ll be hard to confuse as their names speak for themselves.

  • LGA sockets support Intel CPUs.

  • AM, FM and S sockets work well with AMD CPUs.

Socket type
Models
Intel (LGA) 1150, 1155, 2011, 2011
AMD (AM/FM)

AM3+, FM2+

 

A Form Factor

We’re talking about the motherboard size here, as the choice of PC case will depend on it later. You can find more information about picking a proper form-factor for your system in our guide How to Choose a Gaming PC Case: Guide to Action”.

 Form Factor Dimensions (mm)
Mini ATX

170x170

Micro ATX

244x244

ATX 305x244 
XL-ATX  345x262

 

Memory Slot

This matter is piece of cake as only a mere couple of values available won’t let you get confused. Modern motherboards support DDR4, which replaced DDR3\ DDR3L. The latter, though, are rarely encountered.

The basic class motherboards have up to 2 memory slots, middle and high-end ones have 4 slots.

If you’re leaving some spare space when assembling a PC, get a motherboard with 4 slots which will later allow you to enlarge your RAM. However, mind the restrictions as each motherboard has a certain memory limit. Find out what it is in advance.

RAM frequency supported by the CPU is also an important parameter. Modern models have this characteristic in the range of 1333-2000 MHz. Quite often a high-frequency RAM will enhance the performance of a built-in graphic adapter. This is “the higher, the better” case.

Extension Card Slots

We’re talking about the slots for connecting other devices, such as tuners, wi-fi adapters, PCI-SATA controllers, and so forth.

The amount of slots is directly related to a motherboard’s form-factor.

Such slots as PCI-E x1 are mainly used to connect extension cards. The second slot available is PCI-Express, it is used more rarely and will do for connecting modern graphic adapters.

Form-factor Max slots
Mini ATX

1

Micro ATX 4
ATX, XL-ATX 7

 

Cooling Systems

Passive cooling with radiators for outputting the heat is used for motherboards. Low-end motherboards are often not equipped with a radiator. If they are, it might be installed on a chipset or some transistors. This was made to save space: a cut-rate motherboard surely won’t require serious cooling. More expensive models have heat pipes system. By the way, don’t forget to check the height of a motherboard’s CPU radiator before you buy it as it might simply prevent you from installing a graphic adapter.

Also read:

Internal Ports

This is where you plug in all your devices.

  • Disk System

It is made for connecting optical and solid-state drives. We are positive you will find a board with SATA3 connector, which is used in all modern devices and which provides the 6 Gbit\s bandwidth.

  • Motherboard Power

This connectors hould be identical to the power supply connector in order to function properly. Modern motherboards have a 24-contact connector almost all the time, but you’ll also be able to power such a board from a 20-contact device.

  • CPU Power

There exist 4 or 8-contactconnectors. 100-120 watts will be enough to power them.

  • A Graphic Adapter Connector

The modern models are equipped with PCI Express (PCI-Ex16). Middle and high-end motherboards can have up to 4 such connectors. If you’re planning to install several graphic cards, plan their efficient placement ahead, as 4 overheated adapters will resemble an airport or a rush-hour highway which isn’t pleasant.

Built-In Devices

  • A Built-in Graphic Adapter

If you assemble your PC for, say, an office, rather than for entertainment, a built-in graphic adapter will prove to be cost-saving. Don’t expect it to be a high-flyer in terms of performance. You’ll need DVI and HDMI connectors.

  • A Built-in Sound Adapter

It has 3-6 ports for connecting 3.5 mm audio devices. The sound adapter is built-in in any motherboard; the number of jacks available is varied.

  • A Built-in Network Adapter

It usually supports data transmission at the rate of 100 or 1000 Mbit\s. If you don’t expect to transmit large data sets, 100 will be quite enough. By the way, middle and high-end motherboards are equipped with 1000 Mbit\s network adapters which facilitates your choice if you aim at assembling a server, for instance.

  • A Built-in Wi-Fi Adapter

This isn’t a most important item. You can do without a built-in wi-fi adapter, especially if you are connected directly. As for the wireless LAN, your router may not be powerful enough for the queries of most demanding users. So if you’re going to buy a powerful router, ignore this parameter.

External Motherboard Ports

Below the connectors encountered in modern motherboards are listed. Their quantity is directly related to the number and type of devices integrated into a motherboard.

Connector type

Purpose

USB 3.0

For USB keys and external HDDs. Provides high connection speed

USB 3.0

For a mouse, a keyboard, external sound cards and other USB devices

PS/2

An obsolete mouse and keyboard connector

DVI

For connecting a monitor if you have an integrated graphic adapter.

HDMI

The same, but allows connecting modern monitors and TVs.

Display Port

For connecting certain types of monitors

BIOS hard-reset button

For turning the PC off when it's frozen

eSata

For connecting external drives with such connector

Rj-45

For connecting the network cable

Optical soung port

For connecting advanced audio systems

Sound ports

For connecting the speakers, earphones and a microphone

Summarizing!

Thats about it. Now that you are familiar with the main aspects of choosing a motherboard, you can use this guide when buying one. We recommend you not to hurry when picking it and to analyze thoroughly all the quantitative and technical characteristics as it would be a pity to end up with a bunch of expensive and incompatible hardware. If you don’t feel like spending much time shopping, read the following reviews:

Best Affordable AMD Chipset-Based Motherboard

Best Intel Chipset-Based Motherboard