Whether you plan on upgrading your system with some new hardware or build a new system from scratch, the parts that your system will have will finally depend on the motherboard.
The motherboard can basically be considered as the foundation for your system, which will determine all the other parts and hardware that you can fit into it.
There are tons of different motherboards out there in the market to buy, making it harder for one to choose the right one. Each is having a diverse price range and features to offer, it is highly essential to keep certain factors in mind while deciding to choose a laptop.
The size or the form factor
The form factor refers to the size of the actual motherboard. Motherboards come in all sizes depending on your needs. It is necessary to determine where you wish to place your system before choosing the motherboard. The availability of different board sizes gives you the freedom to choose a size that will actually fit into your environment.
If you have plenty of room available you can opt for a tower case with a full-size motherboard or if you have small space available then go for a smaller case with a smaller motherboard size.
The form factor not only decides the size of the motherboard but also determines the number and size of the components that can be supported by it. Generally speaking, the larger the size of the motherboard, the more components it can hold.
As of now, there are 5 available sizes with the mentioned three used by most for building home systems:
Standard ATX or ATX
ATX stands for Advanced Technology extended, and the ATX is the standard motherboard size offering the most space out of other form factors. With a dimension of 12 × 13 inches, the ATX size allows you to install the most number of components with bigger build sizes.
The Micro ATX is an evolved version of the standard ATX measuring 9.6 × 9.6 inches. Since the measurements are different, the mounting holes are also different from that of the standard ATX form factor. If you want to do a micro ATX build for Ryzen 9 3900x or similar processors then you should check out my recommendations here.
Though the Micro ATX is smaller in size, it will fit right in with most ATX cases.
With the reduced size, the micro ATX also offers fewer expansion slots compared to a standard ATX board. This size is generally used for desktop computers with a medium-size build and capable of supporting both AMD and Intel processors.
The mini ITX size is the best option if you intend to build a tiny system. Although the tiny size will let you fit your system in the smallest of places it also offers fewer RAM slots and storage connectors. Also, you have the option of only installing one card, such as a graphics card. The Mini ITX boards are famous for their small dimension of 6.7 × 6.7 inches and their low power requirement.
Socket type for processor and chipset
In modern motherboards, you are required to install your processor in a processor socket. Since there are so many different processors out there, the socket types are different for different processors. As discussed in our review of motherboards for i5 8400, the type of socket is a really important factor to consider before choosing any motherboard. The back of the processor chip has numerous pins that connect into the holes of the socket. The layout and arrangement of the pins and holes vary among different processors and sockets.
The new generation processors come with a ZIF lever or a Zero Insertion Force lever which is used to fit and secure the processor into the socket. The lever basically acts as a clamp that can be lifted or pressed down in order to keep the processor chip in place without applying unnecessary pressure.
The clamping by the ZIF lever not only ensures that the chip stays in its place but also makes sure that there is good electrical contact between the holes of the socket and the pins of the processor.
AMD and Intel use different socket types for their different range and series of processors. The processor you plan to use must fit with the motherboard socket.
The chipset can be considered as the factor that determines the compatibility of the motherboard with the rest of the components such as the processor types, memory types, and the video adapters.
Before choosing the motherboard, make sure that the other components are compatible with the chipset type.
RAM slots and GPU slots
It is obviously necessary that you check the maximum memory that the motherboard can support but before that, you must make sure that the motherboard that you choose can support the latest memory modules. As of now, the modem computers use DIMM modules of DDR3 or DDR4.
The number of DIMM slots available on the motherboard does not decide the maximum memory that it can support. For example, the board might provide four DIMM slots but only support up to 16 GB of RAM. To avoid such things to occur, check the maximum memory that the motherboard can support. For example, if you are looking for a motherboard for the i7-8700k, you will require one that can support a good amount of RAM.
Another thing you need to keep in mind is the memory speed. Memory speeds vary from 1600 MHz or 2400 MHz or more, it is important to look for a motherboard that can support high-speed RAM for the entire computer system to work properly.
Multi-tasking is exactly dependent upon the RAM in your system.
If you need a computer that handles general tasks well, such as office tasks and basic video streaming and image processing, we recommend at least 4 GB of RAM. On the other hand, if you are building a gaming computer, make sure you buy a motherboard capable of supporting at least 16 GB of RAM.
The Graphics Processor Unit or the GPU is another important aspect of a computer if you want it to handle gaming or tasks that involve graphics and video processing. The newest GPU models generally connect to the motherboard via PCI-e slots and most of them use PCI-e 3.0 x16 slots. The size factor also comes into play here. Powerful GPUs are a bit bulky while there are also some less powerful and low profile ones. Make sure you have enough room between the case and the motherboard to fit the GPU.
You must also note that while there are GPUs which only use the 75 watts of power available from the PCI-e slot, some powerful GPUs will require extra power from the motherboard using a six or eight-pin power connector. In choosing your motherboard, Before choosing your motherboard and buying it, make sure your GPU is compatible with it by check if the board has the necessary PCI slots. If you have a powerful processor then check its compatibility like for example, Ryzen 7-2700x best compatible motherboard will have the same socket and chipset types.
Carefully check the specifications of the board and the GPU. If you plan to install multiple GPUs on your systems, like Nvidia’s SLI (Scalable Link Interface) technology or AMD’s Crossfire technology, look for a motherboard with multiple PCI-e slots.
Ports and connectors
You should look for a motherboard with at least four or mode USB 2.0 ports. There is no such thing as too many USB ports, the greater the number, the better. We recommend six to eight USB ports on your motherboard. Find a motherboard that provides a dual ATA/100 to ensure a fast disk interface.
Also, make sure there are enough SATA ports available on the board for connecting your storage solutions such as the hard disk drives or solid-state drives. Four SATA connections should be the bare minimum that you should go for.
If you own old devices and peripherals and still plan to use them, check whether the motherboard has legacy connections. The PS/2 port will allow you to connect older keyboard and mouse models with legacy connections. Other than that there are the FDD interface and EPP/ECP ports.
It is quite necessary to have a look at the back panel or the I/O panel of the motherboard. The number and type of ports are truly subjective and differs for people. If you need more than just the provided USB connections, make sure that there are USB headers that will let you attach more USB ports in the front panel.
Here are a few ports that you should look for:
- USB 3.1 / USB 3.0 Gen1:These are compatible with most USB devices, and the more you have, the better it is.
- USB 2.0:The USB 2.0 is obviously slower and older than the USB 3.0 or USB 3.1, but they support USB connections from mouse and keyboards without any hassle.
- USB 3.1 Gen2: This type of USB port is comparatively newer, and not many devices are compatible with the Gen2. The USB 3.1 Gen2 is capable of providing a bandwidth of 10 Gbps, which is almost two times that of the typical USB 3.1 / 3.0 Gen1.
- USB Type-C:Type-C ports are also new in the market and offer USB 3.1 Gen1 and USB 3.1 Gen2 compatibility. These ports are mainly designed for connecting smartphones and devices with Type-C connections.
- HDMI / DisplayPort:If you plan to use a processor with integrated graphics, then you will require an HDMI port or DisplayPort to connect your system to a monitor for display.
- Audio ports: One of the smallest component but a very important one. Necessary to connect your headphones, speakers, or other audio related peripherals.
- PS/2 ports: Allows you to connect keyboards and mice with legacy connections.
The presence of USB 3.1 Gen2 or USB Type-C is not really necessary, but it is better for the long run. As you can see from our review of the Ryzen 5 3600 motherboards we always keeps these factors in mind while selecting the best motheboards.
Basically, to sum it up, look for the above factors before you choose a motherboard. All the points are necessary. On one hand, the ports and features are of personal choice, the chipset, and socket type of the motherboard must be noted and check before buying. We recommend looking at the specifications of the motherboard and the other parts to check if they will be compatible or not.
One last important thing is to check the warranty provided with the board. We expect longevity from anything that we spend our money on. Therefore also check that there is a good warranty period with the motherboard too.