When you decide to buy or build your own gaming PC, the first component to be considered is the CPU. Once you have chosen the CPU for your build, your focus should turn toward finding the right motherboard. The motherboard is the connective tissue that holds all your hardware together. Motherboards contain CPU sockets, slots for your memory, PCI-E slots for your GPU, connections for your storage devices, networking components, sound components, and USB ports.
Motherboards come in several form factors, each of which directly ties into your PC case selection. The most common form factor is known as ATX and most off-the-shelf motherboards and PC cases conform to this standard. ATX boards are fairly large in size and can comfortably hold a full array of standard-sized components.
Other board and case variants include Micro ATX (or mATX) and Mini ITX. MicroATX boards are very similar to regular ATX boards, but have a shorter vertical length. Typically, mATX boards have fewer expansion slots on the bottom end of the board versus their full size counter parts. mATX boards share an equal width with ATX boards, so they are able to accommodate a large number of components while still using less space overall.
Mini ITX is the smallest variant of the common motherboard standards. They are both shorter and slimmer than their counterparts. Generally, Mini ITX boards only have one full-sized PCI-E expansion slots (for your GPU) and two memory slots (where most boards have four). Due to their smaller PCB size, these Mini ITX boards also have less connections for storage and fewer onboard headers for things like fans or LED lights. These boards have become fashionable in recent years as they allow users to build incredibly small gaming PCs without compromising too much on performance.
Selecting The Best Motherboard For Your Gaming PC
When it comes to users who want the most features and beefy power delivery systems for overclocking, going with a full-size ATX motherboard is usually a strong option. There are some mATX and Mini ITX motherboards that offer loads of features and overclocking ability, but they can be more expensive, have more limited upgrade paths, and require very careful part selection. If you already have a PC case in mind for your build, be sure that you get a motherboard that will fit. Standard-sized ATX motherboards will not fit into Mini ITX enclosures, but full-sized ATX cases can accommodate the smaller form factor boards. Generally, you should choose the size that is the closest match to your case design.
The Best Intel Coffee Lake Motherboards (Z370)
When it comes to the standard ATX form factor, you have a lot of choices in motherboards for your Coffee Lake CPU. PC gamers who are looking for the most overbuilt, overclocking-ready motherboard should look no further than the ASUS Maximus X Hero. It has some of the best power delivery features and components and is loaded to the gills with all of the best features available with Intel’s Z370 chipsets. Buyers can expect the best integrated networking chip, the best onboard sound chip, and a crazy amount of SATA and USB ports. The ASRock Taichi Z370 brings a similar feature set, but offers a white and black aesthetic rather than the red and black theme of the Maximus X Hero. The Taichi boards are most knowns for their striking visual design.
The ASUS ROG Strix Z370-E Gaming is the perfect motherboard for the PC gamer looking for all of the features, but doesn’t have the need for the most extreme overclocking capabilities. It has a feature set that rivals its more expensive siblings, with a focus on gaming. It has a robust RGB lighting control system built in and multiple headers for your light strips and fans. It is also capable of non-extreme overclocking thanks to its powerful BIOS. It is one of the most well-rounded boards you can get for under $200.
For the budget-conscious PC gamer, the MSI Z370 GAMING PLUS packs a lot of punch without giving your wallet a kick in the nuts. For around $115, this MSI board offers loads of ports, headers, and even an m.2 port for the latest solid state drives. Anyone interested in dual-GPU gaming should take note of its 2 full bandwidth PCI-E x16 slots. While it doesn’t have the latest and greatest sound chip, it does come with Intel’s best integrated ethernet chip, the I219-V. Because it is a budget-class board, it lacks front or rear panel USB type-C support and is not capable of supporting extreme overclocks, but if those things aren’t important to you, MSI’s striking red and black board could be the right pick.
Slim pickings would be the best way to describe Micro ATX motherboard availability for Intel’s Coffee Lake platform. Thankfully, the few boards on the market are incredibly powerful and would make great choices for any gaming PC build. The ASUS ROG Strix Z370-G is pretty much a carbon copy of its bigger ATX brother. It offers the same boatload of features, minus the RGB LED headers and a couple of PCI-E slots. It currently represents the pinnacle of what you can get done with a Coffee Lake Micro ATX board. MSI’s Z370M PRO AC packs a similar feature list, and unlike the ROG Strix board, retains a single RGB LED header. It may not be as competent in regards to overclocking, but it usually sells for $20 less than the ASUS.
While the availability of Mini ITX boards is not as grim as seen with the Micro ATX models, you will not find a buffet of options. Still, the boards on retail shelves are incredibly good. Gigabyte’s Z370N WIFI will get you all of the top features supported by the Z370 chipset in a tightly packed board. You get multiple m.2 slots, WIFI, Bluetooth, USB type-C, and more. Gigabyte also managed to pack in dual Intel Gigabit ethernet jacks among the sea of ports on the rear of the board.
The MSI Z370I GAMING PRO AC is the board to go for if you need all best looks and features. While it is one of the pricier boards in its class, you get gold-plated audio jacks, a headphone amplifier, and striking RGB illumination built in. For those PC gamers looking to go small with their builds while saving cash, the ASRock Z370M-ITX/AC is the ticket. The board has everything you need for the best in PC gaming performance and none of the superfluous frills. It is also a nice fit for anyone who wants to avoid all the RGB business and prefers a solid, workmanlike board.
The Best AMD Ryzen Motherboards (B350, X370)
When it comes to the best of AMD’s Ryzen motherboards, the ASUS ROG Crosshair VI Hero should always be in the conversation. Like the Intel Maximus line, the Crosshair boards represent the best bang for the buck motherboards for the serious PC gaming enthusiast. Every inch of the board is packed with features and connectors. Overclocking enthusiasts should being and end their search with the Crosshair and its top tier power delivery system. Similarly, enthusiasts looking for this level of performance with a dash of visual flair would be wise to invest in the ASRock X370 Taichi. If you are looking to turns heads with your build, look no further than the Taichi.
Unlike Intel, AMD offers two different chipsets for use with its Ryzen CPU platform, the enthusiast X370 and mainstream B350. B350-based motherboards are capable of everything you can get on a X370 board, minus a few SATA ports and multi-GPU capability. These boards represent the pinnacle in price vs. performance in the gaming PC motherboard market. The MSI B350 Krait Gaming is one of the most feature-packed B350 boards on the market and sports an eye-catching black and white color scheme. PC gamers looking for the top value in gaming motherboards should give the Gigabyte GA-AB350-Gaming a hard look. This red and black board has it all, including overclocking support, and sells for around $80. You simply cannot get more board for your money right now.
Ryzen Micro ATX boards represent the best value proposition when it comes to AMD’s Socket AM4 offerings. While not as loaded with features as their bigger brothers, these boards can still be the heart of a strong gaming PC. If you need USB type-C or value strong looks in your Micro ATX Ryzen board, look no further than the ASRock AB350M PRO4. The white and black theme is sure to stand out on cases that have side windows.
For a few dollars less, the MSI B350M GAMING PRO might be up your alley. This board comes in a red and black color scheme and offers a red LED backlight. While it lacks the USB type-C port found on the ASRock, it has everything else you need to get to business. The ASUS Prime B350M-E is a no-nonsense board featuring a similar feature set with the MSI B350M.
The Ryzen Mini ITX motherboard market is still pretty thin, even a year after the platform launched. Still, those in need of super compact board for their Ryzen CPUs have some good options for their gaming PC builds. The ASRock X370 GAMING-ITX/AC is one of the few Mini ITX boards carrying AMD’s enthusiast X370 chipset. This board uses top of the line components all around, including its Realtek sound chip, Intel network chip, and Wifi/Bluetooth. For overclockers, the board should be on your shortlist. The ASRock AB350 GAMING-ITX/AC covers the budget side of the spectrum. If overclocking is not a primary concern, the B350-based ASRock gets you almost every feature seen on the more expensive X370 offering.
The mainstream CPU market is always evolving. In the coming months, new parts are expected from both AMD and Intel. AMD’s Ryzen 2 series is expected to be on retailer shelves by the end of spring. There is no early word on what performance looks like, but it is possible that AMD could claim the overall gaming performance crown. Intel is also planning on releasing the more budget-oriented parts of the Coffee Lake lineup in the next 4-6 weeks. With the release, expect availability of low cost Coffee Lake-compatible motherboards along with a revamped Celeron and Pentium line of CPUs.
For information on selecting other parts for your gaming PC or any other related topics, check in on our gaming PC build hub.