How To Build A PC

Step 4: Select A Motherboard

The motherboard is arguably one of the most important parts of any build because of the functionality (or sometimes lack thereof) that it brings with it. Since the motherboard is responsible for connecting and communicating between all of the other parts in the computer, picking the right motherboard is essential to the success of any build. If you already know what your needs are, and just need help choosing the best model, then our Best Motherboards column is a great place to start. If you’re just starting out and need some more assistance, then our Beginner’s Guide to Motherboard Selection, along with the information below should provide most of the information you need to get started.

Motherboard selection starts with the following criteria:

  • What form factor best matches the type of case you chose earlier? Although most builders will choose a motherboard that best fits in their case, it’s also possible to use smaller boards in larger cases.
  • What type of socket does your CPU use? With a few rare exceptions, the socket your CPU uses has to match the socket on the motherboard.
  • Has the motherboard been approved to work with your CPU? Sometimes several generations of processors will use the same socket and will work in older boards. However, most boards often require a BIOS update before they will work with newer processors. Also new boards released with a new generation of processors may require a BIOS update before they’ll work with some of the newest CPUs. The best resource for determining compatibility is usually the manufacturer’s website, which will often have a list of compatible processors for each board.
  • What type of chipset do you need? Motherboards come with one of several chipsets, each with their own different features that add certain capabilities to the board. If you plan to overclock your CPU, you need to make sure your choice of motherboard has a chipset that supports doing so. (For more on this, read the chipset section of our motherboard guide.)
  • How many graphics cards do you plan on using? Most graphics card use PCIe x16 slots, and many motherboards will have at least two of them. However, once the first slot is occupied, most motherboards will force the other PCIe x16 slots to run at either 8x or 4x speed. NVidia cards will only work at a minimum 8x speed, while AMD cards are capable of running at 4x speed. It’s important to read the motherboard reviews to find out how this might affect your build.
  • How many non-graphics cards do you plan on using? They usually fit into PCIe 8x, 4x, 1x, or sometimes even legacy PCI slots. Does the board you want have the correct number of slots? Also keep in mind that most graphics cards will occupy two or even three expansion slots, which may end up blocking some of the smaller slots on the board.
  • How many PCIe Lanes do you need? Motherboards only provide you with so many PCIe lanes (electrical pathways exposed by the CPU and chipset), and each motherboard can divide them up in different ways between the available slots. Nvidia GPUs need at least eight lanes each to function properly, and AMD GPUs require a minimum of four lanes each to run at maximum speed, and SATA Express ports generally require two lanes each. It's important to check the motherboard's specifications as well as our motherboard reviews to find out how this may affect your build.
  • If on-board graphics are used, how many display outputs are required. Some motherboard manufacturers are also starting to eliminate VGA ports from their newer boards, so take note of which type of ports you need and plan accordingly. Additionally, most on-board graphics processors only support a maximum of two or three displays, so be sure to read the board’s specifications table to ensure it meets your needs.

  • If on-board sound is going to be used, how many audio connections will be required? Audio over HDMI is nearly universal, but standalone surround sound systems may require optical or coaxial connections.
  • How many fans do you plan to use in your case? Most boards only come with a CPU fan connector and two to four case fan connectors, so splitter cables or a standalone fan controller may be required.
  • How many memory modules will be installed? If you plan to overclock your memory, will the board support the speeds you want?
  • How many network connections will be used?
  • How many Serial ATA, mSATA, SATA Express, or M.2 drives will be installed? Is the M.2 interface PCIe or SATA? If it’s the former, it’s probably going to have to share resources with the other PCIe slots.
  • What other internal or external connections might be required?
  • Will RAID be required? If so, what modes are needed?

Once you’ve answered the questions above, our list of the best motherboards for the money along with our motherboard reviews should help you make a final decision. If you find that you need additional guidance, Tom’s Hardware’s motherboard forums is a great place to ask questions and get the help you need.

MORE: Best Motherboards
How To Choose A Motherboard
MORE: All Motherboard Content

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  • James_39
    Selecting the case is a bizarre thing to have in Step 1.Surely that would be best placed once all other components, including accessories, have been factored in? Otherwise you end up selecting components purely on the basis they fit in your case, not forgetting that some (most) cases don't support water cooling kits/pipes etc mentioned in Step 8.