If you’re new to PC building, choosing a motherboard can seem quite daunting, I’m here to break it down and explain the basics of chipset compatibility for Intel and AMD processors and what features to look out for when choosing a motherboard!
First thing you need to do is decide which CPU you want to use as you need to know which processor you’re going to buy before you start choosing a motherboard because not all CPUs are compatible with the same socket and chipset.
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Choosing a motherboard for AMD CPUs
I’ll start on the AMD Ryzen side because this is the simplest. The socket that these processors use is called AM4, so Ryzen 3 5 and 7 processors are all compatible with this socket. There are two different chipsets to choose from, either the more premium X370 line which provides premium features such as SLI and crossfire capabilities, more PCIe lanes and fancy features such as RGB lighting. The other option is the lower end budget oriented B350 chipset which doesn’t have the extra bells and whistles, so no SLI and crossfire capabilities and fewer or no M.2 slots. These boards also generally don’t have WiFi.
Unlike on the Intel side of things, every AMD processor is unlocked for overclocking and every B350 and X370 motherboard is capable of overclocking. X370 motherboards are the better choice if you have a high end Ryzen chip and want to overclock it to its limits because they have better power delivery and more options in the BIOS but B350 motherboards are still capable of it.
There is actually a third chipset called A320, this is similar to B350 the key difference is that it is not overclocking capable, these are not widely available motherboards, they are mostly used in pre-build systems. There are a few available on Amazon and they are certainly worth checking out if you are not interested in overclocking and just want to save money.
If you’re going for a Ryzen 3 or Ryzen 5 processor, a B350 motherboard such as the MSI Tomahawk Z270 motherboard is a great choice, if you’re going for a Ryzen 7 then you should choose an X370 motherboard rather than a B350 motherboard purely because it makes the system more balanced to have high end components working together. Something like the MSI Pro carbon AC is a great choice, this motherboard even includes AC WiFi which isn’t very a common feature on motherboards.
If the motherboard you choose doesn’t have WiFi but it’s a feature you’d like to have, you can purchase a WiFi card that plugs into a PCIe x1 slot that provides you with this capability.
Choosing a motherboard for an Intel processor
Things get a bit more complicated on the Intel side. The latest coffee lake processors are only compatible with the Z370 line of motherboards, no budget alternatives have been released yet.
For the 7th generation Kaby lake processors there are 3 chipsets to choose between, the most premium is the Z270, this is the platform that allows overclocking and has SLI capabilities. You should only buy a Z270 motherboard if your processor is unlocked for overclocking, that is, if it’s got a K in its name, for example the i7-7700k or the i5-7600k.
The other two options are H270 and B250. H270 is the intermediate option, it offers most of the features that the Z270 chipset including SLI offers minus the overclocking capabilities so this is the one to choose if you have a locked processor but you want SLI or you have anything but the most budget oriented CPU.
B250 is the best choice if you’re going for a budget friendly choice such as a Pentium or Celeron processor.
If you’re going for a locked 8th generation processor such as the i5-8400, don’t buy a Z370 board, wait until the beginning of 2018 for the H370 motherboards to be released because buying an overclocking motherboard is a waste of money when your CPU can’t be overclocked.
If you’re buying a 7th generation overclocking CPU then a motherboard like the gigabyte gaming K5 is a good choice, the MSI H270 gaming M3 is a good choice for locked processors and the MSI B250M-Pro VD motherboard is a budget friendly choice for an Intel Pentium or celeron processor.
If you’re going the enthusiast route there is only one chipset choice for both Intel and AMD, X299 on the Intel Core X side and X399 on the AMD Threadripper side.
The motherboards are all feature rich so it’s a case of choosing the motherboard that has the features you need without breaking budget as the enthusiast platforms are rather expensive.