The next component to discuss when building a computer is the motherboard. While the case is where the computer is housed the motherboard is like the skeleton of the PC as it is where all the other components connect to. The motherboard plays an important role in building a PC because it determines what sort of features your computer will have and the amount of expansion possible in the future, amongst other things.
Before discussing our budget, mid-range and enthusiast suggestions it is important to outline a few details about motherboards. Firstly your motherboard plays a key role in what components you can put in your system. There are two main sizes of motherboards, m-ATX and ATX. M-ATX is a smaller motherboard form factor that can therefore fit into smaller cases but trades this size off for features, such as the number of PCI slots available. ATX on the other hand is the standard motherboard size and while larger, often comes with more features. Both of these motherboard sizes will fit into mid-tower and full tower cases, such as those discussed in part 2. All motherboards suggested in this article are of the ATX variety.
Another important feature of motherboards is chipsets. Chipsets are Intel and AMD’s means of controlling what sort of features each motherboard has. For example Intel’s newest chipset is the Z77 chipset and features Intel’s Smart Response technology (SRT)- an SSD caching solution- which is something that motherboards running the cheaper Z75 chipset don’t have.
Finally when giving advice on motherboards this article will give motherboard suggestions for both Intel and AMD for the budget build. If you are paying as much money as our recommended mid-range and enthusiast CPUs cost you really should be looking at an Intel CPU and thus Intel compatible motherboard to put in your system. Each motherboard can only fit in it certain CPUs. For example an Intel CPU will never be able to fit into an AMD motherboard, and will only be able to fit into an Intel motherboard with the right CPU socket and vice-versa. Although as noted in part 3-on CPUs- you should choose your motherboard based on your CPU choice as at the end of the day the CPU has a much greater effect on your computer’s performance.
Finally we will be looking at socket LGA 1155 motherboards on the Intel side of things and socket AM3+ on the AMD side of things, so even if you don’t feel the motherboards chosen here suit you needs just look for these types of motherboard as they will work with the Intel and AMD CPUs, previously recommended
Budget (Intel): Asus p8Z77-V LX
The Asus p8Z77-V LX is an Z77 motherboard which for £95 is excellent value and perfect for a budget build. Many budget motherboards often come with a reduced feature set in order to keep the price down. The P8Z77-V, however, comes with four USB 3.0 ports as well as a PCI Express 3.0 slot which when combined with an Ivy Bridge CPU doubles the PCI slot bandwidth compared to PCI Express 2.0. Indeed this motherboard is perfect for anyone looking at using an Intel CPU on a budget.
Budget (AMD): GIGABYTE GA-970A-DS3 AMD 970A
As with AMD CPUs, AMD motherboards are also significantly cheaper than there Intel counterparts. Fortunately for those of you building your computer around an AMD CPU these motherboards, even the budget ones, still pack a useful array of ports and slots. The GIGABYTE GA-970A-DS3 AMD 970A is a £66 motherboard that includes two USB 3.0 ports, twelve USB 2.0 ports as well as two PCI Express slots although they are of the 2.0 variety. It also has dual CrossfireX support and overall is an excellent proposition for those building a cheap computer.
Mid-range: ASUS P8Z77-V PRO
The ASUS P8Z77 PRO is another excellent motherboard from ASUS that contains all of the ports you could want whilst also featuring the best features that the Z77 chipset has to offer, such as Intel’s SSD caching solution. Costing £150 and including a staggering eight USB 3.0 slots as well as three PCI Express 16x slots including two PCI-E 3.0 slots the ASUS P8Z77-Pro is a perfect mid-range motherboard. Unlike the budget boards in this article the Pro is also able to offer good stability when overclocking your CPU. As overclocking has become simpler and more people have started to do it, it is important to have a motherboard that is able to provide stability for your CPU. Finally being an ATX motherboard is has plenty of expansion slots that allow for room to upgrade your system in the future, such as the addition of extra graphics cards. All in all then the ASUS P8Z77-Pro is the best choice for any PC builder looking for a solid mid-range motherboard that contains top of the range features as well as the ability to successfully overclock your their CPU.
Enthusiast: ASUS P8Z77-V Deluxe or GIGABYTE G1.Sniper 3 Z77
As always in the Enthusiast space there are many different components at the high end, all of which do the job you want them to . However, our recommendation for an enthusiast motherboard would be either the ASUS P8Z77-V Deluxe or the GIGABYTE G1.Sniper 3 Z77. Both motherboards bring with them excellent performance and port selection.
The ASUS comes with built in Wi-fi, quad SLI support, space for four sticks of RAM up to 32GB of DDR3 as well as 6 USB 3.0 slots, an HDMI port and a Display port. It also has excellent overclocking support with a BIOS flashback button on the board along with a total of six 6Gb/s SATA ports and bluetooth 4.0. In fact its pretty difficult to cover all that this motherboard has going for it and is an excellent selection for anyone willing to spend £187 on a motherboard.
Costing almost £100 more than the ASUS Deluxe the Gigabyte Sniper is certainly a large leap on the money front although it makes up for this with some excellent features that the ASUS doesn’t have. For example as well as having all the features mentioned that the ASUS has the Sniper also comes with 10 USB 3.0 ports and four PCI express 3.0 ports (compared to the Deluxe’s two). Importantly for some the Sniper comes with much improved on board sound and features a front audio headphone amplifier. A addition is also the fact that the all the USB ports on the Sniper come with the power boost technology that allows devices plugged into the ports to charge much faster. Whether these features are enough to persuade you to pay more than the ASUS deluxe are another matter but they certainly produce a compelling choice for those of you looking for maximum performance.