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Buying a motherboard: what to look out for


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Which mainboard do I need now? As is well known, complete systems are out of the question for PC screwdrivers; they want to choose and coordinate every component of their computer themselves. The heart of the DIY PC is the mainboard. We explain what to look for when buying and present offers for Intel and AMD CPUs.

 

Buy mainboard: The CPU socket must fit
Mainboards are available in different designs, currently the most common are Mini-ITX (17 x 17 cm), Micro-ATX (24.4 x 24.4 cm) and ATX (30.5 x 24.4 cm). In the best case, the mainboard fits the case perfectly, but you can usually accommodate the smaller designs in larger cases. The second component that has to fit is the CPU. For Intel and AMD and their processor generations, there are different sockets that accommodate the CPUs and are usually not compatible with each other.

At Intel, two - or rather two and a half - sockets are currently widespread: The most modern Intel CPUs with Skylake and Kaby Lake architecture (core processors of the 6th and 7th generation) fit into the LGA1151. Its further development, often called LGA1151v2, was developed explicitly for the 8th generation (Coffee Lake). In the extreme segment, the LGA2066 for Skylake-X CPUs dominates, which can cost significantly more than 1,000 euros. AMD has AM4 for Ryzen and Ryzen 2 processors and TR4 for the professional Threadripper variant.

There are also many older mainboards with correspondingly older sockets. The CPU not only has to be mechanically located in the socket. Before buying, check whether the BIOS / UEFI system also supports the CPU of your choice. This can usually be found out easily on the manufacturer's product page in the support area.

Don't forget the CPU cooler. Regardless of whether air or water cooling, the cooler must be suitable for the socket and thus the existing holes on the mainboard. For some particularly successful cooler models, manufacturers offer corresponding base upgrade kits that can be purchased inexpensively from the website.

The chipset built into the mainboard usually decides how well you can overclock a processor and how extensive the onboard components are. This includes the number of PCI Express slots for graphics cards and if you want to build a Crossfire or SLI system with two or more adapters, you need the corresponding number of slots.

But also network interfaces, the quality of the audio chip, the number of USB 3.0 and USB 3.1 ports, SATA interfaces, RAID functions, M.2 slots for very fast SSDs, the number of RAM Slots or optional mainboard heat sinks, which can be of particular interest to overclockers, make the differences between the models. For example, if you want to assemble a gaming PC and place little emphasis on overclocking.


Intel LGA1151: Mainboard for Skylake and Kaby Lake
Intel has launched the LGA1151 processor socket for sixth and seventh generation CPUs. It is available in combination with various chipsets. Cheap mainboards rely on the B250 chipset, which should be sufficient for most users, but is not designed for overclocking. Depending on the mainboard, the B250 model offers solid basic equipment with SATA 6G, USB 3.0 and Gigabit LAN, some manufacturers even built in USB 3.1 ports with Type-C plugs.

The direct predecessor, Intel B150, is suitable for a similar target group, but should be left out when buying a new device in view of the advantages of the B250. Examples of these mainboards are the inexpensive ATX model Asus Prime B250-Plus (around 80 euros, for a price comparison)) or the very reduced, but still cheaper micro-ATX board MSI B250M Pro-VDH (around 60 euros, for price comparison ).

Gamers and overclockers are happy to opt for the Z270 chipset. Mainboard manufacturers such as Asus, MSI, Asrock or Gigabyte installed this variant on their high-end boards with mostly very extensive equipment and the best onboard components. Most of the time, Z270 motherboards are also significantly more expensive and are rarely less than 100 euros.

In addition, there is hardly any upper limit. Premium boards like the Asus ROG Maximus IX Extreme cost a staggering 450 euros even without a CPU. The successful MSI Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon (around 130 euros, for a price comparison ) appears to us to be much more economical. If you want to stay under 100 euros, you can't go wrong with the Asus Prime Z270-P ( for a price comparison ).


If you want to use a new Coffee Lake processor (for example the fast six- core Intel Core i5-8400 ), you need a Z370 mainboard. From a price-performance perspective, the Asrock Z370 Killer SLI (around 130 euros, for a price comparison ) is a good choice.

 

AMD AM4: Mainboards for Ryzen and Ryzen 2
With the Ryzen processors, AMD has brought itself back into play in the desktop area and at the same time offers excellent CPU models for normal users, gamers and overclockers. The recently released second generation of Ryzen CPUs also impresses with high performance and good efficiency.

The scope of features is determined solely by the chipset. A300, B300 and A320 offer the minimum, while B350 allows free overclocking. X300 and X370 provide additional connections and slots for additional graphics cards. If you want to use a Ryzen 2 processor (such as the Ryzen 5 2600 ), you should first check whether there is a corresponding BIOS update for your motherboard with 300 chipset.

There are various interesting models depending on your budget. Gigabyte offers a good and at the same time inexpensive entry-level model with the GA-AB350 gaming in the ATX form factor (around 75 euros, for a price comparison ). This board is also available "one size smaller" with a similar approach for cases that only fit a Micro-ATX model (Gigabyte GA-AB350M-Gaming 3, for price comparison ). Incidentally, Gigabyte offers a BIOS update for both models to support the second Ryzen generation.

Anyone interested in a Raven Ridge CPU (Ryzen with integrated GPU) or a high-end Ryzen model will probably be happiest with a mainboard with an X370 or X470 chipset. From a price point of view, the Asrock X370 Pro4 is extremely attractive (around 100 euros,for price comparison ). It offers decent basic equipment, the best connection to the integrated GPU (Raven Ridge only) and even a USB Type-C port on the back panel.

Thanks to a corresponding BIOS update, Ryzen 2 CPUs are also correctly recognized. Brand new, but also relatively expensive, are motherboards with the X470 chipset, which was released in parallel to the second Ryzen generation (Pinnacle Ridge). If you want to spend a little more on your motherboard, the Gigabyte X470 Aorus Ultra Gaming (around 150 euros, for a price comparison ) is a worthy representative with top equipment.

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