How to Buy the Perfect Motherboard for Your Computer

There comes a time when we wish to upgrade our slow computers and since technology has moved at its ever increasing pace, it means that we need to start from scratch. In other words, that means buying a motherboard. Motherboards sound like a complicated piece of hardware from whichever way you choose to look at it. The motherboard itself looks complex and the plethora of weird model names add to its lack of appeal.




The most important decision you need to make if you want to create a custom PC is which motherboard to buy. Motherboard prices and specifications vary tremendously. And this is a serious decision, since it has an impact on almost every aspect of the system, from the CPU to the storage.

A motherboard (also known as the mainboard, system/planar/logic board) is a printed circuit board (PCB) found in many modern computers, which holds many of the crucial components of the system, such as the central processing unit (CPU) and memory. Every component of your computer is somehow connected to the motherboard. Peripherals (e.g., graphic cards, sound cards, modems) plug directly into it.

Hard drives, CD-ROM drives, and floppy drives all plug into the motherboard via cables. The motherboard determines how much, and what type, of RAM you can use. The type of motherboard also determines what CPUs will and will not work with the motherboard.


Types of motherboards

The type, or form factor is a crucial consideration when looking at a motherboard. There are various form factors and not all computer cases can accommodate each one of these. Today, the most commonly found and used motherboard is the ATX motherboard. When looking at the motherboard, make sure your case supports your motherboard form factor

Avoid cheap motherboards with integrated sound and/or video chips. If you must buy such a board, make sure the motherboard has jumpers that enable the chip(s) to be bypassed.



CPU socket or slot

When looking at purchasing a motherboard, ensure it is compatible with the CPU you have or that it will be compatible with the CPU you plan on purchasing. Intel Core i3, i5 and i7 processors available today use one of the following sockets - LGA1155, LGA1156 or LGA1366. Most modern AMD processors just use the AM3 socket.

The processor package will clearly mention what socket the processor uses, which you must know in order to choose a suitable motherboard.



A modern desktop PC should have at least 2GB of memory, possibly 4GB for more demanding applications. Most chip sets use DDR2 memory at up to 800 MHz (PC2 6400), but newer chip sets from Intel may also use DDR3.

DDR3 memory offers more bandwidth (1066 to 1600 MHz) and consumes less power, but for the moment it is more expensive. DDR3 is more likely to be useful for later upgrades.

Nowadays, there is a wide variety of different types and speeds of memory. When looking at purchasing a motherboard, ensure that it is compatible with the memory you currently have or plan on purchasing.



Drive connectors   

Determine the interface of the drives you plan on using and ensure that the motherboard supports that interface or has the connector for that interface. An example of such an interface is IDE, EIDE or SCSI.



PCI Express - The latest and greatest slot and bus type.

AGP - AGP, or Advanced Graphics Port, is used for video cards as a replacement for PCI.

AMR - AMR, or Audio Modem Riser, is a slot that is used for audio and modem cards and is found on some motherboards. This is not a critical slot and has been replaced by the CNR.

CNR - CNR, or Communication and Network Riser, is a slot that supports audio, modem, USB and Local Area Network cards. This slot is highly recommended for any user building a large amount of computers, as the cards are cheaper than the standard PCI or ISA cards.

ISA - Today, ISA is becoming obsolete and is not found on all motherboards. Unless you have old ISA cards that need to be used, it is recommended you purchase a new motherboard with no ISA slots and additional PCI slots.

PCI - The most widely and commonly used slot.



Jumpers are overlooked when considering a motherboard; however, they can be an important consideration, especially for users who plan on overclocking their computer.

Below is a listing of some of the questions that should be asked when purchasing a motherboard:

- Does the motherboard have a clear CMOS jumper?

- Does the motherboard have CPU settings jumpers? Or is it configured through CMOS? Is it auto detect?

- Does the motherboard have on-board video or sound? If yes, can they be disabled with jumper or is it done through CMOS?

Note! either way is fine as long as they can be disabled.


USB Ports   

While all motherboards today have USB ports, ensure that the motherboard you plan on purchasing has USB ports. Look out for boards that support USB 3.0, which offers far superior speeds and can easily match the performance of SATA drives.


Effective cooling solutions

Given the pace at which systems operate today, it’s no surprise that motherboards require cooling. Every motherboard today comes with a heat sink attached to it. If you are going to build a PC and overclock it, a good cooling solution on the board is important.


Board layout

Layout is quite an important factor while choosing a motherboard. Motherboards have PCie x16, x8, x4, x1 and traditional PCI slots. The space between the slots is important especially when you insert a graphics card that uses up two slots. If there is a slot right under the first PCIe x16 slot, it might be unusable. Some board manufacturers leave a little more space between the top slots.