We're here to help you buy a new motherboard. We've got advice and information about all the latest components. We discuss the features and specifications you need to look for, and explain the difference between the technologies.
It's worth making sure you spend wisely. To make it easier, we answer the questions you should ask yourself before you buy. Click on any of these links to get some valuable advice, and tips on how you can use PriceRunner to find the suitable motherboard.
Undoubtedly the most important component in a Personal Computer, the motherboard or main board is defined as the board where processing is initiated when the system is powered on. A motherboard is the central platform where the various components of a computer converge. Not only are functions such as Memory, Graphics, Data transfer, Storage, etc controlled via the motherboard by the individual components but also the effective interaction of data from one component to another. A motherboard is quite complex, since it has to act as a platform for the convergence of all the components that go towards making a computer. If there is one component in a PC you do not want to neglect, it is the motherboard: not a part you want to "save" on.
We can classify the CPU and RAM Slots as two of the most important components that compose the core components in a motherboard. They are usually used to determine the speed of the Computer as well as future compatibility with processors and memory. The bottleneck in computers today is, however, often the hard drive.
The Chipset needs to be kept in mind while you search for a motherboard. A Chipset refers to a set of circuits integrated to function together and come in two architectures namely, Northbridge and Southbridge. As motherboard manufacturers roll out various boards with almost similar features, it will be the Chipset specification that will determine the subtle difference in the features that the board offers. Keep a lookout for the different slot or socket support available for the CPU, as depending on this you might be able to use your existing processor on your new motherboard. Various RAM or Random Access Memory exist but most motherboards offer slots for only a specific type of RAM (currently usually DDR3 or above). Some motherboards also offer an additional slot to accommodate two different types of RAM. The most common type of RAM in use currently is know as DDR3. Expect this to be replaced with DDR4 or DDR5 before too long. In fact, DDR5 has been featured on graphics cards for a number of years already.
If your computer is running Windows 7 or higher, be sure to have at strict minimum of 4 GB, 8 GB would be better, and 16 GB will mean you can play recent games or run demanding programs (video editing, pro audio, etc.) without too much hassle. A Windows 7 desktop can use 5 GB of RAM with just a few office programs running. What RAM your computer is missing it will have to replace with a 'swap file', a file created on your hard drive to emulate the RAM. Because hard drives are so very much slower than RAM, your computer will then slow down to painful extents. Replacing your old hard drive with a nice recent SSD will help massively, but you will ideally need that extra RAM anyway. By adding RAM and an SSD to your PC you may even get the feel of a new machine.
Make sure, therefore, that the motherboard you choose can receive way more RAM that you expect to use at first, that way you shall be able to expand the capabilities of your machine for years to come.
As the motherboard deals with ensuring that data transfers smoothly from one device to another, we take a look at the various interfaces that play a role in this. Motherboards that offer the best of the below mentioned technologies would be priced quite exorbitantly and based on your usage you should determine a motherboard suitable for your needs.
For Hard Drive
Most motherboards come with inbuilt PCI-Express & PCI slots and SATA connectors. SATA ports are ususally used to hook up hard drives and optical drives such as DVD or Blu-Ray drives, while the PCI slot will let you add extra ports to your computer should you need them, by way of an extra card. For users who would like to hook up high end SCSI or RAID enabled disk drives, the port should be available on the motherboard (many boards will let you set up your SATA ports in RAID mode) or alternatively one would need to use an add-on card which could be plugged in on the PCI-Express or PCI slot. For further details read the Hard Drive Buying Advice.
For Graphics Card
Most motherboards come equipped with an onboard graphics chip which is adequate for the basic office user and extremely basic games. For the gamers and movie enthusiasts who need high quality resolution the motherboard used to have what was called an AGP ( Accelerated Graphics Port) to accommodate a higher end graphics card: these have been replaced by much faster PCI-Express (16x or so). Currently the best gaming motherboards use PCI-Express version 3. The graphics card has its own processor and dedicated RAM (DDR 5 or higher). For further details read the Graphics Card Buying Advice.
For Sound Card
Sound cards are now integrated on the motherboard and often offer 5.1 surround possibilities, such as in the photo featured here: 6 outputs, 1 for the subwoofer and 5 for the other speakers (='5.1', the 1 being the subwoofer). As most motherboards have a reasonable sound output, users will not have to be too concerned with looking out for specific details on the sound output, which comes equipped with a six-channel port sufficing the requirements for most applications. If you want noiseless sound, however, you will most certainly have to opt for an external USB or Firewire audio interface, which will provide interference-free and much higher quality sound. For further details read the Sound Card Buying Advice.
For Built-in Network port
Networking is no longer a troublesome issue. Hooking your PC onto an Ethernet network is quite simple with most motherboards offering a 10/100 Mbps dual speed network port as a minimum and up to 1000 Mbps on many recent models. This port has been embedded on the motherboard for many years now and automatically detects the speed of the network when plugged in. The support for both 10Mbps and 100 Mbps or higher enables the user to plug his PC onto a network seamlessly. Home or Small business users running the current Windows based Operating System will be able to auto detect the network and its speed when the computer gets plugged in. Some motherboards offer 2 network ports, one for home network gaming purposes, and the other for connecting to the internet, but this is a rather rare feature.
For USB/FireWire ports
One of the most revolutionary technologies to be developed and incorporated in mainstream computing is the USB or Universal Serial Bus. Before the advent of this port, each device needed its own specific port to plug into. E.g. Keyboards, printers, external storage devices, cameras, PDA’s all had their proprietary ports to plug into and neither of these could be interchanged. As a result the earlier motherboards were huge and required a lot of space in the computer cabinet or case. With most devices from the keyboard to the mouse to the printer being USB enabled, no longer does the motherboard need to be huge as most motherboards come fitted with two to four USB ports. Since USB devices are hot swappable (plug-and-play), the computer auto detects each device when plugged into the USB port, thus eliminating any 'IRQ conflict' (something that will ring a bell if you were using Windows 98 back in the day...). USB now has a theoretical data transfer speed of over 450 Megabits per second and over 120 devices can be connected to a single USB port, making it the best option for most users.
Like the USB port, FireWire is also an external device mostly used for connecting the computer to high end external interfaces/products. Developed by Apple Computers this technology was originally found mostly on the range of computers from Apple and their popular portable mp3 player, the iPod, and was much faster than USB 1. It was later upgraded to FireWire 800 (800 Mbps transfer rate) to compete with USB 2 (500 Mbps), but since the arrival of USB 3 and due to the overall huge popularity of USB, FireWire is rapidly vanishing. The actual port itself also seems less sturdy than USB. One advantage FireWire still has over USB, however, is its ablity to tolerate very long cables, whereas USB will usually prove problematic with any cable over 3 metres in length. FireWire can tolerate 100 metres without any difficulty. For professional applications, such as with on-stage equipment, this can be a major advantage.
Thunderbolt is Apple's new I/O port and, as usual, it's better and faster than PC equivalents. While even the latest USB 3 is only 5 Gb/s, Thunderbolt 1 is twice as fast and Thunderbolt 2 is a staggering 20 Gb/s. It can also transport PCIe (PCI-Express) and DisplayPort data together at once, so it can be used for things that USB would never apply to. We mention it because it will no doubt mean that new standards need to be set on PC (USB 4?) in the future but it is unlikely that you will find this on a PC motherboard.
Trying to narrow down your search for a Motherboard that is apt for you, PriceRunner offers one of the most comprehensive search parameters based on a host of parameters such as Name, Price, Processor Support, CPU Support, Sockets, Form Factor, Front Side bus, SATA, Built in SCSI Controller, Built in RAID Controller, Built in Graphics Card, Built in Sound Card, Built in Network Card, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and Firewire. Keep in mind that the initial choice for the selection of a motherboard starts with the processor manufacturer i.e. currently Intel or AMD. If you are replacing the motherboard on your machine, then look out for motherboards that are processor specific i.e. built for a specific family of processors. Referring to the manufacturer's website will help you determine what that might be should you not know where to start. For example, recent AMD-compatible motherboards might sport an 'AM3+' socket, for use with the most recent 6-core and 8-core processors from AMD.
While taking a decision to purchase a motherboard, one should keep in mind what CPU and RAM the motherboard is compatible with. If you already have a processor and memory, choose your motherboard so that it will be compatible with those components. Alternatively, you can choose the motherboard first and then buy the processor and RAM that fits the board. For best possible performance, we recommend you consult benchmarks for the various CPUs and motherboards that fit your budget, and choose one of the best from leading brands such as ASUS, for example. Make sure you buy a model that will accomodate leading technologies such as the latest RAM (currently DDR3 is very common but DDR4 is the one to look out for), the latest SATA, the latest PCIe and the latest USB. That will ensure that you can upgrade over the years. A properly chosen motherboard will enable your desktop computer to be used over 5 to 8 years without any trouble, simply by adding an SSD, extra RAM and by upgrading the CPU after a while.