How to Pick a Motherboard

steve Building a Computer , , ,

So you have embarked on your journey to build a desktop computer. You should have an idea of the size of computer that you are building. We’ve already covered selecting a good case. If you missed it, you’ll want to check it out first. Today we going to be discussing how to pick a motherboard.

The motherboard is the backbone of the computer. Everything else is going to plug into it. Your motherboard will determine some of the features you can use, which kind of processor you use, how much ram you can put in it, how many components you can attach, how many USB ports you can have, how many hard drives you can get, and the size of the computer.

If you aren’t sure about the size, you can always put a smaller motherboard into a larger case. A micro or mini ATX Motherboard will fit in a full size computer. This is really only possible because of the ATX face plate standard. Each face plate is unique to the board, but they are all the same size regardless of the size of the computer or motherboard.

Slots and USB Headers

The first thing you’ll want to consider is the number of slots you want. This isn’t the same kind of slots that you’ll find in Vegas either. The PCIe and PCI are the most typical slots on Motherboards. The PCIe slots is faster than the PCI slot and it’s typically used with a video card. They will both allow you to connect the other components to the motherboard.

I’m not going to talk about all of the other kind of slots there have been. If it’s a relatively new motherboard it’ll have PCI and PCIe slots. Even if it’s not a new one, the same principles shown here will still apply.

You’ll be able to put in a graphics card, audio card, WiFi card, and a number of other different types of peripherals or components. I’ll get into those later. Let’s focus on the motherboard selection right now.

There are some components that connect in a slot as well as a USB header (in particular, an integrated wifi card with bluetooth). A header pin is just a peice of metal that sticks up from the board to easily connect a wire to it without soldering.

If you’re case has USB ports on the front of them, then you’ll need to connect a wire  from the port to the header pins on the Mother board. You’ll want to make sure you have enough USB headers to connect anything that needs them. Otherwise you’ll have to deal with a USB port that doesn’t doesn’t work.

BIOS

This is the basic input/output system that governs the computer. When you turn a computer on, the BIOS gets your hardware ready and tells the computer where to look to start your operating system.

If you want to change your boot order, overclock your processor, or any number of basic features, then you’ll become very familiar with your BIOS.

There is a newer standard that is out to give the BIOS a better graphical interface. Most people will never go to the BIOS. If you are looking for a certain feature you’ll want to make sure the motherboard can handle it.

DDR3 or DDR4

RAM on a computer is important. The more RAM you have, the more your computer can store information in a quick to access location. I have 8 GB of RAM and am currently using 40% with only chrome open. More RAM is always better. But if your in a budget don’t go less than 4 GB.

There is a difference between between DDR3 and DDR4. DDR3 is older technology and doesn’t have the same computation ratio. Your computer will probably only be able to handle 16 GB of RAM if you opt for DDR3, but it’ll cost you less.

DDR4 allows you to have more RAM in computer. You’ll be able to easily have 32 GB, but this comes with a steep cost… literally. There are other benefits of DDR4, but it’s super expensive. If you have extra money in your budget go for a solid state drive rather than DDR4.

Chipset

The chipset is how the process commuicates with all of the other parts of the computer. Every motherboard has a chipset. This means for you is that when you pick a motherboard, there are only a handful of CPUs that you can select from. If you want an AMD process, then you can’t buy a motherboard with an Intel chipset.

In the computer I built, my chipset allows me to use an Intel I5, but not an Intel I7. If you want a certain processor, this will play a huge role in the motherboard you select.

The chipset can also determine what hardware features your computer is capable of having. Some will allow you to have multiple video cards and others won’t.

SATA

The SATA connection allows the transportation of large amounts of data. It’s how you will connect hard drives,blue ray drives, and dvd drives. Not all SATA connections are the same though. You’ll be able to find SATA 3 and SATA 6.

SATA 6 is a newer technology. It’s still old though, it was realeased in 2009. If your motherboard can handle SATA 6 connections then it’ll also work with SATA 3. The revese, however, isn’t true. If your motherboard is only good for SATA 3 than you are limiting what you can connect, and you may not be able to use some things like a solid state drive at all.

Unlike slots, SATA devices will get screwed to the case somewhere so they don’t wiggle and then they’ll connect to the motherboard via cable.

Wrapping It All Up

There are a lot of things that go into the motherboard…literally. Everything on the computer gets connected to the motherboard. Picking the right motherboard depends on your budget and what you are envisioning for you computer. This is one of the most important decisions for building a computer. It’ll govern a lot of other things you can do with your computer.

 

 

 

 

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7 Comments

  1. Thanks for the info. I’m looking to build a new pc soon. My current one is about 8 years old now and it’s starting to slow down a bit. I know just enough to put things together but that’s about it. I’ve been getting into 3d design lately and it’s been much more demanding on my graphics card but I don’t have room to add another card for SLI. Is there a motherboard that has a lot of space for multiple bulky components like high end graphics cards?

    1. eight years is a long time to own a computer. That’s awesome that it’s lasted this long. You’ll want to at least upgrade some of the components.

      Motherboards are designed to fit a certain form factor. You can put a smaller one in a larger case but you can’t fit larger ones into a smaller case. Check out my post about cases here. IT is possible to get one for a standard case, but things are going to be tight. I’d look at gaming motherboards. Something like the MSI Z370 GAMING PRO CARBON Motherboard.

      In a standard case this will fit two graphics cards, but you won’t be able to have any other expansion cards. If you’re building a whole new machine and want two cards, you’ll want to go with the full size ATX so you don’t run out of room. The ASUS ROG Maximus IX Apex Motherboard is big enough to fit three video cards.

  2. Nice quick guide for newbies like me who have no idea what I’m doing. I did learn a little bit of this back in high school but soon forgot everything, lol. I’m interested in getting the DDR4 because I’m a huge online gamer but not keen on the massive costs that’s involved. Do you have any alternatives, or what’s the cheapest I’m looking at? Cheers for the help.

    1. The only options you have right now are DDR3 and DDR4. When I built my computer I wanted DDR4 as well, I ended up letting my budget decide this for me and ultimately went with the DDR3. It’ll cost you about $200 USD for 16GB (two 8GB cards) of DDR4 RAM. It’ll cost around $130 USD for the same amount of DDR3 RAM. The speed of the DDR4 is a little faster, but it’s unlikely you’d notice the difference from just playing video games.

      If you’re looking to cut back costs, most motherboards allow you to put in 4 RAM cards. You can put in 2 4GB (8GB total) of DDR3 for about $80 USD. This will leave you with two open slots that you can fill later.

      This is the approach I took. I built my computer about 2 years ago and I still have needed to upgrade anything. Keep in mind though, with computers there is no such thing as future proof. All you can do is postpone the inevitable.

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