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How To Choose A Motherboard: A Guide For Beginners
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Where once the interface for desktop CPUs was divided by age and price, AMD breaks out low-power platforms as a third class from which to choose. We’ll organize these by popularity.

Intel LGA 1150

Supporting Intel’s widest range of microprocessors, LGA 1150-based motherboards connect two channels of DDR3 memory and a maximum of 16 full-speed (8 GT/s) PCI Express 3.0 lanes, which can be split among up to three add-in devices. The CPU itself holds both the memory and PCIe 3.0 controllers, removing the need for a separate northbridge on the motherboard’s chipset. Instead, a single-component platform controller hub (or PCH) fills the role of a traditional southbridge. That piece of silicon hosts a secondary PCIe 2.0 controller to connect lower-bandwidth devices.

Because it has so few PCIe connections, LGA 1150 is generally best-suited to folks who require only a few expansion cards. The bandwidth benefit of PCIe 3.0 allows spectacular performance from multi-GPU rendering technologies like SLI and CrossFire, but adding a third card to the array can be problematic (Nvidia goes so far as to block SLI compatibility on four-lane slots). Moreover, all eight of the PCIe 2.0 pathways share a 2 GB/s CPU link with all of the chipset’s integrated devices, including all six of the PCH’s SATA 6Gb/s ports, all six of its USB 3.0 ports, and any GbE networking controllers.

AMD Socket AM3+

AMD’s three-year-old Socket AM3+ continues as its flagship solution, even as the company backs away from the high-end market and continues to improve its mainstream replacement parts. The top reasons for this being a top platform include the associated 990FX chipset, which provides 42 PCI Express 2.0 lanes through its northbridge and a couple more on its southbridge. The CPU-integrated memory controller supports dual-channel memory up to DDR3-1866 (plus a little more with overclocking). And speaking of overclocking, the CPU range extends from a 4.7 GHz liquid-cooled eight-core model pushed well beyond the original engineering specs of its architecture core, down to a $110 four-core model.

Due to the platform’s end-of-life status, we recommend it only to buyers who’ve weighed their other options carefully enough to make a fully informed commitment.

Intel LGA 2011-v3

Supporting Intel’s Haswell-E (5900 and 5800-series) Core i7 processors with up to eight physical cores, LGA 2011-v3 directs up to 40 PCIe 3.0 lanes directly from the CPU to expansion slots. The large CPU-based PCIe controller, in addition to four DDR4 memory channels, make it the best choice for users who need both top compute performance and added support for high-bandwidth expansion cards.

Unlike its earlier high-end socket, Intel also differentiates its top 5900-series models by disabling twelve of the integrated PCIe 3.0 pathways on its second-class 5800-series processors. That step removes 4-way SLI from the 5800-series CPU's capabilities, in an apparent effort to drive-away customers who might have otherwise paired a mid-priced CPU with an expensive graphics configuration. Depending on the motherboard chosen, the reduced lane count of 5800-series CPUs can also disable 3-way SLI.

An 8-lane PCIe 2.0 controller resides in the chipset and carries data over the same 2 GB/s DMI pathway as LGA 1150.

Intel LGA 2011

Supporting Intel’s Ivy Bridge-E (4900 and 4800-series) and Sandy Bridge-E (3900 and 3800-series) Core i7 processors with up to six physical cores, LGA 2011 directs 40 PCIe lanes directly from the CPU to several slots. Because this 40-lane controller was on the CPU, the newer Ivy Bridge processor was able to add PCIe 3.0 mode to a platform that had originally been PCIe 2.0-only.

Current LGA 2011 platforms should be considered “end of life” since Intel has released its "v3" replacement. Value-seeking buyers might select this product based on the 4800-series CPU's 40-lane controller, which is reduced to 28-lanes on the replacement-platform's 5800-series processor. Similarly, DDR3 is more widely-available and at a lower current price compared to DDR4. Buyers should keep the end-of-life status in mind when considering potential upgrades.

AMD Socket FM2+

AMD’s version of a mainstream platform resembles Intel’s, with sixteen PCIe 3.0 lanes feeding one or two high-bandwidth (typically graphics) expansion cards. Compared to Intel, AMD reduces the impact of a 2 GB/s chipset link by putting four of the platform’s eight PCIe 2.0 lanes on the CPU.

Unlike Intel’s solution, Nvidia doesn’t support SLI on AMD’s FM2+ chipset. It’s still CrossFire-compatible, and even supports a hybrid mode to purportedly boost the performance of a low-cost AMD graphics card by pairing it with integrated graphics. We've measured issues with this technology though, and aren't recommending it to our readers.

AMD Socket AM1

AMD’s Socket AM1 interface integrates the entire chipset onto the CPU to save both energy and cost. These low-performance processors support a single graphics card at PCIe 2.0 x4, four additional PCIe-based devices (on-board or by expansion slot), two USB 3.0 ports, and a pair of SATA 6Gb/s drives. It primarily competes with CPU-integrated motherboards, but the addition of a socket gives AMD a little more room to market additional CPU models.

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  • 1 Hide
    olafgarten , October 1, 2014 3:47 AM
    I'd be careful with the size, sometimes cases with large CPU cutouts can't support mini itx motherboards
  • 1 Hide
    kamhagh , October 1, 2014 4:33 AM
    i hate psu on top cases :S looks ridicules !!!
  • 2 Hide
    MeteorsRaining , October 1, 2014 4:35 AM
    Great article, it has info on every small aspect that most mainstream users neglect, and the comparision b/w the chipsets and PCIe lanes support is very useful for first timers.

    The fact that memory clearance and slots often get overlooked, its better to have 4 slots for the sake of upgradility. Higher profile sticks often obstruct in cooler installation too.

    The chipset part was comprehensive, too. Well ATX form factor is standard nowadays, and given that most mid towers support that, I'd get it over mATX anyday, for more space b/w the components like GPUs.

    Also, higher the speed, lower the CL, better the sticks, but the fact that APUs require faster memory for optimal performance, because they use it as VRAM, should be considered. Faster memory helps in OCing too, timings don't matter as much, but yes it should not fall beyond CL11 for 2400MHz.
  • -2 Hide
    Novuake , October 1, 2014 5:36 AM
    Damn, I was busy creating a tutorial on this exact subject! Sigh...
  • 2 Hide
    Onus , October 1, 2014 6:01 AM
    Thomas, I think you got a little lost (though I wouldn't quite say "mired") in motherboard description rather than motherboard selection. You went into great detail on what is available, but very little on why someone might want or need it.
    I too have thought about writing on this subject. Novuake, by all means continue with your effort. More data points are almost always helpful, and we know that newbs sometimes need all the help they can get.
  • 2 Hide
    Crashman , October 1, 2014 6:07 AM
    Quote:
    Thomas, I think you got a little lost (though I wouldn't quite say "mired") in motherboard description rather than motherboard selection. You went into great detail on what is available, but very little on why someone might want or need it.
    I too have thought about writing on this subject. Novuake, by all means continue with your effort. More data points are almost always helpful, and we know that newbs sometimes need all the help they can get.

    Pick a CPU based on the apps you already use (on the PC you didn't build) and plan to use
    Pick cards and storage
    Pick the size of the PC you want. Make sure it's big enough for your cards and storage
    Pick a motherboard that fits those parameters.

    The rest is just, well, mostly reassurance :) 
  • 0 Hide
    Onus , October 1, 2014 8:15 AM
    Quote:

    Pick a CPU based on the apps you already use (on the PC you didn't build) and plan to use
    Pick cards and storage
    Pick the size of the PC you want. Make sure it's big enough for your cards and storage
    Pick a motherboard that fits those parameters.

    The rest is just, well, mostly reassurance :) 

    This is one reasonable synopsis of the process. What is then necessary is a discussion of slots, ports, and desired options for tweaking, particularly relating to performance (e.g. native vs. 3rd party controllers, VRM quality and BIOS options for overclocking, etc), size constraints, with component quality/longevity thrown in as well.

    What is needed is a crosstab table of chipsets and the features they support; e.g. RAID versions, USB3.0, SATA 6Gb/s, etc.

  • 0 Hide
    lp231 , October 1, 2014 8:29 AM
    How to pick a motherboard
    1. Decided on whether you want to go with AMD or Intel
    2. Pick a board based on the CPU you want to have
    3. Look at socket type, socket type must match the CPU you're getting, so if your getting a socket 1150 CPU, the motherboard must also say socket 1150. Same with AMD, AM3+ CPU must have a board that says AM3+
    4. Large cases can fit large boards and small boards. But small cases cannot fit large boards. Best to check out the case specs to see what boards will fit.
    5. If you want to run 2 video cards, make sure the board has at least 2x PCIe x16 slots. Those that support CFX and SLI will most likely have the CFX or SLI logo on the motherboard box. But check the motherboard manual or do some online research to confirm on it.
    6. Rest are just feature you want to have or not like wifi, Bluetooth, or the need for surround sound speakers. Most audio ports will just be Red, Green, Blue Some board will have that as well as Orange, Black, and Grey.
    7. Most important, out of all of them is not to rush on it. Do some research and read lots of reviews before buying.
  • 2 Hide
    Amdlova , October 1, 2014 9:28 AM
    Can be better this tutorial.
  • 0 Hide
    ta152h , October 1, 2014 11:20 AM
    One nitpick, AM1 is the platform for Kabini, not the socket. The socket is FS1b.

    The AM1 socket was a different beast. I'm still not sure why AMD chose this name a second time, with that in mind.
  • 0 Hide
    catatech , October 1, 2014 11:21 AM
    Maybe a comparison of audio chipsets(alc1150, 892,...), network chipsets(Realtek, Intel...), wireless chipses(2x2, 2x3,...), USB supported modes(xfast,...), PS/2 support, ... will also be helpful. Since those components count when a someone buy a motherboard.
  • 0 Hide
    ta152h , October 1, 2014 11:55 AM
    One thing I'd add is to pay attention to the maker of the motherboard.

    I bought an ECS only because it was the only motherboard that had what I wanted. Yes, I know, I still should not have, but I didn't know just how bad they are. It wouldn't use top of the line memory, wouldn't keep memory timings I put in, constantly lost the time, and had a terribly loud fan, on a processor that topped out at 25 watts. Then it started putting up the wrong display resolution, and wouldn't let me change it to the appropriate values for my monitor. I'd have to reset the firmware, then it would work, then fail again two days later. Pure junk.

    Technical support was abysmal as well. They solved nothing, and just kept asking me to do things I had already done, and told them I had already done. Entirely useless. I basically just removed the motherboard once the AM1 platform came out, since it was similar enough (I had an a6-5200, on the KBN-I).

    I'll never get another ECS. Even if the motherboard was a lemon, the fact they couldn't assist at all, and had one firmware release a few weeks after the first, and then nothing after that, makes it clear the company isn't very good.

    I replaced it with an Asrock, because I wanted DisplayPort (this is another important characteristic of a motherboard, make sure it has the video output that matches your monitor, if you have an existing one you wish to use with it), and no more problems.

    So getting a reputable brand is always a good idea.
  • 1 Hide
    lp231 , October 1, 2014 11:57 AM
    Those that comes to toms will want to know a lot of details, and are willing to learn. But for a beginner that dont know what thg is, just tell them what they must match. like amd cpu with amd board. The rest like raid, chipset, pcie lanes and whatever else comes in later on. Giving too much info in the first place just confuses them even more or drives them away from building their own pc as they think its way too complex, so they go and buy prebuilts.
  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , October 1, 2014 12:13 PM
    Quote:
    Those that comes to toms will want to know a lot of details, and are willing to learn. But for a beginner that dont know what thg is, just tell them what they must match. like amd cpu with amd board. The rest like raid, chipset, pcie lanes and whatever else comes in later on. Giving too much info in the first place just confuses them even more or drives them away from building their own pc as they think its way too complex, so they go and buy prebuilts.
    This is our second overhaul since 2006. We plan to release future revisions in more-frequent, smaller steps. And I'd personally like ideas on how to make it easier to read. I might even be able to take some stuff out, but probably not much. More important is probably to make sure all of the information is organized in an easily-read manner. Also, there might be a couple not-too-technical things I could add.

    So, I'm open to suggestions.

  • 1 Hide
    zakaron , October 1, 2014 12:52 PM
    I remember my first motherboard swap back in '97, I didn't take into consideration the peripherals I owned to match the connector type. I bought a socket 7 board to run a Cyrix P133+ that had an AT connector for the keyboard... well the Pentium 60 board I was replacing had dual PS/2 ports. I already had a serial mouse, but I was out of luck on the keyboard. I had to go back the next day to the computer show at the ExpoMart to track down an AT to PS/2 converter. Lesson learned: always make sure you have the correct hookups for the peripherals you want to use. IE: do you need PS/2, IDE for that old DVD drive, serial (for legacy device), floppy controller if you still use those ancient things, enough USB ports or do you need a USB hub, etc.
  • 0 Hide
    Onus , October 1, 2014 12:55 PM
    I think some feature comparison charts or tables could be helpful. Put socket/chipset on the vertical, and feature along the horizontal. My original suggestion ties to the chipset only, and what catatech listed would differentiate motherboards with the same base chipset by listing other distinguishing features.
  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , October 1, 2014 1:07 PM
    Quote:
    I remember my first motherboard swap back in '97, I didn't take into consideration the peripherals I owned to match the connector type. I bought a socket 7 board to run a Cyrix P133+ that had an AT connector for the keyboard... well the Pentium 60 board I was replacing had dual PS/2 ports. I already had a serial mouse, but I was out of luck on the keyboard. I had to go back the next day to the computer show at the ExpoMart to track down an AT to PS/2 converter. Lesson learned: always make sure you have the correct hookups for the peripherals you want to use. IE: do you need PS/2, IDE for that old DVD drive, serial (for legacy device), floppy controller if you still use those ancient things, enough USB ports or do you need a USB hub, etc.
    Ouch. That stuff was in the previous versions of the beginner's guide. I was hoping that people would have settled down to SATA and USB by now, just to circumvent your issues, because they make the discussion a little boring and hard to follow.

  • 0 Hide
    kittle , October 1, 2014 1:22 PM
    Quote:
    This is our second overhaul since 2006. We plan to release future revisions in more-frequent, smaller steps. And I'd personally like ideas on how to make it easier to read. I might even be able to take some stuff out, but probably not much. More important is probably to make sure all of the information is organized in an easily-read manner. Also, there might be a couple not-too-technical things I could add.

    So, I'm open to suggestions.

    So... some suggestions

    Since this article is supposed to be for beginners:
    AMD vs Intel -- Need to pick one. why? Pros and cons for both
    CPU - Speed, # of cores, hyperthreading. whats good, whats not.. and why? (leave out any overclocking discussions)
    RAM - how much? .. what kind? and why?
    What chipset do I need/want. And why?

    -- note that each point has a "why" component. You seem to have left that out of your article.

    (Im leaving out PSU, HDD and GPU)


    As noted by @ta152h - the manufacturer of the motherboard matters a lot. Some companies make better boards on average that others. but as with everything there are compromises.. Better companies usually charge more.

    next a "how-to" section
    - how to make sure the CPU will even FIT the motherboard
    - how to make sure the CPU is compatible
    - how to pick the right RAM (focus on mainstream compatibility, not overclocking)
    - how to make sure the board will fit in my case (or how to pick a case for my motherboard)
    - how to pick a good motherboard manufacturer


    Lastly - since picking a motherboard usually means the person is building a new system, some basic recommendations would be helpful.
    Office/Kitchen system -- no gaming, or VERY light gaming
    - lower cost
    - high reliability (it wont be replaced anytime soon)
    - no overclocking
    - onboard graphics (or cheap gpu)
    - single HDD: 500gb/1TB HD,
    - 4GB ram
    - 300-400w PSU

    Gaming oriented system
    - mid to higher cost
    - dedicated GPU (single, no SLI)
    - overclocking available, but this is not a beginner subject
    - SSD boot drive & mechanical storage drive (2TB+)
    - 8GB ram or more
    - 650w PSU

    Anything beyond that.. and the person in question is not a beginner, so the article does not apply.
  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , October 1, 2014 1:41 PM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    This is our second overhaul since 2006. We plan to release future revisions in more-frequent, smaller steps. And I'd personally like ideas on how to make it easier to read. I might even be able to take some stuff out, but probably not much. More important is probably to make sure all of the information is organized in an easily-read manner. Also, there might be a couple not-too-technical things I could add.

    So, I'm open to suggestions.

    So... some suggestions

    Since this article is supposed to be for beginners:
    AMD vs Intel -- Need to pick one. why? Pros and cons for both
    CPU - Speed, # of cores, hyperthreading. whats good, whats not.. and why? (leave out any overclocking discussions)
    RAM - how much? .. what kind? and why?
    What chipset do I need/want. And why?

    -- note that each point has a "why" component. You seem to have left that out of your article.

    (Im leaving out PSU, HDD and GPU)


    As noted by @ta152h - the manufacturer of the motherboard matters a lot. Some companies make better boards on average that others. but as with everything there are compromises.. Better companies usually charge more.

    next a "how-to" section
    - how to make sure the CPU will even FIT the motherboard
    - how to make sure the CPU is compatible
    - how to pick the right RAM (focus on mainstream compatibility, not overclocking)
    - how to make sure the board will fit in my case (or how to pick a case for my motherboard)
    - how to pick a good motherboard manufacturer


    Lastly - since picking a motherboard usually means the person is building a new system, some basic recommendations would be helpful.
    Office/Kitchen system -- no gaming, or VERY light gaming
    - lower cost
    - high reliability (it wont be replaced anytime soon)
    - no overclocking
    - onboard graphics (or cheap gpu)
    - single HDD: 500gb/1TB HD,
    - 4GB ram
    - 300-400w PSU

    Gaming oriented system
    - mid to higher cost
    - dedicated GPU (single, no SLI)
    - overclocking available, but this is not a beginner subject
    - SSD boot drive & mechanical storage drive (2TB+)
    - 8GB ram or more
    - 650w PSU

    Anything beyond that.. and the person in question is not a beginner, so the article does not apply.


    I see what you're saying, but what I think you're really asking for are a CPU guide for beginners, a DRAM guide for beginners, a storage guide for beginners, and more "about you" stuff in the "how to build a computer" guide.

    That last thing, maybe an introductory article like "Beginner's Guide To Beginner's Guides: PC Tech 099"
  • 0 Hide
    Amdlova , October 1, 2014 1:51 PM
    No mention of power suppy. Crap sound. the only reason i get 130 us plus motherboards is because the sound some mother boards have snr 90 db.
    I don't care if the mother board will fly some high party lan or other things. I never used the ie 1394 plus E-sata...
    for now i got only asrock motherboards because sound nice with my edifier and my akg headphone.
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