A motherboard is the foundation of any PC, as it is the single component that holds everything else together. Without one, your other components would be unable to communicate. Other than allowing the internal components to talk to each other, it also brings a few functions of its own to the system, including audio and Ethernet.
Even more importantly, motherboards decide what components you can use and to a varying extent how they will perform. In other words, make sure to pick the right one.
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Motherboard Form Factors
First you need to make sure that the board will fit in your desired case. There are essentially three different form factors for motherboards:
- E-ATX (Extended ATX) – the physically largest motherboards for consumers, which only fit into large cases. More often than not, E-ATX boards are the manufacturers’ flagship gaming or workstation products, with comprehensive feature sets and equally sizable price tags.
- ATX (Advanced Technology Extended) – the standard variety that fits in most midi-towers and larger cubes. There are ATX boars at all price levels.
- mATX – Compared to an ATX board, mATX motherboards are smaller and usually cheaper than an equivalent ATX version, as some of the slots necessarily have to be trimmed off.
- mITX (or Mini-ITX) – This is the smallest motherboard standard for true SFF (small form factor) builds, usually using mITX-specific cases.
Chipsets and Sockets
Your choice of motherboard will depend on whether you want to use an Intel or an AMD processor (CPU). As of 2019, AMD uses the AM4 socket for processors up to the 3rd-generation Ryzen CPUs. Intel CPUs from the Coffee Lake generation use the 1151 socket in combination with a 300-series chipset.
Chipsets, in turn, are a set of components that affect the motherboard’s overall functionality. Some chipsets allow overclocking the processor while others don’t, for example.
RAM and Storage
When it comes to RAM, motherboards support different memory types and speeds. Most DDR4 RAM modules will work on most motherboards with DDR4 slots, but the board might affect performance. To be completely sure that a particular RAM module will work as intended (or at all), you can consult the QVL (Qualified Vendor List) supplied by the manufacturer.
If you intend to connect multiple storage devices – SSDs and hard drives – it is important that there is enough bandwidth and connectors for this. Modern SSDs use the onboard M.2 format, while hard drives use SATA 6 Gbps.