An often ignored but vital component of your PC, the motherboard decides what you can and cannot put together. We aren’t going to speak about compatibility in this buying guide because every single motherboard specifications page has a compatibility table. What we are going to delve into are the nuances that most folks building a PC would not consider when building a new PC and the motherboard is one of the more central components of the entire system. Like all gadgets out there, motherboards websites are mired in marketing lingo and whatnot, so here’s what you need to look at.
What to consider
- Layout – How each and every component is placed on the motherboard can indicate whether you can squeeze in that component you were always worried about. First among that would be the PCIe slots. If you wish to have a multi-GPU configuration then getting a motherboard with two PCIe slots right next to each other isn’t a good idea. Similarly, the ATX CPU power connector has to be compatible with where your PC cabinet’s cutouts are. If not, you’re going to have a tough time plugging the power cable in while ensuring an aesthetically pleasing cable arrangement. Then there’s the case of having upwards-facing SATA ports that get blocked when a GPU is inserted. If you’re looking at a micro-ATX or mini-ITX form factor then the placement is even weirder since manufacturers barely have any real estate to play around. So you’re bound to see headers and connectors in oddly unorthodox places.
- Chipset capability – One of the most common errors that we’ve seen online is that of a particular CPU being paired with a chipset that leaves either the chipset or the CPU’s resources underutilised. There are certain instances where such odd combinations are unavoidable such as the Z370 boards being paired with non-K CPUs because the H or B-series chipsets were not released. The Z-series being the more expensive chipset drove configuration prices skywards. The opposite is also true, we’ve seen H-series chipsets being paired with flagship K-series CPUs. H-series motherboards cannot be used to overclock the unlocked CPUs to their maximum potential. Certain motherboard manufacturers such as ASRock had features that would allow overclocking on the H-series but later BIOS updates killed that. Even on AMD configurations, pairing an X370 motherboard with a Ryzen 7 2700X is silly since you lose out on so many new features for a minimal price difference.
- Resource conflict – This is where a lot of motherboard issues creep up. CPUs and chipsets have PCIe lane allocations. Flagship CPUs tend to have more PCIe lanes available while mid-range tend to have fewer lanes. So when you plug a mid-range CPU in a flagship motherboard, the reduced PCIe lanes make some of the features/ports unusable. With AMD CPUs, this isn’t the case. However, PCIe lane allocations change with CPU microarchitectures, so you should always check the number of lanes available. Also, it would be prudent to download the manual of a motherboard and check which ports share PCIe lanes so that you can ensure that all your purchased hardware work with each other.
- Cooler-compatibility – Most motherboard manufacturers keep the VRM heatsinks below 30 mm. This would be the most optimal height for the VRM heatsinks. If they were to raise up a little then you might have issues with low-height coolers. Similarly, if the RAM modules are a bit too close to the CPU slot, then having tall RAM DIMMs can pose an issue for your cooler as well. This is more common when you’re looking at micro-ATX and mini-ITX motherboards.
What not to consider
- Passive components – Almost every motherboard manufacturer uses high-grade solid state capacitors and chokes. Any board over Rs.6-7K uses good quality components. However, when you’re looking at the budget segment then there will definitely be a few cutbacks so you might end up with non-insulated chokes which vibrate under heavy load. So you will have coil whine when that happens. That doesn’t mean that you have crappy components, it’s just that you aren’t at the luxury of getting high-quality components and have to make do with average quality passive components.
- Fancy lights – Honestly, any sort of bling is completely useless from a performance perspective. When buying a motherboard, consider RGB as the lowest priority component. If and only if you wish for all of the lighting systems within your PC to communicate with each other should you consider RGB lighting systems. MSI has Mystic Light, GIGABYTE has RGB Fusion, ASUS has Aura, etc. and they all have partnered with graphics card manufacturers, RAM manufacturers and cooler manufacturers to synchronise the lighting within the system. We’ll admit that some of these lighting systems do seem quite impressive.
- Fancy audio solution – Here’s a simple fact, no matter what high-end audio solution a manufacturer may claim to have included, it simply does not match the prowess of a dedicated sound card. Moreover, manufacturers are yet to release a combination of good hardware and software for onboard audio. You can find decent audio on boards that cost about 50K but if you can afford a 50K board, then you definitely can afford a better sound solution.
The best place to get it
- Mumbai – Lamington Road
- Kolkata – Chandni Chowk
- Bangalore – SP Road
- Delhi – Nehru Place
- Pan-India – Amazon / Flipkart