2017 was an excellent year for PC makers, seeing fantastic innovations and new products hit the market from AMD, Intel and Nvidia.
As a result, there’s never been a better time to build a PC. But before you get all excited about which flashy new GPU you’ll use, you’d do well to spend some time considering your choice of motherboard.
A motherboard may not be the sexiest of PC components, but it can make or break a rig – everything else connects to these slabs of circuit board, after all.
In addition, a motherboard is a seriously complicated bit of hardware, available in all manner of shapes and sizes, each offering differing connectivity and CPU mounts. Therefore, knowing which to opt for can be a tricky task.
Here to help, we’ve tested all the motherboards we could get our mitts on, to find the best currently available at every price point and size.
We start with the cheapest, moving on to gaming options, mid-range boards and compact mini-ITX and micro-ATX models. We finish the round-up with our favourite money-no-object boards for both AMD Ryzen and Intel Kaby Lake. Scroll down for the full list, or read our buying advice below before delving in.
Related: Best gaming PCs
Motherboards: Key considerations
These tips are pretty universal – they’re applicable whether you’re buying an AMD or Intel processor, and they’re still valid if you’re on a budget or looking for the most expensive products.
For starters, there’s the physical size of the board. Most motherboards use the full-size ATX design, which is the largest mainstream option. Those boards need the biggest cases, but they also have advantages: they have more PCI-Express slots and memory sockets than their smaller counterparts, and they generally have better storage.
Many ATX boards also tend to be a little faster than smaller form-factors, too, perhaps because there’s less pressure on the components to be crammed inside a smaller space. ATX boards also tend to be more receptive to water-cooling.
Micro-ATX motherboards are medium-sized boards that still offer a solid amount of hardware, with multiple PCI slots and good storage and memory options.
Mini-ITX motherboards are the smallest on the market, which means obvious trade-offs. They’re fantastic for building tiny PCs for gaming or media, but they have fewer memory sockets and PCI slots – and fewer high-end features across the board itself. They also tend to cost a little more than equivalent ATX or micro-ATX products.
The physical size of the board isn’t the only consideration. Look at which chipset your potential purchase includes, because better chipsets from AMD and Intel will support more features in every department. AMD and Intel chipsets will also offer different numbers of ports and sockets, so compare the two before you buy.
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Check how many memory sockets are board includes and how fast the memory can go – it’s no good buying rapid DDR4 if it can’t run at full-speed on your chosen board. Similarly, make sure a motherboard has the right storage connections for the SSDs and hard disks you want to install.
Similarly, check the PCI-Express sockets – some motherboards include full-length x16 slots that only run at 4x speed, which is no good if you want to run dual-graphics. And make sure you have enough PCI-Express x1 connectors for expansion cards.
The form factor, chipset, connectivity and price are the key attributes when picking a motherboard. Benchmark speed is another factor, of course, but it’s less important than ever – many benchmarks perform similarly no matter what chipsets or features they have, so the components you pick are far more important when it comes to determining the pace of your PC.
Related: Best CPU coolers
How We Test
The motherboards are put through a demanding suite of benchmark tests. We run Geekbench 4 to test single- and multi-core application speed, and use CrystalDiskMark to test the SATA storage interfaces on these motherboards.
We use 3D Mark Fire Strike to evaluate gaming ability, and then test power efficiency by measuring the board’s power draw when idling and when running Prime95’s CPU stress-testing benchmark.
Both of the test rigs use a Samsung 850 EVO SSD and 16GB of 2,666MHz DDR4 memory alongside an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti graphics card. The Intel machine uses a Core i7-7700K processor, while AMD boards are tested with a Ryzen 7 1800X chip.
We’d like to thank Overclockers UK for providing some of the boards included in this test.
Asus Z370-A Prime
4 of 10
- Form Factor: ATX
- CPU Socket: 1151
- Motherboard Chipset: Intel Z370
- SLI/Crossfire Support
- 6x SATA ports
- 2x M.2
- Intel I219-V Gigabit LAN
- Realtek Audio
- Price: £160 inc VAT
A great mid-range Z370 board
If you’re on a budget, but invested in using one of Intel’s 8th Gen CPUs, then the Asus Z370-A Prime is the best-value motherboard available at the moment. It’s slightly more expensive than Gigabyte’s cheapest Z370 motherboard, the K3, but for very little extra cash you get a much greater feature set and better performance.
For your money you’ll get all the connectivity and features you’d expect from a board in the Prime’s price point, including Intel Ethernet, a trio of PCI-Express x16 slots, four PCI-Express x1 sockets and six SATA ports.
If you want to run multiple GPUs in SLI or Crossfire, the Prime can also can handle three AMD GPUs and two Nvidia cards. Although we don’t recommend that for anyone but hardcore builders.
Performance is also solid, with the Prime performing admirably in both our Geekbench and Cinebench application tests, making it a great choice for people building a general-use PC.
The only serious compromises are the lack of a POST display, Clear CMOS button, dual Ethernet or wireless internet, as well as a slightly limited port offering. The Prime only has three USB 3.1 ports and a USB 3.1 Type-C socket. But at this price, those luxuries aren’t to be expected.
Gigabyte Z370 Aorus Gaming 7
10 of 10
- Form Factor: ATXCPU
- Socket: 1151
- Motherboard: Chipset: Intel Z370
- SLI/Crossfire Support
- 6x SATA ports
- 3x M.2
- Intel I219-V & Rivet Networks Killer
- E2500 Gigabit LAN
- Realtek Audio
- Price: £250 inc VAT
Best Intel Z370 board for gaming
If you’re planning to build a top-end gaming rig using one of Intel’s latest 8th Gen CPUs then the Gigabyte Z370 Aorus Gaming 7 is a perfect choice. It may cost £250, but its high-end features, impressively easy-to-use design and speedy performance more than justify the price tag.
For your money you’ll get PCI-Express x16 slots, quad-GPU support for AMD and Nvidia cards, on-board Sound Blaster X-Fi tech, Killer Ethernet. Six SATA ports and three M.2 connectors – one with a heatsink – mean storage is top-notch. Throw in luxurious extras like power and reset buttons, on-board overclocking features and a POST display, and you’ve got a great choice for gamers.
Performance with gaming really is excellent. Our minimum and average results in Dirt Rally and Deus Ex were the best we’ve tested – around a full frame quicker than rivals – as were its 3DMark: Fire Strike and Time Spy scores.