Which motherboard should I get?
You'll want to get a motherboard that is suited to how you want to use your computer. Since the CPU socket on the motherboard determines what brand and generation of processor you'll be able to use, this is the most important aspect to consider when buying a motherboard. Otherwise, the CPU you want to get will be useless. Old motherboards often go on sale for less than the latest models so you can get better 'bang for your buck' by choosing a generation or two back from the latest release.
For a gaming system, you'll want to get a reliable board, likely powered with a 24-pin main power connection and an EPS12V 8-pin connection, and a socket that supports the latest processors, which would be an AM3+ or FM2+ socket motherboard for AMD, and for Intel, you'll want to get an LGA 2011 or LGA 1150 socket motherboard. Good gaming brands are MSI, ASRock, Biostar, Gigabyte, and Asus Motherboards. Other defining specs for a good gaming board are at least one PCI-Express x16 3.0 slot, several SATA III 6Gb/s ports, support for at least 16GB, but preferably 32GB Dual-Channel RAM (DDR3 or DDR4) or more, PS/2 Keyboard and Mouse input, RJ-45 Gigabit Ethernet Port (many boards have an RJ-45 port with priority trafficking for best online gaming performance), and support for a multi-channel audio system either through S/PDIF (or Toslink) or Analog outputs. HD Video outputs such as HDMI, DVI, or Display Port are a bonus, but not necessary as gaming systems really need at least one video card which will supply the necessary ports. Gaming motherboards are usually able to support Multi-GPU platforms such as AMD CrossFire and NVIDIA SLI, and have support for the latest graphic technologies such as DirectX and OpenGL. Gamer motherboards are usually in the ATX, E-ATX, or Micro ATX(mATX) form factors.
If you're looking to build a mid-range system, you'll likely want a few of the same things, but you won't necessarily need them. A midrange motherboard may include SATA II and SATA III, USB 2.0 and 3.0, support 16GB DDR3 Dual-Channel RAM, and a standard RJ-45 Gigabit Ethernet port. You'll probably still want at least one PCI-Express slot, as discrete GPUs help to make a more enjoyable user experience overall. Processor sockets can be more diverse for a mid range PC. Most Intel and AMD Sockets support processors that are useful for mid-range processors, but the latest ones will likely be found in Intel LGA 1150 or LGA 1155, and AMD AM3/AM3+, FM1, or the AM1 platform. Good form factors to start with are mATX or ATX motherboards, but Mini ITX has some great offerings also.
Home or office systems generally don't need high-performance hardware, so you'll be able to get away with a bit less for this kind of system. Most motherboards have at least one PCI-e 2.0 slot, a blend of SATA II and SATA III ports, USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports and buses, and have support for 8GB to 16GB of dual-channel RAM. If you don't plan on installing a memory card but getting a CPU with integrated graphics, then make sure the motherboard supports video output with connections like VGA, HDMI, DVI, or DisplayPort. Micro ATX or Mini ITX boards are great for these kind of PCs, and appropriate sockets for AMD would be the AM1 Platform, AM3/AM3+, and FM1. Intel sockets to look at would be LGA 1150 and LGA 1155.
What are chipsets?
Motherboard chipsets are a group of microchips that work together to essentially control the various components and allow them to communicate with the processor.
The most well known manufacturers of chipsets are Intel and AMD, even though they are found on motherboards manufactured by other companies.
Chipsets are designated to a specific processor socket, although most sockets have multiple compatible chipsets. The various chipsets enable certain technologies with the socket and motherboard components and help to create differentiation of job types and uses for the same socket on different motherboards. They generally vary from entry-level computing to performance/enthusiast level systems. A few of the most notable differences to look for in chipset types are the number of PCI Express lanes along with Multi-GPU support, integrated graphics support, SATA support, and USB bus support.
Here is a short list of a few sockets and assigned chipsets as an example of what to look for:
What are the differences between the motherboards?
- Socket FM2+
- Chipset A88X, A78, A58, A55
- Socket AM3+
- Chipset 990FX, 990X, 890GX, 880G, 970
- Socket LGA 1151 (Skylake)
- Chipset H110, B150, Q150, H170, Q170, Z170
- Socket LGA 1150 (Haswell)
- Chipset Z97, Z87, H97, H87, Q87, Q85, B85, H81 Express
- Socket LGA 2011-v3
- Chipset X99 Epress
- Socket LGA 2011
- Chipset X79 Express
Motherboards differ in several ways including size (ATX, Micro ATX, iTX), Manufacturer, chipset, socket, slots available, and more. It's important to match the compatibility of your motherboard first and foremost with the processor you are interested in. This is easy to do by looking at the motherboard's CPU support list on the manufacturer website. Next you will want to know what type of case you will be using - if it's a standard ATX computer case you can choose from both ATX or Micro ATX sizes. If it's a different size you will need to make sure your motherboard will mount properly in it. With regards to the socket type, you will want to make sure your motherboard matches the correct type of your processor - so if you're building based on an LGA1151 CPU, you will need an LGA 1151 motherboard. If you're going with an AMD FM2+ processor, you will need an AMD FM2+ compatible motherboard. Beyond that you can look at the features of each motherboard to compare and find the one that suits your need the best.
What are integrated / built-in components?
You will find an array of add-ons and features built into different motherboards out there. These can vary greatly from chipset to chipset and model to model. Some of these features involve upgradeability such as the speed and number of PCI Express lanes or SATA ports available. Other features can include built-in sound, Gigabit LAN, onboard graphics (many times determined by the processor now), and similar factors. While different manufacturers will build using the same chipsets, it's always important to look at your product's details to see exactly how many expansion slots (PCIe X16/X8/X4/X1, PCI) and memory slots you'll have, what type of media ports or drive connectors you'll have available to you, what I/O ports are available externally (Sound, USB 2.0 / 3.0, Video, Ethernet, Keyboard/Mouse, etc.) As motherboards have become more and more advanced over the years, the need to upgrade these integrated components on a lot of fronts has decreased so it's important to determine what you will want to take advantage of and what you'll want to upgrade right out of the box. The most common hardware upgrade taken usually come in the way of bypassing the onboard video in favor of a discrete or stand-alone graphics card. Typically this is the best route to take when it is affordable as discrete graphics processors tend to out-perform integrated ones.