Every once every couple of years, we wish to upgrade our slow PCs and since technology has moved at its ever blazing pace, it means that we need to start afresh, and that means buying a motherboard. Motherboards sound like a complicated piece of hardware from whichever way you choose to look at it. The motherboard itself looks complex and the plethora of weird model names doesn’t help either. They are priced at anywhere between Rs. 2,000 to Rs. 25,000. Let’s start by looking at how to choose a motherboard and what the fuss is all about.
Choosing a platform
If you’ve never assembled your PC before, you should know that you can’t simply walk out and pick up any motherboard in the market and expect it to work on the processor. The simplest way to identify the motherboard you should be buying is to look at what socket your processor is.
AMD's AM3 and Intel's LGA1366 sockets side by side
Intel Core i3, i5 and i7 processors available today use one of the following sockets – LGA1155, LGA1156 or LGA1366. Most modern AMD processors just use the AM3 socket. The processor package will clearly mention what socket the processor uses.
USB 3 support
One of the future trends to expect is the move from USB 2.0 to USB 3.0. USB 3.0 offers far superior speeds and can easily match the performance of SATA drives.
USB3 capable boards are becoming more and more common
Look out for boards that support USB 3.0 but also remember that you’ll need USB 3.0 complaint drives to take advantage of the speed. Don’t overspend just to get the USB 3.0 feature. Most new boards should have USB 3.0 anyway.
Effective cooling solutions
The pace at which systems operate today, it’s no surprise that motherboards require cooling. Every single motherboard today comes with a heatsink attached to it. If you’re going to be building a PC and overclocking it, a good cooling solution on the board is important.
Large heatsinks on motherboards designed for overclocking
Look for motherboards with sufficiently large heatsinks and heatpipes. At the same, be careful that the cooling solutions aren’t so bulky that they obstruct any of the slots.
The cheapest of boards in the market allow some bit of overclocking, which is usually just changing the FSB or multiplier if your processor lets you do so. Look for boards that allow fine control over the FSB. Smaller increments allows more accurate overclocking which means you can overclock till you find the right level of stability.
We’ve already mentioned how motherboards can be priced anywhere between Rs. 2,000 and Rs. 25,000. One would expect to find major performance benefits, but quite frankly, there aren’t. Expect to see a performance difference of no more than 3 – 4 per cent, assuming of course that you use the same processor on two boards using the same chipset. Expensive boards are likely to have advanced overclocking features, which will allow you to speed the processor better. So if you’re not going to be overclocking, then simply look at the cheapest board that has all the features you need from it.
Support for multiple GPUs
If you’re a gamer, then you’ll want to get as much performance as you can. This means adding more than a single graphics card to your rig. NVIDIA cards can be connected together using SLI and AMD cards are connected using CrossFire. Look for motherboards that support SLI or CrossFire depending on what make of cards you use. If you have no such plans and are happy with a single GPU or an integrated graphics solution, then you can avoid SLI/CrossFire supported boards. They are usually expensive.
The board layout is quite an important factor while choosing a motherboard. Motherboards have PCie x16, x8, x4, x1 and traditional PCI slots. The space between the slots is important especially when you insert a graphics card that uses up two slots. If there is a slot right under the first PCIe x16 slot, it might be unusable. Some board manufacturers leave a little more space between the top slots.
Spacing between PCI-Express slots
Like we mentioned earlier, heatpipes and large heatsinks can cause some trouble when you attach more memory and cards to the motherboard. If you plan on using a custom CPU cooler, you should also check to see if there’s enough space around the processor. Another thing to look for is the positioning of the SATA ports on the motherboard. Look for ports that point towards the sides of the motherboard. This way they don’t come in the way of any long cards that you plug into your system.
If you’re spending more than Rs. 10,000 on a motherboard, look for additional features such as integrated WiFi adapters, two Ethernet ports in place of one and RAID.
Integrated WiFi support is available on some high-end boards
Some manufacturers will also include high-quality sound card modules to the package and also amplifiers for headphones.