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Finding the right motherboard for your gaming PC

Motherboards are the foundation for Gaming Systems with all components connected to them and are also known as Mainboards, or Main Circuit Boards. When shopping for a Motherboard you should keep several points in mind. Most important is compatibility between the CPU and the Motherboard. Intel CPUs (e.g. Intel Core) require Mainboards with Intel sockets and chipsets, similarly AMD's CPUs (e.g. AMD Ryzen) need Motherboards with AMD sockets and Chipsets.

The CPU Socket is the physical slot in which you mount your CPU. The most up to date Desktop CPU sockets are Socket LGA 1200 for Intel and Socket PGA AM4 for AMD. But for HEDT-Systems, you’ll need AMD's sTRX4 Socket or Intel's Socket 2066. The Motherboard’s chipset is responsible for communications between the CPU and all other components connected to the Mainboard. A socket can be fully compatible with several generations of CPUs while the Chipset normally requires a BIOS update to work with newer CPUs. So if you want to only upgrade your CPU, you might consider flashing your Motherboard’s BIOS.

Another important connector is the PCIe-X16 slot. Every Mainboard aimed for Gaming PCs has at least one of these slots for video cards. In order to keep track of the range of Motherboards, they feature standardised layouts to ensure cross compatibility with other computer parts. This form factor is known as the ATX Standard. It is also used as a benchmark for measurements of Motherboards. For Gaming PCs the most important Form Factors are :
  • E-ATX: 305 × 330 mm (12 × 13 in)
  • ATX: 305 × 244 mm (12 × 9.6 in)
  • microATX: 244 × 244 mm (9.6 × 9.6 in)
  • Mini-ITX: 170 × 170 mm max (6.7 × 6.7 in)
Basically a Mini-ITX or microATX (also mATX) Mainboard will fit into ATX-Cases (Midi Tower). However, an ATX Motherboard will not fit an mATX Case.

Internal connectors on motherboards

Motherboards have multiple internal connectors. Here’s a brief summary of the most important Motherboard connectors :
  • Socket: Houses the CPU
  • DIMM Slots: Normally 4 Slots for Memory
  • PCIe x16 Slot: At least 1 Slot for Graphics Cards
  • PCIe Slots: x1, x4, x16 Slots are used for Extension Cards
  • Power Connectors: For Mainboard Power and CPU Power.
  • M.2: To connect M.2-SSDs directly onto the Mainboard
  • SATA/U.2: To connect SSDs and HDDS installed internally
  • Internal USB Headers: To connect the USB Ports of the Case
  • Front Panel & Audio Connectors: For Case Audio and Front panel
  • Fan Headers: For CPU Coolers, AiOs, Pumps, Case fans
  • RGB Headers: To Connect RGB fans and strips

External connectors on motherboards

All Motherboards have external connectors. Together they form the I/O Panel, which is on the left side of every Motherboard. Due to the ATX Form factor the I/O Panel is always in the same position. All standard PC Cases have the cut out for the I/O Panel at the same position directly above the PCI brackets. The I/O Panel is used to plug in all kinds of peripherals into the Motherboard. Here are some of the most common types of connectors you can find in the I/O Panel:
  • PS2 Ports: Older Ports for connecting a Mouse or Keyboard
  • USB Ports: Universal Serial Bus for connecting all USB peripherals
  • Video out Ports: HDMI, DP, DVI, VGA, and other Ports for video output
  • Audio out Ports: 3.5mm, S/PDIF, and other Ports for audio output
  • LAN-Port: 1 or 2 RJ-45 Ports for LAN with up to 10G
  • WiFi & BT: Antenna mounts for BT & Wi Fi Modules
  • Thunderbolt: Universal Connector for USB & video output