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Deciding on whether to go Intel or AMD will dictate what kind of motherboard you end up choosing. You’ll have to do research to see where you end up on the great AMD vs. Intel debate. Figuring out what CPU you go with will factor in how much you spend on a motherboard and graphics card.
AMD CPUs are often more cost-efficient on a per-core basis and more importantly don’t require wildly high-end motherboard to get the best performance. This means you can spend more other things like a better GPU or a bigger SSD.
If you care about performance and cost isn’t much of a decision making factor for yourself then Intel’s Core i9 10900K and Core i5 10600K, is where you want to focus your attention. This means you’ll most likely need a new Z490 or B460 motherboard.
AMD has also just released its new B550 boards, offering PCIe 4.0 support at a more reasonable price than a high-end X570. We’ll be filtering those options as we get through testing them.
Your choice of gaming motherboard will also influence other parts of your build, not least of which is the size of your PC. There are three main sizes to contend with: standard ATX, Micro ATX (or mATX), and Mini ITX. These days that doesn’t mean a compromise in performance, just a compromise on features and number of slots. Fewer DIMM slots, M.2 connectors, and PCIe slots, for example.
The best gaming motherboards
If you want the best, most fully featured Intel Comet Lake motherboard then I’m afraid you’re going to have to pay for it. And pay through the nose if Asus’ Z490 Maximus XII Extreme is anything to go by. It is, as the name suggests, extreme, packing in a variety of luxurious, and incredibly handy extras (a frickin’ screwdriver with interchangeable heads for one), and it’s also one of the highest performing Z490 boards we’ve tested.
But it only really makes sense if you’re buying a K-series Core i9 and genuinely intend to overclock the nuts off it. The Max XII will allow you to get the highest clock speed out of your 10900K and won’t turn it into a pile of molten slag while you’re at it. The MSI Z490 Godlike is actually the fastest Z490 outright at stock speeds, but I’d rather have the ROG board in my camp if I’m going down the OC route.
Obviously it’s only for the very highest of high-end PC builds, however, as the $750 price tag means you could actually build a respectable full gaming PC for the price of this single motherboard. It’s an aspirational Z490 motherboard, and arguably the best gaming motherboard for Comet Lake overclocking, but I’ll concede it’s not a particularly realistic purchase for most of us.
The Gigabyte Z390 Aorus Ultra competes with the MSI Z390 Gaming Pro Carbon AC and the Asus ROG Maximus XI Hero (Wi-Fi), but with a lower price tag and more features. It has triple M.2 slots for your super-speedy NVMe SSD needs, Intel Wi-Fi Wave2 and Ethernet, a full RGB treatment with multiple headers, and ALC1220 audio. You’d have to climb right to the top of the product stack to get the same from MSI and ASUS, both of whom offer a little more polish, but also charge plenty for the privilege. Though there’s a lot to be said for extreme motherboards, this is a great value Intel board.
The only real downside for us is that this mobo is perhaps a little too flashy and may not suit more restrained gaming builds. Thankfully, you can disable all the RGB bling within the BIOS if you want, though other elements may still clash. But that’s a small criticism of an otherwise top board.
The Asus ROG Maximus XI Hero (Wi-Fi AC) is the latest in a long line of popular Republic of Gamers motherboards. While Asus offers the Code, Formula, and Apex boards as a step above the Hero, we found little reason to go with the pricier models. The minor bumps in speed, features, or fashion in costlier boards are generally difficult to justify. This is a minor chipset update to the previous Z370-based Maximus X Hero Wi-Fi, which we also liked.
The Z390 Hero adds 802.11ac 2×2 MU-MIMO Wi-Fi to the networking mix (a non-wireless version is available for a few bucks less). Overclocking and performance remains first in class, in league with boards costing a third more. The Maximum XI Hero is nearly perfect, with only speedier Wi-Fi and an extra M.2 slot on our short list of potential improvements.
With the price dropping and the previous Z370-based model disappearing from vendors, ASUS’s Strix Z390-I Gaming moves into the top spot for the boutique ITX segment. Despite its diminutive size, and paucity of upgrade options, the ROG Strix Z390-I Gaming provides excellent performance and value. Boasting stable 5GHz overclocks using several memory speeds, including 3,600MHz with tweaking, its single PCIe x16 slot pushed top-shelf graphics cards to speeds that matched or exceeded most Z390 ATX boards during testing.
The smallest Strix has a lengthy features list, with no shortcomings despite the tiny form factor, including dual PCIe Gen3 x4 M.2 slots, Intel v219 Ethernet, upgraded Intel 9560 2×2 802.11ac Wi-Fi, and an ALC1220A audio codec supported by isolated circuitry and headphone amps. Despite the dense set of features, the Strix Z390-I’s clean design makes for quick system assembly and configuration, an important consideration for ITX rig building.
It’s worth noting that this board can be hard to find, but the previous generation ROG Strix Z370-I model, with its slimmer design, remains an excellent alternative, especially at clearance prices.
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The MSI MPG X570 represents an amalgamation of bleeding-edge motherboard tech, built to get the most out of AMD’s 3rd gen Ryzen CPUs. It has four DIMM slots that can handle speeds up to 4,400Mhz and two M.2 slots sporting support for PCIe 4.0.
The rear I/O panel features seven USB-A ports for peripherals, as well as a single USB-C port for connectivity and high-speed data transfer. There are headers for the included Wi-Fi antenna to help with wireless connectivity, as well as a gigabit Ethernet port. The MPG X570 does support Wi-Fi 6, and while that does necessitate a Wi-Fi 6 compatible router, it’s backward compatible with other Wi-Fi standards and gives the potential for a speed boost down the line. Also of note is the HDMI port, which many X570 boards omit (not that we’d really recommend using an AMD APU with integrated graphics in a high-end board like this).
The MPG X570 features enough compatibility to get the most out of your hardware now and in the future, provided you’re willing to pay a premium for it. While it’s certainly an excellent mobo, if you aren’t already committed to a shopping list of top-of-the-line components now or in the near future, you may want to consider a slightly less expensive board for your needs.
Generally speaking, if you’re building a new AMD PC right now, or even replacing a motherboard in an existing PC, we recommend moving up to the X570 chipset. It supports PCIe Gen4 on the latest Ryzen 3000 CPUs and typically has better RAM support. However, if you’re using a previous-gen CPU, you don’t really need X570.
There are more expensive X470 motherboards out there, including the excellent Asus ROG Crosshair VII, but forking over the extra cash for higher-end hardware won’t necessarily provide a better building or gaming experience than Gigabyte’s X470 Aorus Gaming 5 Wi-Fi.
Ryzen CPUs aren’t overclock-happy, but the X470 Aorus Gaming 5’s 8+3 phase VRM reliably allows chips like the 2700X to run all cores at full boost speeds alongside 3,200MHz memory modules. Dual BIOS, dual PCIe Gen3 x4 M.2 slots, and a healthy stack of both internal and external USB ports are plenty for most gaming builds. Combined with a top-tier audio codec and great networking hardware, the X470 Aorus Gaming 5 is our best overall pick for Zen and Zen+ Ryzen 7 builds. If you’re looking for more advanced features and the ability to do serious overclocking, you should probably step up to X570 and the Crosshair VIII.
How we test gaming motherboards
The gaming motherboards recommended in this guide all received extensive research and evaluation, including enclosure installation (full tower, mid-tower, and ITX where applicable), performance benchmarking, stability testing, and a follow-up period of real-world break-in usage that focuses on gaming, entertainment, and media software.
When possible, all tests are performed with the same components installed to remove any variables except the motherboard itself. We also research the entire field of Z370, Z390, Z490, X470, B550, X570, and older motherboards, narrowing the list down to the best, most competitive boards before choosing each round of boards for the guide.
Benchmarks include AIDA64 Extreme, PCMark 8/10, Cinebench R15, CrystalDiskMark, 3DMark FireStrike, DPC Latency Checker, and others. The real-world break-in period encompasses office and creative work, media streaming, and gaming with a variety of demanding titles like GTA V, Total War: Warhammer II, DiRT Rally, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Far Cry 5, Hitman, and others.
Gaming tests are run at 1080p at medium to high settings to remove any bottlenecks caused by graphics card performance. When relevant, both single- and dual-graphics card configurations are tested to ensure motherboard stability in SLI and Crossfire situations.
Jargon buster – motherboard terminology
ATX, Micro-ATX, Mini-ITX
The most common form factors/sizes of a motherboard from largest to smallest, which beyond physical dimensions determines which cases it’ll fit into and (broadly) how many expansion slots are available. There are other, less common form factors as well (XL-ATX, HPTX, etc.) but these three are the most ubiquitous consumer form factors.
A connector on the motherboard that allows you to run a cable to the case to add additional USB ports, typically on the front panel (though some cases provide top or rear panel slots as well).
Basic Input/Output System/Unified Extensible Firmware Interface, which connects the hardware and software that lives on the board (the firmware) to the operating system (OS, like Windows or Linux). They allow you to adjust system level settings, such as fan speed or RAM frequency. UEFI has largely replaced the older BIOS standard.
Expansion Slots (PCIe Slots)
Peripheral Component Interconnect Express slots on the motherboard are designed to accommodate add-in cards like graphics cards, SSD cards, dedicated sound cards, etc. PCIe slots are measured in both length (x16, x8, x4, x1) as well as by the number of data transmission lanes they provide (x16, x8, x4, x1). It’s possible for a x16 slot to only provide 8 lanes of data, for instance, which means the maximum possible data transfer rate is halved (though in many cases, because PCIe provides such a high ceiling for transfer speeds, a lower number of lanes doesn’t make a tremendous difference).
Dual In-Line Memory Module slots, the slots on a motherboard where your RAM lives. The number of total slots contributes to the maximum amount of RAM your system can handle, paired with the chipset and OS.
The logic that allows the various parts of a motherboard to talk to each other. The chipset determines which processor generations a motherboard is compatible with, as well as what add-in cards can be used.
Serial Advanced Technology Attachment ports, an interface for connecting storage devices/drives to a motherboard (HDDs, SSDs, optical drives, etc.). The number of physical ports on your board, combined with ports for NVMe storage, will determine the total number of storage drives you can have connected to your PC at any time.