Building a new PC is all about choices and trade-offs. Picking between AMD and Intel is usually the first choice you have to make, but it certainly isn’t the most complicated. Instead, that honor goes to the motherboard; selecting one among the the dozens of brands is just the beginning. Typically, each board maker offers at least half a dozen different models based on a single chipset.
Take Asrock’s 100-series lineup, for example. As of writing, there are over twenty motherboards based on Intel's Z170 chipset, over a dozen based on the H170 and another dozen H110 boards. To cap it all off, almost twenty B150 boards. MSI, Gigabyte and Asus product lines offer similarly structured lineups.
So, of the many hundreds of motherboards compatible with your choice of processor (Amazon returns 700+ results for '1150 motherboard'), which board will you choose? Not sure? Well, that’s okay, we've done a lot of the homework for you, and we aim to save you some time, money, and regret by sharing with you what we believe is the very best out there.
Best Motherboard for PC Enthusiasts
If you're in the market for some serious CPU horsepower, you'll likely want a shiny new processor based on Intel’s Skylake platform, and the best way to do that is with a Z170 motherboard.
Last year, we checked out half a dozen of the best examples around the $200 mark, and among them, the Gigabyte Z170X-Gaming 7 stood out to us.
There isn't much to dislike about the Gigabyte Z170X-Gaming 7, and there is a hell of a lot to like. Its SoundCore 3D Creative CA0132 audio implementation is impressive, to the point that it's probably the best on-board audio we have ever heard.
While we would have preferred to see dual Intel NICs, the Killer E2400 will do roughly the same job, but it means some features (like Teaming) are off the table.
Overall, the Z170X-Gaming 7 presents a strong package with eight SATA 6Gb/s ports, three SATA Express ports and two M.2 slots. There are nine USB 3.0 ports on offer along with two USB 3.1 ports, so there is plenty of external connectivity as well. The multi-color lighting is a nice touch, and the software to control it works well.
Most Extreme Motherboard
The most extreme motherboard is a tough pick, and we struggled to land on something here. That said, land we did, and looking back, the MSI X99A GodLike Gaming Carbon does seem like the clear choice. If nothing else, its $600 price tag certainly suggests that we have something pretty extreme on our hands.
There is no shortage of expensive X99 motherboards, but the X99A GodLike Gaming Carbon sits a cut above the rest. It's an improvement on last year’s awesome X99A GodLike Gaming motherboard, which was also an absolute beast in terms of features and overclocking performance.
Featuring a “Turbo Socket”, the board sports a 12-phase power system which must be fed by not just an 8-Pin EPS power connector, but an additional 4-pin connector as well. The Turbo Socket adds 25 more pins to the LGA 2011-3 socket to allow for better processor pin connections - and that makes for better overclocking.
The entire motherboard is wrapped in an aggressive looking matte black color with carbon fiber highlights on the heatsinks. There is a set of large 'armor' themed plates that runs across the motherboard, protecting a dense array of heatpipes underneath. Expansion slots include five ideally placed PCIe 3.0 x16 slots. Storage conncetors on the motherboard comprise of ten SATA 6Gb/s ports, two SATA Express ports and an Ultra M.2 slot.
Other noteworthy features include Audio Boost 3 Pro, USB 3.1 (Type-C), Killer Doubleshot-X3 Pro and Mystic Light, which has now been enhanced to provide a total of 16 different LED effects. Simply put, the MSI X99A GodLike Gaming Carbon is the most feature-rich motherboard available right now and is also without question the coolest looking!
Still, if the carbon-fiber look doesn’t do it for you, the more standard-looking X99A GodLike Gaming can be had for $540.
Mini-ITX: Asrock X99E-ITX/ac
It is pretty hard to talk about extreme motherboards and not give the one-of-a-kind Asrock X99E-ITX/ac a mention. Priced at $260, the X99E-ITX/ac is the first (and so far only) Mini-ITX motherboard to adopt the LGA2011-3 socket. Essentially, this means that if your pockets were deep enough, you could build an 18-core Mini-ITX system with the Xeon E7-8890 v3.
More realistically, this motherboard pairs quite well with Haswell-E processors, such as the six core Core i7-5820K.
Feature-wise, the X99E-ITX/ac isn't really missing anything, especially considering it's a Mini-ITX motherboard and you get an Ultra M.2 slot, 802.11ac WiFi, SATA Express and USB 3.1 out of the box - what more could you want?
Best AMD AM3+ Motherboard
Enthusiasts wanting to support AMD and ride out the AM3+ platform until Zen arrives with a heavily overclocked FX processor will no doubt want a motherboard touting the flagship 990FX chipset.
There are a number of really impressive-looking boards, such as the Asrock Fatal1ty Gaming 990FX Killer/3.1, MSI Gaming 990FXA and Gigabyte GA-990FX-Gaming. The only issue being that all these boards cost around the $150 mark, and when you start investing that much in this platform even the reddest of fans will have a hard time justifying the expense.
The FX-8350 for example costs $160, and, given the performance, we feel a budget of around $100 makes sense for the motherboard. That being our thinking, we went with the unbeatable Gigabyte 990FXA-UD3 R5 for just $100.
Price really is the primary factor here, and although you get a somewhat basic configuration, the 990FX chipset provides six SATA 6Gb/s ports and four PCIe 2.0 x16 slots. Fancy features such as SATA Express and M.2 aren’t supported, but Gigabyte has included a quality audio solution, plenty of connectivity, their dual BIOS design, and ESD protection for the USB and LAN ports.
Even when compared to the more expensive $130 Asus M5A99FX Pro, we believe the Gigabyte 990FXA-UD3 R5 is the better quality motherboard, at a much better price to boot.
Best Workstation Motherboard
Far too often, the word 'workstation' is carelessly thrown around when describing just any pricey motherboard. However, in the case of the Asrock X99 WS-E/10G, the title is well deserved.
This motherboard includes all the things you would expect in a workstation motherboard - loads of storage options, endless rows of full length PCIe slots and more Ethernet ports than most people would know what to do with. Speaking of which, while the two Intel Gigabit LAN ports are certainly nice, what really got us excited about the Asrock X99 WS-E/10G were its two 10G Base-T LAN ports.
Note though, that while it's ten times faster than Gigabit Ethernet, 10GbE only supports full duplex operation when linked point-to-point (e.g. connected by network switches) - so, sadly, 10GbE hubs don't exist. Nonetheless, it's good to see 10GbE finally start to transition away from pricey enterprise devices to relatively common hardware - more than ten years after its initial introduction.
Along with the dual 10GBase-T support, there is a lot on offer here. The dual PLX8747 chips provide x16/x16/x16/x16 operation in a four-way GPU arrangement or x8/x8/x8/x8/x8/x8/x16 when single slot cards are used. Additionally, there are a dozen SATA 6Gb/s ports, eight USB 3.0 ports, two Intel I210 Gigabit controllers, SATA DOM, M.2 x4 and an enhanced Realtek ALC1150 audio codec.
The Asrock X99 WS-E/10G is without question the best workstation class motherboard on offer now in terms of features, performance and price.
Best Budget Intel Motherboard
Want to get your hands on an Intel Skylake Pentium or Core i3 processor, but don’t want to spend more than $60 on the motherboard? What you need is the Asrock H110M-DV which can be had for about $60, give or take, with a HDMI port.
The H110M-DV might be the cheapest H110 motherboard money can buy, but that isn’t to say that it's inferior to the competition. When compared to slightly more expensive offerings from MSI and Gigabyte, the H110M-DV supports all the same gear, and, in fact, when it comes to display outputs, the H110M-DVS is the best equipped of them all.
What you get with the H110M-DV are the essentials offered by the H110 chipset, which include four SATA 6GB/s ports, four USB 3.0 ports, six USB 2.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet and a basic 7.1 Channel audio solution.
Best Budget AMD Motherboard
For AMD shoppers, motherboards such as the Asrock 970A-G/3.1 should make a lot of sense. Priced at $70, this isn’t quite the cheapest AMD 970 motherboard out there, but it does offer the perfect balance of features.
Priced alongside the Asus M5A97 Plus, Gigabyte 970A-DS3P and MSI 970A-G43 Plus, the Asrock 970A-G/3.1 faces some decent competition. That said, Asus misses the mark by a mile with a complete lack of USB 3.0 support and just a single PCIe x16 slot, no x8 or x4 slots either. MSI and Gigabyte are evenly matched in what they offer, but neither can hold a candle to the Asrock 970A-G/3.1.
For roughly the same price, the Asrock 970A-G/3.1 delivers some strong features that are not included on the other boards, such as USB 3.1 (Type-C) and an M.2 slot - full-length, and supporting the latest Gen2 x4 (20Gb/s) SSDs. This is the sort of thing you wouldn't usually find on AMD 970 motherboards, and it makes the Asrock 970A-G/3.1 look decidedly superior.
The Asrock 970A-G/3.1 is also one of the best looking AMD 970 motherboards, sporting the popular red and black colour scheme.