How to Buy a Motherboard

Motherboard Shopping Tips

Ready to buy a motherboard? Here are our recommendations.

Pick the chip set first, then the motherboard: The difference between chip sets can be significant, but two motherboards with the same chip set will be nearly identical in performance. First figure out which chip sets will work for your system, and then compare the different motherboards with that chip set.

Understand what kind of system you are building: Are you going for an affordable media PC, an office machine, or a gaming monster? These usage models all suggest different things about the features you'll need. Focus only on the features that are important to you.

Avoid SLI/CrossFire unless you absolutely need it: Enthusiasts always pay an arm and a leg for their hardware, and SLI and CrossFire technologies are for enthusiasts only. Simply buying a new video card instead of going from one card to multi-GPU is much more sensible.

Stay with DDR2 memory unless you need the extra bandwidth and performance: DDR2 is vastly cheaper than DDR3. Unless you are planning to upgrade and reuse the memory in the near future, you should buy DDR2 now and wait for DDR3 prices to drop for a future system.

Unless you really know what you are doing, avoid overclocking features: Quite a few motherboard vendors try to differentiate their products by having them support faster-than-specified memory or other exotic features. Remember, though, that such boards are targeted at enthusiasts and are priced accordingly.

Make sure you have at least one high-performance PCI Express slot: Even if all you want right now is integrated graphics, buying a board with an extra x16 PCI-E slot costs very little, and could save you $100 down the road.


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