This is the third part in my series of articles dealing with building a budget gaming computer. Here we’ll be looking at the motherboard. Seemingly the most complicated part of the purchase, I know when I built my first rig it looked like there was too much information on the topic out there. Turns out it was much more simple than I thought. The most important things when buying a motherboard are a compatible CPU chip-set, the kind of RAM it accepts and the form factor of the motherboard. If you make sure it all matches your products then it will work.
So first a look at the form factor. The size of the motherboard lets you know what kind of case it will fit in. I’ll be advising on either an ATX or the smaller Micro ATX. The next article will deal with RAM, but after that we’ll be looking at cases. The two kinds of cases I’ll be recommending will be Mid-Tower and Micro ATX cases. Seen as were looking at budget Motherboards I’m going to ignore the heat-sinks you can try to overclock your equipment if you want but I wouldn’t advise it, you actually can’t overclock the Intel chips I advised anyway but you can with the AMD ones.
Motherboards are built exclusive to a specific CPU chip-set. Seen as the only CPUs I recommended are AM3+, LGA 1150 or LGA 1151 I have only looked at those kinds of motherboard. Lastly I haven’t done the RAM article yet, but it should be up next week, and I’ll be making sure the RAM advised will be compatible. With the information here and in the other articles you should be able to figure out the rest though, so if you want to move ahead remember; RAM has a DDR number, usually either DDR3 or DDR4, and a clock speed. Just make sure that the motherboard you buy supports the DDR number and the clock speed of whatever RAM you buy.
Budget Intel LGA Motherboards
Now A look at the first motherboard. I went bottom of the barrel to start with. Micro ATX motherboards tend to be much cheaper than the full ATX boards, so when building on a budget they are great. Especially since micro ATX cases are also cheaper. The least expensive one you could buy is the ECS B85H3 M9. It doesn’t have much in the way of features but it more than makes up for it with its $30.98 price tag. The board is an LGA 1150, so it supports most Intel CPUs except the newer i3 6100 et al which is an LGA 1151 chip. The i3 4130, 4170 and 4370 all work on it.
As for RAM, it only supports DDR3 sticks and only up to 1600Mhz. It is dual channel with a max of 16gb of RAM, meaning 8gbx2. If the DDR3 stick you put in can run higher than that it will be throttled, so bear that in mind. It has the usual six SATA ports, all of which are SATA3 with a maximum transfer speed of 6GB/s. You don’t need to worry about the display ports, you’ll be plugging straight into your GPU for that. On the downside you can’t fit more than one PCI device along with a GPU and there are only four USB ports, two 2.0 and two 3.0. Coupled with the lack of in-built wireless means you’ll likely have to use a USB wireless device. They aren’t great and if at all possible try to keep an Ethernet plugged in, better stability and speeds than wireless connection anyway.
Going up a weight class to the MSI B85 G43, this full-sized ATX motherboard will set you back $82.98. It’s another LGA 1150, so again great upgrade options and supports the same CPUs as the ECS B85H3 M9. It will not fit in a Micro ATX case, so you’ll have to get a Mid-Tower or larger. It’s RAM is quad channel and maxes out at 32gb. You’ll not need that much RAM for a long time though. Again you’re limited to DDR3 and 1600Mhz, so buy accordingly. The larger size means that you’ll have a the space to fit at least another two PCI cards, such as a wireless card, which you’ll need, or a PCI sound chip for higher quality audio.
All motherboards come with on-board sound these days though so that last ones not a requirement. You can also fit two GPUs, but only if they are AMD as it does not support Nvidia’s SLI. It has 3 SATA2 ports and 3 SATA3 ports, so you have to make sure you’re plugging the faster storage devices into the faster ports. You do gain a substantial number of USB 2.0 ports, with six this time, and two more USB 3.0 ports.
The last Intel motherboard we’ll be looking at is the ASRock Z170 Pro4S. Another full ATX motherboard, but this time supporting the LGA 1151 chip-set. In my processor recommendation article I advised that if you want the best of the cheapest you should go for the i3-6100. I also said that you would be spending more on your motherboard to go there. I’m happy to say this isn’t the case. The ASRock Z170 Pro4S will cost you $79.99 and it really is a bargain at that price.
It can support DDR4 RAM at a maximum of 3200Mhz. It has the standard six SATA3 ports and even an M.2 expansion slot, a next generation slot that can support up to 32Gb/s transfers. It has six rear facing USB 3.0 ports and can support four more on the front panel, depending on your case. Again, you’ll have to get a wireless card, either USB or PCI. The audio quality is terrible though. With this board I would have to insist you get yourself a PCI sound card. The Motherboard is next generation tech at the lowest price point available. I intend to buy one myself quite soon.
Budget AMD AM3+ Motherboards
Unlike the Intel based motherboards, which have great upgrade options, AMD motherboards really don’t. An AMD chip bought today might last you another year, but by Christmas you’ll have to upgrade. With that in mind I’ve selected a few entry-level motherboards that are cheap and able to get the job done.
First up is the Gigabyte 78LMT-USB3. It’s a bottom of the barrel AMD motherboard, All of the AMD CPUs I suggested will work with it, but it lacks many features that are the standard today. It is priced at $46.98. It has no SATA3 ports, so your HDD is limited to a max of 3Gb/s on the two SATA2 ports. It tries to make up for this with its USB 3.0 ports, of which is has two with support for another on the case. The RAM is limited to DDR3 at 1600Mhz, seems to be the standard for this price point, but has four slots. The four slot RAM is a rarity in the Micro ATX form factor.
The other micro ATX AMD motherboard I looked at is the MSI 760GMA-P34. it’s priced at $49.99. Feature wise it’s very similar to the Gigabyte 78LMT-USB3, only two RAM slots, but has two SATA3 ports and six SATA2 ports, giving it a bit of an edge over the Gigabyte if you own a Solid State Drive. Between the two of them get the MSI 760GMA-P34 if you intend to buy an SSD and a hard drive, if you want more RAM get the Gigabyte 78LMT-USB3.
The last AMD motherboard we’ll look at is the Gigabyte GA-970A-DS3P. It’s the only full ATX board I can recommend, considering the lack of future in the CPU Chip-set, and is priced at $56.98. It has the usual four RAM slots, with a 32Gb at 1866Mhz maximum. Plenty of PCI slots, for GPUs etc, and six SATA3 ports for your storage. At the back there are six USB 2.0 slots and a further two USB 3.0 slots. If you’re looking to buy a mid-tower and you’ve already got an FX CPU, get this motherboard to go with it. It isn’t too expensive so there isn’t much of a loss next year.
Picking a Motherboard
Wow, that was a slog. The LGA socket motherboards were easy to recommend, due to their upgrade options, but the AM3+ socket motherboards were painful to write about. Personally I like AMD, if only for the competition they offer to the heavy hitters in the computer hardware industry, but the degree to which the AM3+ CPUs failed is so extensive that even with the lower price point it’s hard to advise anyone to buy their products. When we come to the end of this series of article, where I will tally up prices of completed builds, I’ll also be pricing future upgrades. I expect buying AMD will net you a saving on your first build, but it may fall short in the upgrade options if you have to toss the motherboard along with the CPU.
If you want my advice, and if you’re reading this I expect you do, try to find the AMD parts second-hand. A saving of ten or twenty bucks could mean a more financially savvy purchase in the long run. I’ll be updating this article with links to the final build prices to help you make a more informed decision.
Remember to take a look at all the articles in this series on building a budget gaming computer.