How To Choose A Motherboard: A Guide For Beginners

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RedJaron

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@Kittle
I think you're heading into full on system component selection, not just mboard. Such a thing would result in a very long article and would be better reserved for a series of articles. That said, I do think there needs to be some consideration about how the different parts will work together ( beside actual platform compatibility. )

@Onus & Crash
Tom, I think Onus is saying you've covered the "what" very well in the details ( and as Meteor said, I think the detailed chipset comparison is very useful, ) but new users could benefit from a "why." Just as you said, those of us that are well-marinated in tech pools sometimes forget what it's like to take that first dip. Why would they care about SATA II vs SATA III and the number of each available? Why would they care about PCIe lanes available? Why would they care about two RAM slots or four? What is a RAID and why would someone a controller for it? Is USB 3.0 good enough for you, or do you want eSATA too?

Here are a few things I'd address "why" when a first-timer is picking a mboard, apart from the obvious CPU and RAM compatibility. Some have already been brought up. Keep in mind I approached this as someone advising a tech-neophyte on his first system build. As such, I'm assuming they aren't asking for a high-end build. I suppose it is possible you could have a power-user with very high and/or specific performance needs that doesn't know how to assemble a computer, but I'm not addressing that corner case.

Size
Not only the dimensions and slot count of ATX vs mATX vs ITX, but why you might want one of the boards over another ( mATX tend to be cheaper and are great if you don't plan on many cards, ITX for absolute smallest machine, etc. ) I'd also address what cards are typical in certain computer use cases. A new user might think they need every slot possible "just in case" they need it in the future only to find three years later they still haven't used any.

I/O Ports
USB - How many ports do you really need? The way I see it, rear ports are for things that plug in once and stay ( printers, scanners, keyboards, etc. ) You shouldn't be constantly reaching around back to swap things out. If you are, you either need a hub ( on the desk or monitor, ) or more front-panel jacks ( case. ) This means you might want to look at internal headers too and whether they'll work with the case you have in mind. Remember that peripherals don't take advantage of USB 3.0 bandwidth so don't freak out too much if you only have two 3.0 ports.

Video - If you're not using a dGPU, does the mboard have the right video jacks for your monitor(s)?

Audio - Don't worry too much about multi-channel audio or fiber optic /digital coax jacks if you're just using some $30 stereo speakers. Fewer audio jacks doesn't necessarily mean poorer audio quality.

Memory Connectivity
Do they need four RAM slots, or will two suffice?

Explain basic difference in speed between SATA II and SATA III. The vast majority of machines can get by with four SATA ports ( really even two for home and office use. ) I'd also explain that having only two SATA III ports and the rest at SATA II is nothing to worry about unless they plan to use nothing but SSDs. What about eSATA? People coming from older machines may not have USB 3.0 capable external drives. Even if they do, eSATA has some advantages since you can boot from it. I'd also explain how eSATA usually shares with one of the internal SATA ports.

Legacy Support
I can see this particularly useful for people upgrading from a very old machine. Do they need old parallel or serial ports for old dongles? Any old PCI cards they still need? ( doubtful, but you never know for sure. ) What about old PATA drives? ( though really any old data should be transferred over to SATA drives. ) I'd explain that older cards and devices in their old machine ( sound cards, drive & network controllers, ) are likely unnecessary to carry over to the new machine since the integrated parts in the mboard are superior to the older tech.
 

Formata

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I think this article would be an awesome resource for beginners. There's a lot of good info, but doesn't get overly technicaI. When it does 'talk technical' it's explained at a beginner friendly level. Nice work.
 

GoucaX

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TLDR: did you mention integrated audio and network components? They're one of the biggest factors when choosing the right motherboard.
 

Drejeck

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I would go with the Impact VII as soon as broadwell chips @ lower than 35W show up. I'm custom building an NES PC good enough to kill the PS4 inside 96W.
 

lanceton

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I don't think anyone who have read this article would have developed a slightly better idea on how to choose a motherboard... the information you've included is not 'practical' at all, it's an article for elementary school kids, not PC DIY beginners.

you should begin by doing a cost break down, explain how much each component costs and then go on to explain what each component does and how practical they are in different environments

by doing so people would understand why certain motherboard models could be so much more expensive compared to others, and how much extra real life performance they're getting when buying a more expensive motherboard
 

Drejeck

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Integrated soundcard, even ALC1150, cannot fight back a 2010 Audigy 2, imagine a Xonar Essence ST.
Audio is really important for gaming experience. People underestimate it. They buy crappy plastic headset from non-audiophile brands.
I'm buying an Impact VII as soon as broadwell T chips show up. It has a 1150 based soundcard, the so called, Supreme FX II, I hope it's good because I have only one Pci slot and that's for my KFA2 750Ti
 

g00ey

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This is easy, buy a motherboard with as many full-length PCIe slots as possible and with as many PCIe lanes as possible. Given the desired form-factor of course. That way expandability will be no problems. Motherboards with _real_ lanes are probably better than those with PCIe extender/multiplexer circuits so I would hesitate a bit about those.

Make sure that these motherboards have as few half-assed onboard hardware (such as a shitty JMicron SATA controller) as possible. There are a few exceptions though; if the network controller is Intel or the extra hard drive controller is LSI (or Intel although they don't make SAS/SATA controller theses days) then it's good.

Make sure that the manufacturer has a good track record and a good reputation. Reviews and troubleshooting discussions on forums may give a clue as to how good and reliable a given motherboard is. Check for good warranty policies, a good and genuine (you know without those weird tear-and-wear clauses or other clauses that can wriggle the manufacturer out of responsibility) warranty means that the manufacturer really believes in his products.

Manufacturers such as MSI have had a lot of problems with the hardware in the past, it would have been good if they posted a followup on how they have dealt with those problems. I'm truly missing a good dialogue between the manufacturers and the end-users here.
 

Dying_Jester

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Even with all this laid out in front of me I didn't get much of an understanding. This article needs to be made into a video with someone pointing to each part as they are talked about, probably with with extra hardware on hand to show the viewer as it is brought up in the video.
This is all coming from someone who this article is focused on. I'm in the process of getting parts for my first PC. I have the motherboard and CPU. But I already know that even after I get all the parts I need I'll be searching the web for how to articles and videos of risk sitting there for hours not knowing what to do or risking damage to the parts I have.
 

Crashman

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I hope this helps:
http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/build-your-own-pc,2601.html
The motherboard part you just read is a companion piece. We've also been discussing an article on PC basics for people who aren't ready to build.
 

Lutfij

Titan
Moderator
These sort of articles are good to have around in order to jump start some details you might have missed out along the way. We may be professionals but as Thomas points we are all capable of making mistakes.

Thanks for providing a wealth of info in respect to something most newcomers will take as a critical choice when hunting for a motherboard. Hopefully this will narrow down the confusion as the basics have been cleared.

Sound will be subjective and if you noticed you are talking about onboard sound where it is always considered as a noisy environment. Filtration of the environment often are expensive to implement but with the progression of tech you now have more access to features previously seen on dedicated sound cards.

When going through a basics tutorial, you will need to water some points down to make it digestible to the newcomer interested in DIY building.
 

jonnyyyl

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This is really really useful stuff.
I self taught from reading forums and clips. Over the years, I keep finding myself having to go back and forth the basics because gaps exists! I have spent a lot of time trying to find articles like these.

Thank you for this article. Likewise, I'd be grateful if articles on CPU architecture, SSD/HDD and components, how to interpret numbers etc.

Thanks again for this.
 

nesdave

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I was recently looking for a CPU combo for VM and I wanted it on a budget. I went to a retailer who appeared to know something on the subject and he suggested the wrong combination. My point is, do your own research. If someone offers a sulution, research it until you are satisfied it will get the job done. Alternatively, have deep pockets and lots of time.
 

ncotton100

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Just want to point out that while most of the comments on here focus on suggestions, the vast majority of readers (myself included) would find this guide extremely helpful and would leave without commenting. So thanks very much and rest assured this guide will be helpful for a LOT of people
 
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