The best gaming motherboards will form the foundation to your whole PC. As such it needs to be a stable base from which you’ll assemble your entire build.
Mostly your choice of motherboard comes down to socket support, ports, and overall quality, but even beyond all that, there are a few other things to consider.
If you’re not sure which chipset you’re after when choosing the best gaming motherboard for you, or you have more basic questions for a different type of build, you can visit our motherboard basics and motherboard buying guide features to help narrow down your buying options.
What to Look for in the Gaming Motherboards
Below we’ve broken down the various chipsets that Intel and AMD processors support along with what specifications and features you should look for in a motherboard.
You might be wondering what makes a motherboard good for gaming when you can pretty much game (to a limited degree) on an Ultrabook these days. Well, it comes down to choosing a gaming motherboard, you’ll want to find one that can do everything you want, whether that be overclocking your processor, having multiple M.2 slots for the fastest solid-state drives or Nvidia SLI and AMD Crossfire support to plug in more than one graphics card.
But let’s quickly go back to the most basic thing you should look for when buying a motherboard: chipsets. Intel and AMD processors are designed to work with a variety of tiered chipsets. The highest-end Intel motherboards will feature a Z390 chipset that supports the latest Intel 9th Generation processors with native 802.11ac Wi-Fi and USB 3.1 Gen 2 connectivity and up to 24 PCIe lanes. Additionally, these high-end motherboards will be made of better materials and components to consistently deliver the power necessary for overclocking components attached to them.
5 Best Gaming Motherboards of 2021:
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 convenient 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 Maximus 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, 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 motherboards for Comet Lake overclocking, but I’ll concede it’s not a particularly realistic purchase for most of us.
- High-end performance
- Stunning bundle
- Incredible build quality
- Money-no-object pricing
A bevy of high-bandwidth interfaces could make the Z390 Designare the best choice for creative types, particularly when considering many of those builders won’t bother to tap into the Core i9-9900K’s limited overclocking capacity. It’s also reasonably priced for its extra features.
The Z390 Designare beats its closest rival on features for the price, has similar overclocking limits to its closest rival but beats it in overclocked DRAM performance, and has at least enough extra value to justify its premium over cheaper boards. We have to consider whether the “workstation replacement” PC market will tolerate a board with mediocre CPU overclocking. But given that there’s so little to gain from overclocking the Core i9-9900K, we feel that more often than not the answer is yes.
The Z390 Designare is the third-most-expensive Z390 board, and it takes third position in a performance-to-price chart that doesn’t award points for features. So, are the extra features worth the price?
- Full-Spec Thunderbolt 3 ports
- Supports 8K passthrough from DisplayPort 1.4 graphics cards
- Two Gigabit Ethernet ports plus 1.73Gb/s Wi-Fi
- Mediocre CPU Overclocking
The best mini-ITX motherboard for Intel is the GIGABYTE Z490I AORUS Ultra.
Mini-ITX gaming motherboards are tiny little things, but Gigabyte’s Z490I AORUS Ultra doesn’t lack when it comes to functionality. With the LGA 1200 socket and the latest chipset supporting 10th gen Intel processors, not to mention support for their upcoming 11th generation, this is the perfect futureproof motherboard for a mini PC for gaming.
It’s not lacking in connectivity, with a 2.5G Ethernet port, Intel Wi-fi 6, and a Gen2 USB Type-C port for lightning-fast transfer speeds. There are two DDR4 DIMM slots for up to 64GB RAM, supporting clock speeds up to an impressive 5000MHz, and two M.2 slots. Like many of the motherboards here, built-in RGB lighting is the order of the day.
- Packs all the features you need into Mini-ITX form
- Tick RGB ambient lighting
- Tick Z490 chipset
- No front-panel USB3 Gen2
- Only one USB3 Gen2 header
The sparse back panel and missing OLED displays will tell you we’re back into normal motherboard territory again. The rarified air of the ultra-enthusiast ROG board up top might make one giddy, but the Z490 Gaming Carbon will bring us back down to earth without a bump. Sure, you’re never going to get the same level of luxury feature list as you’ll find with either the Maximus XII or MSI’s own Godlike boards, but when it comes to the nuts and bolts of pure performance, it’s right up there.
Where it matters, in the gaming performance stakes, there’s practically nothing between any of the Z490 boards we’ve tested, and it’s only ever a little behind when it comes to the actual CPU performance in productivity apps. When it comes to overclocking, however, the MPG Z490 Gaming Carbon WiFi inevitably can’t compare to the big boys with our 10900K running at its peak.
The power componentry and cooling aren’t enough to stop the thirsty CPU from throttling when it’s pushed to its 5.3GHz all-core maximum. But, while that might mean it’s not the board you’d choose for an overclocked i9 machine, that’s a tiny niche of gamers, and for either i5 or i7 CPUs, the MSI Gaming Carbon is still a quality home for your Comet Lake CPU.
- More reasonably priced Z490
- Still competitive performance
- No Kaby Lake-X support
Priced around $80 and recently spotted for a mere $67, the ASRock H370M Pro4 brings Intel’s more-advanced H370 feature set to buyers who thought they could only afford a lesser B360 model.
ASRock splits the H370’s extra HSIO (high-speed input/output) pathways across two rear-panel USB 3.0 ports and two internal SATA headers, leaving us only to question whether the presence of two front-panel USB 3.0 headers (supporting four ports) is more valuable than the combination of a single USB 3.1 and single USB 3.0 header (supporting three ports). While your preference may hinge on the type of case you have, ours is dictated by the extra I/O panel and SATA connectivity we need.
It looks familiar, but the H370M Pro4 has little in common with the recently-reviewed Z370M Pro4. Sure there’s the 10-phase voltage regulator, the dual M.2 storage interfaces, and an I/O panel with all the same connectors in all the same places. And heck, even the Intel i219V Gigabit PHY and older Realtek ALC892 codec are there from the Z370M model, but finer details reveal that this mobo is based on a completely different circuit board.
- Two USB 3.1 Gen2 ports and two Gen1 USB 3.1 I/O panel ports
- Four USB 3.0 front-panel ports
- H370 features at B360 price
- No RGB controller
- No front-panel 3.1 Gen2 header
Gaming Motherboards Shopping Tips
When choosing a motherboard, consider the following:
- Get the right socket for your CPU: You can find great CPUs from either Intel or AMD, but whatever processor you choose, make sure that your board has the correct socket to support it. The latest mainstream AMD chips use AM4 CPU sockets while current Intel 8th Gen and 9th Gen Core CPUs require LGA 1151v2 sockets.
- Smaller boards = fewer slots and features. Motherboards come in three main sizes–for more info see our diagram and explanation of motherboard parts. From largest to smallest, there’s ATX, Micro-ATX and Mini-ITX.
- Pay for built-in Wi-Fi and high-end ports only if you need them. Don’t spend extra for wireless if you are using a wired connection. You can future proof your PC by getting USB 3.1 Gen 2 and / or Thunderbolt 3 support.
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