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The best motherboards for 2021

Building a PC is a daunting task. A multitude of choices currently flood the component market — just look at Intel’s overwhelming CPU list. Motherboards are even more sporadic, with various options from multiple manufacturers without a clear difference between them. We’ve rounded up the six best motherboards at various price points to help you along. We have three picks for AMD and three for Intel, each of which are split up based on how much you want to spend.

If you’re building a PC, chances are you already have a processor in mind — if not, read our guide. You’ll want a good motherboard that complements your chip, but price is understandably a major factor in your decision. Fortunately, there are a number of great motherboards that are affordable and high quality.

Best budget motherboards

You want great features, but you don’t want to break the bank. We get it. If you aren’t planning to do extreme overclocking and don’t need support for large numbers of drives and multiple high-speed graphics cards, a budget motherboard makes a lot of sense. The following two boards fall under the $100 mark without sacrificing features you want, like USB-C connectivity and 7-channel audio.

ASRock B460 Pro4 ASRock B450M Pro4
CPU support: Intel 10th generation 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th generation Ryzen (with a BIOS update)
Form: ATX Micro ATX
Socket: LGA 1200 AM4
Chipset: B460 B450
Memory support: Up to 128GB
Up to 2,933MHz
Up to 64GB
Up to 3,200MHz
PCI Express slots: 2x PCIe 3.0 x16
3x PCIe 3.0 x1
1x PCIe 3.0 x16
1x PCIe 2.0 x16
1x PCIe 2.0 x1
Storage: 6x SATA 3.0
2x M.2 (PCIe 3.0 x4)
4x SATA 3.0
1x Ultra M.2 (PCIe 3.0 x4)
1x M.2 (SATA 3.0)
USB ports: 1x USB-C
5x USB-A
Additional USB headers
1x USB-C
7x USB-A
Additional USB headers
Audio: Realtek 7.1-channel ALC892 Realtek 7.1-channel ALC892
VRM: 9 phase 9 phase
Networking: Gigabit Ethernet Gigabit Ethernet

The budget chipset for 10th-generation Intel processors is B460, and although there are a lot of options, you usually have to make a tradeoff below the $100 mark. The ASRock board above touches on the major features we look for, though. It includes USB-C on the back, two M.2 expansion slots, and a M.2 slot for a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth adapter. The look is right for gamers, too, with a sleek white design throughout and a soft RGB underglow, powered by ASRock’s Polychrome software.

ASRock’s motherboard for AMD’s Ryzen CPUs isn’t quite so gamer-themed in appearance, but it does pack plenty of features gamers will love. Like the Intel model, it supports CrossFireX technology, but the specifications list Quad CrossFireX, meaning you can install two identical Radeon graphics cards with dual GPUs, like the Radeon Pro Duo — though that has limited utility in modern games, and you’d be limited to PCIExpress 2.0.

There are a few differences between each chipset. Intel’s offering trades top system memory speed for capacity. On a budget chipset, you probably don’t need 128GB of system memory anyway, so the AMD board wins here (Ryzen likes fast memory, too). The Intel board, however, comes with two PCIe 3.0 x16 slots, while the AMD board only comes with a single one.

Otherwise, the ASRock B460 Pro4 and the ASRock B450M Pro4 are evenly matched. It’s important to note that AMD’s latest chipset in this bracket is B550, not B450. We’re still recommending B450 right now, though, since it supports every generation of Ryzen processors (it’ll even support Ryzen 5000 with a BIOS update). B550, on the other hand, only supports Ryzen 3000 and 5000. B500 offers up to 128GB of system memory running at speeds up to 4,600MHz, but keep in mind that B550 boards are newer and more expensive. You’ll spend at least $120 on a full ATX board.

Best mid-range motherboards

Gigabyte X570 Aorus Elite Product Shot

This group falls under the $200 mark. They target mainstream PC builds that can afford a little extra cost for better features, like fast system memory up to 128GB and wireless networking. Although they essentially target gamers, there’s no reason why these boards can’t be used in a non-gaming build.

MSI MPG Z490 Gaming Plus Gigabyte X570 Aorus Elite
CPU support: Intel 10th generation 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th generation Ryzen
Socket: LGA 1200 AM4
Chipset: Z490 X570
Memory support: Up to 128GB
Up to 4,800MHz
Up to 128GB
Up to 4,000MHz
PCI Express slots: 2x PCIe 3.0 x16
3x PCIe 3.0 x1
1x PCIe 4.0 x16
1x PCIe 4.0 x4
2x PCIe 4.0 x1
Storage: 6x SATA 3.0
2x M.2 (PCIe 4.0 x4)
6x SATA 3.0
1x M.2 (PCIe 4.0 x4)
USB ports: 5x USB-A
1x USB-C
7x USB-A
1x USB-C
Audio: Realtek 7.1-channel ALC1200 Realtek 7.1-channel ALC1200
VRM: 12 phase 12+2 phase
Networking: Gigabit Ethernet Gigabit Ethernet

Boards between Intel and AMD start looking a lot similar in this price tier. Our Intel choice, the MSI MPG Z490 Gaming Plus, has some upsides over our AMD pick. It includes two M.2 slots to the AMD board’s one, as well as support for memory speeds up to 4,800MHz (5,000MHz even, if you’re willing to overclock). You can see where the extra $70 is going. MSI’s Z490 board comes with higher memory speeds, better VRMs, and a slightly better audio codec.

Overclocking makes the difference here. Although you can technically sustain the max boost clock speed of a processor on a B460 board, you’ll want a Z490 board if you plan on using an unlocked, “K” processor from Intel, such as the i7-10700K.

There’s less of a difference with our AMD pick, the X570 Aorus Elite. It shows the same improvements as the Intel board compared to the previous tier, but it’s $100 more expensive. You can overclock with a B450 board, too. Still, our X570 pick has better VRMs, so we recommend spending the extra $100 if you plan on sustaining a high overclock.

The big difference in their overall features is thanks to the 500-series chipset in the Ryzen 3000-series board. This family supports PCI Express 4.0, which doubles the bandwidth of the previous generation. More specifically, each lane supports 2GB per second in a single direction (2GB send, 2GB receive), thus a card using a 16x slot has a potential two-direction maximum bandwidth of 64GB per second. That’s more than any GPU needs, but it does mean you can use high-speed PCIe 4.0 solid-state drives, offering the fastest commercial storage available in 2020. If you have a RTX 3080 or 3090, you might get a few more frames in certain games when using PCIe 4.0, but the gains are negligible in most cases.

Both the MSI MPG Z490 Gaming Plus and the Gigabyte X570 Aorus Elite are nearly identical regarding audio, port complement, and storage. While the Intel motherboard supplies an extra M.2 slot, the AMD board, again, supports the PCI Express 4.0 standard. That means you can install Gigabyte’s $250 Aorus stick-shaped SSD with a sequential read speed of up to 5,000MB per second and a sequential write speed of up to 4,440MB per second.

Best extreme motherboards

Gigabyte X299X Designare 10G

Want the extreme? You got it. These boards support the top performers for enthusiasts: Intel’s Core X Series and AMD’s 3rd-generation Ryzen Threadripper chips. Here you’ll find support for extreme core counts, memory configurations, boat loads of storage, and premium network connectivity. If money is no object, these two boards are perfect for your powerhouse PC.

Gigabyte X299X Designare 10G ASRock TRX40 Taichi
CPU support: Core X Series 3rd Gen Threadripper
Socket: LGA 2066 sTRX4
Chipset: X299 TRX40
Memory support: Up to 256GB
Up to 4,333MHz
Up to 256GB
Up to 4,666MHz
PCI Express slots: 2x PCIe 3.0 x16
2x PCIe 3.0 x8
3x PCIe 4.0 x16
1x PCIe 4.0 x1
Storage: 6x SATA 3.0
3x M.2 (PCIe 3.0 x4)
8x SATA 3
2x Hyper M.2 (PCIe 4.0 x4)
USB ports: 2x Thunderbolt 3
4x USB-A
Additional USB headers
1x USB-C
6x USB-A
Additional USB headers
Audio: Realtek 7.1-channel ALC1220-VB Realtek ALC4050H
Realtek ALC1220
VRM: 12 phase 16 phase
Networking: 2x 10Gb Ethernet
Wi-Fi 6
1x 2.5Gb Ethernet
1x Gigabit Ethernet
Wi-Fi 6

Here insanity kicks in with system memory spanning eight slots. For the Intel board, the maximum amount and clock speed depends on the CPU. If you install a Core X chip supporting 48 lanes, you can install the full 256GB amount overclocked to 4,333MHz. If your Core X chip only supports 44 lanes or lower, you’re locked at a 128GB maximum and a 4,200MHz overclock.

The AMD board lets you install just the AMD 3rd generation Threadripper clips. This feature guarantees that you’ll have limitless memory, which is a big win over Intel Core-X. You’ll see support for PCI Express 4.0, giving you choices for quicker storage and fewer lanes needed for each add-in device. There’s currently a significant increase in supporting hardware sales, giving AMD a considerable advantage on Intel-based systems.

Even though it’s optional, you can use these boards for gaming, heavy benchmarking, or overclocking while still enjoying the hype of their capabilities. The Intel board is compatible with Nvidia SLI and AMD CrossFireX setups (two or four cards). On the other hand, the AMD board is compatible with Nvidia SLI and AMD CrossFireX (two or three cards), plus Nvidia NVLink via two GeForce RTX cards. AMD’s Radeon RX 5000 series is compatible with the PCI Express 4.0 standard, but it’s not effective regarding bandwidth right now.

Lastly, the AMB board features USB-C connectivity, while the Intel-based board has two Thunderbolt 3 ports (via USB-C). The Gigabyte X299X and the ASRock TRX40 Taichi both feature Wi-Fi 6 connectivity and dual Ethernet ports, but the Intel board can handle up to 10 gigabits per second, and the AMD board has the capacity for 2.5 Gbps on one and 1 Gbps on the other.

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