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The best motherboards for 2021

If you’re building a PC, chances are you already have a processor in mind (if not, you might want to read our guide). The CPU, memory, cooler, storage, and graphics card all rely on the motherboard to such an extent that once you have screwed the motherboard into your case and installed Windows, it is unlikely you will consider an upgrade for many years.

We’ve rounded up six of the best motherboards that cover the current and previous generations of AMD and Intel CPUs to help guide you. We have three picks each for AMD and Intel, along with some general guidance about motherboards. That way, if you decide not to buy one of the models we show, you will at least have a decent starting point for making your buying decision.

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 around the $100 mark without sacrificing the features you want, like USB-C connectivity and seven-channel audio.

MSI Pro-VDH B460M Wi-Fi ASRock B450M Pro4
CPU support: Intel 10th generation 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th generation Ryzen (with a BIOS update)
Form:  Micro 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: 1x PCIe 3.0 x16
2x PCIe 3.0 x1
1x PCIe 3.0 x16
1x PCIe 2.0 x16
1x PCIe 2.0 x1
Storage: 4x 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: 6x 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: 6-phase 9-phase
Networking: Gigabit Ethernet
Wi-Fi 5
Gigabit Ethernet
Price:

B460 is a budget chipset that typically supports 10th-and 11th-generation Intel processors (though this MSI model only supports 10th-gen), and although there are plenty of options, you have to make some trade-offs to get the price below the $150 mark. The MSI board covers the basics but means you have to do without USB-C, and the 6-phase VRM is best suited to a low-power CPU. If you’re thinking about overclocking or running a Core i9, you should certainly look farther down this page to more expensive motherboards. While this Micro ATX MSI motherboard is cheap, it still delivers the essentials, including a full complement of graphics outputs on the back panels and two M.2 expansion slots. Wi-Fi 6 is thrown in as part of the package. If you fancy adding some RGB bling to your build, you will be glad to see MSI has included headers for 12V RGB and also for the latest 5V ARGB lighting.

ASRock’s motherboard for AMD’s Ryzen CPUs looks like an industrial piece of work, but it packs in plenty of useful features. Perhaps the most useful feature is its versatility, as this B450 model supports Ryzen 2000, 3000, and 5000 models of CPU and APU. Take a look on the rear panel, and you will see VGA, DVI-D, and HDMI graphics outputs, although, sadly, you don’t get a DisplayPort connector. Also, on the rear panel, you will find a USB-C connector along with a decent array of fast USB Type A ports. On the board, you will find connectors to support the USB ports located on the front panel of most PC cases.

While the B450 and B460 chipset model codes sound confusingly similar, they are more like chalk and cheese, as B450 supports AMD Ryzen, while B460 supports Intel. In practice, you will find the main motherboard manufacturers — Asus, ASRock, Gigabyte, and MSI — use a similar approach when they build a budget motherboard for either AMD or Intel. To keep costs down, they will reduce the number of USB ports, SATA connectors, M.2 slots, and expansion slots. On budget boards, you need to check whether the M.2 slots have heatsinks to keep your solid-state drives nice and cool.

In general, the MSI Pro-VDH B460M Wi-Fi 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 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. By contrast, the MSI B460M motheboard is limited to last year’s 10th-gen Intel CPUs and does not support the brand new family of 11th-gen Rocket Lake CPUs.

Best midrange motherboards

This pairing takes us to the $200 mark, where we target mainstream PC builds that can afford a little extra cost for better features, such as 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, particularly if you put an emphasis on CPU performance.

Asus Prime H470M-Plus/CSM Asus TUF Gaming B550-Plus (Wi-Fi)
CPU support: Intel 10th ©gigeneration AMD 3rd and 5th generation Ryzen
Form: Micro ATX ATX
Socket: LGA 1200 AM4
Chipset: H470 B550
Memory support: Up to 128GB
Up to 2,933MHz
Up to 128GB
Up to 4,600MHz
PCI Express slots: 1x PCIe 3.0 x16
1x PCIe 3.0 x16 (x4 mode)
2x PCIe 3.0 x1
1x PCIe 4.0 x16
1x PCIe 4.0 x16 (x4 mode)
3x PCIe 4.0 x1
Storage: 5x SATA 3.0
2x M.2 (PCIe 3.0 x4)
6x SATA 3.0
1x M.2 (PCIe 4.0 x4)
1x M.2 (PCIe 3.0 x4)
USB ports: 5x USB-A
1x USB-C
7x USB-A
1x USB-C
Audio: Realtek 7.1-channel ALC887 Realtek 7.1-channel ALC1200
VRM: 6+2 phase 12+2 phase
Networking: Gigabit Ethernet 2.5Gb Ethernet
Wi-Fi 6
Price:

We have chosen the Asus Prime H470M-Plus/CSM as a solid contender that has a decent list of features that are best suited to a midrange CPU. Please note that this H470 chipset motherboard supports Intel’s 10th-generation CPUs but not the latest Rocket Lake models. You can buy a Z490 motherboard that supports the latest CPUs, but it just seems easier all around to step up to an Intel 500 series motherboard if you are buying 11th-gen. Getting back to the Asus Prime H470M-Plus/CSM, we have a Micro-ATX design with a competent VRM, two M.2 slots, loads of USB (including USB-C), and a full set of display outputs on the rear IO panel.

The lack of overclocking may push you away from this particular model. 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.

When it comes to our choice of midrange AMD motherboard, we picked the Asus TUF Gaming B550-Plus (Wi-Fi), which supports the latest AMD Ryzen 5000 CPUs and also the previous generation 3000 models. The B550 chipset is a step down from the X570, so while the CPU has support for PCI Express 4.0, the chipset only supports PCI Express 3.0.

PCI Express 4.0 doubles the bandwidth of the previous generation. More specifically, each lane supports 2GB per second in a single direction (2GB send, 2GB receive), so 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 if you have a RTX 3080 or 3090, you might get a few more frames in certain games when using PCIe 4.0 — however, the gains are negligible in most cases.

In practice, that means the graphics slot and primary M.2 slot are PCIe 4.0 while other expansion slots are PCIe 3.0, which is unlikely to act as a limitation for most PC gamers. On the plus side, the B550 does not require an active cooler, while X570 motherboards typically employ a small (and often annoying) fan on the chipset.

The Asus Prime H470M-Plus/CSM and Asus TUF Gaming B550-Plus (WiFi) are priced within $25 of each other and have similar specifications, but the Intel choice locks you into their 10th-gen CPUs with PCIe 3.0, while the AMD B550 gives you a wider choice for CPU core count and support for the fastest graphics and M.2 storage on the market.

Best high-end motherboards

Here we are looking at two motherboards at the high-end for desktop PCs. HEDT platforms like Intel’s X299 chipset or AMD Threadripper offer greater core counts, but are a far more niche, professional part of the market.

MSI MPG Z590 Gaming Carbon Wi-Fi Gigabyte X570 Aorus Master
CPU support: Intel 11th generation AMD 2rd, 3rd and 5th generation Ryzen
Form: ATX ATX
Socket: LGA 1200 AM4
Chipset: Z590 X570
Memory support: Up to 128GB
Up to 5,333MHz (overclocked)
Up to 128GB
Up to 4,000MHz
PCI Express slots: 2x PCIe 4.0 x16 (16+0 or 8+8)
1x PCIe 4.0 x16 (x4 mode)
2x PCIe 3.0 x1
2x PCIe 4.0 x16 (16+0 or 8+8)
1x PCIe 4.0 x16 (x4 mode)
1x PCIe 4.0 x1
Storage: 6x SATA 3.0
1x M.2 (PCIe 4.0 x4)
2x M.2 (PCIe 3.0 x4)
6x SATA 3
3x M.2 (PCIe 4.0 x4)
USB ports: 1x USB-C 20Gbps
3x USB 10Gbps
2x USB 5Gbps
4x USB 2.0
1x USB-C 20Gbps
3x USB 10Gbps
2x USB 5Gbps
4x USB 2.0
Audio: Realtek 7.1-channel ALC4080 Realtek ALC4050H
ESS Sabre 9118
VRM: 16+1+1 phase 14-phase
Networking: 1x 2.5Gb Ethernet
Wi-Fi 6
1x 2.5Gb Ethernet
1x Gigabit Ethernet
Wi-Fi 6
Price:

At our chosen price point below $400, we have an MSI MPG Z590 Gaming Carbon Wi-Fi with Intel Z590 chipset that supports the latest Intel 11t-gen Rocket Lake CPUs and is also backward compatible with Intel’s 10th-gen. The snag here is that while Rocket Lake can run faster than 5.1GHz on all cores, you are limited to a mere eight cores with even the most expensive Core i9-11900K. While that hardware delivers a superb gaming experience, it’s not so great when you are performing serious work such as video encoding or creating 3D models. One major advantage of Intel Rocket Lake over previous generations is that Intel now supports PCI Express 4.0, so while the CPU core count has dropped slightly, the speed of your connected devices has increased.

By contrast, the Gigabyte X570 Aorus Master supports the latest Ryzen 5000 CPUs with up to 16 cores, and as AMD has its chips manufactured on TSMC 7nm, the power draw is significantly lower than the latest Intel CPUs. In addition, AMD has supported PCI Express 4.0 for some while and can support fast storage and expansion cards across the entire motherboard. The explanation is that AMD 5000 CPUs support Gen 4, and so too does the X570 chipset, while the Intel Z590 chipset still runs on PCIe 3.0, and the Intel motherboard has a mix of connections. The downside of AMD’s approach is that the X570 chipset requires some 15W to power all those PCI Express devices, and as a consequence, it has an active cooler, whereas the B550 chipset with PCIe Gen 3.0 can use a passive cooler.

Another point of difference is that Intel supports DDR4 speeds that climb ever higher, and it is quite likely that the MSI MPG Z590 Gaming Carbon Wi-Fi will indeed run compatible memory up to the claimed 5,333MHz. AMD Zen is much more picky about memory, not least because the memory speed is linked to the Infinity Fabric Interconnect. You may well be able to run the maximum supported speed of 4,000MHz, but it is far from certain that the system will deliver the same performance as a PC running less adventurous DDR4-3,600MHz RAM.

The MSI MPG Z590 Gaming Carbon WiFi and the Gigabyte X570 Aorus Master both feature Wi-Fi 6 connectivity and fast Ethernet connections. If you want maximum performance, you can buy an AMD Ryzen with up to 16 cores that run at speeds that come close to the eight cores of Intel Rocket Lake — a killer combination.

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