PC Building Beginners Guide: Motherboards

This PC Building Beginners Guide aims to offer core information regarding motherboards, Intel CPUs, memory, graphics cards, power supplies and solid state drives. It will hopefully become a growing archive of everything you need to know if you are new to PC building – especially if you are looking to build your very first gaming PC!

PC Building Beginners Guide: Motherboards

Probably the trickiest thing to consider when PC building is picking the right motherboard to suit your purposes. The things to consider are brand, socket number, chipset, form factor, compatibility with other hardware, number of slots and ports and upgradability.

Motherboard Brands: The major and most popular brands (in no particular order) are Asus, Gigabyte, MSI and ASRock. They all have different pros and cons and a lot of research is required here, however these are some of the important things to consider.

Motherboard Sockets: The first thing to consider is that your chosen processor (CPU) will fit into your motherboard of choice. If you decide to purchase a socket 2011 CPU for example, you will need a socket 2011 motherboard. Other more popular socket numbers are socket 1156, 1155 and 1150. Out of these three, socket 1150 is the newer one and is recommended if you would like the option of replacing / upgrading your CPU in the future.

PC Building Beginners Guide: What makes a Motherboard?

PC Building Beginners Guide Motherboards

PC Building Beginners Guide: Motherboards (image: www.computer-hardware-explained.com)

Chipset: I personally find this part quite confusing. But generally speaking if you plan to use an Intel CPU then your motherboard should have an Intel chipset. Currently, Intel Z87 or Z87X chipsets are preferred for gamers, as this chipset allows you to overclock and supports the newer Haswell CPUs. I have no idea what the different letters stand for, so please don’t ask. If anyone does know, please do share.

Form Factor: This basically refers to the size of the motherboard. The most commonly-mentioned PC form factors are ATX (large), micro-ATX (smaller), mini-ATX (smaller) and the new mini-ITX form factors (smallest). There are several others, such as BTX, DTX and ETX, but the most important thing to consider is that your PC case or chassis supports the motherboard form factor you desire.

PC Building Beginners Guide: What is a Motherboard?

Compatibility: Apart from ensuring that your motherboard is compatible with your chosen CPU and chassis, you also need to ensure that it will be compatible with the graphics card (CPU) and memory (RAM) that you wish to use. Most graphics cards are PCI-Express and require a x16 PCI-Express slot on your motherboard. Motherboards will also specify what memory speeds they support, for example: DDR3 1333MHz, 1600Mhz, 1800Mhz etc. so you need to ensure that your chosen memory is compatible.

Slots, Ports and Upgradability: The newer motherboards have ports and slots that offer faster transfer rates. USB 3.0 for example currently offers faster speeds for USB devices, so you want to ensure that your motherboard has a few of those. Similarly, newer eSATA cables now offer faster speeds for your harddrives and SATA devices. It’s also a good idea to pick a board that has 4 (or even 8) RAM slots so that you have the option of adding more memory to your PC in the future. Other considerations are HD Audio, on-board graphics, SLI and / or Crossfire support, headphone ports, number of fan connectors and HDMI ports.

This PC Building Beginners Guide continues in the following parts. I hope you found this particular one useful and I welcome any questions!

PC Building Beginners Guide – Useful Resources:


Galen (name), meaning: "Curious One". A lover of language, human ingenuity and the forces of the universe. Hugely drawn towards the mysterious and unknown. Regular laughter and escapism essential.

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