Choosing the right motherboard for your next PC can be a daunting task. The jargon can be overwhelming for the uninitiated and making the wrong choice can be both a waste of money and a waste of time. Use this guide as a bird’s-eye view of the motherboard space, and pick the right one for your PC.
📌 Step 1
The processor determines the motherboard chipset that is needed to support the functioning of the processor. As this article deals with the best offerings for the i7-7700K CPU, it is assumed that it is the processor of choice.
Given this choice, it only makes sense to opt for the Z270 platform and utilize the unlocked features of the processor. This rules out the ASRock B250M-HDV board as it runs on the inferior B250M chipset.
📌 Step 2
Motherboards come in a variety of sizes to suit different builds and enclosures. A general rule of thumb is that as the size decreases, the available features also decrease. Bigger motherboards have more onboard expansion slots and storage options but necessitate the use of a bigger chassis. Depending on how much room you want your PC to occupy, decide on the size of your motherboard.
In the roundup, there are four sizes to choose from, given in descending order of size: eATX, ATX, mATX, and mini ITX.
While it is impossible to proclaim one greater than the other, the ATX layout is usually the standard size and a safe bet.
📌 Step 3
You must have heard this adage at some point – more RAM equals faster speeds. While there is some truth to this statement, the complete truth is not very well known to the layman.
Depending on the use-case scenario, your PC might need a lot of RAM to function without hiccups. At other times, you might just be cutting into your budget for no real reason. So, how much RAM is too much?
If you are a creative junkie dwelling in the depths of the Adobe Suite or an AUTOCAD professional, you can make use of all the RAM that is available. Look for boards with at least 4 DIMM slots, like the GIGABYTE AORUS GA-Z270X, ASUS ROG Maximus IX Hero or the MSI Z270-A Pro.
For gamers and casual users, 2 DIMM slots, each populated with an 8 GB module gives enough and more headroom to ensure near-flawless performance.
📌 Step 4
Solid State Drives are growing in popularity and today, you have a bunch of options to choose from. M.2 storage will keep your system running fast, and can be the perfect choice to house your operating system. SATA ports are more commonly linked to slower SSDs and the aging hard disk drives. These drives have a very low $/GB value, and hence, are used for storing many files, like your Steam game library.
GIGABYTE’s AORUS GA-Z270X is the undisputed king when it comes to storage flexibility. With 9 SATA ports, 2 M.2 slots and a U.2 slot, you can have storage for days. The ASRock B250M-HDV and ASUS ROG Maximus IX Apex fail to appeal to gamers and creative professionals on this front. Most of the other MOBOs offer a good number of SATA ports but lack an extra M.2 slot for truly blazing speeds.
📌 Step 5
There are two ways to look at this: 1) How many monitors do you plan to hook up to your PC? 2) What is the desired resolution of the display setup?
Be it stock market traders, spreadsheet maestros or gaming enthusiasts, they can all make use of the extra real estate provided by a multi-monitor setup. Gamers in specific can also benefit from higher resolution monitors for a better overall experience.
Multiple monitors need to be supported by the motherboard, to achieve this. Gamers in specific might need more than one Graphics Cards to drive all those pixels without any stuttering. ATX and eATX boards usually offer the most flexibility in terms of Nvidia SLI and AMD Crossfire support for multiple GPUs.
📌 Step 6
This step is pretty important. Are you someone who plans to overclock their CPU to gain that extra bit of performance? If so, you will greatly benefit from MOBOs that are tailored towards stable operation when overclocked. However, if you plan on running the processor at out-of-the-box speeds, you can save some bucks by opting for a mid-range motherboard at a lower price, like the MSI Z270-A Pro.
ASUS’ ROG Maximus IX Apex and Hero offerings are geared specifically towards extreme overclocking. These boards are dotted with pump and fan headers to adequately cool the CPU, along with many features to make for an easy tuning experience. These options are for seasoned overclocking enthusiasts and for those without any budget constraints.
📌 Step 7
Everyone is well aware of USB and the unparalleled flexibility that it offers. Today, almost all peripherals and external storage devices are connected via USB ports. Moreover, you have multiple USB technologies at your disposal, offering varied speeds and connectors.
Determining the number of USB ports you might need can ease your purchase decision.
Generally, the number of USB ports available is dependent on the size of the MOBO. eATX and ATX boards have more ports than mATX and mini-ITX offerings for obvious reasons.
📑 FAQThe Best Motherboard
for Intel Core i7 7700K
How do I know which size motherboard to get?
The size of the motherboard is usually dependent on the size of the chassis/case. Obviously, the size of the case has to be greater than the motherboard. Now, if the size of the case is not known, you can decide the form factor of the MOBO based on the features you want.
Can I use any RAM module in my motherboard?
Short answer, no. The speed of the RAM module (usually indicated on the back of the packaging) has to be compatible with the motherboard. Refer to the MOBO manufacturer’s user manual and/or website for compatible speeds.
Does my choice of motherboard affect gaming performance?
Gaming performance is most commonly measured in frames-per-second (FPS). The choice of MOBO does not directly affect the FPS in any way. However, the stability of the system as a whole is dependent on the motherboard.
Do I have to overclock my i7-7700K?
You do not “have to” overclock the CPU. But if you are able to get more performance for essentially no extra cost, why not? But proceed with caution and make sure you have adequate features on the motherboard and cooling inside your chassis.
As is the case with most tech-related suggestions, there cannot be one definitive winner. Crucially, you must look at your use-case scenario and pick the one that is the best fit. Obviously, as your budget increases, the compromises decrease and the quality of the product increases. Given all these factors, these are the best picks for the common use cases.