If you've ever pieced together your own gaming PC, then you'll know how important a quality motherboard is. While you can often get by with a basic board, and in fact for a budget gaming machine that makes sense, when it comes to mid-range and high-end builds, spending a bit more here can make a big difference. Whether that means better connectivity, improved audio, or more overclocking headroom, this is a textbook example of you get what you paid for.
2021 has been an interesting year for gaming motherboards, although mainly for Intel's platforms. AMD X570 and B550 motherboards saw a few updates at the start of the year, but generally, motherboards based on these chipsets were all released last year. Manufacturers did introduce a 'silent' update for the X570, cunningly called the X570S, that has made its way onto plenty of updated motherboards—the new boards drop the tiny fan that can be found on first-generation offerings and update the feature lists too, so are worth tracking down if you're looking to build an AMD machine.
The big news was on the Intel front. Intel released two new processor families this year: First up was its Rocket Lake chips which meant plenty of Z590 and B560 motherboards were released that support its 10th/11th Gen processors. Older boards using the Z490 at the high-end, and the B460 for the mainstream can support its 11th Gen chips, but you'll need to check to be sure.
The big CPU of the year was obviously Alder Lake, and here the options are more limited, as only the high-end motherboards based around the Z690 chipset have seen the light of day so far. This, coupled with the scarcity of DDR5 make Alder Lake a somewhat pricey option right now. The inevitable release of the B660 chipset next year could make for some interesting motherboards, but we'll have to wait and see for now.
There have been plenty of great motherboards released in the last 12 months, basically, and they continue to improve. These are the best motherboards we've seen this year.
The best motherboard of 2021: the nominees
Asus TUF Gaming Z590 Plus Wi-Fi
While 10th and 11th Gen Intel CPUs have largely been resigned to a footnote in hardware history, that doesn't stop this being a phenomenal motherboard. It's one of the best motherboards we've ever looked at, in fact, offering strong value for money, decent VRMs and cooling, and a strong feature set. Unsurprisingly, Asus has released a Z690 spin of this motherboard, and while we haven't had a chance to look at the new board yet, we'd expect it to follow in the impressive footsteps of this board.
Gigabyte X570S Aorus Master
The 'S' refresh of the X570 chipset does away with the active cooling requirement of the original chipset, making for quieter motherboards that use passive cooling to keep your PCIe 4.0 SSD chilled. This update to the brilliant X570 Aorus Master boasts support for up to four M.2 slots, with the top slot being raised for added airflow. The whole bottom half of the board is now covered in heatsinks, to help with cooling, and it just so happens to look amazing. The 14-phase power delivery is beefy too, making this a great option for high-end builds.
ASRock Z690 Taichi
It's early days for Intel's Alder Lake platform, and that means motherboard manufacturers may not have nailed every aspect of the new chips—nothing a few BIOS updates won't sort of course. Not that there's anything obviously wrong with this ASRock motherboard, apart from its bank balance-worrying price tag. Still, if you're after a serious machine, then this is the motherboard to do it, with a phenomenal 20-phase power design, some great networking support and a sweet overall design.
The winner of the PC Gamer Hardware Award for the best motherboard will be announced on New Year's Eve. All three of these motherboards are in with a shot of taking home the big prize, so tune in to find out which one it'll be.