After last year’s CPU chaos, Intel has simplified its chipset and processor lineup for 2018, going all in on the new 300 series and Coffee Lake for the standard consumer market. It also doubled down with 9th Gen CPUs that are backward compatible with most Z370 boards, and the new Z390 motherboards likewise work with 8th Gen Intel CPUs.
A streamlined Intel doesn’t mean less overall component choice, however. AMD has also been busy, introducing both Ryzen 2 and its accompanying 400-series motherboards, offering performance and feature improvements to an already competitive platform. Ryzen 2 has proven effective at stealing market share from Intel, especially if you're looking to boost CPU core counts without spending a lot of money.
In addition to AMD and Intel’s newest hardware, we still have recommendations for Z270 and X370 platforms, but expect these latter categories to slim and eventually move to legacy status as the boards disappear from retail channels.
Whether you're putting together a budget gaming PC build or need the best motherboard for an Intel Core i9-9900K, we've got you covered. Welcome to the bleeding edge.
1. Gigabyte Z390 Aorus Ultra
Great gaming performance and features at a decent price
Chipset: Z390 | Memory: (4) DIMM, 64GB, DDR4-4266 | PCIe slots: x16, x16 (x8), x16 (x4), (3) x1 | Video ports: HDMI | USB ports: (10) rear IO, (7) internal | Storage: (3) M.2, (6) SATA | Network: Ethernet, 1733Mbps 802.11ac | Lighting: Heatsink and DIMM slots RGB, (2) RGBW headers
Gigabyte isn’t as flashy as the other top tier motherboard makers, but they’ve managed to accumulate plenty of recommendations of late. We've liked the Aorus branded motherboards starting with Skylake in 2016, and its Ryzen boards have been excellent all-around picks.
The Gigabyte Z390 Aorus Ultra competes with the MSI Z390 Gaming Pro Carbon AC and the Asus ROG Maximus XI Hero (Wi-Fi), with a better price and features. It has triple M.2 slots, Intel Wi-Fi Wave2 and Ethernet, a full RGB treatment with multiple headers, and ALC1220 audio. You’d have climb to the top of the product stack to get the same from MSI and ASUS, both of whom offer more polish but also charge plenty for the privilege.
2. ASUS ROG Maximus XI Hero Wi-Fi
Better Core i7 overclocking for enthusiasts
Chipset: Z390 | Memory: (4) DIMM, 64GB, DDR4-4400 | PCIe slots: (2) x16 (x16 or dual x8), x16 (x4), (3) x1 | Video ports: HDMI, DisplayPort | USB ports: (8) rear IO, (7) internal | Storage: (2) M.2, (6) SATA | Network: Ethernet, 866Mbps 802.11ac | Lighting: Heatsink RGB, (2) Aura RGB, (2) addressable Aura
The Asus ROG Maximus XI Hero (Wi-Fi AC) is the latest in a long line of popular boards. While Asus offers the Code, Formula, and Apex boards a step above the Hero, we found little reason to go with the pricier models. The minor bumps in speed, features, or fashion that costlier boards provide are difficult to justify. This is a minor update to the previous Maximus X Hero Wi-Fi, which we also liked.
This year's Hero adds 802.11ac 2x2 MU-MIMO Wi-Fi to the networking mix (a non-wireless version is available for a few bucks less). Overclocking and performance remains first in class, in league with boards costing a third more. The board is nearly perfect, with better Wi-Fi and an extra M.2 slot on our short list of potential improvements.
3. Asus ROG Strix Z370-I Gaming
Designed for small form factor builds
Chipset: Z370 | Memory: (2) DIMM, 32GB, DDR4-4333 | PCIe slots: (1) x16 | Video ports: HDMI, DisplayPort | USB ports: (8) rear IO, (4) internal | Storage: (2) M.2, (4) SATA | Network: Ethernet, 866Mbps 802.11ac | Lighting: Edge RGB, (1) Addressable Aura RGB
Asus's ITX Strix entry slips ahead of ASRock's Killer ITX offering to earn first place in this boutique segment. Despite its diminutive size and paucity of upgrade options, the ROG Strix Z370-I Gaming provides excellent performance and value. Boasting stable 5GHz overclocks using several memory speeds, including 3600MHz with tweaking, its single PCIe x16 slot pushed a GTX 1080 Ti to speeds that matched or exceeded most Z370 ATX boards during testing.
The board has a lengthy features list, with no shortcomings despite the small form factor, including dual PCIe Gen3 x4 M.2 slots, Intel v219 Ethernet, Intel 8265 2x2 802.11ac Wi-Fi, and an ALC1220A codec supported by isolated circuitry and headphone amps. Despite the dense set of features, the Strix Z370-I's clean design makes for quick system assembly and configuration. Just be sure to install that bottom-mounted M.2 drive beforehand or pick a case with a cut out in the right area, or you'll be taking everything apart again.
There's a Z390-I model now as well, which we haven't tested yet. It costs more and for most users the Z370-I remains a great choice.
4. ASUS TUF H370-Pro Gaming Wi-Fi
A budget option with excellent Wi-Fi for the non-overclocking CPUs
Chipset: H370 | Memory: (4) DIMM, 64GB, DDR4-2666 | PCIe slots: x16, x16 (x4), (4) x1 | Video ports: D-Sub, HDMI, DisplayPort | USB ports: (7) rear IO, (6) internal | Storage: (2) M.2, (6) SATA | Network: Ethernet, 1.73Gbps 802.11ac | Lighting: Edge RGB, (1) Aura RGB header
ASUS claims a third category for Coffee Lake builds with its TUF H370 Pro Gaming Wi-Fi making an impressive debut for the series in our guides. It sports a bare-it-all retro look that back-to-basics rig builders will love, with a simple black and silver aesthetic and just a touch of RGB lighting along the right edge. It looks sharp and supports almost any color combination you toss at it.
Under the hood, the TUF Pro Gaming packs dual M.2 slots, 10Gbs Gen2 USB 3.1, Intel v219 Ethernet, and a robust 2x2 Intel 9560 802.11ac adaptor that supports MU-MIMO and 160MHz channels, shaming the competition in a price segment where Wi-Fi is rarely found. Audio is less impressive, opting for the older ALC887 codec. Overclocking and higher memory speeds aren't supported with the H370 chipset, but that doesn't hold the TUF Pro Gaming back in real-world testing. Put your money into a faster GPU if you care about gaming, and don't worry as much about the RAM speed.
5. MSI Arsenal Z270 Gaming Plus
Save money by going with Intel's previous platform
Chipset: Z270 | Memory: (4) DIMM, 64GB, DDR4-3800 | PCIe slots: x16, x16 (x4), (4) x1 | Video ports: VGA, DVI-D, DisplayPort | USB ports: (6) rear IO, (8) internal | Storage: (1) M.2, (6) SATA | Network: Ethernet
You can save a bit of money by opting Intel's previous generation Z270 platform, and making for an affordable way to upgrade if you're on an even older platform. MSI’s Arsenal Z270 Gaming Plus retails just a few bucks above the cheapest boards in this category but delivers a credible midrange set of features and build quality.
One drawback worth mentioning is the aging Realtek ALC892 audio codec, which represent five years of missing advancements. Fortunately, MSI’s codec implementation is a good one, so this isn’t a deal breaker, but if cutting edge sound is part of your plan, look elsewhere. Otherwise, MSI’s Z270 Gaming Plus is enough to handle powerful Kaby Lake systems without compromising performance or features.
6. Gigabyte X470 Aorus Gaming 5 Wi-Fi
Excellent features for multi-core Ryzen 7 users
Chipset: X470 | Memory: (4) DIMM, 64GB, DDR4-3200 | PCIe slots: x16, x16 (x8), x16 (x4), (2) x1 | Video ports: HDMI | USB ports: (10) rear IO, (9) internal | Storage: (2) M.2, (6) SATA | Network: Ethernet, 1.73Gbps 802.11ac | Lighting: Three zone RGB, (2) RGB header
There are more expensive X470 motherboards out there, including the excellent Asus ROG Crosshair VII, but forking over the extra cash for higher-end hardware won’t necessarily provide a better building or gaming experience than Gigabyte's X470 Aorus Gaming 5 Wi-Fi. This board serves up a full plate of features along with a side of RGB style for around $100 less than comparable hardware, leaving your GPU budget some room to grow.
Ryzen CPUs aren't overclock-happy, particularly the X-models, but the X470 Aorus Gaming 5’s 8+3 phase VRM reliably allows chips like the 2700X to run all cores at full boost speeds alongside 3200MHz memory modules. Dual BIOS, dual PCIe Gen3 x4 M.2 slots, and a healthy stack of both internal and external USB ports are plenty for most gaming builds. Combined with a top-tier audio codec and great networking hardware, the X470 Aorus Gaming 5 is our best overall pick for Ryzen 7 builds.
7. Gigabyte Aorus AX370 Gaming 5
Great compatibility and performance, at a lower price
Chipset: X370 | Memory: (4) DIMM, 64GB, DDR4-3200 | PCIe slots: x16, x16 (x8), x16 (x4), (2) x1 | Video ports: HDMI | USB ports: (10) rear IO, (9) internal | Storage: (2) M.2, (6) SATA | Network: Ethernet, 1.73Gbps 802.11ac | Lighting: Three zone RGB, (2) RGB header
Gigabyte's Aorus AX370 Gaming 5 got the nod early on for showing up on time and being stable from Ryzen's start, and it remains an impressive midrange AM4 effort. Gigabyte seems to have sorted out the new platform ahead of the competition, delivering a motherboard that proves an easy partner during the build process and providing a slick experience comparable to assembling a Z170 or Z270 system.
Overclocking isn't a top priority for Aorus gaming motherboards, or Ryzen in general. The Ryzen 7 1700X used in testing could only manage around 4GHz, but at stock clocks the 1700X's higher IPC and eight cores pull comfortably away from Intel's more expensive 6-core counterparts. If you're on a budget and don't mind using an older platform, the AX370 Gaming 5 is more than sufficient for most AM4 gaming builds.
8. MSI X299 Gaming Pro Carbon AC
Built for multi-core Intel CPUs, without sacrificing gaming performance
Chipset: X299 | Memory: (8) DIMM, 128GB, DDR4-4000 | PCIe slots: (2) x16, x16 (x8), x16 (x4), (2) x1 | USB ports: (9) rear IO, (9) internal | Storage: (2) M.2, (1) U.2, (1) M.2 Key-E, (8) SATA | Network: Ethernet, 867Mbps 802.11ac | Lighting: Three zone RGB, (1) RGB header
What if you want more cores for serious work or streaming, plus dual graphics cards without CPU bottlenecks, and overclocking potential as a bonus? If that's what you're after, look to Intel's HEDT (High-End Desktop) X299 platform and the Core i9 processors. The MSI X299 Gaming Pro Carbon AC is a utility infielder that offers every feature you’d expect along with impressive performance and style at a reasonable price, a rarity for the HEDT platform.
Performance is strong, and a solid overclocking experience tops off at 4.6 GHz on a Core i9-7900X (a few ticks shy of the top boards). Memory support is good, running quad-channel configurations at speeds up to 3600. Dual x4 M.2 slots and a U.2 connector deliver high-speed drive access, along with eight SATA 6Gbps ports for more traditional storage media. Intel’s v219 Ethernet and AC-8265 Wi-Fi handle networking with typical aplomb (with the latter in the third M.2 Key-E slot), and the rear panel offers four Gen1 USB 3.1 ports and a pair of Gen2 ports, including one with a Type-C connector.
There are faster X299 boards with exotic extras like 10G Ethernet controllers, 3T3R or 801.11ad Wi-Fi, and a third M.2 slot or bundled expansion cards. The MSI board omits these and goes with a price that's more than fair for the features on tap.
How we tested
The motherboards recommended in this guide all received extensive research and evaluation, including enclosure installation (full tower, mid-tower, and ITX where applicable), performance benchmarking, stability testing, and a follow-up period of real-world break-in usage that focuses on gaming, entertainment, and media software.
When possible, all tests are performed with the same components installed to remove any variables except the motherboard itself. We also research the entire field of Z370, X470, X299, and older motherboards and narrow the list down to the best, most competitive boards before choosing each round of boards for the guide.
Benchmarks include AIDA 64 Extreme, PCMark 8/10, Cinebench 15, CrystalDiskMark, 3DMark FireStrike, DPC Latency Checker, and others. The real-world break-in period encompasses office and creative work, media streaming, and gaming with a variety of demanding titles like GTAV, Total War: Warhammer II, DiRT Rally, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Far Cry 5, Hitman, and others.
Gaming tests are run at 1080p at medium to high settings to remove any bottlenecks caused by graphics card performance. When relevant, both single- and dual-graphics card configurations are tested to ensure motherboard stability in SLI and Crossfire situations.
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