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The best gaming motherboards

Extra cores are on the menu, so dig in!

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 and killing Kaby Lake X on HEDT. With previous generation 100- and 200-series chipsets effectively entering early retirement along with the Kaby Lake and Skylake CPUs they supported, selecting the best gaming motherboard for an Intel-based rig is much easier these days. 

The best gaming PC

Need a full suite of components for a new gaming PC? Check out our complete build guide.

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. While it’s still early days for Ryzen 2, you’ll find a new recommendation in this edition for early adopters looking for late-model AMD excitement. 

In addition to AMD and Intel’s newest hardware, you’ll also find recommendations remain in place for the reasonably recent Z270 and X370 platforms but expect these latter categories to slim and eventually move to legacy status as these disappear from retail channels. Welcome to the bleeding edge. 

If it’s high-end hardware picks you’re looking for, head on over the X299 guide or hang in there for gamer focused X299 and Threadripper picks coming in future gaming motherboad guide updates! 

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Best Z370 gaming board

  • Fantastic price
  • No-compromise feature list including triple M.2 slots
  • Slick RGB package
  • Bulky board design limits build options
  • Modest overclocking potential
  • Some VRM heatsink assembly issues reported

Gigabyte isn’t as flashy as the other top tier motherboard makers, but they’ve managed to accumulate plenty of recommendations in this guide of late. First with Skylake in 2016, and then Ryzen earlier this year, Gigabyte’s gaming series boards stole the spotlight from the usual celebrities with a combination of features, stability, and low prices that popped out from the competition.

As Z370 rolls out with Coffee Lake, they’ve done it again, this time with the innocuously positioned GIGABYTE Z370 AORUS Gaming 5, a motherboard that punches way above its mid-range weight class. Priced under $200 and often on sale for 15-20% less, the Gaming 5 delivers triple M.2 slots, Intel Wi-Fi and Ethernet, a full RGB treatment with multiple headers, and ALC 1220 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.

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The best Z270 gaming motherboard

  • Best overclocking and memory scores
  • Stable BIOS and drivers
  • Mild or wild, depending on how you tune the lights
  • No Wi-Fi or Bluetooth
  • Expensive

The midrange Maximus IX Hero lived up to its name during testing, taking on motherboards costing almost twice as much and frequently pulling ahead on performance or features, keeping its place as best overall pick for socket 1151.

Gunmetal grey heatsink shapes and relatively restrained styling clothe this otherwise hardcore gaming product in upscale attire. Leave off the Aura lighting and you might assume it's a workstation board or some other buttoned-down business hardware. This neutral color scheme works well for extravagant rig builders too; just turn on the lights, match your colors, and you're good to go, no matter what neon-colored components or cases you have in mind.

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The best high-end Z270 gaming motherboard

  • Top-shelf performance
  • Armor and Aura RGB look impressive
  • Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
  • Expensive
  • Armor impedes access to some ports and connectors
  • Where's the 3T3R Wi-Fi, third M.2 slot, or teamable Ethernet?

No segment of the motherboard market shows the upward surge in pricing better than Z270's high-end products. This is clearly where all the manufacturers want to play, and fierce competition for enthusiast dollars at this level is one of the reasons the gaming hardware market is booming.

ASUS traditionally does very well here, but that gap has closed with each generation since Sandy Bridge. Profitable markets mean everyone is stepping up their game for a piece of the action, and the result is the near-tie photo finish victory for ASUS's Maximus IX Formula over MSI’s Z270 XPower Titanium. ASUS keeps its crown for another cycle, but it's anybody's game from here on out.

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The best budget Z270 gaming motherboard

  • Amazingly inexpensive
  • Dual M.2 & four DDR4 slots on mATX form factor
  • Intel v219 LAN
  • Attractive, compact design
  • No overclocking CPU or memory
  • Measly 12 chipset lanes
  • Hope you like red and black

ASRock returns to this guide with the B250M Fatality Performance, an mATX motherboard with full-sized feature aspirations. Sporting a street price around $85, the B250 Fatality combines with Intel's Pentium G4560 to deliver credible gaming performance and slick visuals for processor pocket change, making it the new pick for the 1151 budget motherboard segment.

The quality control problems that kept ASRock from recent guide recommendations have eased this chipset generation, and samples of this board and other ASRock models were free of physical defects and major firmware glitches post BIOS update. While your mileage may vary, this represents a big step up from last year.

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The best AM4 X470 motherboard

  • Chipset and CPU fresh off the fab
  • Dual 32Gb/s M.2 slots
  • Speedy Intel Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
  • Stylish LED implementation
  • Other boards overclock better and run faster memory
  • Few advanced hardware enthusiast options

While there are more expensive X470 motherboards out there, including ASUS’s excellent ROG Crosshair VII, forking over the extra cash for higher-end hardware won’t necessarily provide a better building or gaming experience than going with GIGABYTE’s X470 AORUS Gaming 5 Wi-Fi. This bargain 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. 

Much like its Ryzen 1 predecessor, Ryzen 2 isn’t overclock-happy, but the X470 AORUS Gaming 5’s 8+3 phase VRM reliably allows chips like the new 2700X to run all cores at full boost speeds alongside 3000 Mhz memory modules without much twiddling or trouble. Enthusiasts will find a dual BIOS and a few other tweaking features but are better served looking elsewhere for overclocking knobs and other hot rod options. Given Zen’s modest overclocking potential, this was probably a wise cost-cutting move.

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The best AM4 X370 motherboard

  • Stable BIOS and good memory support
  • 32 Gb/s M.2 and U.2 connectors
  • Dual Realtek ALC1220 audio
  • Attractive, smart LED implementation
  • AM4 platform still new
  • No Wi-Fi or Bluetooth
  • Single M.2 slot
  • Requires Windows 10
  • Expensive

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.

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How we test gaming motherboards

The motherboards recommended in this guide all received various forms of hands-on evaluation including enclosure installation (full-tower, mid-tower, and test bench 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 researched the entire field of gaming motherboards and narrowed the list down to the best, most competitive boards before choosing which boards to test.

Benchmarks include AIDA 64 Extreme, Cinebench 15, Crystal Disk Mark, Fire Strike, PCMark 8, DPC Latency Checker, and others with all relevant results reflected directly in the review sections for each board. The real-world break-in period encompasses office and creative work, media streaming, and gaming with a variety of demanding titles such as GTAV, Total War: Attila, Warhammer 2, Company of Heroes 2, DiRT Rally, Bioshock Infinite, Metro: Last Light, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Far Cry Primal, Hitman, and others.

Gaming tests are run at 1080p at medium to high settings to remove any bottlenecks caused by graphics card performance. Rather than outright speed, scores are reviewed for outliers that indicate stability or driver issues. When possible, both single- and dual-graphics card configurations are tested to insure motherboard stability in SLI and Crossfire situations, at high refresh rates, and using 4K resolutions. High-resolution tests are performed on LG’s OLED C7 for clarity purposes.

Overclocking benchmarks include a uniform CPU multiplier test at a fixed Vcore voltage as well as auto overclocking software (where applicable) and fully tuned manual overclock results. Stability tests are performed with AIDA64’s stress utility and extended runs of the gaming software suite at varying levels of detail.

Picking a motherboard: What do you want from your system?

Component List

CPUs:
Intel Core i7 8700K
Intel Core i7-7700K
Intel Pentium G4560
AMD Ryzen 1700X

Coolers:
Corsair H115i

SATA SSDs:
Samsung 850 EVO 250GB
Crucial MX300 1TB

M.2 SSDs:
Samsung SM951 ACHI 128GB
Samsung 950 Pro NVMe 512GB

RAM:
32 GB G.Skill Trident Z RGB DDR4-3600 (4x8GB)
32 GB Corsair Vengeance LED DDR4-2666 (4x8GB)
16 GB G.Skill Trident Z DDR4-3600 (2x8GB)
16 GB Corsair Vengeance LPX 2800 DDR4 (4x4GB)

GPUs:
Single - Nvidia 1080 Ti reference
SLI - 2x MSI 980 Ti reference
Single - Powercolor R9 390X
Crossfire - 2x Powercolor R9 390X

Power Supply:
Corsair HX 1200i
EVGA NEX750B

Case:
Full tower - Corsair 780T
Mid tower - Corsair Crystal Series 570X RGB
Open test bench

The key to navigating the motherboard maze is mapping where you want to take your system. It starts with size. How small does your computer need to be? When it comes to motherboards, bigger is better, roughly up to a full-sized ATX. Go with the biggest board your case can comfortably accommodate; don’t let the novelty of a small board tempt you unless absolutely necessary, or novelty is the part of the mission plan. 

Why? Smaller boards cost more, provide fewer features, and just aren’t as stable as big ones. Unless there’s a specific reason to go ITX, it’s better to avoid them for gaming. Larger boards are easier to work with, provide better voltage regulation, and offer niceties like room for serious graphics cards, slots for M.2 drives, and extra RAM capacity. You also avoid the skinned knuckles and high blood pressure inherent in every tight build. 

For example, ITX boards that feature M.2 slots frequently put them on the backside of the motherboard, so you’ll need to disassemble your system to reach them or purchase an enclosure that has a cutout specifically for this purpose.

The bigger is better rule erodes for the largest motherboards, as prices for E-ATX and ATX-XL boards and the cases they require skyrocket. Enclosure prices can more than double moving from mid- to full-sized towers, adding significantly to a system’s bottom line. Remember to factor in that hidden expense when buying and building beyond ATX. 

The next step is listing all the things you need from a system. What kind of drives are you hooking up? Are you using Ethernet or Wi-Fi? Are you running more than one graphics card? How big is the CPU cooler? Any new motherboard should accommodate it all with to room to grow. It’s easy to be seduced into a high-priced boutique board only to find out the RAM slots are too close to CPU socket, or it has one less USB 3 port than you need. When it comes to motherboards, features and stability are more important than performance claims. 

Other motherboards we tested

ASUS Crosshair VII X470

Great high-end X470 pick marred by high price and soft networking components. Best CPU and memory overclocking for Ryzen 2 currently.

ASUS ROG Strix X470-F

No Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. Reasonable overclocking. Excellent price, design, and quality make this a good less-expensive pick for those interested in the Crosshair. 

NZXT N7 Z370

This stylish introductory offering from motherboard newcomers NzXT is currently on the test bench. Look for results soon.

MSI Z370 Gaming Pro Carbon AC

This feature-packed board tries hard but the VRMs run warm and the feature count is down one M.2 slot on GIGABYTE’s less expensive Z370 AORUS Gaming 5, the current Z370 pick.

ASUS Maximus X Hero Wi-Fi

More features and better overclocking than GIGABYTE, but at a designer price that gamers should probably be spending on a better GPU. A perfect enthusiast or tweaker’s Intel board, however.

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