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The best gaming motherboards

Extra cores are on the menu, so dig in!

People will look back on 2017 for a lot of reasons, and CPU releases will be one of them. With new processors popping up an average of every 10 weeks, enthusiasts have barely been able to keep up. While the silicon windfall has been sweet, stability was an early shortfall, with both AMD and Intel stumbling on chipset releases for Ryzen and Skylake-X.

Only Kaby Lake and Z270 was unblemished with its smooth-as-silk introduction, a feat Intel has been working hard to replicate with Z370 and Coffee Lake. Despite a non-backward compatible socket and some early release supply issues, Z370 has proven an impressive and worthwhile addition to Intel’s consumer line-up, bringing the practical extras from the HEDT platform while shaving off most of the cost.

Delivering extra cores, better memory support and promising 5GHz overclocking, Coffee Lake improves on the Kaby Lake success formula with few drawbacks, mostly involving price and compatibility, since the newest Intel iron won’t run on anything other than the latest 300 series chipsets.

Of course, if you’re Ryzen bound, the board selection is better than ever now that almost a year has passed since release. Second wave boards have hit retail, and BIOS updates have resolved most memory problems, so AMD builds are as slick as anything Intel currently has on tap. Just make sure to flash that firmware before diving in. Also note that the second generation Ryzen parts (Zen+ architecture) are due to arrive in the near future, along with a lower power X470 chipset. Those chips will work in existing AM4 boards, thankfully.

Some of the boards here are winners of previous round-ups, while others are making their first appearance in this edition of the guide. After plenty of requests, a few mATX models have been included for builders thinking small but not ITX tiny, and since prices for components are on the rise, the formula for budget picks now pushes value harder than ever. The cheapest motherboard mentioned here is less than $70 on the street, just one of several that costs less than $100. If your tastes lean towards the high-end, check out our X299 guide, or stay tuned for a gamer focused X299 pick next update!

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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 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

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

Corsair H115i

Samsung 850 EVO 250GB
Crucial MX300 1TB

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

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)

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

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. 

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