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!
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?
Intel Core i7 8700K
Intel Core i7-7700K
Intel Pentium G4560
AMD Ryzen 1700X
Samsung 850 EVO 250GB
Crucial MX300 1TB
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
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.
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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