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!
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.
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