When it comes to building your own PC, there are some bits of the upgrade process that are easier to work out than others. Picking the best graphics card for your system is pretty easy, as is deciding which CPU you want to go for. The hard part is finding the right motherboard for everything you’ve just bought.
We’re here to help. Below, you’ll find an in-depth guide of which motherboards are compatible with which CPUs, as well as everything you need to know about all the different types of chipsets and sockets you’ll see when buying a new motherboard. If you’re thinking about making the jump to Intel’s 8th Gen Coffee Lake processors, or fancy one of AMD’s Ryzen+ chips but don’t know which motherboard you should get, read on.
First, the socket…
Take a quick glance at any CPU and you’ll probably see it’s got a heck of a lot of pins on the bottom. These are the connection points that slot into your motherboard’s CPU socket, so you’ll need to buy one with the correct socket to make sure it fits. If you try and stuff one into the wrong kind of socket, all you’re going to end up with is a load of bent pins and a very broken processor.
There are two main types of socket that we need to concern ourselves with for building a gaming PC: LGA 1151 for Intel-based systems and AM4 for AMD users. You may also see TR4 sockets for AMD’s workstation-grade Threadripper processors or LGA 2066 socket boards for Intel’s high-performance Core i9 processors, but unless you’ve been squirreling away several thousands of pounds / dollars, these will likely be beyond the remit of your typical PC build.
LGA 1151 supports three different types of Intel processor: 6th Gen Skylake chips, 7th Gen Kaby Lake chips, and 8th Gen Coffee Lake chips. However, for reasons I’ll explain in a minute, anyone looking to build an Intel system now should really only be considering an 8th Gen Coffee Lake chip. With that in mind, here’s a list of all the Intel Coffee Lake processors you can currently buy that support the LGA 1151 socket.
|Core i3||Core i5||Core i7|
|Intel Core i3-8100||Intel Core i5-8400||Intel Core i7-8700|
|Intel Core i3-8300||Intel Core i5-8500||Intel Core i7-8700K|
|Intel Core i3-8350K||Intel Core i5-8600||Intel Core i7-8086K|
|Intel Core i5-8600K|
AM4, on the other hand, is for AMD’s Ryzen processors. This includes both AMD’s first generation of Ryzen 3, Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 7 chips – also known as the Ryzen 1000-series – as well as the new second generation, known as Ryzen+ or the Ryzen 2000-series.
AM4 will likely form the basis of AMD’s eventual third generation of Ryzen processors as well, as AMD have confirmed they’ll be supporting their AM4 platform until at least the year 2020. This is good news for anyone building a new PC now, as it means you probably won’t have to buy another new motherboard when it comes to upgrading your CPU. Again, the table below details all the Ryzen chips you can buy today that are compatible with the AM4 socket.
|Ryzen 3||Ryzen 5||Ryzen 7|
|Ryzen 3 1200||Ryzen 5 1400||Ryzen 7 1700|
|Ryzen 3 1300X||Ryzen 5 1500X||Ryzen 7 1700X|
|Ryzen 3 2200G||Ryzen 5 1600||Ryzen 7 1800X|
|Ryzen 5 1600X||Ryzen 7 2700|
|Ryzen 5 2400G||Ryzen 7 2700X|
|Ryzen 5 2600|
|Ryzen 5 2600X|
Second, the chipset…
So we’ve narrowed it down to the type of motherboard socket you need. The next thing is deciding which chipset to go for. This is the circuitry inside the motherboard itself. Without getting into too much technical detail, a motherboard’s chipset essentially determines what kind of features it has, including the types of ports and display outputs it comes with. They’re also usually designed to work with a particular family of processors in mind.
This is where things get tricky – at least if you’re going down the Intel route. You see, despite their new 8th Gen Coffee Lake processors using the same LGA 1151 socket connection as their previous families of Skylake and Kaby Lake CPUs, Coffee Lake processors will only work with a particular type of chipset – the 300-series chipset, to be precise.
This means that existing Skylake and Kaby Lake owners with a 100- or 200-series chipset on their LGA 1151 motherboard still have to buy a new one if they want to upgrade to Coffee Lake, even though technically it still fits into their existing board. A bit of a bum deal, if you ask me.
If you’ve chosen an AMD Ryzen processor, on the other hand, things are a lot simpler. Sort of. Regardless of whether you’ve got a first gen Ryzen or a second gen Ryzen, they’re all compatible with every single chipset supported by the AM4 socket. Some AM4 motherboards still require you to update the BIOS before you can start using it with your shiny new second gen Ryzen (which may require an older AM4-compatible processor to get working if you don’t already have one), but to all intents and purposes, it’s a lot less confusing than the situation over at the Intel camp.
How do I pick the right chipset?
Going back to the “let’s assume you’re building an Intel-based Coffee Lake system” idea for a minute, you currently have four (soon to be six) different LGA 1151 chispet options for your potential motherboard, which is a heck of a lot better than the single, rather expensive option you might have had if you’d been upgrading your PC last October, when Coffee Lake first launched.
Ordered from entry-level budget chipsets at the top to high-end enthusiast ones at the bottom, these are the letter and number combinations you should be looking out for and a rough guide to the sort of prices you can expect to go with them (note that all of these have a 300 number in their model name, hence the 300-series):
- H310 (£50 – £78 / $55 – $85)
- B360 (£60 – £118 / $68 – $136)
- H370 (£80 – £130 / $85 – $140)
- Q370 (TBC)
- Z370 (£100 – £230 / $110 – $250)
- Z390 (TBC)
Sometimes motherboard manufacturers make it easy and include said chipsets in the name of the product. Other times, it’s less obvious, so you may have to check the box or online specifications to check it falls into one of those six chispets.
In terms of picking the right one for you, it’s important to think about what you want from your PC once it’s finished. If you’re building a powerful Core i7 system, for instance, you’ll probably want a high-end Z370 or Z390 chipset motherboard to make the most of it – especially when these are the only two chipsets that actually support CPU, GPU and RAM overclocking.
For those building a more modest Core i3 PC, on the other hand, it’s probably best to look toward the H310 or B360 end of the spectrum – unless, that is, you have an Intel Core i3-8350K, which does support overclocking by virtue of that K on the end of it, in which case you’ll probably still want a Z370 board.
The H310, for instance, is pretty basic. It comes with just 2 DIMM slots for your RAM, which limits the amount you can put in it (all the rest have four), and only supports a maximum of 10 USB 2.0 ports and four USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports. The B360, by comparison, supports 12 USB 2.0 ports as well as up to six USB 3.1 Gen 1 and four USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports, while the rest can handle up to 14 USB 2.0 and even higher combinations of USB 3.1 generations.
Some chipsets will also have integrated 802.11ac Wi-Fi options if your PC isn’t going to be anywhere near an available Ethernet port (handy, if you’d rather not clog up one of your PCIe slots with a network card), while others have RAID support for combining your storage devices into one single, giant drive. It all rather depends on what your needs are and whether you want to leave yourself any wiggle-room in the future for further tinkering.
If you’re building an AMD Ryzen system, on the other hand, you’ve mainly got a choice of four (soon to be five) chipsets, which are again ordered below from lowest to highest in terms of overall cost and features:
- X300 (TBC)
- A320 (£45 – £60 / $50 – $70)
- B350 (£55 – £107 / $55 – $175)
- X370 (£72 – £300 / $90 – $350)
- X470 (£120 – £265 / $125 – $290)
There are a few intricacies worth pointing out here. While AMD’s second gen Ryzen CPUs will theoretically work with all of the above chipsets, those looking to maximize their performance should consider the new X470 boards. For starters, every X470 chipset has built-in Ryzen+ support from the off (the others will require a BIOS update unless it states otherwise on the box), and they’ve been designed with Ryzen+ in mind, allowing you to get more out of them for gaming and daily computing.
The upcoming X300 chipset boards, on the other hand, are being specifically designed for small form-factor PCs, so you’ll probably want to concentrate on the A320 and above chipsets if you’re building a regular tower PC.
Much like the Intel chipsets, the lower-end AMD chipsets don’t have quite as many features as ones further up the scale. The A320 and B350, for example, don’t support AMD Crossfire and Nvidia SLI which let you use two graphics cards at once, so those considering a multi-GPU system should really be looking at X370 or X470 boards only.
The A320 doesn’t support CPU overclocking, either, and only comes with four SATA ports and one SATA Express connection for your storage devices. B350, X370 and X470 chipsets, meanwhile, do support overclocking and come with six SATA ports and two SATA Express. All of them, however, have some sort of RAID support.
Anything else I should know?
From there, it’s pretty much up to you what kind of extra features you go for. Some motherboards like the Asus ROG Crosshair VII Hero (Wi-Fi) have additional overclocking tools such as an LED troubleshooting display, boost buttons and extra controls for open-case builds right there on the board, while others like the Asus ROG Strix X470F-Gaming have pre-mounted I/O boards for a neater finish round the back of your PC.
It probably goes without saying that you should also pick a motherboard that actually fits inside your intended case. There’s no point buying an ATX-sized motherboard when you’ve got a small form-factor or mini-tower case, nor is there much sense in buying a jumbo full tower case for a tiddly mini-ITX motherboard.
Personally, I’d recommend going for either a B360 or Z370 if you’re looking for an Intel motherboard, or a B350 or X470 if you’re going with AMD, depending on how much cash you’ve got to throw around. The MSI X470 Gaming M7 AC is currently my top pick out of the X470 boards I’ve tested, but I’ll be getting more Intel ones in for testing very soon to help balance things out.
I’ll also be talking more about how to build an actual, honest to goodness PC over the coming weeks, taking you through everything step-by-step in easily digestible chunks. Hopefully by the end of it we’ll have a range of suggestions on offer, starting from the best components for a budget build PC right through to mid-range and high-performance systems. Until then, have a gander at our best gaming SSD listings, our top picks for best DDR4 RAM and best gaming monitor, as well as our best gaming keyboard and best gaming headset articles to help you get (almost) everything you need to build your next gaming PC.