If you’ve ever decided to build your own PC, you’ll know there are some bits of the upgrade process that are easier to work out than others, especially when it comes to finding the right motherboard for your new CPU. The first step is easy. Most people know whether they want to have an Intel or AMD CPU, but untangling the mess of motherboard sockets and all the different chipsets? That’s a whole other kettle of fish.
I’m 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 or 9th 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 or tiny little contact points on the bottom. These are what slot into your motherboard’s CPU socket, so you’ll need to buy one that fits correctly. If you try and stuff one into the wrong kind of motherboard 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 X-series of processors, but unless you’ve been squirrelling away several thousands of pounds / dollars, these will likely be beyond the remit of your typical PC build.
LGA 1151 supports four different generations of Intel processor: 6th Gen Skylake chips, 7th Gen Kaby Lake chips, and 8th and 9th Gen Coffee Lake chips. If you’re looking to build a new Intel system today, however, you should only be looking at 8th or 9th Gen Coffee Lake processors – and I’ll explain why once we get to the Chipset section below. 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||Core i9|
|Intel Core i3-9350K||Intel Core i5-9600K||Intel Core i7-9700K||Intel Core i9-9900K|
|Intel Core i3-8350K||Intel Core i5-9400||Intel Core i7-8086K|
|Intel Core i3-8300||Intel Core i5-8600K||Intel Core i7-8700K|
|Intel Core i3-8100||Intel Core i5-8600||Intel Core i7-8700|
|Intel Core i5-8500|
|Intel Core i5-8400|
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 their latest second generation, known as Ryzen+ or the Ryzen 2000-series.
AM4 will also form the basis of AMD’s upcoming third generation of Ryzen CPUs as well, as AMD have confirmed they’ll be supporting their AM4 platform until at least 2020. It will be a while before we see those new processors, however, but I’ll update the table below once they’re officially announced. For now, these are all the Ryzen chips you can buy today that are compatible with the AM4 socket.
|Ryzen 3||Ryzen 5||Ryzen 7|
|Ryzen 3 2200G||Ryzen 5 2600X||Ryzen 7 2700X|
|Ryzen 3 1300X||Ryzen 5 2600||Ryzen 7 2700|
|Ryzen 3 1200||Ryzen 5 2400G||Ryzen 7 1800X|
|Ryzen 5 1600X||Ryzen 7 1700X|
|Ryzen 5 1600||Ryzen 7 1700|
|Ryzen 5 1500X|
|Ryzen 5 1400|
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, and often get released alongside said CPUs.
This is where things get tricky – at least if you’re going down the Intel route. You see, despite their latest 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.
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 1st Gen Ryzen or a 2nd Gen Ryzen, they’re all compatible with every single chipset supported by the AM4 socket. Some older AM4 motherboards may still need a BIOS update before you can start using it with your shiny new 2nd Gen Ryzen (and very old motherboards may even require an even older AM4-compatible processor to apply said update), but most AM4 motherboards you buy today should have had that update applied before they left the factory. If you’re in any doubt, look for a motherboard that says it’s ‘2000-series ready’ on the box. To all intents and purposes, though, it’s still a heck of a lot less confusing than the situation over at Camp Intel.
How do I pick the right chipset?
If you’re building an Intel-based Coffee Lake system, you currently have five main LGA 1151 chipset options for your potential motherboard. You’ll find the cheapest, entry-level chipsets at the top, and the 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 (priced between £49-£82 in the UK and $55 – $85 in the US)
- B360 (priced between £60-110 in the UK and $63 – $155 in the US)
- H370 (priced between £109-£147 in the UK and $85 – $154 in the US)
- Z370 (priced between £85-£159 in the UK and $100 – $190 in the US)
- Z390 (priced between £115-£265 in the UK and $115 – $290 in the US)
Sometimes motherboard manufacturers make it easy and include said chipsets in the name of the motherboard (see below). 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 five chispets.
In terms of picking the right one for you, it’s important to think about what you want from your PC once you’ve finished building it. 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:
- A320 (priced between £45-£62 in the UK / $50 – $70 in the US)
- B350 (priced between £89-£105 in the UK / $55 – $175 in the US)
- B450 (priced between £64-£125 in the UK / $73-$280 in the US)
- X370 (priced between £115-£195 in the UK / $90 – $350 in the US)
- X470 (priced between £125-£250 in the UK / $125 – $290 in the US)
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 newer B450 or X470 boards. For starters, every 400-series chipset has built-in 2nd Gen 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 those 2nd Gen processors in mind, too, allowing you to get more out of them for gaming and daily computing.
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 B450 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.