Your motherboard and CPU are two of the most important parts of your PC, but untangling the mess of motherboard sockets, chipsets and which ones work with which processors can be a nightmare, regardless of whether you’re building a PC for the first time or upgrading your system for the first time in years. It’s important you get the right motherboard for your CPU, too, because otherwise it simply won’t work, and nobody wants that.
To help you on your quest to find the right motherboard for your Intel or AMD CPU, I’ve put together this handy guide. Below, you’ll find everything you need to know about which motherboards are compatible with which CPUs, as well as all the different chipsets and sockets you’ll see when buying a new motherboard. So if you’re thinking about making the jump to one of Intel’s 10th Gen Comet Lake processors or one of the new AMD Ryzen 5000 CPUs but don’t know what motherboard to get, read on.
Step 1: Choosing the right motherboard socket
Take a quick glance at any CPU and you’ll probably see it’s got a heck of a lot of pins (if it’s AMD) or tiny little contact points (if it’s Intel) 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 some very broken components.
Intel’s most recent 10th Gen Comet Lake chips use the LGA 1200 socket, while AMD’s Ryzen processors fit into the AM4 socket. 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.
Previous Intel generations used the LGA 1151 socket, which you might need to look out for if you’re cutting costs by opting for one of their older 8th / 9th Gen Coffee Lake CPUs, but here we’re going to focus on the current hardware generation. Speaking of which, here are all the Comet Lake CPUs you can currently buy that fit the LGA 1200 socket.
|Core i3||Core i5||Core i7||Core i9|
|Intel Core i3-10320||Intel Core i5-10600K||Intel Core i7-10700K||Intel Core i9-10900K|
|Intel Core i3-10300||Intel Core i5-10600KF||Intel Core i7-10700KF||Intel Core i9-10900KF|
|Intel Core i3-10100||Intel Core i5-10600||Intel Core i7-10700||Intel Core i9-10900|
|Intel Core i3-10100F||Intel Core i5-10500||Intel Core i7-10700F||Intel Core i9-10900F|
|Intel Core i5-10400||Intel Core I9-10850K|
|Intel Core i5-10400F|
By contrast, AMD has stuck with its AM4 socket ever since their first generation of Ryzen 1000 chips. That said, newer CPUs won’t always work on older motherboards due to incompatible chipsets, but more on that shortly. Here’s what an AM4 socket looks like in the flesh:
In any event, it’s best to stick with Ryzen 3000 and 5000 processors if you’re planning a new build – Ryzen 4000 chips aren’t sold individually – so here’s a list of all those AM4-friendly parts.
|Ryzen 3||Ryzen 5||Ryzen 7||Ryzen 9|
|AMD Ryzen 3 3300X||AMD Ryzen 5 5600X||AMD Ryzen 7 5800X||AMD Ryzen 9 5950X|
|AMD Ryzen 3 3100||AMD Ryzen 5 3600XT||AMD Ryzen 7 3800XT||AMD Ryzen 9 5900X|
|AMD Ryzen 5 3600X||Ryzen 7 3800X||AMD Ryzen 9 3950X|
|Ryzen 5 3600||Ryzen 7 3700X||AMD Ryzen 9 3900XT|
|Ryzen 9 3900X|
Step 2: Choosing the right chipset
So we’ve narrowed down 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 going 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 around the same time as their corresponding CPU family.
Intel have been particularly chipset-happy in recent years, always accompanying new CPU generations with multiple new chipsets and only very rarely making the latter backwards compatible with older processors. This could make things confusing if you bought, say, an 8th Gen Coffee Lake chip, as there’d be loads of motherboards with the right LGA 1151 socket but relatively few with a compatible Z370 or B360 chipset.
For now, the introduction of the new LGA 1200 socket makes things a bit simpler, since LGA 1151 is completely removed from the equation when you start with a Comet Lake chip. Comet Lake CPUs only work with the latest 400-series chipset at the moment, and we don’t currently know if they’ll be supported by future chipsets. For now, though, at least you don’t have to worry about getting the right socket and the wrong chipset on a single motherboard.
As for AMD, the latest Ryzen 5000 processors didn’t launch with an all-new chipset: they were designed for AMD’s existing 500-series chipsets, which already worked with the Ryzen 3000 family. They’re also compatible with some older 400-series chipsets after a BIOS update, but this will vary between motherboards and manufacturers, so be sure to check it definitely has Ryzen 5000 support before you buy. Asus, for instance, have committed to updating their X470 and B450 boards to play nice with Ryzen 5000, though not until January 2021.
In other words, you won’t necessarily need to swap out your existing AM4 motherboard if you’re upgrading from Ryzen 3000 to Ryzen 5000, but for most 5000 adopters it’s probably easier to just buy a 500-series board. See below for the full table of which Ryzen chips work with which Ryzen chipsets:
|Chipset||Ryzen 1000 CPUs||Ryzen 1000G APUs with Radeon graphics||Ryzen 2000 CPUs||Ryzen 2000 APUs with Radeon graphics||Ryzen 3000 CPUs||Ryzen 5000 CPUs|
|X470||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Selective Beta BIOS update needed|
|B450||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Selective Beta BIOS update needed|
|X370||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Selective Beta BIOS update needed||X|
|B350||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Selective Beta BIOS update needed||X|
Intel motherboard chipsets explained
If you’re building an Intel Comet Lake system, there are five main chipsets to consider – well, more like four, as Intel’s Q470 chipset is geared more towards enterprise workstations than gaming PCs, so we haven’t included it in the list below. Manufacturers very often include the chipset in the name of the motherboard itself, but if not, check the box or the specifications online.
- Intel H410 (priced between £59-£80 in the UK and $65-$115 in the US
- Intel B460 (priced between £70-£121 in the UK and $74-$196 in the US)
- Intel H470 (priced between £93-£198 in the UK and $100-$181 in the US)
- Intel Z490 (priced between £130-£392 in the UK and $128-$1400 in the US)
In terms of which chipset is best 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 or Core i9 system, for instance, you’ll probably want a high-end Z490 chipset motherboard to make the most of it – especially when this is the only one of the bunch that actually supports CPU, GPU and RAM overclocking.
H410 models are very basic, only offering two RAM slots as standard as well as fewer SATA and M.2 slots for adding storage drives. It also only supports up to four USB 3.2 Gen 1 (USB 3.0 by another name) ports, whereas B460 can support up to eight; H470 also supports up to eight while adding up to four USB 3.2 Gen 2 (aka: USB 3.1) ports. Z490 once again wins on connectivity, supporting up to ten USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports and up to six USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports.
Z490 and H470 are also the one only current Intel chipsets to have support for Wi-Fi 6 baked-in, though some B460 motherboards do have Wi-Fi 6 connectivity added by the manufacturer.
AMD motherboard chipsets explained
Since AMD is currently supporting two generations at once, you’ve got a slightly wider range of chipsets to choose from than with Intel:
- AMD B450 (priced between £55-£120 in the UK and $62-$400 in the US)
- AMD X470 (priced between £75-£90 in the UK and $120-$680 in the US)
- AMD A520 (priced between £53-£80 in the UK and $60-$200 in the US)
- AMD B550 (priced between £79-£210 in the UK and $81-$280 in the US)
- AMD X570 (priced between £135-£360 in the UK and $113-$1258 in the US)
There are also the X370 and B350 chipsets, which can work with Ryzen 3000 chips after a BIOS update, but since they’re a bit long in the tooth and aren’t compatible at all with Ryzen 5000 CPUs, it’s arguably time to look past them.
As with Intel, higher-end AMD chipsets add more and more features and connectivity: X570 supplies more SATA sockets and USB ports than B550, which in turn supports more than A520. However, a key advantage AMD chipsets hold over Intel’s is that mid-range chipsets allow for full overclocking, not just the premium options: of the five listed here, only the budget A520 chipset won’t let you manually tweak clock speeds and voltages.
That makes B550 a much more cost-effective alternative to X570 for overclocked builds, especially as both of these chipsets share a secret weapon: they’re the only mainstream chipsets to support PCIe 4.0 hardware.
Right now, PCIe 4.0’s extra bandwidth doesn’t greatly benefit gaming directly, but there are a few PCIe 4.0 SSDs which are much faster than the best PCIe 3.0 drives, such as Samsung’s 980 Pro and the upcoming WD Black SN850. It’s worth at least considering if you want to get the absolute most out of a high-tier AMD processor, and both the Ryzen 3000 and Ryzen 5000 series are compatible.
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 Gigabyte X570 Aorus Master have additional overclocking tools, such as an LED troubleshooting display and onboard power/reset buttons, while many more include 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.
Finally, if you’re wondering when Intel will support the faster PCIe 4.0 standard for super fast SSDs, then you’re in luck. While their 10th Gen Comet Lake chips don’t currently support it, Intel have confirmed that their 11th Gen Rocket Lake CPUs will support PCIe 4.0, and will introduce a new 500-series motherboard chipset to take advantage of it. These are set to arrive by the end of March 2021, so if you’re planning a new Intel upgrade, I’d strongly suggest holding off until then if you possibly can. It’s not currently known whether Intel’s 10th Gen Comet Lake CPUs will be compatible with their new 500-series motherboard chipset, so it will probably be easier (and cheaper) to wait it out until we know more information.
PCIe 4.0 is set to become an increasingly important standard going forward, what with both the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 being built around it, and it’s only with PCIe 4.0 compatible SSDs that PC gamers will be able to take advantage of Microsoft’s upcoming DirectStorage tech to help cut down on loading times.
As such, getting a PCIe 4.0 compatible motherboard now will help futureproof your PC for years to come, so if you’re not tempted by any of AMD’s Ryzen 5000 CPUs, such as the excellent Ryzen 5 5600X, then you’re better off waiting for Intel’s 11th Gen Rocket Lake CPUs before taking the plunge on building a new PC or upgrading your existing one.
Need help installing your motherboard or CPU in your PC? Read our step-by-step How to install a motherboard and How to install a CPU guides for more information, as well as our in-depth How to build a PC guide for the complete run-down.
You can also find out everything you need to know about upgrading your PC in 2020, and if you’re looking to pick up a CPU bargain this Black Friday, then be sure to check out our regularly updated Black Friday hub with all the latest Cyber Monday CPU deals.