What Makes a Motherboard Good?

There is a combination of features and specs that make a motherboard good or bad and that all depends upon your needs and budget.

But generally, the chipset, the amount of PCIe lanes and their version, the VRM design, USB ports and their version and various other bells and whistles make a motherboard good or bad.

A motherboard does not directly affect the performance of a software or a game. Instead, it directly affects with the quality and the version of components installed on it.

However, depending upon your budget, a motherboard with excessive features may actually be bad for you if you were to never utilize its high end features.

For instance, the Intel Z series motherboards are expensive because one reason being that they support overclocking. However, if you will never overclock your CPU or if you have a CPU that is NOT unlocked (overclockable) than a Z series motherboard would actually be bad for in terms of value.

In the following article, I will talk in detail about what makes a motherboard good.

Also Read: Does Motherboard Matter for Gaming?

So What Makes a Motherboard Good?

There is a mixture of specs that define a good or a bad motherboard for you.

Again, what maybe a good motherboard for you, may not appeal someone else either due to their spec requirements or due to budget constraints.

The starting point of choosing any motherboard is to first make sure that it has the right socket for your CPU. This is an unwritten law and hence I cannot stress it enough. The starting point of buying a good motherboard for yourself is to first choose the motherboard with the right CPU socket.

Here is a short list of recent motherboard chipsets, their corresponding sockets and CPUs they support.

ManufacturerChipsetSocketCPU
IntelZ690LGA 1700
12th Gen Intel CPUs
H670LGA 170012th Gen Intel CPUs
B660LGA 170012th Gen Intel CPUs
H610LGA 1700
12th Gen Intel CPUs
Z590LGA 120011th and 10th Gen Intel Gen
Z490LGA 120011th and 10th Gen Intel Gen
Z390LGA 11518th and 9th Gen Intel CPUs
B560LGA 120011th and 10th Gen Intel Gen
B460LGA 120011th and 10th Gen Intel Gen
B360LGA 11518th and 9th Gen Intel CPUs
H570LGA 120011th and 10th Gen Intel Gen
H510LGA 120011th and 10th Gen Intel Gen
X299LGA 2066X Series 10000
AMDX570AM4Ryzen 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th Gen
B550AM4Ryzen 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th Gen
A520AM4Ryzen 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th Gen
TRX40sTRX43rd Gen Threadripper CPUs

Anyhow, after the right socket, the following is a short list of what makes a motherboard good.

Also Read: How Much is a Motherboard?

1. Having a Premium Chipset Makes a Motherboard Good

One of the first factors that determines whether a motherboard is good or bad is the chipset.

Every generation of motherboards has different chipsets intended for different budget ranges.

For instance, AMD as the A series chipset for budget builds, B series chipset for mid range builds and X series chipset for premium builds.

AMD 500 Series Chipset comparison

Intel, on the other hand has, B and H series for budget and midrange builds and the Z series chipset for premium builds.

As far as the current generation of CPUs goes, the premium AMD chipset is the X570 with the AM4 socket intended for Ryzen 3000 and 5000 series CPUs.

Intel has the Z590 chipset for the Intel Core 10th and 11th Gen and Intel Z690 chipset for the Intel 12th gen CPUs.

Among other things, the chipset determines almost every other aspect of the mother which I will explore further below.

It determines:

  • The CPU socket
  • The amount of PCIe lanes, the amount of PCIe sockets and their version.
  • It defines the VRM quality and the overall phase power design
  • It determines the amount and version of USB built in ports and headers
  • Whether you can overclock the CPU or not and to what extent

2. Amount of PCIe Lanes and PCIe Version

Another very important characteristic that differentiates one motherboard from the other is the amount PCIe lanes it offers.

The more PCIe lanes a motherboard has, the more PCIe and M.2 slots it can offer. Which in turn means you can add more expansion cards to your motherboard.

The total amount of PCIe lanes your PC has depends upon both the CPU and the motherboard, however, generally, the more premium a chipset, the more PCIe lanes it can offer.

The following table shows the amount of PCIe lanes different chipsets offer.

Note for Intel motherboards, not all the lanes mentioned in the table are user accessible in the form of slots, most are used internally by the system.

ManufacturerChipsetPCIe LanesCategory
IntelZ69028
- 12 x v4.0
- 16 x v3.0
High Performance
H67024
- 12 x v4.0
- 12 x v3.0
High Performance
(Minus overclocking Support)
B66014
- 6 x v4.0
- 8 x v3.0
Mid Range
H61012
- 12 x v3.0
Budget
Z59024High Performance
Z49024High Performance
B46016Mid Range /
Mainstream
B56012Mid Range /
Mainstream
X29924Workstation
H5104Budget
AMDX57016High Performance
B55010Mid Range
A5206Budget
TRX4016Workstation

To learn more about PCIe Lanes, I recommend reading the following:

Version of the PCIe Slots

Equally important is the version of the PCIe lanes your motherboard offers.

This is because with each newer generation, the overall transfer rate per lane doubles. For instance a single x1 (single lane) slot on a motherboard conforming to v3.0 has a transfer speed of 0.985 GB/s. The same x1 slot conforming to v4.0 has speeds of about 1.969 GB.s.

The following table shows PCIe lane speeds depending on different versions.

Versionx1
(GB/s)
x2
(GB/s)
x4
(GB/s)
x8
(GB/s)
x16
(GB/s)
1.00.2500.500 1.0002.0004.000
2.00.5001.0002.0004.0008.000
3.00.9851.9693.9387.87715.754
4.01.9693.9387.87715.75431.508
5.03.9387.87715.75431.50863.015
6.07.87715.75431.50863.015126.031

This is very important because newer generation devices such as the Gen 4 NVMe SSD like the Samsung 980 Pro or the newer graphics cards such as the NVIDIA RTX 3000 conform to v4.0 and directly benefit from it.

Gen 4 NVMe SSDs, for instance, reach speeds of about 5500 MB/s transfer speeds. Gen 3 SSD, on the other hand, only reach speeds of about 3500 MB/s.

3. Amount of PCIe and M.2 Slots and Their Version

The amount of PCIe slots a motherboard has also determines its overall quality. The more PCIe slots a motherboard has, the more expansion cards you can install.

However, you must pay attention to the amount of PCIe lanes each slot offers. This is particularly true for the x16 slots. 

Often times an x16 slot on a motherboard can only offer 4 x PCIe lanes despite having the full x16 size.

does it matter which pcie slot I use w
Take for instance the PCIe slots on the Gigabyte GA-P67A-UD3 above, the bottom x16 slot actually only has 4 PCIe lanes connected to it.

More premium motherboards tend to offer multiple TRUE x16 slots. 

The M.2 slots intended for NVMe SSDs also connect to the PCIe lanes. They use 4 x PCIe lanes each. More premium motherboards have multiple M.2 slot.

Again, the version of the slots do matter. This is because if you were to install a newer gen device on an older gen slot, then the device will get bottlenecked.

For instance, if you were to install a Gen 4 NVME SSD on an M.2 slot conforming to version 3.0, then its speed will essentially be halved.

PudgetSystems.com conducted a study on this topic for graphics card, whereby they compared a PCIe 4.0 RTX 3090 on older gen slots, as expected, there was a marginal bottlecneck (performance drop) when using newer GPU on an older slot.

Can I Use a PCIe 3.0 Card in a 2.0 Slot
Image: PudgetSystems.com. Comparison of how RTX 3090 and Titan RTX performs on different PCIe generations. An impact can be seen on performance in DaVinci Resolve (video editing software).

Finally, note that a motherboard can have certain slots conforming to one PCIe version while others conforming to a different PCIe version.

Take the AMD B550 chipset, for instance, here only the CPU connects slots conform to v4.0. The motherboard chipset connected slots conform to PCIe 3.0.

Asus Strix B550-F Gaming
Here you can see an AMD B550 motherboard with the top x16 slot conforming to v4.0 and the rest conforming to v3.0. Asus Strix B550-F Gaming

More premium chipsets, such as the X570, offer newer version 4.0 across ALL PCIe lanes.

Newer gen chipsets such as the Intel Z690 go even further beyond with features PCIe 5.0 slots.

4. VRM Quality and Phase Power Design

Often overlooked, the quality and the number of Voltage Regulator Modules (VRM) on a motherboard is one of the most important characteristic that defines whether a motherboard is good or not.

A bad motherboard has fewer and cheap quality VRMs with a lower amperage rating. A good motherboard has a plethora of high quality VRMs with a higher amperage rating.

VRMs are basically sub components whose sole purpose is to provide clean and stable power to the CPU and the RAM. If you are an overclocker, getting a motherboard with the best VRM configuration is of paramount importance. 

motherboard vrms labelled box phase power design w
Motherboard VRMs labelled. 6+2 Phase Power Design.

Also Read in Detail: What are Motherboard Power Phases and VRMs?

The amount of VRMs a motherboard has is often referred to as Phase Power Design or Power Stages and is often highlighted with 2 numbers i.e 8+1, 10+2 etc. The first number refers to the amount of VRMs for the CPU whereas the second number refers to the amount for VRMs for the RAM. 

Cheap motherboards have often have a phase power design of 6+2. 

High quality motherboards can feature a Phase Power Design of 12+2 and more.

Does Motherboard Matter for Gaming

5. Overclockable or Not

Not all motherboards support CPU overclocking. Taking the newer gen into consideration, the AMD A series motherboards such as the A520 DO NOT support overclocking.

Whereas, for Intel, only the Z series premium chipset such as the Z590 / Z690 support overclocking.

Again, for some what makes a motherboard good would be the overclocking facility. For others, this feature does not matter much. Generally, gamers and professionals value this facility. For an average use this does not matter much.

Also how well a motherboard can overclock and to what degree is determined by the quality of its VRM as discussed above.

Also Read: How Much Should I Spend on a Motherboard?

6. Build Quality and Size of Heat Sinks

There are many other nuanced characteristics that determine the overall build quality of the motherboard.

The first is the construction quality of board itself and the amount of PCB layers it has. Then there is the quality of capacitors and the VRMs. 

A good motherboard also offers reinforced PCIe slots for holding heavier cards.

Reinforced PCIe slot
A steel reinforced PCIe slot. Much sturdier than regular plastic PCIe slots.

In addition to that, the more premium a motherboard is, the more robust is its heat sink design. This ranges from the VRM heatsinks, to the chipset and the M.2 slot heatsinks all designed in the effort to keep things cool particularly when overclocked.

motherboard heatsinks
Premium motherboards such as the ASUS ROG Maximum Z690 Hero has a comprehensive heat sink design.

7. General Connectivity – The Version of the USB Ports and the USB Headers Provided

The amount of ports your motherboard has and their version is also an important determining factor of how good a motherboard is.

A good motherboard, for instance not only offers newest gen USB ports built into the back panel, but would also offer USB headers to connect to the USB ports on the front panel of your PC case.

Currently, the fastest USB version is the USB 3.2 Gen 2×2. It has a transfer rate of about 20 Gbps. A typical USB 3.0 has a transfer rate of about 5 Gbps. The USB Gen 3.2 Gen 2×2 are only found in Type-C format.

USb 3.2 Gen 2 x 2 header
USB 3.2 Gen 2 x 2 Header as found on ASUS ROG Crosshair VIII Extreme
What are USB Headers
USB 2.0 headers

The following table should help in clarifying the different USB version and their corresponding speeds.

USB VersionRelease
Year
Transfer Speed
(Gbps)
Interface
Options

RemarksTransfer Mode
USB 2.020000.48Type A- Introduced 0.48 Gbps SpeedsHigh Speed
USB 3.020085.0Type A- Introduced 5.0 Gbps speedsSuperSpeed
USB 3.1
Gen 1
20135.0Type A
Type C
- Same as USB 3.0
SuperSpeed
USB 3.1
Gen 2
201310.0Type A
Type C
- Introduced 10.0 Gbps speedsSuperSpeed+
USB 3.2
Gen 1x1
20175.0 Type A
Type C
- Same as USB 3.0SuperSpeed
USB 3.2
Gen 1x2
201710.0Type C- Dual ChannelSuperSpeed
USB 3.2
Gen 2x1
201710.0Type A
Type C
-Same as USB 3.1 Gen 2SuperSpeed+
USB 3.2
Gen 2x2
201720.0Type C- Dual Channel
- Introduced 20.0 Gbps speeds
SuperSpeed++

In addition to that more premium and expensive motherboards may also feature the more coveted Thunderbolt 3.0 ports which have a transfer speed of a whopping 40 Gbps.

You may also find motherboards with extensive video output ports including newer gen HDMI 2.1, DP 1.3, VGA, DVI-D etc.

And finally, you may also find motherboard with WiFi connectivity.

Of course, you may or may not find all of these connectivity features on a given motherboard. In fact, you may not need the robust connectivity features at all in certain cases. But generally, the more connectivity features it has, the better the motherboard quality is.

 

8. The Form Factor of the Motherboard

The form factors of a motherboard also makes a motherboard good or bad for some.

There are typically three popular form factors:

  • Full ATX – 12 x 9.6 inches (305 x 244 mm)
  • Micro ATX – 9.6 x 9.6 inches (244 x 244 mm)
  • Mini ITX – 6.7 x 6.7 inches (170 x 170 mm)

motherboard form factors

Now each form factor has its merits and demerits.

Full ATX are often the golden standard for gamers and enthusiasts. They are the largest boards and they tend to have the highest amount of expansion capability. They are, however, more expensive compared to the rest.

Micro ATX loved by those on a tight budget. They are the cheapest of the lot (if you take the same overall specs/chipset into consideration). They are inferior to Full ATX in terms of expandability.

Finally, you have the smallest Mini ITX form factor. In terms of expandability, they are the worst. However, when comparing feature by feature with a Micro ATX board, they are much more expensive, primarily due to their compact form factor. Many users prefer these boards for building a portable PC.

Hence, here the answer to what makes a motherboard good is a choice between expandability, budget and portability.

9. Support for Multiple GPU / SLI / Crossfire

This is yet another concern particularly for professional gamers and enthusiasts. Not all motherboards support multiple GPUs. For instance some chipsets, such as the AMD A520, do not support multiple GPUs from the get go.

Others just do not offer enough PCIe slots to support two graphics card.

Basically, in order to enable multiple GPUs, you need to have at least two PCIe x16 slots working in x8 mode. 

I advise you to read the following guides to understand this more:

10. Looks, RGB Headers and Customization

rog maximum z690
Looks matter for enthusiasts.

And finally, for most what makes a motherboard good are the looks itself. Again, the most premium motherboards are truly magnificent to behold.

But generally, motherboards built for enthusiasts and gamers have multiple RGB headers for installing LED lights and RGB fans. They also have a good number of fan headers for case fans, water cooler, and even for VRM heatsinks. 

The more DIY customization a motherboard offers and the more opportunity it gives you to make your PC a beauty to behold, the better it is.

Final Words

So there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to what makes a motherboard good. There is a combination of factors that determines the overall quality of the motherboard.

But in the end if you are on a budget, then most of the premium features in a motherboard would not matter much to you. If you had a list of features to select for a motherboard and you selected all of them, then a motherboard could cost you a handsome $1000 or more.

However, we all know that a majority of the users do not have this kind of budget. Therefore, what would make a motherboard good for you in this instance would be the selection of only the features that would matter to you.

Photo of author

Author:

Atif Qazi
Atif Qazi is the founder of PCGuide101. He is a digital nomad who loves everything PC. He is a PC builder, tech enthusiast, engineer, and a lover of single player lore-rich RPG games.

Leave a Comment