Choosing the Right Motherboard

from Ian Cutress, Senior Motherboard Editor since 2011

With over 50 motherboards to choose from, when a user can get hold of an 8th Generation Coffee Lake processor it can be a minefield. When users and motherboard vendors ask us what do users look for in a motherboard, I usually give the following order:

  1. Does it Require a Specific Feature

Users that have a particular idea about what their system needs might be on the lookout for a motherboard that can definitely support what they need. It might be one of the high-end features which can put in added cost, such as Thunderbolt 3 or 10 gigabit Ethernet, or it can be something simpler such as supporting more than six SATA drives, supporting HDMI 2.0, multiple ethernet ports, or even just the form factor. For users that have that specific requirement, it usually narrows the field down to only a handful of products. We've done the searching and got the lists ready for you.

Prices given from October 20th

If You Need Then The Options Are Size Amazon Newegg Amazon
UK (£)
NCIX
(CAD$)
10 Gigabit Ethernet ASRock Z370 Gaming i7 EATX $300 $290 £257 $390
5 Gigabit Ethernet ASUS Z370 Maximus X Apex EATX N/A N/A N/A $404
3 NICs + WiFi MSI Z370 Godlike Gaming EATX $500 $500 £431 $663
Native U.2 Ports MSI Z370 Godlike Gaming EATX $500 $500 £431 $663
3 or more M.2 Ports ASRock Z370 Taichi
ASRock Z370 Gaming i7
MSI Z370 Godlike Gaming
GIGABYTE Z370 Gaming 7
GIGABYTE Z370 Gaming 5
EATX
EATX
EATX
ATX
ATX
$230
$300
$500
$250
$200
$220
$290
$500
$250
$200
£222
£257
£431
£257
£243
$305
$390
$663
$341
$261
HDMI 2.0 EVGA Z370 Classified K
GIGABYTE Z370N-WIFI
ATX
mITX
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
Thunderbolt 3 ASRock Z370 Gaming-ITX/ac mITX N/A $180 N/A $245
Micro-ATX ASRock Z370M Pro4
ASUS Strix Z370-G Gaming
MSI Z370M Mortar
MSI Z370M Gaming Pro AC
EVGA Z370 Micro
MATX
MATX
MATX
MATX
MATX
$180
$185

N/A
$170
N/A
$130
N/A
N/A
$170
N/A
£115
£205

N/A
£157
N/A
$150
N/A
N/A
$233
N/A
Mini-ITX ASRock Z370M-ITX/ac
ASRock Z370 Gaming-ITX/ac
ASUS Strix Z370-I Gaming
MSI Z370I Gaming Pro AC
GIGABYTE Z370N-WiFi
mITX
mITX
mITX
mITX
mITX
$190
N/A
$211
N/A
N/A
$135
$180
$190

N/A
N/A
£139
N/A
£208
N/A
N/A
$180
$245
$250

N/A
N/A
3-way SLI None - - - - -
8 or more SATA ASRock Z370 Extreme4
ASRock Z370 Taichi
ASRock Z370 Gaming i7
ASRock Z370 Gaming K6
ATX
EATX
EATX
ATX
$208
$230
$300
$220
$160
$220
$290
$170
N/A
£222
£257
£209
$220
$305
$390
$260

There are other important features other than the list below that might be required for a purchasing decision: dual BIOS, USB 3.1 (10 Gbps) support, 64 GB DRAM support, a specific network controller, or a certain amount of PCIe x1 slots to satisfy all the IO cards a user might have, but ultimately those are rarely #1 priority items. We've also kept the list to purely the more active requirements than say heatpiped heatsinks.

Some of these features can be added using additional PCIe cards, but it is perhaps alarming that for some of these categories only has a single entrant, despite over 50 motherboards being listed overall.

  1. Price

The second most important function is price. Because the motherboard is often fourth to sixth in the list of priorities when it comes to buying a typical system (after GPU, CPU, DRAM/Storage, PSU), whatever the budget was is often looking a little low. The motherboard is where some users will save $50 to get another 128 GB on their main storage drive, or bump up a GPU class.

Ultimately this is a little depressing, as the motherboard ends up being a commodity for just doing its function, rather than being a priority in the system. This is a result of all the motherboards doing all the basic functionality (taking a CPU at stock, taking some memory, taking a GPU, taking some storage, taking any PSU, driving a USB 3.0 drive) almost all the same. This was not the case a decade ago, where a substantial part of the investment might be in the compatibility of the product or its stability, especially when we had 20 motherboard vendors with mostly wobbly BIOS setups.

What this means for this decade is that motherboard manufacturers are looking for incentives to get users to part with a few extra $$$. This used to be in the form of functionality - more ports, more memory, more PCIe cards. For 2016, 2017, and the near future, those incentives are turning to RGB LEDs. Like them or hate them, vendors of many standard PCIe components are seeing sales rise then focus on the RGB models. It is quite astonishing. Vote with your wallet.

As part of this roundup, many of the boards listed should be available for purchase - a few of them are still 'announced' but waiting for a launch date, or are region locked.  

Pricing from Anton Shilov

We will start from ASUS. This motherboard vendor traditionally has one the broadest lineup of motherboards based on a high-end Intel chipset. In total, the company offers 12 SKUs featuring the Z370 PCH today and is more than likely to expand it in the coming months.

Availability and Pricing of ASUS Intel Z370 Motherboards (10/20)
Model Size AT
Overview
Amazon Newegg Amazon
UK (£)
NCIX
(CAD$)
Maximus X Hero (Wi-Fi) ATX link $280 $280 £289 $350
Maximus X Hero ATX link N/A N/A £265 N/A
Maximus X Apex EATX link N/A N/A N/A $404
Strix Z370-E Gaming ATX link $210 $210 £221 $285
Strix Z370-F Gaming MATX link $195 $195 £203 $260
Strix Z370-G Gaming MATX link $185 N/A £205 N/A
Strix Z370-H Gaming ATX - $170 $170 £186 $220
Strix Z370-I Gaming mITX link $211 $190 £208 $250
TUF Z370-Pro Gaming ATX link $160 $160 £162 N/A
TUF Z370-Plus Gaming ATX link $154 $150 £150 $190
Prime Z370-A ATX link $175 $175 £170 $259
Prime Z370-P ATX link $140 $140 £120 N/A

As it appears, most of the motherboards are available, but the Maximus X Apex is currently hard to find.

Moving on to ASRock, another major supplier of motherboards. ASRock's Intel Z370 lineup includes 11 models and it is among the broadest for features in the industry.

Availability and Pricing of ASRock Intel Z370 Motherboards (10/20)
Model Size AT
Overview
Amazon Newegg Amazon
UK (£)
NCIX
(CAD$)
Z370 Gaming i7 EATX link $300 $290 £257 $390
Z370 Gaming K6 ATX link $220 $170 £209 $260
Z370 Extreme 4 ATX link $208 $160 N/A $220
Z370 Killer SLI ATX link N/A N/A £150 N/A
Z370 Killer SLI AC ATX link N/A $140 N/A N/A
Z370 Pro4 ATX link $160 $120 £151 $155
Z370 Taichi EATX link $230 $220 £222 $305
Z370M Pro4 MATX link $180 $130 £115 $150
Z370M-ITX/ac mITX link $190 $135 £139 $180
Z370 Gaming-ITX/ac mITX link N/A $180 N/A $245

ASRock's top-of-the-range motherboards for hardcore enthusiasts (Z370 Professional Gaming i7 and Z370 Taichi) are readily available from all retailers. Meanwhile, there are mid-range products which are yet to ship.

Next up is GIGABYTE with its family of Intel Z370-based motherboards that currently includes 11 SKUs.

Availability and Pricing of GIGABYTE Intel Z370 Motherboards
Model Form-Factor AT
Overview
Amazon Newegg Amazon
UK (£)
NCIX
(CAD$)
Z370 Gaming 7 ATX link $250 $250 £257 $341
Z370 Gaming 5 ATX link $200 $200 £243 $261
Z370 Gaming 3 ATX link N/A N/A £209 N/A
Z370 Gaming K3 ATX link N/A N/A £153 N/A
Z370 Gaming Wi-Fi ATX link N/A N/A N/A N/A
Z370 Ultra Gaming ATX link $170 $170 £173 $235
Z370N Wi-Fi Mini-ITX - N/A N/A N/A N/A
Z370XP SLI ATX link $167 $150 £145 $200
Z370 HD3P ATX link $156 $140 £142 N/A
Z370 HD3 ATX link $151 $125 £122 $179

The most advanced GIGABYTE Aorus Z370 motherboards are readily available in all stores that we monitored, just like entry-level models. In the meantime, mid-range Intel Z370-based mainboards from GIGABYTE cannot be purchased in North America at all.

MSI's Z370 lineup includes 13 motherboards, surpassing ASUS. The family includes platforms for hardcore enthusiasts in EATX form-factor as well as mainboards in Micro-ATX and Mini-ITX form-factors for mainstream and SFF gamers.

Availability and Pricing of MSI Intel Z370 Motherboards
Model Form-Factor AT
Overview
Amazon Newegg Amazon
UK (£)
NCIX
(CAD$)
Z370 Godlike Gaming EATX link $500 $500 £431 $663
Z370 Pro Carbon ATX link $205 $190 £182 $243
Z370 Pro Carbon AC ATX link $210 $210 £198 $275
Z370 Gaming M5 ATX link $200 $200 £190 $265
Z370 Gaming Plus ATX link $130 $130 £125 $181
Z370 Krait Gaming ATX link $160 $160 £146 $223
Z370 Tomahawk ATX link $187 $150 £144 $212
Z370 SLI Plus ATX link $150 $150 £142 $212
Z370 PC Pro ATX link $140 $140 £131 N/A
Z370 A Pro ATX link $120 $120 £115 $170
Z370M Mortar MATX link N/A N/A N/A N/A
Z370M Gaming Pro AC MATX link $170 $170 £157 $233
Z370I Pro Carbon AC Mini-ITX - N/A N/A N/A N/A

Most of MSI's motherboards powered by the Intel Z370 PCH are available, but there are very interesting products, such as the feature-packed MSI Z370I Gaming Pro Carbon AC for SFF PCs, which yet have to hit store shelves. Still, it is good to see both that MSI has managed to release Z370-based motherboards for nearly all market segments.

Consolidation of motherboard makers eliminated most of second-tier players and forced the remaining to shrink their product lineups and aim their mainboards at particular audiences or even sell in select countries only. For example, EVGA targets primarily enthusiasts and gamers, Biostar and ECS make products for more price-conscious buyers, whereas products from Colorful are targeted primarily at China and South Korea.

Availability and Pricing of Second-Tier Intel Z370 Motherboards
Model Form-Factor AT
Overview
Amazon Newegg Amazon
UK (£)
NCIX
(CAD$)
EVGA Z370 Classified ATX link N/A N/A N/A N/A
EVGA Z370 FTW ATX link N/A N/A N/A N/A
EVGA Z370 Micro MATX link N/A N/A N/A N/A
Biostar Z370GT7 ATX link N/A N/A N/A N/A
Biostar Z370GT6 ATX link N/A N/A N/A N/A
ECS Z370 Lightsaber ATX link N/A N/A N/A N/A
      Amazon Gearbest JD.com Ebay
Colorful iGame Z370 Vulcan X ATX - N/A N/A N/A N/A

Among smaller motherboard manufacturers, none of them have currently released in our catchment area.

  1. Brand Loyalty

Say as a user, there was no specific feature you wanted for stage 1, and there's $150 left to buy a motherboard in stage 2. There are now perhaps 6-10 motherboards to choose from, so the next element of choice selection usually ends up around brand loyalty. Even first time builders who have no experience with different motherboard vendors will look upon their peers for recommendations, and everyone has their own choices.

Users will have two major draws: financial investment and negative experiences.

The first one, financial investment, is more psychology-based than anything else, and is the driving force behind different fan factions. Users that have financially invested in an expensive product will want it to work. The product they have has to work - they are the smart users who purchased it, and if someone says it is the wrong choice it becomes an indictment of their character rather than on the product. No-one wants to be told that the brand they have just purchased (or have been purchasing for several years and several hundreds of dollars) is no good, and will defend their purchase, potentially leading to purchasing the same brand the next time around due to discussing the product with like-minded people. This is a deep rabbit hole of explanations beyond my research prowess, but can be one of the driving factors.

The only time that financial investment becomes a zero in the equation is when a user has a negative experience. If the product they purchased is dead on arrival, repeatedly, or has BIOS issues or update issues or causes more stress than it was worth, users are unlikely to buy that brand again without significant change. The best example of this is in mechanical hard drives (also known as 'spinning rust'). For users that have 4TB of data suddenly break for no apparent reason, and without backups, it can be a heart-wrenching experience. Even if the product is within warranty, a new drive does not return the data. Users can be extremely fickle with their hard drive recommendations - it only takes one wrong event to form a strong opinion. Even users that have multiple brands under the hood will have their recommendations shaped by previous experiences, and in the case of hard drives, almost negative ones.

The same thing applies to motherboards to a lesser extent - bad customer service or RMA procedures are usually the killer for some users. It can also be an overt plus - many US customers like EVGA as they handle RMA procedures directly, rather than through retailers or distributors.

  1. Visuals

This part of the list might not apply to the regular AnandTech readers, but visuals can matter a lot for a large number of PC builders. How the system looks, or how it will look, may be part of the decision if stages 2 and 3 did not already narrow it down to a single product already. Many motherboards are now styled with designs in mind, or have LEDs to enhance how the system looks. RGB LEDs and the ability to make any system any color, with users modifying their cases with decals and designs, it can be an important part.

However, the reality is that most readers in the US will still end up on Newegg, going through the list of motherboards in their price range. The main element that grabs the attention will be that small, ravioli-sized thumbnail. If it can stand out among the crowd, then it is usually a plus point.

Note that users rarely buy get this far down the list of 'choosing the right motherboard' and stop just at the visuals. Visuals are nice, but after this point, it comes to reviews.

  1. Reviews and Forums

This is where we come in! Oh wait, you stopped at number 3 and bought the motherboard already? Shame... 

For most users (who do not read AnandTech or the tech media), the main source of reviews will be the Newegg, Amazon ratings, PCPartPicker ratings, and reviews. If a motherboard has an average under 3 stars, it usually does not bode well for self-build users looking at that system. If anything, people look out for the negative comments - who had a bad experience and why. Too many negative reviews, especially recent negative reviews, and it will put casual users off that motherboard unless they know sometime in their close circle with a good experience.

The rest of the user base, including system integrators and technology forum hoppers, might actually come our way to read a review. This is often through search engines, forum links, or recommendations to read a review. For when you want the minutiae of a motherboard, that is what our reviewers are doing when that board spends a week on the test-bed being prodded in all sorts of ways. Some enthusiasts will comment that forum member analysis might be more detailed, especially when a forum user spends 3 months taking a single product apart, however our editors are pushing through different motherboards every week, getting a very wide scope of what is possible. We also speak to the manufacturers, although different media will have different levels of interaction within each company. 

AnandTech has had extensive long-term engineering contacts with all the major manufacturers, from R&D to design through to marketing and sales. We discuss why certain choices were made and why. We've currently have four editors working on motherboard reviews for different chipsets, so stay tuned for more motherboard content.

BIOSTAR Racing Z370GT7 and Z370GT6
POST A COMMENT

84 Comments

View All Comments

  • rocky12345 - Saturday, October 21, 2017 - link

    Great article and a lot of work put in to get it out for us to read thank you.

    My only issue is and it is nit your fault is why these companies feel the need to totally blanket the market with basically the same boards just a different model number and basically a few tiny changes and spray paint it a different color and use the word gaming and put something x or x1 or k,k3 etc etc. For crap sakes just release three models not 7-10 models of the same crap it is pretty much just greed I guess.

    The whole market is like this now with anything computer related of and if it has the words GAMING or RGB in it's got to be good for sure. My fav is that gaming mouse pad next it will have RGB lighting in it...lol
    Reply
  • CitizenZer0 - Wednesday, October 25, 2017 - link

    Agreed Reply
  • carldon - Saturday, October 21, 2017 - link

    Excellent summary and table in the last page. Good work!!! Reply
  • imaheadcase - Saturday, October 21, 2017 - link

    I got a few questions:
    1. Why do they put USB 2.0 ports if USB 3.0 is backward compatible anyways? Why not just all USB 3.0 ports..it can't be price.
    2. Why do they have such a vary in memory timings? For %99 of people memory timings are not really a big deal right? Maybe in old PC days it was.
    3. Mini-ITX vs Micro-ITX..isn't it silly both exist in first place? Any reason for this..the diminsions are really close to the same. In fact, most Micro-ITX is simply removing lots of stuff from mobo that you really want to begin with.
    Reply
  • lordsutch - Saturday, October 21, 2017 - link

    I'd imagine they want to offer as many ports as they can without taking away too many PCIe lanes. The other option would be to embed a USB 3.x switch (or a PCIe switch) but of course now each port wouldn't simultaneously be able to operate at peak speed and 3.x switches are probably more expensive than USB 2 controllers. Reply
  • imaheadcase - Sunday, October 22, 2017 - link

    Ahh didn't think about that aspect. Reply
  • DanNeely - Saturday, October 21, 2017 - link

    Some USB audio and 2.4ghz wifi/bluetooth devices have had interference problems in 3.0 sockets. Dunno if they're fixed on new hardware (supposedly onboard hubs were a lot worse than chipset ports in this regard so room for QC to make it better); but even if they are there's going to be problems with once burned customers not trusting them.

    As pointed out elsewhere USB3 competes with PCIe lanes/SATA ports on the southbridge. Especially on full ATX boards if you go to max out the number of PCIe lanes to expansion slots and m.2 ports in addition to the lanes used on board for networking and audio you can get down to only a half dozen or so 3.0 lanes left from the chipset; but still able to hit 14 USB ports total by going USB2 with the rest.

    People using older OSes (Windows 7 says hi) can't use USB3 ports to install the OS without jumping through a lot of hoops (the OS sees them as not USB2 and can't talk to them).

    If any board size is at risk of going away it's probably full ATX; although for enthusiast sales I suspect it'll hold on better than mini ATX due to bigger is better irrationality.

    MiniITX still has a decent capability gap vs mini ATX; but it's much smaller than it was a half dozen years ago when it only made sense if you were making a tiny box and were willing to accept major performance compromises to do so. Now as Mini ITX's capability continues to goes up and the need for expansion cards other than a single GPU goes down it's eating into an increasing chunk of Mini ATX's marketshare.

    On the high side mainstream chips don't really have enough PCIe lanes to make good use of the extra 3 cards of space possible on the bigger boards/ Meanwhile multi-GPU gaming - the main reason an enthusiast would need a full size mobo is steadily going away (fewer games supporting it each year, no support for 3/4way at all in the newest cards from either company); and unless you need 2 GPUs + something else or extra space around the CPU for crazy OCing Mini ATX does almost everything that could be needed.
    Reply
  • MadAd - Sunday, October 22, 2017 - link

    > If any board size is at risk of going away it's probably full ATX; although for enthusiast sales I suspect it'll hold on better than mini ATX due to bigger is better irrationality.

    Irrationality indeed. I would have thought by now instead of a measly 5 mATX choices out of 50+ that it would be instead maybe 5 fullsize ATX with the main battleground being the two slot mATX market.

    Its just laziness on the manufacturers side, with nobody steering the market to innovate on size. Theres nobody driving form factors, the CPU companies are present on all form factors so they dont need to drive change, the board partners are all set in their ways just slapping new images on mildly reworked designs so they dont have any need to innovate, weve seen video card manufacturers can shrink designs to better fit smaller factors but we still get chunky easy to produce cards for mainstream use as retooling would be an added cost, its just rolling train of new but nothing new generation after generation.

    PC design is falling into mediocrity and I just wish the main players (intel+amd/board partners/nvidia+amd) would all get together to drive SFX/ITX and force retire ATX to the strictly enthusiast market, and maybe appeal to a more contemporary home user community (rather than just gamers which is where the marketing all seems to be these days) again too.
    Reply
  • Liltorp - Saturday, October 21, 2017 - link

    It is really true that the MSI PC Pro has a legacy PCI connector? I could use this for my TV tuner. But I thought PCI was not supported by newer boatds/CPU`s? Reply
  • Morawka - Saturday, October 21, 2017 - link

    Has anyone noticed how cheap these new Z370 motherboards are? Most are under $180 and there are several sub $130. Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now