Best Motherboards: Q1 2018by Ian Cutress on January 6, 2018 7:00 AM EST
In our series of Best Motherboard guides, here’s the latest update to our recommended motherboard list. All numbers in the text are updated to reflect pricing at the time of writing (Nov 22nd).
Best Motherboards: Q1 2018
This year has had an extremely wide selection of motherboards and chipsets to choose from. AMD’s Zen and Threadripper, Intel’s Kaby Lake and Coffee Lake, and enterprise options mean there is a lot to choose from. For this guide, I have asked our motherboard reviewing team to choose some of the boards that appeal to them based on testing or what they have come across.
|AnandTech's Best Motherboards 2017|
|With Our Own Money|
|Joe||ASRock X299 Taichi XE||-||$322|
|Ian||ASRock X399 Taichi||$310||$310|
|Gavin||ASRock X370 Taichi||$185||$185|
|Ian v2||MSI B350 Tomahawk Arctic||$110||$110|
|The Impressive Option|
|Joe||ASUS X299 Rampage VI Extreme||$750||$650|
|Ian||ASUS X399 ROG Zenith Extreme||$500||$500|
|Gavin||ASUS X370 Crosshair VI Extreme||$350||$350|
|Ian v2||MSI Z370 Godlike Gaming||$494||$500|
|Small Form Factor (SFF)|
|Joe||MSI X299M Gaming Pro Carbon AC||CAD$429 (NCIX)|
|Ian||GIGABYTE Z370N WiFi||$184||$160|
|GIGABYTE AB350N-Gaming WiFi||$130||$100|
Just to be clear, we all wrote down our choices independently. Joe has been reviewing X299 boards and Ian a bit of everything due to our CPU content. This table may be updated soon.
In case you missed one of our latest Buyers Guides, click on the images to see what we are recommending. The links always auto-update to our most recent guide.
Spending Our Own Money
The first segment is an obvious one: if we were building a system today, what motherboard would we choose? This depends on which CPU we are selecting and the system budget, but needless to say that as enthusiasts, we would want something beefy that hits a nice price point.
Joe: The ASRock X299 Taichi XE ($322)
If spending my own money for an X299 based motherboard, I would select the ASRock X299 Taichi XE. This is a middle of the road type board, and for the price it gives a 13-phase all-digital VRM as well as two large heatsinks for keeping them cool (the XE in the name is what ASRock is giving to motherboards with super-sized heatsinks). This is especially important when pushing the overclocks. ASRock BIOSes are relatively easy to use, which gives it a plus for overclocking. As a sub-zero overclocker, even if I’m not cooling the board with liquid nitrogen that day, I still feel the need for something over-engineered.
As a high-end gamer, the X299 support for 2/3-Way GPUs for 4K UHD high FPS gaming are also on the list, as well as storage options, with 10 SATA ports and three PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 slots. Normally overclockers are not interested much in connectivity, though dual Intel Gigabit NICs and integrated Wi-Fi suits my home setup. The Taichi is a well-rounded board with a feature list which covers everything I need for daily use.
Ian: The ASRock X399 Taichi ($310)
One common question I am asked at PC-centric shows is what I am running: Intel or AMD. This is followed up by asking what I would build today if I had the option. My main problem is that I’m a bit of a miser, but I still want the top performance. To that end, I’ve chosen the cheapest combination that gives me 16 high-frequency cores: AMD plus X399.
The ASRock X399 Taichi is the cheapest X399 board right now ($310 in the sales), and comes with standard high-end features: 4-way GPU support, three M.2 ports, a U.2 port, eight SATA ports, dual USB 3.1, dual Intel NICs and WiFi. I’m not so fussed about the aesthetic (the only person seeing the system is me), and the only thing missing is a 10 GbE NIC – but I have some add-in cards which I can use. My main system currently has a U.2 drive and several SSDs/HDDs for storage, plus I have an M.2 sitting idle, so having a system that can cater for all of these is a plus. I don’t tend to overclock my main system either, but my recent experience with ASRock BIOS (and fan controls) is positive.
Gavin: ASRock X370 Taichi ($185)
If I had to go out to the market and select an AMD Ryzen compatible AM4 motherboard, it would have to be the ASRock X370 Taichi. The less gaming-focused version of the impressive ASRock X370 Professional Gaming motherboard, the Taichi drops some of the slightly gimmicky software and makes up for it with a unique custom black and white PCB which looks fantastic. The X370 Taichi combines high-end components, like the Realtek ALC1220 audio codec, and a monstrous 16 phase CPU power design that uses 60A chokes and Nichicon 12k black capacitors.
We’ve had the board in for review (coming soon), and it performed nicely when overclocking our Ryzen 7 1700 to 3.9 GHz at a low voltage. The ASRock X370 Taichi also features plenty of storage, including ten SATA 6Gb/s ports and dual M.2 slots. Built-in dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi also comes in at this price point. The Taichi sits at a very reasonable price point, while offering flexibility for enthusiasts thanks to the inclusion of an external clock generator for BCLK overclocking.
Ian v2: The MSI B350 Tomahawk Arctic ($110)
White motherboards have a different sort of feel to them, and for $110 the B350 Tomahawk Arctic would make a nice centerpiece for a gaming system. The focus here is single GPU performance with a nice and fast M.2 drive and some of the overclocking support provided by the B350 chipset. It is fairly frugal elsewhere: Realtek ALC892 codec, Realtek 8111H ethernet, and only four SATA ports, but it does come with Type-C, support for RGB LEDs, and the audio has some base upgrades.
MSI’s software and BIOS packages have improved over the last few years too, so pairing this with an AMD Ryzen 7 processor in the sales could mean an 8-core gaming processor and motherboard combo for around under $400 and change. That is mind boggling compared to a few years ago.
The Impressive Option
The second segment is similar to the first, although without the shackles of a budget. No-holds-barred extreme motherboards come feature-laden but can tug at the wallet. At gaming events, every vendor has their best and brightest on display, usually fitted with the best money can buy.
Joe: ASUS ROG X299 Rampage VI Extreme ($650)
The center of a great PC needs to come fully equipped, and I have chosen the ASUS ROG X299 Rampage VI Extreme. The Rampage VI Extreme features the best of ASUS R&D, and usually has a solid overclocking focus. This includes a high-end power delivery with overclocking related options strewn on the board as well as the software. The network side of this board gets the best of both worlds: Besides a standard GbE NIC and 802.11 ac WiFi, there is also 10 Gigabit Ethernet using Aquantia’s AQC-107 and 802.11ad WiGig – the two best networking options currently available on high-end motherboards.
To showcase ASUS’ R&D, there’s also what looks like an extra memory slot, but this is actually for a riser card that can have two M.2 drives running at PCIe 3.0 x4, and keeping them away from any hot GPUs. There is also a U.2 port and six SATA ports for other storage. It is a 4-Way SLI/Crossfire capable board, and has ASUS’ own twist on the Realtek ALC1220 codec which takes care of all but the pickiest of gamers. The integrated RGB LEDs on the heatsinks, PCIe slots and rear cover are tastefully done with the frosted look. Overall, it comes across as a tour-de-force.
Ian: ASUS X399 ROG Zenith Extreme ($500)
When AMD launched Threadripper, one of the boards they supplied to reviewers was the Zenith Extreme: designed to be one of the biggest and baddest motherboards in existence, and a return to the top for AMD. ASUS piled on their features, including that unique DIMM.2 slot that supports two M.2 drives vertically out of the board. The onboard chipset heatsink doubles as an M.2 heatsink, being the preferred option when pairing it with a premium M.2 drive.
ASUS included all the bells and whistles: boosted power delivery and overclocking support, reinforced PCIe slots for 4-way SLI/CF support, SupremeFX audio with an ESS Sabre DAC, 802.11ac Wi-Fi plus 802.11ad WiGig, a bundled Aquantia based 10G Ethernet card, extra power delivery cooling, a mini-OLED display that doubles as a POST code and information screen, and full RGB support. That is all supplied with ASUS’ software packages. $500 comes across as a lot for a motherboard, but with a nice price on a Threadripper 1950X and a pair of GPUs and it becomes a beast of a machine.
Gavin: ASUS ROG X370 Crosshair VI Extreme ($350)
The top option on the X370 chipset has to be the impressive ASUS ROG X370 Crosshair VI Extreme motherboard. The clearly overkill specification of the Crosshair VI Extreme includes a ROG-branded SupremeFX S1220 audio codec which is supplemented by an ESS ES9023P HD DAC for better onboard audio performance. Although limited in terms of CrossFire and SLI support to two physical graphics cards (a native limitation of AM4), the ROG Crosshair VI Extreme has a solid 12 digital power phase design as well as encompassing ASUS’ ROG Overclockers Toolkit which gives sub-zero overclockers the tools needed to overclock on the fly.
A combined PCH and primary M.2 integrated heat sink does add an element of class to the board. One interesting design feature is the implementation of a right-angled 24pin ATX power input, and thanks to the wide array of RGB integrated throughout the board, the sky’s the limit for this premium, albeit expensive X370 offering. We used the Hero version of the motherboard for our Ryzen reviews, and after the AGESA 1006 update, this is one nice bit of kit.
Ian v2: MSI Z370 Godlike Gaming ($494)
If I’m going to be spending more on a motherboard than on a CPU, it has to tick as many boxes as possible if not all of them. A high-end system has high-end demands, especially if we turn around and push more than 5.0 GHz through some puny silicon. It also has to function: I like my gadgets. To that end, I’m selecting MSI’s Z370 flagship, the Z370 Godlike Gaming. Alongside dual GPU support, it has three M.2 slots, all with additional cooling provided, as well as a bundled add-in card for another two drives for when only one GPU is strapped in. There’s also a U.2 port for good measure, and six SATA ports.
Aside from storage, the Z370 Godlike Gaming also piles on networking, using three Killer NICs and Killer Wi-Fi, enabling the Killer xTend feature so the PC acts like a switch, and a user can have their consoles directly connected to the PC set as high-priority traffic. Audio gets an upgraded isolated ALC1220 codec with an ESS E9108 Op-AMP, as well as a 6.3mm headphone jack. MSI also piles on the aesthetics, with a refined heatsink design and enough LEDs and LED modes to satisfy the dankest LAN party.
Going Mini: Small Form Factors
We’re often being told that size matters. That is not always the case when it comes down to an awesome PC. Small form factor systems punch well above their weight in FPS per cubic meter. There are some nice looking custom systems out there, like MSI’s Vortex G25, but for user builds there are small motherboards and small GPUs to build something personal.
Joe: MSI X299M Gaming Pro Carbon AC (CAD$429, NCIX)
There are only three MicroATX X299 boards and one X299 Mini-ITX to choose from: two of the boards come from MSI (the X299M Gaming Pro Carbon AC, the X299M-A Pro), one from EVGA (X299 Micro), while ASRock gives us the X299E-ITX/ac (review coming soon). All the boards will offer the basics, such as USB 3.1 (10 Gbps) ports and up to 64GB of RAM. The MSI X299M-A Pro stands out as being focused for Kaby Lake-X CPUs, and the ASRock X299E-ITX/ac uses SO-DIMM memory due to its size.
For general use including productivity and gaming, a solid all-around board out of these would be the MSI X299M Gaming Pro Carbon AC. Networking is handled by dual Intel Gigabit NICs with 802.11ac Wi-Fi as well, and for storage there are eight SATA ports in addition to two M.2 PCIe 3.0 x4 ports. For users who invest in single slot water cooling on their GPUs, the MSI X299 here can support three GPUs in x16/x16/x8 mode, whereas normally with this size board it would be limited to two GPUs. That 3-way mode requires any Core i9 processor as they all have 44 PCIe lanes, however. MSI also piles on the aesthetics, focusing a lot on RGB LEDs, as well as having a removable rear IO plate for customization. The board is a bit hard to obtain, however, with the US getting limited stock.
Ian: GIGABYTE Z370N WiFi ($160), or Newegg Combo with GTX 1080 mini ($690)
At this point, it might be clear that I like my features. The GIGABYTE Z370N WiFi has more than expected for a good-priced small form factor motherboard: two M.2 slots (one with a thermal heatsink), extra power delivery heatsink mass in the rear panel, dual Intel network ports, 2x2 Intel 802.11ac Wi-Fi with MU-MIMO support, HDMI 2.0 support (one of very few Z370 boards to have it), a high-end ALC1220 audio codec with high impedance headphone support, three 4-pin fan headers (one for a water pump) and a half-dozen temperature sensors on board.
Technically it also supports a PCIe riser card for x8/x8 bifurcation, allowing for SLI configurations. With the right resources and an active imagination, this could be the interesting lynchpin for a custom-designed, high-powered system.
Ian v2: GIGABYTE AB350N-Gaming WiFi ($100)
At this point in our AM4 reviews, we tested the first Ryzen mini-ITX board a few weeks ago from Biostar. It was a decent enough effort, although it was missing a few premium features that the main four manufacturers get right. GIGABYTE’s AB350N-Gaming WiFi should do this, and is currently available for only $100.
AMD’s sockets are notoriously large, and while AM4 makes it less rectangular than previous generations, it often means that it can be hard to fit everything on. On this board GIGABYTE still manages to support a full speed M.2 drive, USB 3.1 (10 Gbps), bundled Wi-Fi, server-class power delivery from IR, and a high-end ALC1220 audio codec with a high-impedance headset detection amp. The 8-pin power connector is in an odd place, but with the right cabling, it shouldn’t be too much of an issue. GIGABYTE also piles on the temperature sensors, to help assist the two fan headers. LEDs are abundant as well, along with two RGBW headers that can be controlled by the RGB Fusion bundled software.
Throughout the year, for some of the chipset launches, we have had some time to gather information on every board released in that period, as well as some background information on each launch.