The best gaming motherboard will be the unsung hero of your PC. Like a good rug, the best motherboards will really tie your PC together, but with so little difference in performance between mobos they can often feel like an afterthought. Or else just a place you can save a few bucks to spend on a better CPU or graphics card.
That’s not a bad shout for a pure gaming PC, where frame rates are the one true god. But even then it’s important to make sure that you’re not missing out on some important functionality you could ill do without, or come to regret skimping out on. Do you want the option to overclock your CPU at some point, or do you need high-performance memory support. Replacing your motherboard down the line is a serious business, and not something to be taken lightly.
When picking your perfect motherboard you need to know which processor you’re going to be building your new rig around. Are you resolutely tying yourself to the mast of the good ship Intel, as it ploughs on through the roughest waters it’s known? Or are you going to proudly fly the flag of AMD? Given the performance of the new AMD Ryzen 5000 CPUs, I know where I’d be putting my money…
The best gaming motherboards can also offer a modicum of future-proofing, as much as anything can in this fickle, fast-moving PC technology landscape of ours. Whether that’s a socket or chipset which is capable of supporting tomorrow’s new processors, such as the Intel’s Z490 and Rocket Lake chips, or one that’s able to deliver next-gen interconnects, such as the B550’s PCIe 4.0 support.
Size is also of vital importance too. If you’re just building out a standard ATX scale gaming PC, then pretty much any motherboard is open to your whims, but if you want to go for a smaller chassis, either Micro ATX or Mini ITX, then you’ll need a corresponding mobo. That doesn’t necessarily mean sacrificing performance or key features anymore. A single PCIe slot is more than enough for today’s SLI/CrossFire-less GPU world, and even some Mini ITX boards will come with multiple M.2 SSD slots.
The scale will impact pricing, however. Interestingly Micro ATX boards are often the most affordable, while Mini ITX options can be among the most expensive. We’ve picked our top two favourite gaming motherboards, for each of the main Intel and AMD chipsets, to give you the best options around.
Best Intel Z490 motherboard
If you want the best, most fully featured Intel Comet Lake motherboard then I’m afraid you’re going to have to pay for it. And pay through the nose if Asus’ Z490 Maximus XII Extreme is anything to go by. It is, as the name suggests, extreme, packing in a variety of luxurious, and incredibly handy extras (a frickin’ screwdriver with interchangeable heads for one), and it’s also one of the highest performing Z490 boards we’ve tested.
But it only really makes sense if you’re buying a K-series Core i9 and genuinely intend to overclock the nuts off it. The Maximus XII will allow you to get the highest clock speed out of your 10900K and won’t turn it into a pile of molten slag while you’re at it. The MSI Z490 Godlike is actually the fastest Z490 outright at stock speeds, but I’d rather have the ROG board in my camp if I’m going down the OC route.
Obviously it’s only for the very highest of high-end PC builds, however, as the $750 price tag means you could actually build a respectable full gaming PC for the price of this single motherboard. It’s an aspirational Z490 motherboard, and arguably the best gaming motherboard for Comet Lake overclocking, but I’ll concede it’s not a particularly realistic purchase for most of us.
Read our full Asus ROG Maximus XII Extreme review.
The ASRock B460 Steel Legend is an awesomely named mid-range B460 entry. At $120 USD it’s what we’d call a mid-range B460 board. A look over the specs indicate that your $120 is well spent on some important areas. You get a pair of heatsink covered M.2 slots, an e-key M.2 slot for an optional Wi-Fi card, a front USB Type-C header and a good helping of RGB onboard.
The increased power demands of 10th generation CPUs means motherboards generally have to include improved VRM designs, and on that front the B460 Steel Legend is very well equipped. It includes a 9+1 phase VRM powered by a single 8-Pin EPS connector. Each stage can deliver up to 60A. Bear in mind that overclocking is not allowed on B460 motherboards, so the VRM will not see extreme loads like you might get with an all core overclocked Intel Core i9 10900K.
The ASRock B460 Steel legend will appeal to buyers who aren’t so interested in bells and whistles, but do want a solid ATX board that’s capable of powering any 10th Gen CPU without bursting into flames. Integrated Wi-Fi would have been a nice cherry on top for the price, and that’s arguably one of the reasons we prefer the MSI B460M Mortar. But the ASRock B460 Steel legend is still a highly competitive offering and comes highly recommended by us too. It shows its steel, one might say. If it had Wi-Fi we might even have said it was legendary.
Read the full ASRock B460 Steel Legend review.
Credit: Best gaming motherboards in 2020