Selecting the right motherboard

The Socket 1155 is on the left. The Z77 chipset is under the blue heatsink on the right

Once you have selected the processor, choosing a motherboard is quite easy. Whether it’s an Intel CPU or one made by AMD, it can be used only with a particular socket. So, when you are looking for a motherboard for your new computer, first find out which socket your CPU supports. Unlike CPUs, there is not much to explain about motherboards. I will keep it simple and just explain how and why I selected Asus P8Z77-V as the motherboard for my computer. But before that two basic points:

1-    There are many companies in the world that make motherboards but the top three — Asus, Gigabyte and MSI — have the lion’s share in the market. Recently, Asrock has created lots of buzz. Intel too makes motherboards but, and this will surprise many, they are not too popular with knowledgeable system builders because they tend to be too basic.

2-    All motherboards have virtually same performance because they use same processors and same chipsets, which are made either by Intel or AMD.

How did I find Asus P8Z77-V?

1-    Core i5 3570K, the CPU I am putting in my new computer, supports LGA 1155 socket. This means it has 1155 copper points that needs to be connected to 1155 copper pins on the motherboard.

2-    Motherboards made using Intel’s X6X series and X7X series chipsets support Socket 1155.

3-    Of these, only the motherboards made using Z68, P67, H61, B75, Q75, Q77, H77, Z75 and Z77 chipsets support Ivy Bridge processor.

4-    Chipsets with Q and B in their names are meant for business users and are mostly used by OEMs (other equipment manufacturers) like Dell and HP

5-    This means the motherboards suitable for my use are: Z68, P67, H61, H77, Z75 and Z77

6-    The six series chipsets require a user to flash a new BIOS on the motherboard to get support for Ivy Bridge. Even then features like PCIe 3.0 are not available. So these are out.

7-    H77, Z75 and Z77 remain

8-    3570K belongs to K series. This means it has an unlocked multiplier and can be overclocked. Z75 and Z77 offer full overclocking support. H77 allows CPU overclocking but not the RAM overclocking. Did I tell you I don’t like anything locked? So H77 is out. Though H77 is perfect for almost all mainstream users.

9-    Z77 is the flagship chipset meant for enthusiasts. While there is nothing wrong with Z75 for my use, manufacturers are just focusing on Z77 and there are no high-end Z75 motherboards available. So Z75 is out.

Ok, why Asus P8Z77-V out of all Z77 motherboards? Several reasons

1-    I am going to keep my system for at least three years and I am looking to build something that is stable. This means I need a solid mainboard that is compatible with wide variety of hardware and is built to last. So, I want to go with an established brand that has decent service in India. This means Gigabyte, Asus or MSI. I also looked at Intel as it has started building decent motherboards for enthusiasts. I found their DZ77GA-70K pretty solid but too expensive for what it does.

2-    Now it’s all about requirements. When you are looking to get a motherboard there are several things to keep in mind. They are –

a-    This is the most important point. What are the components you are going to connect to it? How many harddisks you will connect to it? More harddisks, look for a motherboard with more SATA ports. Similarly, how many USB ports? How many PCI/PCIe expansion slot for cards like TV tuner, sound card and graphics card. How many system fans? Do you need HDMI or display port? Are you going to build a small PC? Select mATX. Do you want a mobo which is easier to work with? Go for ATX size.

b-    If you have selected a high-end CPU and high-end RAM, try to get a motherboard that has better cooling in the form of heatsink on mosfets etc and better power delivery for components. It is especially important if you are going to overclock. Try to get a motherboard that has all solid capacitors. Nowadays, even budget motherboards have solid capacitors. 

c-    Read the motherboard description on the manufacturer’s website. Usually, it has lots of marketing bullshit. But if it sounds right to you, go for it. It won’t make much difference anyway. Just don’t pay too much for the ‘unique’ features.

3-    My requirements from motherboard was, apart from support for 3570K, that it should have at least one PCI slot because I would be reusing the sound card from my old computer.

4-    This means MSI was out of the race as none of its enthusiast-grade motherboards (I am going to overclock) had PCI slot.

5-    Finally, I shortlisted Asus P8Z77-V and Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD3H. The motherboard in my current computer is from Gigabyte and it is rock solid. But on GA-Z77X-UD3H I found the company has used Via chips for additional USB ports. On P8Z77-V Asus has used ASMedia chip which is better. Also, Asus has Gigabit LAN from Intel while Gigabyte uses Atheros chip for LAN. Again Asus solution is considered better.

6-    Asus one is expensive by a few thousands rupees and despite whatever perceived flaws, I gave Gigabyte serious thought. But finally went with Asus because:

a-    It has fantastic support for controlling chassis fans. I love control over my machines. It may not matter to most people but is a big deal for me. Though I must add that even among Asus motherboards only P8Z77-V or better models have this feature.

b-    It supports Wi-Fi out of the box with help of an add-on card which is bundled. It supports hotspot functionality.

c-    Better choice of IO chips – Intel gigabit LAN,  Asmedia etc

d-    Fast and responsive bios

e-    Features like Turbo Boost for USB transfer work which seem more than just marketing talk

f-    There is a Thunderbolt header built on the motherboard and the talk is that Asus will soon offer an add-on panel that will connect to it. May help in future.

That’s all about the motherboard. Sounds little complicated but in reality isn’t so. When you start looking for boards in your budget, there aren’t many choices out there. I have also skipped a lot of details in a bid to keep it simple. But if there are questions, please go ahead... 

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