Motherboards are the heart of any computer. Laptop, desktop, and netbook computers alike contain them. A quality motherboard is the starting point of any computer; purchased, built or cobbled-together; it never pays to skimp on the “heart” of a computer.
Motherboards are the heart of a computer build for multiple reasons. First, because AMD and Intel use differing processor sockets, the choice of motherboard determines the brand of processor (or vice versa). Second, the amount and variant of RAM is determined by the requirements of the motherboard and number of RAM slots it contains. Third, motherboards contain many assorted accessory components, such as sound cards, integrated video cards, USB ports, network cards (both wired and wireless), and many other connections. Fourth, motherboards determine the add-on cards you can use. Fifth, motherboards contain all chipsets for CPU/RAM/GPU interaction. Suffice it to say, motherboards must be reliable, rugged and of excellent workmanship.
Because motherboards are AMD and Intel specific, we’ll look at a couple for each.
The Asus Rampage III ($379) is a definite high-performance board. Coming from a company with a stellar record at making motherboards, you cannot go wrong with an Asus board. This board has a LGA1366 socket, capable of supporting the premier CPUs. With both USB2.0 and USB3.0, FireWire, on-board LAN, 7.1 audio, and four PCI-e expansion slots, six SATA 3.0 Gbps connectors and one eSATA for hard drives, this motherboard has everything you need for a great machine, plus some. While you pay for the performance, if the money is not an issue, buy the Rampage III.
On the opposite of the spectrum is the ECS (Elitegroup) ECS H55H-I miniITX board ($80). This is designed for power-efficiency and lower-priced markets. With the LGA1156 socket, it can support most mid-range processors of today. Since it has an PCI-e expansion slot, it can handle any high-power graphics card, allow this board to support gaming on a budget. As for the other features, it comes with the typical six USB2.0 ports, integrated network and audio cards, four SATA connectors, and one eSATA. If you do not expect blistering speed from your machine and are on a budget, this is a great board.
The Asus M4A87TD EVO ($100) is a quality AMD board. Because AMD is more geared toward the mass/mid-range market, the processors and motherboards tend to be cheaper. This board has six USB2.0 and two USB3.0 ports, FireWire, on-board network and 7.1 audio, one PCI-e and three PCI expansion slots, six SATA and one eSATA connector. The EVO is an excellent choice for a performance AMD system, while not breaking the budget.
The Asus M4A88T-I Deluxe ($124) is a miniITX board, very similar to the Intel board. It supports Athlon II processors, creating a great environment for energy-efficiency. It has the typical ports listed in the other boards, plus integrated video cards, minus FireWire capability. A great board if you want energy savings, while retaining a decent level of performance.