The best gaming motherboard is the foundation for any great gaming PC, and you should decide on one early in the PC building process. The motherboard determines the size of the case you’ll use, what your storage options are, and what your CPU upgrade options are further down the line, among other things, so choosing the best motherboard is key to a problem-free build.
Even though there’s not much difference between motherboards built around the same chipset these days, it’s still important to get the motherboard that is right for you and for what you have in mind. These days it’s more a question of features than performance.
Fundamentally, your choice of motherboard comes down to CPU socket support, ports, size, and overall quality. Beyond all that, there are a few other things to consider. Do you want the option to overclock your CPU at some point? Do you need high-performance memory support? Replacing your motherboard down the line is an awkward endeavor—make sure you have all your bases covered now instead.
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 that can support the new processors of today, such as the Intel’s Z490 chipset and its Rocket Lake chips, or one that’s able to deliver next-gen interconnects, such as the B550’s PCIe 4.0 support.
We’re testing a bunch of Z590s at the moment, but aside from some more solid, though still mildly flaky PCIe 4.0 support, Intel’s 500-series boards don’t appear to offer all that much.
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 convenient 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, 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.
Please read our full Asus ROG Maximus XII Extreme review.
The sparse back panel and missing OLED displays will tell you we’re back into normal motherboard territory again. The rarified air of the ultra-enthusiast ROG board up top might make one giddy, but the Z490 Gaming Carbon will bring us back down to earth without a bump. Sure, you’re never going to get the same level of luxury feature list as you’ll find with either the Maximus XII or MSI’s own Godlike boards, but when it comes to the nuts and bolts of pure performance, it’s right up there.
Where it matters, in the gaming performance stakes, there’s practically nothing between any of the Z490 boards we’ve tested, and it’s only ever a little behind when it comes to the actual CPU performance in productivity apps. However, when it comes to overclocking, the MPG Z490 Gaming Carbon WiFi inevitably can’t compare to the big boys, with our 10900K running at its peak.
The power componentry and cooling aren’t enough to stop the thirsty CPU from throttling when it’s pushed to its 5.3GHz all-core maximum. But, while that might mean it’s not the board you’d choose for an overclocked Core i9 machine, that’s a tiny niche of gamers, and for either i5 or i7 CPUs, the MSI Gaming Carbon is still a quality home for your Comet Lake CPU.
Grabbing one of the best Z490 motherboards might be appealing to your inner elitist, but the sticker price shock is definitely a problem for many people. Sure, it would be nice to have 10Gb LAN, seven M.2 slots, or quad GPU support, but who really needs all that stuff? Most of us will be perfectly happy with a quality B460 motherboard, such as the MSI MAG B460M Mortar WiFi.
If you can put up with the memory speed limitation and have no intention of overclocking (well, with a K-series CPU anyway), then this is the kind of board that should be on your PC building wishlist. It ticks most of the important boxes, and at $125, it’s well priced, though the competition is tough with many premium B460 motherboards priced in this range.
It’s got a strong VRM, 2.5Gb LAN, Wi-Fi 6, and adequate, if not particularly outstanding, I/O. Pairing it with a 65W non-K processor and having a crack at pseudo overclocking is definitely worth the minimal efforts too. If you can live with the maximum DDR4-2666 speed, something like an Intel Core i5 10600 and B460M Mortar, paired with a decent mid-range GPU, would deliver a quality, affordable gaming combo.