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Motherboards
Buying a motherboard these days is a pretty straightforward affair. There are only four major manufacturers to choose from, and their offerings have very similar performance and peripherals at each price point. The main differences between competing boards lie with their Windows software, onboard firmware, and overclocking tools:

  • Asus is the biggest of the four big motherboard makers, and it has the best Windows software and the most intelligent and reliable auto-overclocking functionality. Its firmware interface doesn't look as nice as Gigabyte's, but it's still great—and it offers better fan controls. Some Asus motherboards ship with cushioned I/O shields and header adapters that make it much easier to connect finicky front-panel headers. We think Asus mobos typically offer the most polished package overall.
  • Gigabyte has the best firmware UI of the bunch, though its auto-overclocking intelligence and Windows software isn't quite up to par with Asus'. The firmware fan controls aren't as good, either, but Gigabyte's latest Windows software largely makes up for that deficit. Some Gigabyte motherboards ship with cushioned I/O shields, but we haven't seen any with header adapters. You'll have to hook up front-panel wires to the circuit board the old-fashioned way.
  • MSI's motherboards are solid, as is their firmware, but the firm lags behind Asus and Gigabyte in terms of Windows software and firmware extras. MSI's auto-overclocking functionality isn't as powerful, either; instead of determining maximum clock speeds iteratively, it uses conservative profiles. MSI's latest 8-series motherboards do have rather good firmware fan controls, though.
  • Finally, there's ASRock, which generally aims its products at more value-conscious buyers. The Windows software for ASRock's 8-series mobos is decent, but it's not as comprehensive as what Asus, Gigabyte, and MSI offer. We haven't had good results with ASRock's iterative auto-overclocking software, either. The firmware is mixed. The fan controls are great on 8-series boards, and there are plenty of overclocking options, but the interface isn't terribly user-friendly. ASRock boards are appealing primarily for their budget price tags.

For this edition of the guide, we've selected motherboards from Asus and Gigabyte, which we think are the most polished. We've recommended motherboards for Haswell and Ivy Bridge-E exclusively, since those are the only processors we featured on the previous page.

For our budget and sweet-spot tiers, we've included both ATX and microATX solutions. The microATX form factor sacrifices three of the seven expansion slots available with ATX in order to save a few inches of vertical space. Since few gaming rigs need more than two or three expansion slots, going microATX is a nice way to build a smaller PC without sacrificing too much expansion capacity.

Budget

Product Price Notable needs
Asus H87M-E $95.99 LGA1150 processor,
microATX or ATX case
Gigabyte H87-D3H $104.99 LGA1150 processor, ATX case

We've got two boards here based on Intel's H87 Express chipset, which complements Intel's LGA1150 Haswell processors. The H87 has all the perks of Intel's top-of-the-line Z87 chipset minus support for multiplier overclocking and multi-GPU configs—but neither of those things matter for a budget system. Boards based on this chipset have all the features we'd want for a budget build, including a decent number of PCIe slots, relatively plentiful 6Gbps Serial ATA and USB 3.0 connectivity, and workable onboard audio.

Our first recommendation, the Asus H87M-E, is a microATX board with more USB 3.0 ports than the similarly priced solution from Gigabyte. It'll accommodate one graphics card, at least two extra expansion cards, six Serial ATA storage drives, and four USB 3.0 devices. The H87M-E also has a choice of DVI, VGA, and HDMI outputs that can tap into a Haswell processor's integrated graphics.

Our second pick, the Gigabyte H87-D3H, is similar except that it conforms to the full-sized ATX form factor—and therefore has a couple of extra expansion slots. This model has more USB 3.0 ports than its Asus rival, and it's also cheaper by about $5 right now.

Sweet spot

Product Price Notable needs
Asus Z87M-Plus $129.49 LGA1150 processor,
microATX or ATX case
Gigabyte GA-Z87-D3HP $129.99 LGA1150 processor, ATX case
Asus Z87-A $139.99

Intel's Z87 Express chipset enables multiplier overclocking. It also supports multi-GPU configurations with eight lanes of connectivity per PCIe slot, as opposed to a x16/x4 arrangement that could bottleneck one of the GPUs. Motherboards based on the Z87 chipset occupy the sweet spot of the LGA1150 motherboard market.

Among the Z87-based boards, Asus' offerings are our favorites. We've singled out two of them here: the microATX Z87M-Plus and the full-sized Z87-A.

Gigabyte's GA-Z87-D3HP is also a good ATX board. It's a better value than Asus' comparably priced Z87-C and has many of the features available in the more expensive Z87-A. The Z87-A is the only one of the three that splits Haswell's PCI Express 3.0 lanes between a pair of PCIe x16 slots. The other boards have only one PCIe 3.0 slot, limiting their usefulness for multi-GPU setups.

High end

Product Price Notable needs
Asus X79 Deluxe $349.99 LGA2011 processor, ATX case

The boards we picked for the other tiers are all for Haswell processors with LGA1150 packages. If you're springing for an Ivy Bridge-E chip like the Core i7-4930K, then you need an LGA2011 mobo.

Asus' X79-Deluxe is our LGA2011 board of choice. It's a newer model that was released last year alongside Ivy Bridge-E, and it's absolutely loaded with features. There are eight DIMM slots, three PCIe x16 3.0 slots, 14 Serial ATA ports, eight USB 3.0 ports, and both 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless connectivity. This thing ain't cheap, but older X79 boards from other vendors aren't that much more affordable—and they aren't as nice. The X79-Deluxe has pretty much all of the firmware and software upgrades rolled into Asus' latest Haswell boards.