In our last guide, we lamented the scarcity of AM4 motherboards for prospective Ryzen builders. We're happy to report that situation has abated, as online retailers everywhere have their virtual shelves full of models to fit every taste and wallet. It's not all roses, though. The AM4 platform's stringent memory requirements dampen our collective enthusiasm a little (something we'll talk about in more detail below) and makes us wary of recommending unproven quantities. Our limited experience with Ryzen boards leads us to think that Gigabyte has solid offerings, so we're sticking with that brand's AM4 boards.
As a quick recap, AMD's X370 and B350 chipsets both allow for overclocking. We consider the B350 offerings the mid-range ideal, as this chipset has the most common features one might need without any special frills. Those looking to get the best of everything can pick a motherboard with the X370 chipset onboard. Those high-end mobos typically offer SLI and CrossFire support, among other fancy features. As for the lower-end A320, we reckon it's not currently worth picking, seeing as there are no budget CPUs to go with it.
Meanwhile, boards based on Intel's 200-series chipsets arrived without much fuss, a good thing in this arena. The Z270 chipset lets users overclock their unlocked CPUs. The H270 chipset is mostly similar to the Z270, except that it doesn't allow for CPU or memory overclocking.
The Q270, Q250, and B250 chipsets, on the other hand, are all "business-class" chipsets. They share most of their bigger brothers' characteristics, with the only noteworthy omissions being a decrease of chipset-driven USB ports and PCIe storage devices in the Q250 and B250 variants. You won't find SLI or Crossfire on anything but a Q270 board among this trio, either. As far as we're concerned, a mobo with any of these chipsets is a perfectly fine choice for a budget or even a mid-range box, as long as you're not looking to overclock an unlocked CPU.
Buying a motherboard these days is pretty straightforward. There are only four major manufacturers to choose from, and their offerings have very similar performance and peripheral connectivity at each price point. The main differences between competing boards lie with their Windows software, firmware, and overclocking tools.
- Asus is the biggest of the four main motherboard makers. We think Asus boards have better Windows software and firmware than the competition, plus the most intelligent and reliable auto-overclocking functionality of the bunch. The company's firmware interface offers the best fan speed controls around, too. Some Asus motherboards ship with cushioned I/O shields and header adapters that make it much easier to connect finicky front-panel cabling. Overall, an Asus board should offer the most polished experience of the lot.
- MSI's motherboards offer solid hardware paired with polished firmware and Windows software. The nicely-retooled fan controls in the firm's 9-series firmware have been carried over to its latest motherboards, though the company's auto-overclocking intelligence remains fairly conservative and somewhat rudimentary.
- Gigabyte's recent motherboards are also a good choice, even if their auto-overclocking intelligence, firmware, and Windows software aren't quite up to par with Asus' or MSI's in this generation. The company's firmware fan controls are now about on par with Asus', but the rest of its firmware and Windows software utilities could still stand some extra polish. Gigabyte's higher-end boards are currently the only way to get niceties like Thunderbolt 3 built in, though, and some models ship with cushioned I/O shields and header adapters, too.
- ASRock generally aims its products at more value-conscious buyers. ASRock boards typically offer a great hardware spec for the money. In our experience, however, ASRock's firmware and Windows software leave much to be desired. ASRock boards are appealing primarily for their budget price tags.
|MSI B250M Pro-VDH||$79.99||Intel LGA1151 processor, microATX case|
MSI's B250M Pro-VDH is an interesting choice for non-overclocked Kaby Lake builds. It's pretty cheap for a recently-released motherboard from a top-tier manufacturer, and despite its compact dimensions, it still offers an M.2 slot, a full complement of six SATA ports, a metal-reinforced PCIe x16 slot, and USB 3.1 Type-C connectivity. If you don't plan to overclock and you're OK living with DDR4-2400 RAM, the B250M PRO-VD seems like all the motherboard one would need for a budget system.
|Gigabyte GA-AB350-Gaming 3||$109.99||AMD Socket AM4 processor|
If you're looking to drop a Ryzen CPU into an affordable motherboard, we'd look no further than Gigabyte's GA-AB350-Gaming 3. For $110, this board taps most of the B350 chipset's goodness, including a pair of USB 3.1 ports and an M.2 slot. Builders won't find a USB 3.1 Type-C port on this board's back panel, but that's a common omission on B350 motherboards, and we doubt most will care at this board's price point.
The B350 chipset also can't bifurcate the 16 PCIe 3.0 lanes from a Ryzen CPU, even though the AB350-Gaming 3 claims Crossfire support across its PCIe x16 slot and second PCIe 3.0 x4 slot. We doubt most builders shopping in this price range have multiple Radeons in their shopping carts, so we aren't bothered by this arrangement.
|MSI Z270 PC Mate||$124.99||Intel LGA1151 processor, ATX case|
For folks who want a not-so-basic Z270 board to pair with an unlocked Kaby Lake CPU, we like MSI's Z270 PC Mate. This $125 mobo has everything the enthusiast needs without a lot of frills. Despite its wallet-friendly price, the MSI Z270 PC Mate offers a full complement of PCIe expansion slots (one of them metal-reinforced), two M.2 slots, an Intel Gigabit Ethernet adapter, and a smattering of USB 3.0 ports alongside Type-A and Type-C USB 3.1 connectors. For a little more than a Benjamin, this board isn't missing much. SLI support is the only feature we didn't see that some builders might want.
|Gigabyte GA-AX370-Gaming K3||$139.99||AM4 processor, ATX case|
In the red corner, we have the Gigabyte GA-AX370-Gaming K3. This board offers metal-reinforced DIMM and PCIe x16 slots, CrossFire support, a Killer Gigabit Ethernet adapter, an M.2 PCIe x4 socket, and eight SATA ports. To help overclockers make the most of their Ryzen CPUs, Gigabyte added an external BCLK generator and onboard diagnostic LEDs. There's a total of five fan headers, two USB 3.1 Type-A ports, and two USB connectors with noise-filtered output. Really, the only thing possibly missing from this board is a Type-C USB port. We think it checks all the right boxes and then some.
|Gigabyte Aorus GA-AX370-Gaming 5||$194.99||AMD Socket AM4 processor, ATX case|
For even-higher-end Ryzen builds, our faithful Editor-in-Chief recommends the Gigabyte Aorus GA-AX370-Gaming 5. Gigabyte has provided frequent BIOS updates for this board since the Ryzen launch, and it's largely stomped out his largest complaints about the AM4 platform (including annoying fan-control behavior and some temperature-reporting issues). He's also had no trouble taking full advantage of the AX370-Gaming 5's DDR4-3200 support, and believes most builders will enjoy similar stability so long as they stick to Gigabyte's qualified vendor list.
Gigabyte decks out this board with dual NICs—one Killer E2500, one Intel—and fully taps the X370 chipset's USB 3.1 connectivity with a Type-A and a Type-C port. If you're into that sort of thing, Gigabyte also studs this board with RGB LEDs nearly everywhere they'll fit.
The one thing the AX370-Gaming 5 doesn't have is an external base clock generator for the resident CPU. If you're raring to run even faster memory, Gigabyte's own GA-AX370-Gaming K7 (or Asus' spendy ROG Crosshair VI Hero) fit the bill. The jury is still out on whether Ryzen base-clock tweaking is a wise idea for systems that need to run 24/7 stable, though, so we don't think it's worth the wait—or the extra cost—for these boards unless you're trying to set overclocking records.
|Asus ROG Strix Z270E Gaming||$199.99||Intel LGA1151 processor, ATX case|
If you want a Z270 motherboard that's packed to the brim with features, the Asus ROG Strix Z270E Gaming is where you want to be. It carries two metal-reinforced PCIe x16 slots with SLI support, two M.2 sockets, and both Type-A and Type-C USB 3.1 ports. Nothing that fancy so far, but there's more. Asus saw fit to add built-in 802.11ac Wi-Fi via a 2x2 adapter with MU-MIMO support. There are also dual headphone amplifiers and a front-panel USB 3.1 connector. Last but not least, the board has a rather tasteful dash of RGB LEDs and a connector for controlling additional strips. Our Editor-in-Chief has used this board extensively in the TR labs for CPU-review purposes, and it carries his stamp of approval.