It used to be that choosing a motherboard was a very stressful process because choosing the wrong one could mean a severe impact on your system’s performance. But these days, it seems like a common piece of advice is to buy the cheapest thing that has the CPU support and the parts that you want.
But hold on!
There is still a huge amount of variation and motherboard pricing. It’s not uncommon to see a range from around 50 bucks to $500 on major retail sites.
So what exactly are you getting for that extra money? Let’s drill to the factors.
First off, you may have noticed that the pricier motherboards tend to be girth year heftier. And a huge reason for this is that oftentimes the actual circuit board that all the components are soldered on to is thicker. Thick PCB has an obvious advantage. It makes the board more durable and less likely to bend and flex when you’re installing it into your case or performing upgrades, which could damage these sensitive components housed on the board.
But there’s also an advantage you cannot see.
Greater PCB thickness means there’s more room to embed the electrical traces that connect all the different components, meaning not only can a thicker motherboard contain thicker traces to carry more power. It can have more layers that can allow manufacturers to implement faster technologies that require more complex trace designs.
As we get newer standards in the tech world that support higher speeds, they often have to be built, physically built more stringently. Think about how moving data at 10 gigabits per second over Ethernet requires a more complex cable built to a tighter tolerance than moving just one gigabit per second.
And motherboards can be similar. For example, AMD announced in twenty nineteen that the new PCI Express 4.0 standard would not be supported by older chipsets. Not because it was impossible, but rather because many of the motherboards featuring those chipsets weren’t designed with the PCIe Gen 4 data rates in mind.
Some boards might be constructed robustly enough to handle those higher speeds, but other cheaper options were barely good enough to carry out the PCI 3.0 signal.
A thick motherboard also gives designers more room to separate different circuits more effectively to cut down on interference. This is especially true for integrated audio where putting more physical space between the audio components, and the rest of the motherboard can often give you a cleaner sounding final product.
More expensive on the boards, very, generally speaking, are also constructed with features designed to increase their lifespan and can be subjected to more rigorous quality assurance testing. Not only will electrical components like chokes and capacitors be made of higher quality materials, but they’ll also typically have better cooling solutions for hot components like voltage regulator modules.
Hence the beefy looking heatsinks you often see sitting right above the CPU socket on nicer models.
Better Power Delivery
Speaking of chokes price, your motherboards typically have more of them, which usually means that the power delivery to the CPU is spread out among more phases. This helps to stabilize power delivery and provide more power to the processor than a cheap board is able to.
Now, this used to be very important in achieving high overclock, but these days even lower costs motherboards can deliver some very good overclock. If you’re really trying to push your CPU and squeeze every last megahertz you can out of your silicon, a higher quality board can still be helpful, but not only because of the hardware.
Luxury motherboards often offer more features that you can’t see. Overclock, or sensor ports will get extra attention to those features from the firmware engineers and the list of little extras, which is actually quite long.
Like having backup bios, the ability to flash firmware without a CPU installed, diagnostic readouts, more user-configurable options, a more powerful integrated audio amplifier, reinforced expansion slots, and more parts and headers, RGB lighting, etc.
So, Are Expensive Motherboards Worth It?
Back to the original question, though. Is all this stuff worth it? Well, while a pricey motherboard might be built well enough to support additional features through the use of add on chips and give you slightly more overclocking headroom, we’d say that you really need a pretty specific reason for venturing into the upper price tiers.
If you’re looking at a cheap motherboard, it most likely is going to give you virtually the same raw performance as a more expensive one as long as it’s built to spec. So, check out reviews and make sure, above all, you’re choosing something reliable. Then if you have a special need for something like a ton of fan headers, or if you’re planning to use the motherboard for a really long time, like more than five years, you can look at spending extra in those cases,, and we’d never judge you if you’re paying more just because you’re really serious about having a vaporwave themed build.