Best gaming motherboard

Best gaming motherboard

The best gaming motherboard is all about that heady mix of performance, functionality, and good ol’ fashioned value. Picking the wrong one could mean you’re not optimising your CPU and graphics performance, and you might be limiting your upgrade path in the future too. And that’s what building a gaming PC is all about.

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There are myriad different options to consider when you’re picking the best motherboard for gaming. The most important choice, however, is whether you’re opting for an Intel or AMD processor as the beating heart of your rig. This year team red launched the AMD Ryzen CPU platform, along with a whole new line of AM4 motherboards, making the choice a lot tougher.

We’ve covered the best AMD gaming motherboards in another guide and, while Intel can still claim the absolute best gaming performance from their platform, we're focusing on the different Intel options here.

And it’s been a busy year for the chip giant, with the 200-series boards for Kaby Lake launching in January and the Z370 chipset for the Intel Coffee Lake CPUs launching in October. We’ve also had high-end X299 motherboards launched too, adding more options to the list.

Click on the quick links below to jump to whatever category takes your techie fancy.

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Best gaming motherboard for Coffee Lake

Asus STRIX Z370-E Gaming

Asus ROG STRIX Z370-E Gaming

Chipset: Z370 | Socket: LGA 1151 v2 | Form factor: ATX | mGPU: 2x SLI, 3x CF

Approx. $210 / £207

Asus have been classically cheeky with their Republic of Gamers STRIX Z370 board, and enabled their ‘all-core enhancement’ feature from the outset. It does only pop up when you enable the XMP for your RAM, but that’s a standard part of setting up a new board, so it’s almost inevitable. What that all means is that out-of-the-box your new Coffee Lake CPU will be running at its rated single-core Turbo speeds rather than the lower all-core clockspeed.

For the top-end i7 8700K that means you’re getting a heady 4.7GHz straight away rather than the 4.3GHz you’ll find on the Gigabyte and MSI motherboards. It also means that the Asus Z370 is able to offer the highest performance for the Coffee Lake boards we’ve tested so far.

That’s not all the STRIX board has going for it, however, as this Asus option has a quality feature set too. There’s built in Wi-Fi support (the MSI Gaming Pro Carbon AC has a separate module you need to drop into a spare PCIe slot), support for SLI and 3-way CrossFire, reinforced graphics card slots, and a pair of M.2 SSD sockets. One of those is even given a little thermal loving via an integrated heatsink, a la MSI.

My only real criticism is the relative paucity of USB ports on the back panel. There are only five standard size USB connections, with a Type-C thrown in for good measure. I’d recommend a good chassis with a host of front panel USB ports to make up for it, as there are a host of internal headers on the board you can use.

The best Asus ROG STRIX Z370-E Gaming prices we’ve found today:

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Best gaming motherboard for Coffee Lake runner-up

MSI Z370 Gaming Pro Carbon AC

MSI Z370 Gaming Pro Carbon AC

Chipset: Z370 | Socket: LGA 1151 v2 | Form factor: ATX | mGPU: 2x SLI, 3x CF

Approx. $200 / £180 

It’s a close-run thing between this mighty MSI Z370 and the quality li’l STRIX board above. The Asus only really gets the win because it doesn’t need any user input to get your CPU running at its best, just setting the XMP switch in the BIOS. But the MSI Gaming Pro Carbon AC is still more than capable of matching the CPU and gaming performance of the Asus Z370 with only a little light tweaking of the clockspeeds, easily hitting the same 5.2GHz overclock with the i7 8700K. And if you’re opting for a K-series CPU then what the hell are you doing /not/  overclocking?

This ‘AC’ version comes with a discrete 802.11ac WiFi card, reinforced PCIe slots and a twin M.2 sockets. One of those has the M.2 thermal shielding to help cool your NVMe drive, but isn’t as rigid as the one on their X299 or the Asus Z370. It also has more readily available USB connections on the rear of the board and more RGB lovin’ than you can shake a hot LED strip at. And it’s a mite cheaper too.

The best MSI Z370 Gaming Pro Carbon AC prices we’ve found today:

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Best gaming motherboard for Coffee Lake runner-up

Asus TUF Z370-Pro Gaming

Asus TUF Z370-Pro Gaming

Chipset: Z370 | Socket: LGA 1151 v2 | Form factor: ATX | mGPU: 2x SLI, 2x CF

Approx. $159 / £145 

The lower-priced Asus TUF board delivers Coffee Lake performance for a lot less than either of the ~$200 MSI or Asus STRIX boards. The feature set is a little lighter - there’s only protection on a single PCIe slot, and the PCB feels a touch more flimsy than the others - but it still has the overclocking performance as well as Asus’ all-core enhancement feature which means it ignores the Intel Turbo limitations.

That makes it a speedy little board straight off the bat with any K-series CPU you care to toss its way. That also means it’s got the gaming performance without you having to do any tweaking beyond ensuring your RAM’s running at its XMP settings.

The best Asus TUF Z370-Pro Gaming prices we’ve found today:

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Best gaming motherboard for Coffee Lake runner-up

Gigabyte Z370 Aorus Gaming K3

Gigabyte Z370 Aorus Gaming K3

Chipset: Z370 | Socket: LGA 1151 v2 | Form factor: ATX | mGPU: 2x CF

Approx. £135 

Gigabyte’s Aorus breed of motherboards is a bit of a strange beast. While this impressively low-priced Z370 is freely available in the UK, it’s not listed at all in the US, with only a couple of other Aoruses (Aori?) available for America. Which is a shame because this isn’t a bad budget Coffee Lake board, and given that it’s going to be a while before we see the budget 300-series chipsets arrive that’s something that’s sorely needed.

Like the MSI it’s stuck to Intel’s Turbo guidelines, but there is Gigabyte’s own multi-core enhancement feature in the BIOS which you do have to activate deliberately. Then it matches the Asus design and ramps your K-series chip up to its peak Turbo clockspeed.

Unfortunately some of the gaming performance is still a little off the mark and, try as we might, we couldn’t get the Aorus to match the 5.2GHz overclock the Asus and MSI boards offer, having to make do with 5.1GHz. Which is still none too bad for a budget board.

The best Gigabyte Z370 Aorus Gaming K3 prices we’ve found today:

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Best gaming motherboard for Coffee Lake runner-up

ASRock Z370 Killer SLI

ASRock Z370 Killer SLI

Chipset: Z370 | Socket: LGA 1151 v2 | Form factor: ATX | mGPU: 2x SLI, 2x CF

Approx. $146 / £133 

This ASRock Z370 is another well-priced Z370 looking to corner the budget Coffee Lake chipset market in lieu of the H370 and B360 boards. Unfortunately both Gigabyte and Asus have released similarly priced boards with the same sort of feature set and generally better performance.

The Killer SLI doesn’t do badly, however, and can offer the Nvidia multi-GPU support the Aorus can’t. It’s also got a healthy 10-phase power system which ought to make it a decent overclocker too. Sadly that’s all a bit strange. The out-of-the-box performance looks good initially as our i7 8700K hit 4.7GHz straight away, like the STRIX board, but then throttled single-core performance to 4.3GHz, which makes the gaming performance a little weak. It was also a little less reliable when trying to hit 5.2GHz too. 

 

 

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Best gaming motherboard for Kaby Lake

Best gaming motherboard - Asus TUF Z270 Mark 1

Asus TUF Z270 Mark 1

Chipset: Z270 | Socket: LGA 1151 | Form factor: ATX | mGPU: 2x SLI, 3x CF

Approx. $160 / £155

There is surprisingly little between the top Z270 motherboards in terms of overall performance, but the Asus TUF Z270 Mark 1 gets the vote as our favourite gaming motherboard thanks to its mix of serious overclocking chops and impressively broad feature-set.

Where the TUF does stand out in performance terms though is in its storage speed and thermals. It posted the fastest benchmark results from our Samsung 960 EVO NVMe test drive and is the most adept of the full size mobos at dealing with the toasty Kaby Lake CPUs under load. 

The Asus software, most notably the Asus motherboard BIOS, is the best in the business. The clean, easy-to-navigate BIOS screens make building, testing and tweaking your new machine as simple as possible. It’s got a host of features that will come in handy whether you’re an overclocking n00b or an old hand.

Still, it’s a mighty close run thing up against the MSI Z270 Gaming M5 board. That’s a mobo with a feature set as long as Mr.Tickle’s roving appendages and a bit of hero in the overall performance stakes too, but the TUF’s robust design is something that really stands out. The extra armour around the board – rigid spine on the back and dust cover on top – means the Asus TUF Z270 Mark 1 is a gaming motherboard that’s designed to stand the test of time.

It is though one of the most expensive of the Z270 motherboards we’ve tested so far, but then we haven’t grabbed the ~$400 Maximus IX Formula yet…

The best Asus TUF Z270 Mark 1 prices we’ve found today:

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Best gaming motherboard for Kaby Lake runner-up

Best gaming motherboard runner-up - MSI Z270 Gaming M5

MSI Z270 Gaming M5

Chipset: Z270 | Socket: LGA 1151 | Form factor: ATX | mGPU: 2x SLI, 3x CF

Approx. $160 / £155

The MSI board just about posts the quickest speeds in our CPU benchmarking tests as well as in the Futuremark graphics tests too. But given that there are such small margins between the full-scale Z270 boards we’ve tested that doesn’t really translate into much in the way of a tangible difference. The MSI Z270 Gaming M5 though does have an impressive feature set, but the high temperature and power results compared with the Asus board would have us rather build around the slightly more expensive TUF Z270 Mark 1 if we were putting together a robust, high-end rig.

The best MSI Z270 Gaming M5 prices we’ve found today:

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Best gaming motherboard for Kaby Lake runner-up

Best gaming motherboard runner-up - Gigabyte Z270X-Ultra Gaming

Gigabyte Z270X-Ultra Gaming

Chipset: Z270 | Socket: LGA 1151 | Form factor: ATX | mGPU: 2x SLI, 3x CF

Approx. $155 / £127

This Gigabyte mobo is one of the lower-priced of the Z270 boards we’ve tested and yet still comes with a decent feature set and similar overall performance to the rest of the Z270 crew. It’s also got loads of LEDs strewn across the board which you can tailor to match the rest of your rig’s aesthetic. If that’s your thing. Where it can’t quite hold up against the other Z270 boards is in the power department. It generates the highest operating temperatures and power draw, which would always have us reaching for the Asus instead.

The best Gigabyte Z270X-Ultra Gaming prices we’ve found today:

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Best budget gaming motherboard for Kaby Lake

Best budget gaming motherboard - Asus Prime Z270-P

Asus Prime Z270-P

Chipset: Z270 | Socket: LGA 1151 | Form factor: ATX | mGPU: 2x CF

Approx. $106 / £108

It’s no surprise a lot of canny system builders are basing their pre-built Kaby Lake gaming rigs around Asus’ bargain-priced Z270 board. With the limited performance difference between the Z270 boards we’ve tested if you’re trying to maximise the amount of money you can shuffle around to spend on a more performance-impacting piece of tech picking a cheaper motherboard can be a good compromise.

The Asus Prime is a relatively basic, straightforward Z270 board and yet still manages to retain an impressive feature list despite its lower price. You’re still getting a pair of M.2 sockets for PCIe SSD support which is a handy future-proofing feature, preparing for a time when we’ve all forgotten about the existence of those bulky 2.5-inch SSDs. It also happily supports overclocked dual-channel DDR4 memory up to 3,866MHz too.

Asus are offering EM shielding on the onboard audio components as well. That eliminates the electrical interference you will often hear when you jam a pair of headphones into the back of your motherboard’s sound sockets. Those sockets are more limited than standard 7.1 channel onboard sound, and lacking S/PDIF output, but still effective.

There are other inevitable concessions to price, though they have been intelligently picked by the Asus engineering team. There are only four SATA 6Gbps ports on the board and the sparse back panel doesn’t have any USB 3.1 support, Type-C, Type-A or otherwise. You just get four straight USB 3.0 sockets and a pair of USB 2.0 ones. There’s also only support for AMD’s CrossFireX multi-GPU tech, and only then with one of the two x16 PCIe 3.0 slots running in x4 mode.

There are no concessions on overall performance, however, with the Prime offering gaming and CPU prowess easily on par with (and sometimes exceeding) its more expensively-priced competitors.

If you’re looking to spec out a basic, no nonsense gaming rig this well-priced Z270 should definitely be on the shopping list.

The best Asus Prime Z270-P prices we’ve found today:

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Best budget gaming motherboard for Kaby Lake runner-up

Best budget gaming motherboard runner-up - MSI H270 Tomahawk Arctic

MSI H270 Tomahawk Arctic

Chipset: H270 | Socket: LGA 1151 | Form factor: ATX | mGPU: 2x CF

Approx. $115 / £123

If you’re going to be opting for a straight non-K processor, or just have no interest in overclocking the twangers off your CPU and memory, then it’s worth considering the H270 chipset as a more budget-oriented option for your new rig. Once more, in gaming and graphics terms, there’s not much difference between the H and Z-series chipsets. CPU-wise they are a step down – they don’t have the capability to fully Turbo up to 4.5GHz on all cores and that means they lag behind the Z270 or Z170 boards. You also don’t get the same complement of PCIe lanes, though you do still get the M.2 sockets. This MSI version also comes with a natty arctic fox camo livery to brighten up the inside of your rig.

The best MSI H270 Tomahawk Arctic prices we’ve found today:

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Best compact motherboard for Kaby Lake

Best compact gaming motherboard - Asus ROG Strix Z270i Gaming

Asus ROG Strix Z270i Gaming

Chipset: Z270 | Socket: LGA 1151 | Form factor: Mini ITX | Multi-GPU: N/A

Approx. $179 / £174

The diminutive Asus Republic of Gamers board has ousted the previous ASRock incumbent of the best compact gaming motherboard top-spot, and for good reason. There is zero performance compromise in opting for this mini-ITX iteration of the Z270 chipset, while the Fatal1ty board does suffer from some limited all-core CPU performance.

The Asus Z270i also has a superior feature list, sporting an extra M.2 PCIe SSD socket – one on the top and one underslung below the board – support for higher memory frequencies and more USB connections on the rear I/O panel too.

It’s also a mighty-impressive overclocker given its diminutive stature. To be fair the ASRock board was capable of overclocking to 5GHz with our latest Intel Core i7 7700K CPU sample, but the Asus actually still posts higher benchmark figures at that top speed, if only slightly. This ROG board is also speedier in terms of storage and memory performance too.

With such an impressive feature list and performance numbers it’s probably not surprising the ROG Strix Z270i Gaming is a pricey little board, around the same price as the full-scale MSI or Gigabyte boards above. But the fact that it performs as well - in some cases even slightly quicker – means if you’re looking to build a no-compromise, small form factor gaming PC you’d be hard-pushed to track down a better mini-ITX mobo than this to be its foundation.

Best Asus ROG Strix Z270i Gaming prices we’ve found today:

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Best compact motherboard for Kaby Lake runner-up

Best compact gaming motherboard - ASRock Z270 Gaming-ITX

ASRock Fatal1ty Z270 Gaming-ITX/ac

Chipset: Z270 | Socket: LGA 1151 | Form factor: Mini ITX | Multi-GPU: N/A

Approx. $159 / £159

You might think ASRock’s ‘Fatal1ty’ branding is just another motherboard manufacturer making up words again, but Fatal1ty was one of the original superstars of pro-gaming back when PCs were still powered by steam and/or gerbils. 

Depsite its high-performance leanings the CPU performance of the Gaming-ITX/ac is the slowest of all the Z270 boards I’ve tested, only running at a maximum of 4.4GHz across all cores while the others are mostly capable of hitting 4.5GHz. That can, however, be quickly remedied with a K-series chip thanks to the board’s impressive overclocking capabilities. I was able to hit a stable 5GHz with our Intel stock 7700K sample using the board’s own setting in the BIOS. 

Because of its scale though you do only get single PCIe 3.0 and underslung M.2 sockets, and the lack of overall performance makes a bit of a compromise while the Asus mini-ITX board isn't.

Best ASRock Fatal1ty Z270 Gaming-ITX/ac prices we’ve found today:

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Best compact motherboard for Kaby Lake runner-up

Best compact gaming motherboard runner-up - Asus ROG STRIX Z270G Gaming

Asus ROG STRIX Z270G Gaming

Chipset: Z270 | Socket: LGA 1151 | Form factor: Micro ATX | mGPU: 2x SLI, 2x CF

Approx. $190 / £160

Not quite as svelte as the mini-ITX ASRock the Asus STRIX board retains just a little more of the functionality you’d get from a full-size Z270. It’s also able to run the processor at the same speeds as its ATX brethren, and overclocks like them too. You also get two way SLI and CrossFireX support because the extra space on the PCB allows for both multiple x16 PCIe 3.0 slots and four DIMM slots too. The ASRock ITX wins in terms of scale, making it the best choice for a micro gaming machine, but this Asus offers less of a compromise on the feature-set.

Best Asus ROG STRIX Z270G Gaming prices we’ve found today:

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Gaming motherboard benchmarks

Gaming motherboard benchmarks

Intel Coffee Lake

Intel Kaby Lake

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How to buy a gaming motherboard

How to buy a gaming motherboard

The PC is the most versatile gaming machine on the planet. That’s why the gaming hardware market is worth over $30bn every year, and that figure is only growing. 

The fact you can tailor your PC exactly to your needs and tastes is what makes it such a powerful ecosystem. You can build a gaming machine that’s capable of outshining a modern console for the same cost, or a super-computer class machine with a cost of tens of thousands. But that complete customisation pretty much has to start with your choice of motherboard. 

Intel or AMD motherboard

AMD or Intel motherboard for gaming?

That used to be the easiest question of the lot. It was Intel every single time. In a way, it still is — if you want the absolute best performance from your graphics card, and therefore the best performance in games, then you need to drop your lot with the Intel in crowd.

But with the release of AMD's Ryzen CPUs and AM4 motherboard platform things have become a little more muddy. The first processors born of AMD’s Zen microarchitecture, the eight-core, 16-thread Ryzen 7 chips, perform as well as, if not better than, Intel's high-end desktop CPUs in productivity/computational tasks. Gaming? Not so much.

That said the cheaper Ryzen 5 gaming chip, the excellent six-core R5 1600X, manages to mostly keep pace with the competing Core i5 CPU making the choice far tougher in the mainstream segment. AMD are also making performance improvements on the gaming side, so there's still the potential for them to catch up.

Motherboard chipsets

Motherboard chipsets

Which chipset should you choose for your motherboard? That all depends on how much you’re willing to spend on a processor, exactly how likely you are to be messing around with its operating frequency and how many graphics cards and PCIe-based SSDs you’re going to want to plumb into it.

On the Intel side, if you’re aiming your sights high then you want to take a look at the new X299 platform with Skylake-X and Kaby Lake-X chips. That’s Intel’s current high-end desktop (HEDT) chipset of choice. It’s only in the HEDT world where you can find Intel chips with more than just four CPU cores. The X299 board is capable of housing up to the glorious i9 7980XE. That’s the $1,999 18-core, 36-thread processing monster set to launch very soon.

The extra thread count and massively increased memory bandwidth play more to the productivity crowd than PC gamers, but as more gamers become interested in the world of streaming and video editing for their own channels having those extra CPU threads can come in handy. Pricey though they are…

AMD's Threadripper CPUs are being very disruptive in the HEDT market. AMD have delivered an 18-core monster at half the price of Intel's top-end extreme processor, the 7980XE. Threadripper is definitely worth considering if you are are in the market for multi-core performance.

For more reasonable builds the more mainstream, though still high-end, Z270 chipset is the next one down. It’s essentially a rehash of the Z170 chipset which was introduced with Skylake, but updated for the Kaby Lake CPU launch. Over the Z170 chipset it provides a bump in the number of PCIe lanes, to help with PCIe storage demands, and support for Intel’s much-vaunted Optane memory technology.

Beneath that are the cheaper H270 and B250 which follow the sames lines compared with their 100-series chipset predecessors. Where they’re lacking compared to the higher-spec Z270 is in their official support for CPU overclocking and multi-GPU support.

The AMD AM4 platform comes with a selection of different chipsets too, with the X370 representing the pinnacle of the AMD Ryzen platform. The X370 supports ‘overclocking+’ which is reported to offer the deepest level of CPU performance control of all the Zen chipsets, as well as full access to the 24 PCIe 3.0 lanes in the top-spec Ryzen silicon.

Below that is the B350, a mid-range chipset which has limited overclocking support and reportedly no capabilities for multi-GPU either. At the bottom is the A320 which doesn’t have either multi-GPU or overclocking support. There is also set to be a dedicated small form factor chipset, the X300, though exactly what that will bring to the table compared with its larger siblings is currently a bit nebulous.

Intel Kaby Lake CPU wafer

Last gen or next gen?

If Skylake or Kaby Lake fit your purposes just fine, then Z170 or Z270 will be the platform for you. There is probably not going to be a huge disparity between the cost of an old Z170 and a modern Z270 board. You will also be better served by a chipset which will retain support longer than its forebear and there is the potential for a bit of an upgrade path too, depending on your initial choice of processor.

On the other hand, Coffee Lake is almost here, offering more cores for the same price at launch as Kaby Lake. Unfortunately Intel's 8th generation Coffee Lake desktop chips do not share the same backwards compatible qualities as their Kaby Lake counterparts, meaning you'll required a Z370 board to run the latest processors.

Motherboard form factor

Form factor

There are four main motherboard sizes to choose from: extended ATX, ATX, micro ATX and mini-ITX. The Advanced Technology Extended (ATX) form factor is the standard motherboard size and is the one which most PC chassis are built around. The larger extended ATX boards are a little broader and generally represent the more expensive, more feature-rich performance designs.

The last two main form factors have been created to cater for smaller PC designs without compromising performance. The micro ATX scale still allows for almost the same level of features as the more standard ATX designs, normally just cutting down on the number of PCIe slots to two x16 and two x1 connections.

Mini-ITX is the smallest of the form factors used in motherboards for gaming. But, because of the amount of componentry which has moved from the motherboard onto the processor itself over the last few years, there is now little appreciable performance drop off with the smaller layout. You do though lose out in terms of features. There is generally only space for a single full size PCIe connection, with only two memory slots available too. To save packing too much onto the topside of the board many manufacturers choose to place the M.2 or mini PCIe slots on the underside of the PCB.

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Click on the quick links below to jump to whatever category takes your techie fancy.

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*sigh* avatarDave James avatarMan_Of_Mayhem1344 avatar
*sigh* Avatar
272
5 Months ago

Now Im just a bit curious why pcgamesn are picking MSI stuff.

Is MSI Eng-ger-lund? (Big Dave voice off)

When most others go for asus hero.

Does MSI pay for a (Big Dave voice on) AD. Ill kick yer teef in, duff up yer postie and steal yer giro. Yer bunch of pansies.

1
Dave James Avatar
460
5 Months ago

Is that an impression of me :(

Not sure what you mean though. We try and review kit from all manufacturers, why should we exclude MSI from that?

But, if you're referring to us recommending MSI boards specifically, we've actually recommended Asus motherboards as the top choice for all three categories above. MSI have just been the runner-up.

1
Man_Of_Mayhem1344 Avatar
2
3 Months ago

I bought a asus z270 stix gaming board and it was a pile of trash. After 2 months all the USB ports quit working the system was buggy the whole 9 yards. Bought the msi m5 just a week or so ago and the thing is flawless and it's stock over clocking programs gained me addition performance over asus. I will NEVER buy asus again.

1