What you consider to be the best motherboard for gaming on Intel will depend on a variety of things. Do you want a full ATX board, or just micro ITX? How much connectivity do you need available? What’s your budget? The list goes on, and these different factors make it difficult to figure out exactly what makes one motherboard better than another. This is why we’ve tested and compared some of the best Intel Z390, Z370 and mainstream chipsets to help you figure out what’s best for you.
It might not have the same performance impact as your choice of graphics card or CPU, but your motherboard will dictate which of either you can jam in your gaming build. And it doesn’t stop there, your motherboard will decide what sort of storage drives you can plug in and what memory you can use too. We’ve tested the best boards from Asus, Gigabyte, MSI, and ASRock to help you choose the right one to build your rig around.
There are myriad 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 3000 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 to cater for the latest Ryzen chips, but, because Intel can still just about claim the absolute best gaming performance from its platform, we’re focusing on the different Intel options here.
What is the best gaming motherboard for Intel in 2020?
We’re suckers for an Asus motherboard, and the ROG Strix Z390-E Gaming is a great option for anyone looking to build a gaming PC based around any of Intel’s latest processors. Overclocking is made a breeze by the simple, but comprehensive, BIOS, and there is an impressive level of connectivity on offer too. A great Intel mobo.
But there are other options too, and MSI and Gigabyte have some impressively affordable alternatives. So keep on reading…
ASUS ROG STRIX Z390-E GAMING
What we like…
The Asus ROG Strix Z390-E Gaming marks the entry-level into the high-end ROG range. Despite that high-end heritage, it’s rather well-suited to avid gamers and moderate overclockers alike. While most of its high-end siblings favour liquid nitrogen and record-breaking functionality in lieu of affordability, the Z390-E blends just enough of that ROG approach without overstepping into the extreme.
The Z390 chipset doesn’t offer all that much in the way of native functionality over its predecessor: Z370. However, AI overclocking and a few iterative updates to the tried and tested formula make the Z390 a worthwhile improvement. So long as you don’t find yourself paying a premium for the Z390 board over its Z370 equivalent, there’s nothing to lose with the Asus Strix Z390-E Gaming.
Read our full Asus Z390-E Strix Gaming review.
great for connections
MSI Z390 Gaming Pro Carbon AC
What we like…
M.2 heat sink included
It’s a close-run thing between this mighty MSI Z390 and the quality 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 you 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 at least the Asus board with only a little light tweaking of the clock speeds, 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 Z390. 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 often a mite cheaper too.
Asus TUF Z390-Pro Gaming
What we like…
All-core enhancement compatible
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.
MSI B360M Mortar
What we like…
Micro ATX form factor
Great alternative to Z390
The Intel H370 motherboards were a long time coming and, for the most part, don’t really offer any significant savings over the budget end of the Z370 range. As they’re newer boards they’re often more expensive. The B360 however, exemplified here by MSI’s excellent B360M Mortar, does represent a good-value alternative to the Z370 option, without sacrificing too much in the way of performance.
You will miss out on any overclocking potential of the K-series Intel processors, but with the mighty Core i5 8400 and its non-K ilk still offering serious gaming performance at stock speeds, that’s not too big an issue. The B360M Mortar is also a nicely proportioned Micro ATX board too, allowing you to drop it into more svelte chassis than the larger ATX board standard.
Read our full MSI B360M Mortar review.
Great for wire-phobics
Gigabyte B360 Aorus Gaming 3 WiFi
What we like…
Good selection of ports
The B360 boards are your best bet for a cheap gaming motherboard now that the mainstream chipsets have been launched. The H370 options are generally too expensive in comparison with the budget Z370 boards, which also offer higher performance.
The MSI B360M Mortar has the better overall performance, is cheaper, and has the smaller form factor for extra versatility, but the Gigabyte has the added bonus of wireless connectivity. Realistically the MSI is the better option, but the Aorus is a decent backup.
Asus ROG Strix Z390-I gaming
What we like…
Mini-ITX motherboards are adorable. If cute factor alone isn’t enough to convince you, however, the Asus ROG Strix Z390-I Gaming also packs an ungodly amount of functionality onto a compact motherboard of its minuscule size. You can get eight cores and 16 threads running contempt on this board, turning even the smallest gaming build into the PC equivalent of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s quads.
This mini-ITX board packs in some serious functionality within its tiny frame. While the chipset has little to offer over its predecessor, Z370, Asus have put plenty of extra goodies on the board to make the next-gen worthwhile. For miniature eight-core monster builds, the Z390-I can’t be beat.
Read our full Asus ROG Strix Z390-I Gaming review.
Picking the perfect motherboard for your rig can feel like walking a tightrope with all the I/O you want on one side and cost on the other. However, with a little critical thinking, and planning out your build around your board, the process can be rather painless.
After all, unless you are a super hardcore 1337 overclocking pro, it really all comes down to good quality, a form factor that works for your case or preference, and a healthy handful of ports. Performance between motherboards is totally negligible at this point, everything that used to make a difference to PC performance has long since been shifted aboard the CPU itself.
After all, the motherboard is the vessel for all your other, frankly, more interesting components that really make your gaming PC tick. It’s an important part of the puzzle, but one that needn’t keep you up at night either.