Should you spend more money on a motherboard or CPU?

should-you-spend-more-money-on-a-motherboard-or-cpu

Should you spend more money on a motherboard or CPU? Well this depends on your budget and use.

Do you have a limited budget for your next computer build? You can save money by using a cheap motherboard but will it affect your system’s performance?

A 2008 study in the journal “Nature” asserts that benchmark results are generally unaffected when comparing cheap motherboards to expensive ones. However, this claim was discredited in another study by the International Engineering Consortium in 2011. This claimed that not all benchmarks are affected, but some programs including games do suffer when to run on less expensive motherboards.

The choice is ultimately up to you, but before making any purchases think about what you want from your new computer. If it will be for general use like internet browsing and word processing then buying an inexpensive motherboard should work just fine. On the other hand, if you want to play any games you might be better off with a more expensive motherboard.

Answering the question is easy! I’m sure it’s clear where the money should go when building your PC. Spending more on a motherboard will always give you better performance. So, spending more on a motherboard means that you’ll get the most out of your CPU (if they are not integrated) – and making less expensive motherboards an irrelevant purchase due to the fact that only cheap motherboards perform worse than more expensive ones.

Why should you spend more money on a motherboard?

When building a computer for the first time, you probably make the mistake of not putting enough money on your motherboard (which is where all parts connect to). If that describes you, don’t worry! You have good chances that your motherboard will work just fine with any CPU you might throw at it.

However, if you want to play games or do some other intensive PC-related task that puts high loads onto your motherboard’s components, then an upgrade may be required. The components commonly put under strain are the ones powering up your graphics card – so this is when choosing a more expensive motherboard would give you better performance.

The price/performance ratio in motherboards is also heavily dependent on what kind of processor you are using. Since you can already afford the most expensive processor, you might as well buy the best motherboard out there to match it.

This is not necessarily true either – if you are willing to pay for expensive hardware, then make sure you will be getting an advantage from your purchase. If there is no real performance boost (in games) by spending more on a better motherboard, rather spend that money on a faster graphics card and/or a faster CPU instead.

Remember: upgrading a motherboard is usually pretty simple and costs less than buying a new one. If in doubt though, research thoroughly or ask someone with more experience! A computer repair person can do this for you.

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Reasons for getting an expensive motherboard

There are a variety of reasons for buying an expensive motherboard. For example, you may want the latest technology that is only found in typically ultra-high-end motherboards. You might be into overclocking and want to ensure that your components stay stable under pressure. In any case, there are tangible benefits to spending more on a motherboard rather than going with a budget board from no-name manufacturer who doesn’t know what they’re doing.

Better technologies

Expensive motherboards will often have the newest technologies available such as MOSFETs capable of running up to 45 amps at 200 degrees Celsius or memory sockets mounted directly to the board instead of using traditional standoffs and fixings. This makes installing and removing hardware both easier and safer as those sensitive components are that much closer to the surface of the board, and there is no way they can be accidentally knocked loose from a stray screw or rough movement.

Better cooling

Additionally, more expensive boards allow for better cooling with more powerful fans and heatsinks, especially when running overclocked since components run hotter than usual even if voltage and clock speeds remain constant. This means it will last longer because you’ll have less chance of overloading your hardware and causing crashes.

A motherboard specification should never be looked at in isolation; think about what other hardware you might want to use instead of just considering this one purchase on its own. It’s always best to consider everything as an interconnected system such as processor speed not just being limited by memory but also by the chipset on the motherboard.

Better overclocking provisions

A lot of people see overclocking as something that requires modifying hardware but there are many motherboards designed for this purpose-built into them by default which come with settings already configured ready to go so you can get started straight away any prior knowledge necessary making it great for beginners.

Audio quality

An often neglected feature is the audio quality integrated onto your motherboard. Often these are lower quality sound cards and whilst some don’t mind, others enjoy having great sound built into their hardware allowing them to plug in headphones or speakers directly into their motherboards without needing extra equipment to achieve it.

Addiontal ports

Expensive ones will have additional ports on the back of motherboards that allow for more than just USB devices; in fact some motherboards offer ports for water cooling, extreme overclocking support and even custom lighting options.

PCIe speeds

There are PCIe x1/x2/x4 slots which determine what speed PCIe device can be connected to the board (which allows us to connect our graphics card(s) via PCI-Express). The difference between each type of slot is obvious; an x1 card will be running at x1 speeds, whereas an x4 card is running at 4 times the speed. For example, if you decide to use two graphics cards for SLI/CrossfireX setups then you should always go with an x8/x8 motherboard (or higher) because each graphics card runs faster on those kinds of motherboards.

More PCIe lanes

As most of the modern pc cases only allow up to four SATA HDD’s (and some even opt for that with mSATA SSD’s or small SSD disks), it is important to make sure your motherboard supports both M.2 and SATA-Express disk connections in order to benefit from high bandwidth storage solutions available. If possible I recommend getting a motherboard with six or more SATA ports if you intend to build a PC that doesn’t support M.2 pcie disks – It is possible to buy one external PCIe disk and use it as boot drive fastened inside the case, but in most cases bandwidth provided by regular sata disks will be enough for any computer usage scenario.

More USB ports

For example an ASRock motherboard provides both 3.0 and 2.0 USB controllers which allow you to plug in multiple high speed peripherals without worrying about the lack of bandwidth (and lose storage space) provided by front USB 2.0 slots – Which might not suffice for many modern usages scenarios anymore (such as high resolution gaming or ultra HD video editing).

SLI/Crossfire support

Most expensive motherboards provide support for multiple graphics cards. If you are running a gaming rig, better get yourself an expensive motherboard 😉

More bells and whistles

Last, but not least there are features that have become very common in the past couple of years – Such as onboard WIFI modules, USB 3.0 ports and SATA 6Gbps ports – All of which allow you to save the consumer money since they can be omitted from the cost of the motherboard.

Why should you spend more money on a CPU?

For gaming

The first reason that it might be time to buy a faster CPU is that your computer is too slow for the kinds of applications you are using. If you play video games, then it might be difficult if not impossible for some newer games to run on your slower processor. This is because more powerful CPUs are needed to keep up with modern graphics technology. You don’t have to go out and get an extremely expensive gaming PC, but buying a new CPU would definitely give you an edge when playing most titles.

Virtual reality

Another option is virtual reality. It seems like every day there’s news about some new advancement in VR technology. And of course, these devices need computers to work properly – which means they need CPUs that can handle the requirements. If your CPU is too slow, you won’t be able to experience VR at its full potential.

Image rendering

Then of course there’s image rendering. With speeds on CPUs getting higher and higher every day, it becomes more difficult to stay up with video editing – not just in terms of processor speed but also memory. If you are working with high resolution media or have a lot of videos being edited at once, then more RAM would be advised so that all of this data can be processed quickly by the CPU.

3D rendering

Another application for which faster processors are necessary is 3D rendering. This process allows graphic designers to make animations that look extremely realistic – displaying things like liquids, fire, and smoke. Of course, these types of projects take a lot of time – faster processors can help speed up the process.

Encoding

The last key application for which having a fast processor is crucial is encoding. This is how videos are compressed to various formats which makes them easier to upload and share. If you were encoding video as an HD video, you would want as much power as possible so that this process does not take too many hours.

Conclusion

So would I spend more money on a motherboard or CPU? Personally, I would do both.

For instance, I recently upgraded my PC. I got the ASUS ROG series motherboard. I could have settled in for the ASUS Prime one but wanted something more durable and future-proof.

When it comes to buying CPUs, both AMD and Intel have models across all price ranges. While these basic computer components may seem like they don’t cost very much, your overall system performance will suffer if you buy something at the bottom of the barrel rather than getting one that fits your needs.

Author:
I am a computer engineer holding a bachelor's degree in Computer Science, complemented by a Master's in Business Administration from University of Strathclyde, Scotland. I currently work as a Senior IT Consultant in Melbourne, Australia. With over 15 years of...