If you are building a gaming PC within a budget of 500 to 800 dollars, you probably don’t want to spend more than a hundred bucks on the motherboard. And choosing a nice budget motherboard these days has become extremely confusing with Intel and AMD pumping out new releases every year. And on top of that, you have to worry about compatibility between parts, more so if you are building an Intel system because their CPUs are not compatible with older generation chipsets. Of course that will change with the 9th generation, aka the Coffee Lake refresh but still- any new Intel CPU that you plan on purchasing as of now will not run if you have a motherboard from 2 or 3 years ago.
Things get even more confusing when you bring in the various motherboard brands and each one of them provides you with a bunch of different models, even under the 100 dollar price point. You have mATX, min ITX, and ATX. Some of these budget motherboards support Crossfire while the others don’t, some of them are equipped with M.2 slots and USB 3.1 Gen2, while others don’t have those features. Worry not, because we did the research for you and came up with four of the best motherboards that you can buy under 100 dollars as of today. Two of these are for gamers who plan on using Intel chips, the other two are for AMD builds.
Without further ado, here are our contenders for best motherboard under 100 dollars:
It is a mATX board, which is the main reason it manages to stay under the 100 dollar price point despite featuring the Z370 chipset. This is a simple, no frills overclocking board for current generation Intel Core i5 8600k systems, as well as future Core i5 9600k builds.
Unlike the slightly more expensive Gigabyte board that we just reviewed, this MSI motherboard is equipped with the B360 chipset which means you cannot overclock on it. To compensate for that loss in potential CPU speed, you are getting two PCIe 3.0 x 16 slots, and a better onboard audio solution thanks to the Realtek ALC892 codec.
Apart from the brilliant red and black color scheme, this MSI B450 motherboard is one of the most value for money deals you can get on gaming motherboards in general. Part of that is because this is an AMD Ryzen motherboard, which automatically increases its “performance per dollar” rating. But more importantly, it is loaded with some really cool features unique to MSI boards and is built like a much more expensive board.
If you are going with a black and white themed budget gaming PC build, this is the perfect motherboard for you. Just pair something like a Ryzen 5 1600 and you can enjoy 1080p, 60 fps gaming for super cheap. But it also supports Pinnacle Ridge processors, so you can just as easily plug a Ryzen 2700X into this motherboard and enjoy great gaming along with amazing productivity (streaming, video editing, 3D modelling, etc.)
Frequently Asked Questions-
How do I know if a motherboard and processor are compatible?
Let’s start with the basics- Intel processors will run only on Intel motherboards, and AMD processors will run only on AMD boards. Now that brings us to the next question- how do I know if a certain motherboard is Intel or AMD? Well, that is simple. Just check the box and you should be able to see the Intel or AMD logos on the front, this should tell you which company’s processors will be supported by that specific motherboard. But this method is only for people who know very little about computers. Most PC enthusiasts and gamers will recognize the motherboard by its chipset- a piece of hardware on the board which is responsible for data transfer within the board, as well as various memory and storage controls.
Intel and AMD use different chipsets, and with each new processor generation they also release their respective chipsets to support those CPUs. For instance, the Intel 8th generation processors or Coffee Lake CPUs are designed to be compatible with 300 series chipsets. In Intel terminology, you have H, B, and Z series chipsets with H being the least feature packed and Z being the most high- end of them all. Most consumers that use Intel for gaming, are going to be using motherboards with the B and Z series chipset. Only Z series chipsets allow overclocking, and you need an unlocked CPU to pair with a Z170, Z270, or Z370 board for overclocking. How do you know if an Intel CPU is unlocked? Well you just look at the end of the model number, it should have a “k” on it. There are also Intel Xtreme series processors like the Core i9- 7900X, but these are not something even the most hardcore gamers will use. So for now, you just look at the end of the model number for a “k”, and pair that chip with a motherboard that uses a “Z” series chipset. Each generation has a different Z series chipset allocated to it, SkyLake has Z170 (launched in 2015), KabyLake has Z270 (launched in 2016), Coffee Lake has Z370 (launched in 2017), and the upcoming Coffee Lake refresh or 9th gen will get Z390. One interesting thing to note here is that Z390 is not a necessity if you want to use Intel 9th generation chips such as the upcoming Core i9 9900k. Thankfully these will be backward compatible so you can use them on Z370 boards.
For AMD, things are a lot simpler because all Ryzen CPUs are unlocked from the factory and are compatible with every Ryzen motherboard. The only thing that changes when you pay more for a higher ranked chipset is the features and expandability. Basically, you have A, B, and X series chipsets. A series chipsets are found on the cheapest boards and don’t support overclocking. If you are building a compact, cheap Ryzen system with a CPU like the Ryzen 3 1200, this is the kind of board you want. A slightly more expensive option is the B series boards which support overclocking. Not only that, but B series chipsets allow you to have more PCIe lanes, a higher number of USB 3.1 Gen2 ports, and extra SATA + NVMe storage. X series chipsets are for enthusiasts, hardcore gamers, and overclockers- these are found on the most expensive AMD Ryzen motherboards and boards with X370 or X470 chipsets will be built better than B350 or B450 boards, along with better power delivery and lots of features. Ryzen CPUs also come with a free cooler that is perfectly fine for the average user who doesn’t want to overclock or do a whole lot of gaming. On the contrary, Intel doesn’t provide you with a stock cooler when you purchase one of their unlocked chips (even though you pay extra for purchasing an unlocked chip, something AMD gives you for free).
A really easy way to make sure that all your parts are compatible is by creating a parts list on pcpartpicker. It will tell you if a motherboard is compatible with the processor you have selected, or if it needs a BIOS update in order to work. It will even warn you when you select a k series chip from Intel and don’t purchase a CPU cooler alongside it, since those CPUs have no stock cooler.
What is the difference between AMD B series and X series chipsets?
Both are good for gaming, although your average B350 or B450 board will cost less than the average X370 or X470 board. Both B and X series chipsets support overclocking, but a X370 or X470 board will have superior power delivery and extra features like LN2 mode or QCODE readouts to make overclocking easier. This is because manufacturers know that the people who spend more on X series boards want the best possible experience, and that is why they don’t hold back when designing these enthusiast boards. Apart from build quality and luxury features, the two chipsets also vary in terms of I/O and memory support. For instance, the B350 chipset supports up to 6 USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports while the X370 supports up to 10. The B350 chipset can handle only one SATA Express slot, while the X370 supports 2. The X series chips also support more PCIe lanes, which is why you can run a dual or quad graphics card setup on X370 and X470 boards but cannot do so on a B350 or B450 board. Learn all about the AM4 socket and AMD Ryzen chipsets over here.
Is 2nd Gen Ryzen better than 1st Gen Ryzen?
In terms of performance, yes. Because even though 2nd gen is technically just a more optimized 1st gen and not some totally new architecture, you will notice that most of the performance gains comes from 2nd gen Ryzen being able to hit higher clock speeds. Another interesting thing is the way AMD’s dynamic overclocking feature (Precision Boost) works differently in 2nd gen Ryzen CPUs. Previously, it would only overclock 1 or 2 cores up to 4 GHz while leaving the other cores sitting near their base speed. But now, it applies an even overclock across all cores even though the overclock margin is slightly reduced (3.7 to 3.8 GHz). And AMD chips will automatically overclock themselves based on the cooling solution you are using. If the chip senses more OC headroom based on voltage and temperatures, it will boost itself. In order to compete against Intel’s Optane high speed memory technology, AMD released their StoreMI system which combines performance from your HDD and SSD by managing which drive data is stored in depending on how much you use a certain program or file. All 2nd generation Ryzen motherboards come with StoreMI enabled, but you can also get the technology on 1st generation Ryzen boards by purchasing the Enmotus FuzeDrive software available exclusively from AMD.
What is better, lga or pga?
In order for the processor in your computer to do any kind of processing, it must be connected to the motherboard in some way. By connecting your processor to the board, you provide it with power and inputs/ outputs for instructions to go in and responses to come out. There are contact patches underneath the package of each CPU, and LGA or PGA refers to the design of the processor package. On LGA or Land Grid Array processors, the underside of the CPU is flat with gold plated contact points. These processors will fit into LGA sockets which have a number of pins that stick out of the motherboard at a slight angle such that they have a spring action to them when the CPU is loaded on top. You often see a number next to the socket type, for example- LGA1151, LGA2011, LGA2066, etc. That number is referring to the pin count inside the socket. All your mainstream Intel processors these days like the Core i5 8400 or Core i7 8700k are fitted on LGA1151 sockets, also called “H4” sockets by Intel.
While Intel uses LGA, AMD uses PGA or Pin Grid Array. In PGA systems, the processor carries the pins while the socket is flat and has pin inserts to receive the pins. In this type of configuration, the motherboard is much more durable and you don’t have to worry about accidentally dropping something on the socket and damaging it. Installation of the CPU is also an easier process with PGA systems, because you don’t have to apply force on top of the CPU while securing it inside the socket. Hence the term “Zero Insertion Force” when installing an AMD Ryzen chip. But while making the motherboard more durable, you are also making the CPU more delicate. With Intel you worry about damaging the motherboard, with AMD you worry about damaging the CPU. And when you think about it, the motherboard is usually cheaper than the CPU.
And PGA has another demerit- when you try to uninstall the cooler, you may sometimes pull off the CPU along with the cooler because the thermal paste between them acts like a patch of glue. Fortunately though, a bent pin on an AMD processor is easier to fix in comparison to a bent pin in the socket of an Intel motherboard. So in summary- PGA processors are easier to install, while LGA processors are easier to uninstall. In PGA the processor is less durable, while in LGA the motherboard is less durable.
However, one thing that is common across both platforms is the naming system based on how many pins they have- even though AMD calls its latest socket “AM4”, it is technically a PGA1331 (because it is a PGA type socket with 1331 pins).
Can I do overclocking with a budget motherboard?
Yes you absolutely can, as long as the chipset supports overclocking. The real question however, is the degree to which you can overclock. Usually, the enthusiast grade boards are designed with overclockers and hardcore gamers in mind. Which is why expensive motherboards feel heavier and more durable. They have heatsinks for the VRMs and power phases, along with heatsinks for the chipsets. You will find additional power phases (more than 9 or 10 on premium boards) which results in smoother, more refined power delivery to the CPU. This allows overclockers to fine tune the voltage parameters for a much more stable overclock. Premium motherboards have surface mounted power and rest buttons, dual BIOS, LN2 mode, QCODE display, CPU slow mode, RGB lighting, extra headers for liquid cooling pumps, etc. All these added features help you get better overclocks, and more performance while gaming. With AMD, you can overclock on the following chipsets- B350, B450, X370, and X470. With Intel you can overclock only on Z series chipsets (Z170, Z270, Z370, and Z390).
Which One Should You Buy?
For Intel users, the Gigabyte Z370M DS3H is a great budget Z370 motherboard. It is a micro ATX board however, so don’t expect too many SATA 6Gbps ports or M.2 slots on this one. You cannot run dual graphics cards on it, because there is only one PCIe 3.0 x16 slot. But the maximum DDR4 RAM speed supported by this board is 3866 MHz, which is very high for such a cheap Z370 board. All you have to do is combine a Core i5 8600k with this board, and you should get some really nice fps in games. We expect users who purchase this board to run a midrange GPU like the RX 580 or GTX 1060.
Next up, for AMD users we recommend the MSI B450 Gaming Plus motherboard. It is equipped with AMD StoreMI technology and the extremely recent USB 3.1 Gen2 port. You can comfortably overclock on this board, but don’t try anything too crazy because this is still a budget motherboard in the end. If you want to hit 4.1 or 4.2 GHz with an AMD Ryzen 2600 or 2700X, we recommend something like this- the MSI X470 Gaming M7 AC motherboard. It uses the X470 chipset, has built-in 802.11 ac WiFi, and two full PCIe x16 slots so you can do SLI or Crossfire. You will also need a beefy AIO cooler to get those kinds of speeds on a Ryzen CPU, so check out some of the 240mm and 280mm offerings from Corsair and NZXT.