The Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD5H motherboard I have in My Super PC is at the top of the class in Intel LGA 1155 motherboards. The quality and stability of the Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD5H are extremely high. In addition, it provides high performance and a rich feature set.
Click on any picture to see it enlarged. Here are the contents of the retail box. The retail box includes the SATA cables used for connecting devices to the motherboard. Here's a closeup of the Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD5H motherboard. The processor socket type on the motherboard is LGA 1155.
The motherboard is the main system board for the computer. It provides the platform to which all the other computer components are mounted or connect. In addition, a number of capabilities are built into the motherboard, such as for sound, USB and FireWire.
The first consideration in selecting a motherboard is the processor type for which it is compatible. Not all motherboards work with all types of processor. The processor compatibility of a motherboard is identified by the "socket type" provided on the motherboard for installing the processor. This is a reference to the physical and electrical characteristics of the processor. Motherboards are built to physically and electrically accommodate a specific processor type. There are a number of socket types on the market made by both AMD and Intel, so it's important to know the best one for building your own computer. Some socket types may be on their way to being discontinued, others may be too new to try, and others may be best suited for purposes other than desktop computers. Processor types are discussed on my Processors page.
Several manufacturer's make the chipsets that comprise the essential functionality of a motherboard, including Intel, NVIDIA, and ATI. Each manufacturer will provide different lines of chipsets for a given socket type. The particular chipset used affects the cost and features built into the motherboard.
What makes any motherboard "good" is foremost its quality. A motherboard which is marginal under load or flaky under certain configurations is one to avoid, regardless of the features and chipsets that it supports. It's important to have a motherboard that is reliable and stable with any configuration of processor speed, with any number and type of RAM modules, and with any number of add-on cards. After quality, the motherboard should be able to live up to its full potential in terms of performance and capability.
Good motherboards worthy of consideration should include lots of built-in features. This should include plenty of SATA connections for connecting hard drives and optical drives (such as a DVD RW drive), USB 2.0 ports, IEEE 1394 (FireWire) ports, an Ethernet port and onboard audio. In terms of features, motherboards most often distinguish themselves by the number of USB ports and IEEE 1394 ports they support, the number of SATA drives they support and the quality of the onboard audio. It's not unusual to find support for PATA (the standard IDE interface) generally meant for connecting optical drives.
Most good motherboards come with support for RAID. RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) is most frequently used by computer enthusiasts to boost the performance of the hard drive by using two hard drives in parallel, called RAID 0. The full capacity of both hard drives is used when they are configured to run in parallel. But for most PC users, the hard drive does not get used enough to make it a significant factor in the performance equation. RAID is appropriate for heavy disk usage environments, such as servers or video editing. For home use, RAID might be fun to try but the extra performance is not going to be worth the cost of the extra hard drive. This is even truer given that hard drives come with a large memory cache so disk accesses that hit the cache are virtually instantaneous anyway. RAID motherboards still support single hard drive operation. Other common configurations of RAID are RAID 1, which uses one hard drive as a mirror image backup of the other, and RAID 0+1, which combines RAID 0 and RAID 1 functionality.
Most good motherboards provide either five or six slots for add-on cards. Generally speaking there will be one or two PCI slots for use with PCI add-on cards, at least one PCI Express slot for the video card(s), and the rest will be additional general-purpose slots that supports some speed of PCI Express. PCI Express slots and cards can be made to support varying speeds, expressed for example as x1, x4, x8 or x16. A PCI Express slot and PCI Express card must be of matching speeds. For more information, here is an introduction to PCI express.
PCI Express slots can be version 1.0 or the newer version 2.0. A version 2.0 PCI Express slot, PCI-E 2.0, has a raw bandwidth of twice PCI-E 1.0, but generally this extra bandwidth does not translate into greater performance. Both the motherboard and add-on card must support the same version of PCI Express, 2.0, to realize any increase in performance. However, the physical characteristics of the two versions are the same, so different versions will work together, just at the version 1.0 bandwitdth.
Most good motherboards will support two video cards running in parallel. When the video cards are based on NVIDIA technology this feature is called SLI, for Scaleable Link Interface. When a motherboard has this feature it can support two SLI compatible NVIDIA video cards running together in parallel to increase performance. However, it is not a popular feature to use. Performance is better and cost is lower by using a single, more powerful video card rather than two of the next cheaper, less powerful video cards running in parallel. This feature is called CrossFire when it is supported for video cards based on ATI technology, and it is called CrossFireX when it allows up to four ATI video cards to work together.
One element of the motherboard is the BIOS. Among other things, the BIOS provides support for the different processor models within a processor type. As new processor models come about, new versions of the BIOS for a motherboard may be issued such that the new model is supported. As a result, it's possible to purchase a motherboard with an older version BIOS than what is needed for currently available processors. This is one reason for the "six month rule of delayed acquisition". It allows disconnects like this to work their way out of the retail pipeline. If you're using a motherboard and processor that have been available for at least six months, and you're using a high-volume reseller such as Newegg to purchase your components, then it's unlikely you'll run into this problem.
The motherboard I'm using is the Gigabyte GA-P55A-UD4P, which is a socket LGA 1155 motherboard.
Supports up to 16GB of DDR3 memory.
One PCI Express x16 slot.
One PCI Express x8 slot.
The PCI Express x16 and x8 slots support CrossFireX and SLI and conform to the PCI Express 2.0 standard.
Three additional PCI Express x1 slots
Two PCI slots
Very good onboard sound provided by the Realtek ALC889 sound chip and supporting up to 7.l speaker configurations
Three IEEE 1394 (FireWire) ports, two in the back of the case and one for the front of the case
Twelve USB 2.0 ports, eight in the back of the case and four for the front of the case
Connections for up to six SATA hard drives supporting SATA II interface (300 MB/s), including support for RAID configurations 0, 1, 5 and 10.
Connections for two SATA hard drives supporting SATA III interface (600 MB/s), including support for RAID configurations 0 and 1.
Connections for two eSATA hard drives on the back panel supporting SATA II interface (300 MB/s), including support for RAID configurations 0, 1, and JBOD.
Connections for up to two IDE devices, such as PATA hard drives or optical devices, supporting ATA 133 interface (133 MB/s).
Connections for two Gigabyte LAN.
My complete recommendations for building a computer with quality components at unbeatable prices is on my home page at Build A Computer Like My Super PC - Cost To Build A Computer. Here again are the recommendations for a motherboard!