Building a new desktop but don't know what to look for when buying a motherboard and CPU? This article will tell you what to look for in a MB-CPU bundle and how to start shifting through the selections.
So you're building a new computer and you know you want an Intel processor. Now what? The best bet is to get your Motherboard and processor as a bundle--this allows you to save money and ensure compatibility between your MB and CPU (and avoid the terrifying realization that you just bought a CPU that your MB can't handle).
But buying a CPU and, especially, Motherboards can be overwhelming. What do you look for? Which should you choose? Here are a couple steps to finding yourself a good motherboard-CPU deal that will get your new computer started.
Following this article is another article that will look at a few such deals to get your started.
As with any desktop building or upgrading project you need to set yourself a budget. If you haven't already done that for your whole computer you need to figure it out before you start looking at CPU-MB combos. As part of this you also need to think about what sort of things you'll be using it for. If it's just for everyday tasks like email and light web-browsing then you can plan your whole computer to be low budget--between $300-$500. Mid range computers for heavier internet browsing and movie watching plan for about $500-$700. And for intensive gaming, graphics design work, and HD media experiences plan on spending anywhere from $700-$1500. It is my opinion that in nowadays your computer price shouldn't exceed $1500 because then you are buying early adopting equippmentrwhen the "most recent" computer parts are too expensive and will soon come down in price.
Your motherboard and CPU are your two most essential ingredients so they should take up a good bit of your cost but not too much--you still have many other components to buy. I would generally suggest you plan to spend about 20-30% of your budget on your MB and CPU together. So in each price range for this combo you're are looking at:
Budget PC: $80-$120
Mid Range PC: $120-$200
Gaming/High end PC: $200-$500
Balancing the MB-CPU costs
Now that you've got a price range in mind go ahead and head over to your favorite online computer store (I recommend Newegg or TigerDirect) and you'll see they have a whole category for Motherboard-CPU combo deals (the links above will take you directly to that category). Very quickly you'll notice that each combo is listed as one price. This reveals an important aspect of buying your CPU-MB as a combo: it can be difficult to tell the price each item runs for individually. So when shopping this way you need to think about the balance in price between your MB and your CPU. There are three ways you can do this:
More Expensive Motherboard, Cheaper Processor: You'll want to do this when you are concerned about durability and not too concerned about running intensive programs on your computer. If you want a computer that will run basic processes like web browsing, email, and word processing and do it for a long time, this is the way to go. Cheaper motherboards are more likely to make of low grade materials with less work being put into durability. So the balance of the price here would be around 35% MB-65%CPU.
Cheaper Motherboard, More expensive Processor: The most common case for this is when you have a mid-range computer, especially if you don't want to invest in an expensive video card which would normally take off some of the load from your CPU. The other scenario is when you are buying a higher end system or gaming rig--in this case a MB around $100-$150 might contain all the features you need leaving you open to spend more on the processor to handle all the processing you'll be doing (even with a great graphics card)
Balanced: Most people would probably think they want to keep their MB-CPU prices about balanced so that you can have both of these key components be comparable. But keep in mind the advantages of a more expensive MB or CPU so that you can get what fits your needs. "
Now that you know how much you want to spend, what do you look at? Motherboards in particular can be confusing to look at for a beginner. Here's a quick and easy way to select a good motherboard.
Look at Specifications - There are lots of things you can look at with the specs on a motherboard. For easy shifting they fit into four major categories: slots, ports, on-board cards and speeds supported.
Number of Slots: These will be used to put hardware into your motherboard. They include RAM slots, various PCI slots (for graphics cards, network cards, TV tuners, etc), and SATA connectors. For a guide to these look at our other article here
Number of Ports: These are the things that will be on the back of your computer. Most important preference here will be number of USB.
On Board Cards: Does it have an audio or video card built in? Most Motherboards will come with built in audio and lower range boards will often have graphics capabilities built in.
Speeds: How fast will the RAM be? Will it allow for better processors if you should like to upgrade later?
Look at Customer Reviews - You can do this at any major retail website but Newegg and TigerDirect are your best bets because there you will find a lot of reviews from people with a lot of technical knowledge. Your main objectives here are to check the reliability and performance of the motherboard. Most reviewers will talk about performance and give you a good sense of any major issues the motherboard may have. To check reliability try to find someone who has had the MB for a long time (Newegg has reviewers state this outright) and glance through the reviews for people who have used the brand before. Getting a good brand is always a plus although brand reliability can always change with time. Generally if a MB gets 3 stars or below (out of five) people are having enough problems with it that you probably want to stay away.
With these two things you can get a general sense of whether a MB is right for you. For a more in depth article on selecting a motherboard see our guide to selecting a motherboard.
For the CPU you will want to do something similar as with your MB except that Intel keeps a lot less choices out at any given time. So you'll be selecting from a choice of around 30 instead of hundreds. To filter though these, again, look at customer reviews and a few key specifications, namely the chipset used, the processing speed, and the cache of the processor. For an explanation of these you can read our article on CPUs.
Making the Selection
So now that you have an idea of what to look for, the easiest thing to do is follow these steps:
- Narrow down the search into your price range
- Have it display highest reviewed bundles first--or possibly most popular if you'd like.
- Click on some your desired price range and see if they fit your desired MB-CPU price balance.
- Open up the ones that fit and compare their features, first looking at the Motherboard, then the CPU (since the MB is the more complicated of the two)
- Narrow down until you have one you like!
At any given time this process shouldn't be too overwhelming. They only keep a limited number of combo deals up on any website at any given time so if you're buying as a combo going through these steps should quickly narrow down your choices. Before long you have the basis for your motherboard!
The Perfect Motherboard-CPU Bundle
Building a new desktop but don't know what to look for when buying a motherboard and CPU? This series explains what to look for in buying a motherboard and CPU combo and then contains a few suggestions.
- The Perfect Motherboard-CPU Bundle: What to look for
- The Perfect Motherboard-CPU Bundle: A Few Examples