When planning a PC build, picking up the right motherboard and CPU combo is the most important step in the process. Installing an inadequate combo goes beyond just bottlenecking the GPU: it can severely limit almost all other components and leave no headroom for any future upgrades.
You need to consider many factors when choosing these parts, like your budget and use case. When you add more technical requirements on top like compatibility and futureproofing, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.
To make your job easier, I’ve done the legwork and picked out four awesome motherboard and CPU combos based on varying budgets and use cases.
Best Motherboard and CPU Combo in Nutshell
Before You Buy
Before we get into the list, let’s first understand the importance of a good CPU and motherboard combo. To do that, we need to define what roles they play in a system:
The CPU is often referred to as the brain of the PC since it is responsible for processing everything that happens in the system, that definition holds up quite well. The CPU also takes instructions and codes from various programs and then executes them so they can function as expected.
Although the CPU is not the most important component to keep in mind—the GPU becomes a priority if you’re looking to build a gaming rig—it’s still extremely important to think about before you build your PC.
If the CPU is the brain of a PC, the motherboard is the nervous system: it’s the glue that holds all the components together and serves as the primary communication hub. The chipset and build you choose limit you when it comes to peripherals, upgrades, and overall reliability. So, it’s important to go for a motherboard that is aligned with your requirements.
Hopefully, now you understand the gravity of the decision when it comes to choosing a combo, since going with the wrong one could be the most costly mistake you make when building a PC.
Why Compatibility Is Essential
When shopping for PC components, it’s easy to get carried away and go for the best of the best stuff. There’s nothing wrong with that, however, it’s important to consider compatibility as well. If you get a high-end CPU but your motherboard isn’t able to handle it then you’ve got a problem on your hands.
The most important factor you need to consider is if the socket is compatible. The socket connects the CPU to the motherboard and subsequently other components in the system. For Intel, some examples are LGA 1200 and LGA 1700; while for AMD it’s AM4.
Another factor to consider, especially if you’re a beginner, is BIOS compatibility. If you don’t know, BIOS stands for “Basic Input Output Software” and runs at a lower level than the OS.
For instance, if you want to install a Ryzen 3000 series CPU into an older motherboard, like the B350 chipset, it would need a BIOS update. On the other hand, if you buy a newer motherboard, say a B550, then it would already have support for that CPU. There’s always the chance that even if the motherboard is new, the manufacturer hasn’t updated it.
This process is relatively effortless if you’re upgrading your PC and already have an older CPU on hand, but it’s a huge hassle if you’re buying all the parts brand new. You would need to borrow an older CPU (which the motherboard already supports) from a third party and it could be a huge waste of time and energy.
To fix this issue, some high-end motherboards come with Q-Flash functionality, which only requires a USB drive. But, it’s still important to check beforehand to avoid any issues down the road.
Checking compatibility is easy, you can simply look at the specs page on the motherboard manufacturer’s website or use online platforms. However, once that’s cleared, it should be smooth sailing from there. Beyond this, it’s all about the chipset, VRMs, cooling capacity, and other user-specific features.
Now, with that out of the way, let’s dive into my list of four great motherboard and CPU combos…
While everyone is excited about the 3300x from AMD, I feel like the i3-10100F from Intel provides great performance for the price as well. With 4 cores and 8 threads along with a base clock of 3.60GHz and a single-core boost of 4.3GHz, it’s not exactly a beast but it’ll definitely get the job done.
The “F” suffix indicates that it doesn’t have an integrated GPU. So, if you want to get video output, you’ll need a dedicated graphics card. However, that shouldn’t be an issue, as we’ll discuss later in the FAQ section.
Additionally, the i3-10100F is also a non-K CPU, meaning it’s locked and can’t be overclocked officially. You can still do it, but that’ll require a Z-class motherboard, which doesn’t really make much sense at this price point.
Instead, the right motherboard for this CPU is the ASUS Prime B460M. With the LGA 1200 socket and an 8-phase VRM, it achieves a perfect balance between having all the features necessary for optimal performance and not going overboard with it. It’s also priced appropriately compared to the CPU and looks fairly decent as well.
It’s an mATX motherboard too, which makes it a great choice for SFF builds. However, if you’re looking to do some overclocking and require more computing power, the next combo might be a better choice for you.
The Ryzen 5 5600x is often referred to as the “Bang for your Buck” CPU in the PC gaming community, and for good reason. It has a base clock of 3.7GHz and a respectably high boost clock of over 4.6GHz. Additionally, it has 35MB of L2 and L3 cache and is built on AMD’s latest 7nm technology. It is similar to the Intel Core i3-10100F in TDP, at 65W.
Unlike all the other CPUs in the Ryzen 5000 series, the 5600x comes with a Wraith Stealth cooler too, eliminating the extra cost of buying a third-party AIO or air cooler. Keeping this budget-oriented goal in mind, the B550 chipset is the right option if you’re looking for a motherboard for it.
There are many motherboards with that chipset, but one of the best is the MSI MAG B550 Tomahawk. With a 13-phase VRM, it’ll allow you to do some overclocking with the 5600x. No need to worry about cooling either, since it has an extended VRM heatsink and aluminum covers with thermal pads for both M.2 SSD slots.
All in all, the MSI MAG B550 Tomahawk is a great option for your 5600x. It provides great value in terms of RAM, VRM, build quality, and aesthetics. It’ll allow the 5600x to perform at its best, and you’ll be able to get the most performance out of it for the best gaming experience!
Networking and Connectivity: Intel WiFi 6, 1G Ethernet Port, and Bluetooth 4.2
RGB Support: Yes (Aorus RGB Fusion 2.0)
Audio: Realtek ALC1200
Form Factor: ATX (12 x 9.6 inches)
Key Specifications of CPU
Cores and Threads: 12C/24T
Base Clock: 3.7 GHz
Boost Clock: 4.8 GHz
TDP Rating: 105 Watts
Cooler Included: No
With a base clock of 3.7GHz and a boost clock of 4.8GHz, the 5900x comes way too close to Intel’s 5GHz crown. Packing a monstrous 70MB of L2 and L3 cache, it still manages to stay at 105W TDP.
Overall, it provides the best price-to-performance ratio in the high-end CPU lineup from AMD. Ideally, I would’ve chosen the 5950x for this category. However, I believe that the $150+ price increase isn’t really justified unless you’re using it for professional workloads and need every drop of performance you can get out of it.
So, if you’re only going to gaming, the 5900x is the best choice from AMD. Even the most high-end GPU won’t be bottlenecked by it. So, it’s important to go for a motherboard that is able to power it efficiently and leave some room for overclocking. In comes the Gigabyte X570 Aorus Elite WiFi!
With the AM4 chipset and a 12+2 VRM, it’s sufficient for powering your 5900x and overclocking it to the extreme. If things get too heated, it has an extended VRM heatsink and an onboard chipset fan too. Some other premium features include: a Q-Flash button, an aluminum I/O cover, dual NVMe PCIe M.2 slots with thermal guards, and subtle RGB.
Everything considered, the combo of the Gigabyte X570 Aorus Elite WiFi and Ryzen 9 5900x is great on many levels—not only when it comes to optimal performance but also some premium features to improve the user experience. If you’re looking for a motherboard to power your 5900x or vice versa, don’t forget this combo!
Networking and Connectivity: Intel WiFi 6E and 2.5G Ethernet Port
RGB Support: Yes (MSI Mystic Light)
Audio: Realtek ALC4080
Form Factor: ATX (12 x 9.6 inches)
Key Specifications of CPU
Socket: LGA 1700
Cores and Threads: 16C/24T
Base Clock: 3.2 GHz
Boost Clock: 5.2 GHz
TDP Rating: 125 Watts
Cooler Included: No
The 12th-Gen Alder Lake CPUs launched about a month ago, and the 12900K is already King of the Hill in many regards. As you’d remember from the i3-10100F review, only K-class CPUs from Intel can be overclocked. Since the 12900K has that designation and a whopping boost clock of 5.2GHz, it’s safe to say that it was designed and built with PC enthusiasts in mind!
With a TDP of 125W, undoubtedly most users will go for a 240mm or 360mm AIO liquid cooler with this CPU. But, it’s important to keep the motherboard in mind too. No matter how good your AIO is, it won’t work unless the motherboard has good VRMs to back it up.
I present to you, the MSI MPG Z690 Carbon! It comes with an impressive 18+1+1 phase VRM powered by dual EPS connectors for efficient overclocks and overall stability. To cool off, it has heavy-duty Frozr heatsinks, thermal pads, and an onboard chipset fan.
One supercool feature with Z690 motherboards is DDR5 RAM compatibility, which isn’t available in any other chipset currently. These RAM sticks are much faster and efficient compared to DDR4, although they suffer from price and availability issues. If you can get your hands on a kit, however, it can take your gaming experience to the next level.
With a price of $400, the MSI MPG Z690 Carbon hits the mark between being budget-friendly and premium. It doesn’t have fancy features like 10G ethernet, but it delivers a good price-to-performance ratio and will be able to run your 12900K exceptionally. So, if you’re looking for a powerful combo without breaking the bank, remember this one!
Do You Need a Graphics Card in Addition to Motherboard and CPU Combo for Gaming?
Many beginner PC builders often make the mistake of assuming that they don’t need a dedicated graphics card if they already have a powerful CPU and motherboard combo. This is not the case, at least if you’re building a gaming PC.
Truth be told, both AMD and Intel sell CPUs with iGPUs. Essentially, processors with in-built graphics. However, they’re mostly for users who are using their PC for less graphic-intensive tasks like web browsing and data entry. In that case, it makes sense to have a CPU with an iGPU to save money on a dedicated one.
One of the main issues with using an iGPU is that it eats a huge chunk of the onboard memory, making the overall performance more strained and leading to more shutdowns. This issue will become even more severe if you use single-channel memory rather than dual-channel, since these kinds of applications require a wide memory bandwidth.
The fact is, most modern games are highly graphic-intensive and an iGPU simply won’t cut it. This is why, for any gaming PC build, it is often recommended that you go for a dedicated GPU altogether.
All the combos on this list from each price point provide a good platform which the GPU can take full advantage of. So, once you have that combo then you can buy any GPU you want, and it’ll provide a smooth and fun gaming experience!
What’s the Best Motherboard and CPU Combo for Professionals?
If you’re a professional user, like a video editor or game designer, you might be wondering what kind of motherboard and CPU combo you should get. While the main focus of this article was on general use and gaming combos, I can provide some helpful recommendations in this use case as well.
If you’re a member of Team Blue, I’d recommend you the MSI MPG Z690 Carbon and Intel Core i9-12900K. As highlighted before, with 16 Cores and 24 threads, and a whopping boost clock of 5.2GHz, the 12900K is an absolute beast! Plus, the MSI MPG Z690 Carbon is totally value-packed and will be able to run the 12900K smoothly and without any issues.
If you’re a member of Team Red, go for the Gigabyte X570 Aorus Elite WiFi and Ryzen 9 5950x. Yes, you read that right. I know I recommended the 5900x in the list, but professionals who are looking to get the best multi-threaded performance will do better by going with the 5950x rather than the 5900x.
In those high-level workloads, where time saved literally translates into more money, that can be a great investment that pays for itself in the long term. However, if you’re more comfortable with the great price-to-performance ratio of the 5900x, you can go that way too.
What if you’re not reliant on either Intel or AMD? Which one to go for? In that case, the best choice in my opinion is still either the 5950x or 5900x from AMD. Overall, they provide better value for the price, both for the CPUs themselves and the X570 chipset AM4 motherboards.
Getting It Right
When building a PC, most choices you make are dwarfed in importance compared to choosing the right motherboard and CPU combo. It’s easy enough to upgrade your RAM, SSD, or even GPU.
However, to upgrade your CPU or motherboard means you have to disassemble pretty much everything in your PC and reassemble it from the ground up, not only in terms of hardware but also software. I don’t know about you, but that’s not exactly my idea of a fun day.
That’s why getting it right from the get-go is important and can help you avoid a lot of hassle down the road, as I can say from personal experience. So, I hope my article pointed you in the right direction and helped you choose the perfect CPU and motherboard combo for your PC!