How do motherboards affect performance?

Virgilio Obada /

The computer motherboard is perhaps the least exciting component next to the PSU, which means that users often overlook it in favor of components like the CPU or GPU. So the question is, can the motherboard’s cramp performance be minimized?

What does the motherboard do?

The functionality of a motherboard has changed greatly over the years, but its primary function has always been to allow all components of a computer to communicate with each other. This means that the CPU, GPU, RAM, drives, and every other part of your computer all work together through the motherboard.

It used to be that the motherboard itself provided processing power to manage the traffic between the GPU, the CPU, and the RAM. However, modern CPUs now have most of these functions on the same CPU package.

In other words, it is the CPU that determines how quickly and efficiently information flows between it and those components. Motherboards also provide additional connections for built-in peripherals and expansion slots, but the core performance components are taken care of largely by the CPU.

High-quality components with budget motherboards

So the immediate answer to the question of whether the motherboard affects the performance of the computer is “no”. If you put a high-quality CPU, GPU, and RAM in a cheap or expensive motherboard, it will more or less do the same thing. Both motherboards should offer the same minimum performance standards, assuming both motherboards have the same minimum performance ratings.

Motherboards may limit the performance of your components

It is possible to have two different motherboards supporting the same CPUs, GPUs, memory, and SSDs, while one will only run them at lower performance levels at the highest level supported by the motherboard. For example, PCIe devices such as NVME SSDs and GPUs are backward compatible with older PCIe standards but will meet the performance limits of the older standard.

In other words, if your choice of motherboard is feasible, it should allow your components to reach their full potential from the components you want to use it with. Also, it’s a good idea to get a fairly futuristic motherboard so that you can upgrade to a new generation CPU or GPU without limiting its performance.

Motherboards affect overclocking

While your choice of motherboard should have little or no effect on the standard performance of a component like a CPU or GPU, there can be a lot of difference when you try to take advantage of the performance of these components as much as possible.

Overclocking is the practice of running a component faster than it was designed for. Some individual components, such as the CPU, can safely operate at higher speeds. However, operating these components beyond the approved rating requires more power and generates more heat.

Some high-end motherboards have additional cooling for the motherboards themselves, more robust power and plug-in management, and more options for tuning components. This makes it easy to get stable overclocking and take advantage of the extra performance locked into your components. A motherboard’s “chipset” can determine if overclocking is possible at all, omitting these options from lower-quality motherboards, even if that motherboard’s CPU is capable of.

Modern CPUs and GPUs now also automatically overclock according to the power and heat capacity of the system. Using a more powerful motherboard could allow these components to reach better stable performance levels. However, the entire system needs to allow this. A powerful motherboard is just one piece of the puzzle.

Is it really important?

There are many reasons to spend more money on a motherboard, but the extra performance in applications like games isn’t really one of them. If you want to enter the world of enthusiastic computing and push your components to their stable limits, choosing a motherboard can be critical.

If you only want the performance promised out of the box, the motherboard you choose doesn’t matter much. Instead, it is important to make sure that the motherboard you choose matches the requirements of the other components you want to use and can accommodate all the peripherals you need. Make sure it has the correct number of slots and ports or it will fail.

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