It’s a constant one-up-manship in the world of CPUs, with numbers flung at both Intel and AMD from all sides with no signs of stopping any time soon. AMD seems to have the upper hand, but the new Intel 11th generation CPUs are absolutely holding their own. So what’s best for you? Are you going all-in for gaming? Maybe you’re on a budget? Either way, we’ve got the best combinations to make your life as easy as possible.
Products at a Glance
How We Picked
How We Tested
Our Best Motherboard CPU Combos (Intel & AMD) – What’s The Best in 2021?
Let’s talk AMD first because as of right now, it’s the best on the market when bang for buck comes into the conversation. The Ryzen 9 5900X and 5950X are the top dogs in this case providing obscene performance in both content creation and gaming.
If you don’t want to go in on the several thousand needed to buy a Threadripper, the 59XXX series of CPUs are absolutely the ones to go for. Speed-wise, you’re getting a ludicrous 3.4GHz that boosts to 4.9GHz, with a total of 16 cores that when compared with an equivalent Intel i9, uses a lot less power – and a lot less of a cost.
The $799 price tag might be a hard pill to swallow (which is where the slightly weaker 5900X comes in), but this is an investment. I wouldn’t expect to see anyone upgrade this CPU for a fair few years now, with its support for PCIe 4.0 and power not fading to obscurity any time soon.
While you won’t see a massive difference between the 5900X and 5950X on gaming, it’s the content creation where it edges out everything. Unless you’re willing to jump to the Threadripper, this will serve you valiantly.
But to pair this? We need an AM4 socket motherboard and one worthy of providing us with all the trimmings. So we’re going for the ROG Strix X570-F Gaming board, with its hideous design aside, does give us a great set of I/O, with 3 USB-A and 1 Type-C, all rated at 3.2 Gen 2 for fast transfer speeds, as well as slots for 2 M.2 Drives, 4 slots for RAM and HDMI 2.0 for 4K gaming.
In fact, we’re not even going to be moving away from this board as it fits all our needs for pretty much anything we want to do. For the next CPU, we’re going to be looking at the 5600G, a super powerful APU, which for light gaming and emulation, doesn’t actually even need a graphics card with it. You just need to have the APU set up and off to the races with you!
Priced at around $250, the 5600G is a genuinely great entry-level CPU that fits directly into those looking for a budget build that doesn’t really limit them. You can always add a GPU after the fact, but having this as a base is ideal for those that want to get into PC gaming.
It won’t blow you away with impressive 4K gaming, but for a quick way to get solid 1080p performance and room to expand once you have the cash – and availability is a thing again – this gets the thumbs up!
For Intel, we’re going to do something a little different, but if you want to apply the same theories here to any AMD chips, just make sure you’re getting the right sockets for the CPU, but this should be plastered all over the branding anyway.
Intel’s latest CPUs, the 11th Generation in their current lineup, is incredibly powerful and nothing to sniff at! They do single-threaded tasks better than AMD but often come with a hefty brand recognition price tag with it. While they’re not entirely keeping up with AMD in terms of technology, they still make for great CPUs – especially as they all come with integrated graphics onboard for more budget-focused, office builds.
We’ll of course be recommending you the best for gaming with this one – but with a catch. As I’m a huge fan of smaller form factor PCs, this system might seem a bit weaker, but it’ll actually still perform exceptionally when everything is crammed together in the chassis.
First, we’re going to say that you go for the i5 11600, with no real need to overspend on this recommendation, just go for what you need and not what you want. You’ll thank us later when your PC isn’t suddenly on fire or you need to figure a way to cram in more cooling.
The 11th generation of Intel CPUs hasn’t had the best of times in any reviews and such, with no massive performance gains, but bringing with it some new features. Want PCIe 4.0? Well, you’ll need to upgrade or build from this point onwards.
So don’t overspend on this generation of Intel chips, but go for the all-rounder and you’ll be fine. The nice thing about this is that it fits delightfully on the B560, a PCIe 4.0 enabled motherboard that is really small. Not only are you getting the full whack of power out of the i7 chip, but WiFi 6, 2.5GB Ethernet, and a bunch of I/O to make sure you’re never caught out with your devices. It’s pretty much future-proofing your PC for the inevitable upgrades around the house and you won’t be experiencing disconnected WiFi for a while with the additional aerial.
Keeping with the tiny theme, the Z590-I is the chef’s kiss of tiny motherboards at the moment. Thunderbolt 4, complete with the similar specs of the previously mentioned B560, is your creme-del-a-creme of boards. Sure, it’s a bit of an overkill, but who doesn’t like a Napoleon Complex now and then?
So with a great board that will fit in most ITX builds, what do we pair with it? Well, we could go with the i9-11900K, but let’s be frank: price for performance? Absolutely not worth it. Instead, let’s slot in an i7 11700K, a beefy CPU with optional overclocking available (that’s what the K is for!). This combination will give you an immensely powerful tiny box that can do not only the harshest and most intense tasks without breaking the bank, but perform wonderfully with all those new and tasty games you’ve got locked away in your Steam account.
Things To Consider
AMD Vs. Intel CPU?
Barring some odd quirk, you’ll be well aware of AMD and Intel’s tussle when it comes to processors. For better or worse, the retail space is dominated by the two chip powerhouses, limiting the choice of which streaming-fit CPU to one of the two. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but choosing one camp over the other can very much feel like picking sides.
While we aren’t here to side with one or the other, they each have their strong points, and arguably the race has never been so closely fought after years of Intel leading the charge. A few years ago, the thrifty builder invariably veered towards AMD’s more competitively priced products, while those eager for all-out performance threw their cash at Intel. Intel’s dominance, especially when it comes to gaming performance, isn’t what it once was with AMD products now more or less on par, if not better (looking at you multithreading).
Motherboard Form Factor
Before we get to the technical stuff, we’ll need to consider what size motherboard you’re after. There are currently four main form factors available…
ATX (12 x 9.6”) – This is considered the standard size motherboard. It will fit in most mid-tower cases and can have as many as seven expansion slots.
Micro ATX (9.6 x 9.6”) – These motherboards are usually square-shaped and are often used for compact builds. They can have as many as four expansion slots and are backward compatible with ATX cases.
Mini ITX (6.7 x 6.7”) – Even smaller still, we have the Mini ITX form factor motherboard. These are used for incredibly SFF builds, but much like the Micro ATX, will be fully supported in an ATX case.
EATX (12 x 13”) – On the other end of the spectrum, we have the largest form factor, the EATX. It’s unlikely you’ll be considering this as they’re usually only used for incredibly powerful builds with dual CPUs.
Socket And Chipset
Next on the agenda is the socket. You’ll need an AM4 motherboard, and being that AM4 has been AMD’s one-stop socket for all their processors since 2016, they’re not hard to find.
Your Ryzen 5 2600 is compatible with eight different AMD chipsets, but as you’ve seen from our list, we highly recommend only one, the B450. It offers you just the right amount of power to eke out every last drop of performance from your Ryzen processor.
B450 isn’t the highest performing chipset, but anything from the top-tier X-Series motherboards is widely considered to be overkill for the Ryzen 5 2600.
Do you want your motherboard to connect up to your network wirelessly? It’s a really great feature, but unfortunately, it’s not a universal one, so be wary when making your decision. Motherboards without integrated wifi connectivity rely on a LAN Ethernet connection.
In the absence of wifi, you should take stock of LAN proficiency. Ethernet connections come with vastly different bandwidths, so it makes sense to shop around for the best one. Ideally, your motherboard will feature gigabit LAN, a port capable of 1000MBps transfer speeds.
The power design of your motherboard refers to the VRM (voltage regulator module). It’s the VRM that transforms the power from your outlet into energy suitable for powering your CPU.
What’s the VRM made up of? Power phases. What are power phases? A basic power phase is a mechanism made up of a capacitor, two transistors, and a choke. Component quality does come into play in a big way but generally speaking, the more power phases your motherboard has, the more stable the CPU voltage becomes.
This is because the more power phases there are, the less each one has to work. The burden never falls too heavily on any of them, enabling them to work cooler. In light of this, if you’re interested in overclocking your Ryzen 5 2600, we recommend a more expansive power design or at least one that uses high-quality components.
We know what you’re thinking…motherboards don’t come with RAM, right? Well, no, unless you got some kind of sweet, all-inclusive, second-hand deal, motherboards don’t come with any integrated or additional memory. They do; however, come with memory capacities.
That’s right, folks. You can’t just load your motherboard up with any old RAM. It can only support a certain memory capacity and speed. If you do try and use more or faster RAM than your board is designed to utilize, it simply won’t do anything with the excess, and you’ll have wasted your money.
CPUs Might Already Be TPM Equipped
You really should double-check if your CPU supports a software TPM, you might not need to worry at all about getting a TPM.
Be Wary Of Motherboard Sizes
We’ve covered this before, but you should check what motherboard you currently have or what your case can fit as buying the wrong motherboard for your case will be a really bad (and often expensive) mistake to make.
Things To Consider
If I Buy A New Motherboard, Can I Keep My Old Components?
Sure can! Once you’ve replaced the motherboard refit everything into its slot and off you go!
Make sure your parts match specification, don’t be putting DDR3 RAM in DDR4 slots, and make sure you have a Windows 11 supported CPU going back in too.