While it is important to be thorough when purchasing PC components, it is arguably the most critical to be meticulous when looking for a motherboard. Motherboards bring your PC parts together; they connect everything and turn a collection of parts into a functioning machine.
Intel X series processors are fast, overclockable CPUs that fit the LGA 2066 socket. If you’re interested in the speed and performance they provide, you’ll want a motherboard to match its capabilities. Motherboards using the X299 chipset are considered to be high-end boards that are designed to fit Intel X series CPUs. This chipset can be used in conjunction with Intel i9 series processors as an i9 motherboard.
In this guide, we will go over the best Intel X299 motherboards you can buy. Then, we’ll go over everything you need to know in order to make the most informed choice.
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What to Look for in an X299 Motherboard
When it comes to PC building, processors and GPUs are normally the things that people set aside the majority of their budget for. However, a good motherboard chipset is equally crucial as it serves as the connector between all the important components of your rig. Before buying a motherboard, make sure to consult this list of features to look out for.
First things first, you need to make sure that your motherboard has the right number of connector pins for your CPU. If your processor has a greater number of connector pins than your motherboard, you cannot use the processor. The number of connector pins on a given motherboard can be determined by the model number of the connector part. Most of the time, CPU sockets are compatible with processors that have fewer connector pins.
For example, the X299 series of Intel motherboards use an LGA 2066 socket—the “2066” referring to the number of connector pins. In other words, if you have an X299 motherboard, you can use any CPU that has 2066 or fewer connector pins. Intel’s i9 line of processors is made specifically for LGA 2066 sockets so you will need an X299 motherboard for them.
Form Factor & Size
Motherboards nowadays come in three standard sizes:
ATX (12 x 9.6 in): The “standard” full sized motherboard. Contains the most spaces for plugs and slots.
Micro-ATX (9.62 x 9.62 in): The “medium” option. Has fewer ports. Usually cheaper.
Mini-ATX (6.75 x 6.75 in): Small for small-sized PCs. Normally has room for only 1 add-on card and fewer spots for RAM.
Expansion Slots (aka PCIe Slots)
The next thing to take stock of is your need for expansion slots. Expansion slots on motherboards allow you to add essential components, like GPUs, and extra components like more USB ports. Basically, the more expansion slots your motherboard has, the more things you can plug into it and the more stuff your computer can do.
Most expansion slots on motherboards come in two varieties: PCIe x1 slot and the PCIe x16 slot (although there are other types). PCIe x 1 slots are used for things like USB expansion, sound cards or SATA drives. PCIe x16 slots are larger and are used for bigger expansions like graphics cards or PCIe storage units.
If you are planning a more modest rig with a graphics card, a few USB and SATA expansions, and maybe a sound card, then you should be just fine with a ATX or Micro-ATX board as most of those have at least one PCIe x16 slot and 2-3 PCIe x1 slots.
In general, the higher end the motherboard, the more expansion slots it will have. However, many motherboards are built to turn off certain connectors when others have things plugged to circumvent bandwidth limitations. This means that you will likely not be able to use everything plugged into your motherboard all at once if you have it completely loaded up, though the specifics of this differs greatly depending on the product and series.
Make sure to check any product manuals before buying so you can get a better picture of how the motherboard allocates resources. That way you can know the most efficient way to set it up.
Number of RAM Slots
RAM is a type of memory. However, unlike your hard drive, which stores data for as long as it can, RAM will only hold onto data while your computer is turned on; this is why it’s called volatile memory. The purpose of RAM is to help move around all the complex info the CPU needs to perform frame-by-frame calculations. This is why RAM can have such a large impact on the performance of your computer.
Most mainstream motherboards come equipped with 4 slots for RAM which can run in Dual-Channel or Quad-Channel. Without getting too verbose, RAM doesn’t really work well with 1 stick, it’s best to have at least 2 identical sticks to get maximize your RAM’s efficiency. (Check your Mobo’s manual when inserting RAM to make sure it’s running in Dual-Channel; the setup is different for most boards.)
Overall, video games aren’t exceptionally RAM intensive since the GPUs (and their own dedicated RAM) do so much of the heavy lifting. As such, having 8GB-16GB of RAM will get the job done just fine. 32GB is really only required if you do streaming or video editing. All of these motherboards support up to 128GB of RAM, which is far more than you would need for most normal computer applications.
Overclocking means configuring your processor’s clock to run at a faster rate than it was designed to. The X299 series of motherboards allow for overclocking on all Skylake-X CPUs. If you are planning to overclock, you need to have the right kind of motherboard; thankfully, these are the right types of motherboards for those wishing to do just that. It is also advised that you invest in a better cooling system if you plan to overclock any processors. Failing to properly cool an overclocked processor can damage your components and motherboard.
All of the Ports!
Also, make sure to check the kinds of ports included on the motherboard. Here is a list of some common port types:
USB 3.0/3.1: These are extremely useful because they are compatible with the majority of peripherals.
USB 2.0: Not as fast as 3.0/3.1, but still good for simple devices like a keyboard or mouse.
USB-C: Normally 3.0/3.1 ports that are designed for newer phones and USB devices.
HDMI: Most motherboards have an HDMI port but you will only find yourself using it if you are going to run integrated graphics.
Thunderbolt 3.0: These are not very common on motherboards but they offer the fastest connection at 40 Gbps.
Many motherboards also offer ports and slots for audio devices and cards (usually via the PCIe lane). Most of the time, the included onboard audio processor will get you by just fine unless you are particularly picky about sound.
Check to make sure the included audio processor in the motherboard is good enough for you. Alternatively, you could just use a dedicated audio card. If you do that, you’ll also need high quality speakers, or headphones to take advantage of the increased audio-quality.