Choosing the right motherboard CPU combo might be the most crucial part of building your brand new gaming rig. A poor CPU choice can cripple even the best GPU and an inadequate motherboard can limit the possibilities of nearly every other component.
A lot goes into picking the right parts: budget, use case, price-to-performance, and more. Given the gravity of the decision, it’s understandable if you’re feeling confused or hesitant about making a choice. That’s where we come in: we’ve done the legwork and picked out four great motherboard and CPU combos for several budgets and types of users.
|Budget / Use Case||Motherboard||CPU|
|Budget Gaming||ASRock B460M Steel Legend LGA 1200||Intel Core i3-10100|
|Mid-Range Gaming||ASUS TUF Gaming B550-PLUS (Wi-Fi)||AMD Ryzen 5 5600X|
|High-End, Do-It-All||ASUS X570 ROG Crosshair VIII Hero Wi-Fi||AMD Ryzen 9 5900X|
|High-End Intel||GIGABYTE Z490 AORUS Ultra||Intel Core i7-10700K|
Best Budget Gaming Motherboard CPU Combo
The CPU: Intel Core i3-10100
Intel’s Core i3-10100 is a four-core, eight-thread processor running at 3.60 GHz with a maximum single-core boost of 4.3 GHz. It has 6MB of combined L2 and L3 cache with a 65 W thermal design power (TDP).
As with all of Intel’s non-overclockable CPUs, the i3-10100 comes with Intel’s stock cooler. It’s nothing special, but since you’re not going to be overclocking it, it’ll be just fine.
The Motherboard: ASRock B460M STEEL LEGEND
ASRock’s B460M STEEL LEGEND is a micro ATX board with a keen price and decent features. It supports 128GB of DDR4 RAM at up to 2933 MHz (although the i3 will be limited to 2666 MHz). It has two M.2 slots, six SATA ports, and 2.5 Gbps ethernet. No Wi-Fi, unfortunately, but that’s difficult to find on B460 boards around the $100 mark.
It has six rear-panel USB ports: two USB 2.0 ports, three USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A ports, and one USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-C port. It also has 7.1 audio provided by the Realtek ALC1200. Power delivery is via a nine-phase design.
Why We Picked This Combo
The best budget option, AMD’s Ryzen 3 3300X, has been almost impossible to find in stock since launch. If you’re lucky enough to find one at MSRP, go for it. That said, we think it’s better to go for a readily available part when shopping on a budget instead of spending too much time hunting down the absolute best choice.
That’s why we picked the Intel Core i3-10100 for our budget gaming CPU and motherboard combo. It’s a decent CPU for the price and gets pretty close to the Ryzen 3 3300X in games. The 3300X outclasses it in multi-core workloads, but the i3-10100 will be fine if you’re mostly going to be gaming.
We went for the ASRock B460M STEEL LEGEND over cheaper H410 options for nice-to-have features like USB 3.2 Gen1 ports and extra SATA connectors. You could get a budget Z490 board and use faster RAM, but the slight performance uptick in gaming isn’t worth $50.
All in all, this is a decent entry-level motherboard and CPU combo that should provide plenty of gaming enjoyment on a budget. If you just want to get your game on at 1080p and 60 FPS, this combo might be all you need.
If you want higher minimum framerates, more cores, and an overall better experience, though, you’ll want to take a look at our following combo.
Best Mid-Range Gaming Motherboard CPU Combo
The CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 5600X
The 5600X packs six cores and 12 threads, with a maximum boost clock of 4.6 GHz.
AMD’s Ryzen 5 5600X is a six-core, 12-thread CPU that runs at 3.7 GHz, with a respectably high boost frequency of 4.6 GHz. It has 35 MB of L2 and L3 cache and is built on AMD’s latest 7 nm technology. Like the Intel Core i3-10100, it has a 65 W TDP.
Unlike AMD’s other Ryzen 5000-series CPUs, the 5600X comes with a Wraith Stealth cooler in the box. It’s not the best cooler out there, but it’ll do the job.
The Motherboard: ASUS TUF Gaming B550-PLUS
ASUS’s TUF Gaming B550-PLUS (Wi-Fi) is a reasonably full-featured ATX board that’s part of their budget-friendly TUF product line. It supports 128 GB of DDR4 RAM up to 4600 MHz and comes with two M.2 slots, six SATA connectors, and eight rear-panel USB connectors. The USB connectors consist of two USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports (one Type-A and one Type-C), four USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports, and two USB 2.0 ports.
The B550-PLUS comes with Wi-Fi 6 and 2.5 Gbps ethernet, while a Realtek ALC S1200A provides 7.1 surround sound. Power-wise, it features a reasonably capable 8+2 power stage design.
Why We Picked This Combo
While we picked an Intel CPU for our budget rig due to supply issues, we think it’s worth seeking out the best parts when you have a slightly larger budget. And the best mainstream gaming CPU right now is probably AMD’s Ryzen 5 5600X.
Testing shows that the AMD Ryzen 5 5600X can even outperform Intel’s Core i9-10900K in CPU-limited gaming scenarios. That’s impressive, especially when the 5600X is 40% cheaper. It makes the 5600X a no-brainer for our mid-range gaming processor and motherboard combo.
Motherboard-wise, we went for a mid-range B550 motherboard over a budget X570 part. Our pick, the ASUS TUF Gaming B550-PLUS (Wi-Fi), is only slightly more expensive than budget X570 motherboards like MSI’s MPG X570 Gaming Plus but is significantly better-equipped.
You get welcome features such as Wi-Fi 6, USB BIOS Flashback, and support for faster memory speeds. 2.5 Gbps ethernet is a plus too, and the power delivery should suffice for some light overclocking.
Pairing the AMD Ryzen 5 5600X with the ASUS TUF Gaming B550-PLUS should make for a great CPU and motherboard combo for all sorts of gaming. Whether you need hundreds of FPS for competitive shooters or want to crank up the graphics on the latest AAA games, this combo will do the job.
If you want a rig that’ll handle serious work and serious play, though, read on.
Best High-End, Do-It-All Motherboard CPU Combo
The CPU: AMD Ryzen 9 5900X
The AMD Ryzen 9 5900X is a 12-core, 24-thread CPU with a base clock of 3.7 GHz and a 4.8 GHz boost clock that comes uncomfortably close to Intel’s 5 GHz crown. It has a whopping 70 MB of L2 and L3 cache and is still a 105 W TDP part.
Unlike the Ryzen 5 5600X, the 5900X doesn’t come with a stock cooler. An AIO like the ARCTIC Liquid Freezer II 280 would be perfect for keeping the cores super-cool. If you prefer air cooling, the Noctua NH-D15 would also be an excellent choice.
The Motherboard: ASUS X570 ROG Crosshair VIII Hero Wi-Fi
ASUS’s X570 ROG Crosshair VIII Hero Wi-Fi is near the top of ASUS’s product stack. It supports 128 GB of RAM and memory speeds up to 4800 MHz and comes equipped with three M.2 slots and eight SATA ports. It boasts a staggering 12 rear-panel USB ports. Four of them are USB 3.2 Gen 1, while the rest are USB 3.2 Gen 2 (including one Type-C port).
Wi-Fi 6 support is present, as is 2.5 Gbps ethernet. A rebadged Realtek S1220A handles audio duties alongside the audiophile-tier ESS Sabre ES9023P.
The ROG Crosshair VIII Hero’s power delivery is expectedly beefy, with 14+2 power phases. It also has DIY-friendly features like an error code display, a reprogrammable reset button, and USB BIOS Flashback.
Why We Picked This Combo
The Ryzen 9 5900X is a beast of a CPU that’ll handle almost anything you throw at it. It games brilliantly, with none of the weaknesses we used to see with high-core-count CPUs, all while excelling at productivity and content creation tasks.
We would have selected the Ryzen 7 5800X for mixed-use gaming and content creation, but its price lets it down. For an extra $100, the 5900X is significantly better at multi-threaded tasks and is even slightly faster in games.
A 22% price premium for an improvement of anywhere between 20 to 40% in threaded performance is a great deal. The 5900X hits the sweet spot for price and performance at the high end, making the 5800X a bit hard to recommend.
We didn’t pick the Ryzen 9 5950X because we don’t think the additional cores are worth the extra $250 for anybody except the most demanding users. Of course, if your workloads really need 16 cores and 32 threads, the 5950X is a great choice. Let’s be honest, though; if that were the case, you probably wouldn’t have clicked on this list to start with.
We chose our motherboard along the same lines. While MSI’s MEG X570 Godlike is a glorious board, the ASUS ROG Crosshair VIII Hero Wi-Fi arguably has more going for it. It’s less expensive, has more USB and SATA ports, and uses equally premium components. We’d say that extra ports are more valuable than 10 G ethernet and a fancy OLED display, as cool as the latter is.
Despite our attempt to be a bit value-conscious, there’s no avoiding that this is still a pricey pair. If you’re a professional content creator, though, and want a premium build that’ll last, this is the processor and motherboard combo for you.
Best High-End Intel Motherboard CPU Combo
The CPU: Intel Core i7-10700K
Intel’s Core i7-10700K is an eight-core, 16-thread CPU built on Intel’s venerable 14 nm technology. It has a 3.80 GHz base clock with a maximum 5.1 GHz single-core boost. L2 and L3 cache come in at a combined 16 MB, while it clocks in at 125 W TDP.
As with all of Intel’s unlocked CPUs, you’ll have to install your own CPU cooler. A high-end unit like the Noctua NH-U12A would be an excellent choice to keep the CPU cool, given its 125 W TDP.
The Motherboard: GIGABYTE Z490 AORUS Ultra
GIGABYTE’s Z490 AORUS Ultra is an ATX motherboard that sits below its flagship AORUS MASTER and XTREME boards. It takes 128 GB of RAM and supports up to 5000 MHz speeds. For storage expansion, it sports three M.2 connectors and six SATA ports.
The AORUS Ultra boasts 10 rear-panel USB connectors. Four are USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports, with one being Type-C. Two USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports and four USB 2.0 ports round out the port selection.
2.5 Gbps ethernet and Wi-Fi 6 handle networking, while a Realtek ALC1220-VB handles 7.1 audio, including DSD output for the hi-fi geeks out there. Power delivery is via a 12+1 phase design with high-quality components. It also supports PCIe 4.0, which isn’t standard on Z490 boards.
Why We Picked This Combo
The AMD Ryzen 7 5800X is a great CPU, but it’s a bit let down by awkward pricing, as we explained earlier. That gives Intel the chance to make a value play in the eight-core, 16-thread segment with the Core i7-10700K.
It costs at least $75 less than the 5800X but is mostly on par for gaming. It’s slower for productivity, but we think the performance hit is somewhat acceptable given the savings. If you’re primarily going to be gaming, that $75 (or more) could be put to great use elsewhere.
Motherboard-wise, we chose the GIGABYTE Z40 AORUS Ultra for its comprehensive feature set and robust power delivery circuitry. The 12+1 power phases should support a 5.1 GHz all-core overclock, which will narrow the gap to the 5800X slightly.
Overall, this CPU and motherboard combo should be a solid, lasting option if you’re dead-set on eight cores for threaded workloads and hobbyist content creation. There’s a bit of future-proofing here, too, with support for PCIe 4.0 and Intel’s 11th gen CPUs.
The only reason it’s here at the end of the list is that we just didn’t feel like we could justify naming it the “best” in that middle-ground between the Ryzen 5 5600X and Ryzen 9 5900X. It’s decent value, though, and the best overall Intel CPU for a high-end gaming rig.
Are You Board Yet?
There aren’t many more crucial choices when building a rig than picking the right motherboard CPU combo. Most components are pretty effortless upgrades, but upgrading a CPU (or worse yet, a motherboard) can involve a lot more hassle than you’d expect. Getting it right the first time around is essential, and we hope that this list has helped point you in the right direction.
That said, if you’re keen on learning how to choose your own motherboard (or just have particular needs), check out our guide to choosing a motherboard.