Best Motherboard CPU Combo 2014

Find out what is the best motherboard CPU combo for a basic, mainstream, gaming and home theater PC right here.

With so many processors and boards to choose from, how does one single out the best CPU motherboard combos? This is how we do it:

1. Best match between motherboard and CPU. Having a socket that fits is just the beginning... a CPU and motherboard have to complement each other well. For example, pairing a "B" or "H" series motherboard with an unlocked Intel CPU is a common mistake. While they will work together, the motherboard is going to cripple the CPU's overclocking capabilities.

2. Must-have features for different computer types. Having built hundreds of computers, we know what's important for different users: HDMI ports for HTPCs to connect to televisions, SATA3 ports for mainstream PCs to fully support solid state drives, SLI and CrossFireX capable motherboards for a gaming PC to accommodate two or more graphics cards... the list goes on.

3. Rock solid motherboards made by top tier manufacturers - Asus, Gigabyte, ASRock and MSI (Biostar and ECS are considered tier 2 in general). Besides branding and warranty, we will scour user forums to weed out models with defective batches and known issues. For higher end boards, we will also examine other quality indicators such as capacitors, soldering, power phases etc.

1. Best CPU Motherboard Combo under $125
2. Best CPU Motherboard Combo under $250
3. Best CPU Motherboard Combo for Gaming
4. Best CPU Motherboard Combo for HTPC

1. Best Motherboard CPU Combo under $125

Intel Celeron G1820 CPU + MSI H81M-E34 Motherboard

Intel Celeron G1820 CPU

Aimed at budget users, Intel Celeron CPUs are priced to compete with low end AMD processors in the entry level market. Despite their low prices, they are able to offer adequate performance for less demanding users... making them excellent choices for a cheap motherboard CPU combo.

Thanks to Intel Celeron G1820's aggressive pricing, we were able to snag this entire motherboard CPU for ~$100 on Amazon.

Don't let its Celeron label fool you. Test results by PCLab.pl have revealed that this CPU slightly outperforms mid end Core 2 Duos of earlier generations, so we know it is more than able to tackle everyday tasks such as web surfing, email, office applications and multimedia programs.

While it's rated at 53W, this CPU pulls just 15 to 30W in actual use. Besides shaving dollars off your electricity bills, its low power requirements allows you to get away with a cheaper (but good quality) power supply such as Corsair Builder Series CX 430W.

No matter how we see it, integrated graphics is a must for budget CPUs. One, modern integrated graphics are able to meet the needs of most basic users. Two, you won't have to fork out extra money for a separate graphics card.

Therefore it's good to know that this CPU comes with Intel HD Graphics - This decent integrated graphics allows you to view high res images, play full HD (1080p) videos and run older games on low settings.

MSI H81M-E34

Retailing for just $50+, the MSI H81M-E34 motherboard offers everything a budget user can ask and hope for:

2 DIMM slots supporting up to 16 GB of DDR3 RAM... 4 SATA ports for installing up to 4 hard drives or optical drives (two of them is SATA3 for better support of solid state drives).

We also love how this motherboard comes with all 3 popular display ports (VGA, DVI, HDMI) so you'll be able to hook it up to any monitor or TV. This is a big plus since most budget boards only offer 2 such ports.

There is also ample room for upgrades. There is 1 PCI-E x16 slot for installing a discrete graphics card plus 2 PCI-E x1 slots for installing sound cards, network cards or connector cards.

With USB 3.0 gaining widespread use and boasting 3 times faster transfer speeds, USB 3.0 ports are now a must (rather than a nice bonus) for budget motherboards. We're pleased to see that this board offers 6 USB 3.0 ports, 2 at the back plus 2 more that you can connect to the front of a computer case. That's in addition to 6 USB 2.0 ports (4 front + 2 back).

Low power consumption, decent performance and good hardware support makes this the best motherboard CPU combo for the money - It will meet and even exceed the needs of most light users.

However we do have to be realistic at this price range. This cheap motherboard and CPU combo isn't going to cut it for CPU or GPU intensive chores, such as mainstream gaming, graphics editing, media encoding and moderate multitasking.

CPU:

Motherboard:


Click here for Intel Celeron G1820's latest price and specs.

Click here for MSI H81M-E34's latest price and specs.


2. Best Motherboard CPU Combo under $250

Intel Core i3-4150 CPU + Gigabyte GA-B85M-D3H Motherboard

Intel Core i3-4150

A mainstream CPU and motherboard combo has a lot up its sleeve. It has to be powerful enough for most users... while remaining affordable for the masses. Call us greedy, but we will also want some degree of future-proofing, so this motherboard CPU combo has to offer good upgrade and expansion options as well.

Now let's see how much value we can squeeze from this ~$210 motherboard CPU combo:

Intel Core i3-4150 has 2 physical cores with Hyper Threading. That means each core is able to execute 2 instructions at the same time, allowing it to operate as a quad core CPU and boosting its performance by up to 30% (vs similar processors without Hyper Threading).

Whether it's browsing the web, working with office documents, playing media files, compressing files or backing up data, this CPU handles them all with ease (as tested by XbitLabs). It even packs enough processing power to take on moderate multitasking and light virtualization, though a Intel Core i5 will fare even better for those demanding jobs.

Embedded with the latest Intel HD 4400 Graphics, solid graphics performance is another reason for choosing this CPU.

Besides viewing ultra sharp images and playing high res videos, its robust integrated graphics also allows you to fiddle with graphics editing and video encoding. In fact, you can even push it to play most newer game titles on low settings.

Gigabyte GA-B85-D3H

Gigabyte GA-B85M-D3H's rich set of features and expansion options outclasses most other motherboards in the $80 price range: 4 x DIMM slots (for up to 32 GB RAM), 4 x USB 3.0 ports (2 front + 2 back), 8 x USB 2.0 ports (4 front + 4 back), 6 x SATA connectors (for internal hard disk, solid state and optical drives), high speed LAN port (for wired Internet).

Its Realtek ALC892 is one of best onboard sound chips you'll find on a mainstream motherboard, supporting both 7.1 HD audio and S/PDIF digital audio. While audiophiles and enthusiasts will always insist on having their own dedicated sound cards, the rest of us will be more than satisfied with this motherboard's clear audio output.

A triple combination of VGA, DVI and HDMI ports gives you the freedom of hooking up to any monitor and TV you want (with the rare exception of DisplayPort-only monitors). If you intend to install a discrete graphics card, then you'll be pleased to know that this board has not one... but two PCI-E x16 slots that supports AMD CrossFireX for a dual graphics card setup.

This motherboard's solid build quality also deserves praise. Japanese solid caps, ferrite core chokes, high grade MOSFET, glass fabric PCB and dedicated USB fuses enable it to better withstand high temperatures, power surges, electrostatic discharges and humid environments. What we have here is a durable and stable motherboard that should outlast its 3 year warranty.

Whether it's for home or office use, this robust and versatile motherboard CPU combo will be more than adequate for most people. Unless you're someone with exacting needs (heavy gamer, graphics designer, video professional, overclocker), this value-for-money combo is going to serve you well for the years to come.

CPU:

Motherboard:


Click here for Intel Core i3-4150's latest price and specs.

Click here for Gigabyte GA-B85M-D3H's latest price and specs.


3. Best Motherboard CPU Combo for Gaming

Intel Core i5-4690K CPU + MSI Z97 Gaming 7 Motherboard

Intel Core i5-4690K

Mobile phones, tablets, laptops, handheld consoles, video game consoles... Nowadays you can game on so many devices, but still nothing matches a gaming PC's visual prowess and vast selection of games.

There are good reasons that make Intel Core i5-4690K so popular among gamers and techies:

Impressive performance - 4 cores running at 3.4 GHz (3.8 GHz with Turbo Boost) doesn't sound mind blowing on paper, but extensive testing by credible sites (AnandTech, TechPowerUp, XbitLabs, OverClock3D etc.) have all led to the same conclusion: This higher end CPU delivers outstanding performance for its price.

Intel Core i5-4670K aced everything that the reviewers tossed at it... synthetic benchmarks, office software, graphics editing, video rendering, 3D modeling, data processing and of course hardcore gaming (with a discrete graphics card). In fact, it outperforms AMD's FX-8350 in most tests, an astonishing feat considering that FX-8350 is a 8 core monster running at 4.0 GHz.

Overclockable - With a good "Z" series motherboard (see below) and aftermarket heat sink, you can push this unlocked CPU to 4.2 GHz and beyond. While seasoned overclockers will complain that older Sandy Bridge CPUs overclock better (and they're right), you have to remember that this CPU runs about 15% faster at the same clock speed and consumes less electricity.

Intel HD Graphics 4600 - Yes, we know you'll be installing a discrete graphics card (or two) in all likelihood, but it's still reassuring to know that you have this high end integrated graphics as back up. If you ever have to send your graphics card for repairs, you'll be still able to continue with casual gaming and graphics editing.

For the best gaming motherboard CPU combo, we'll need to pair this killer CPU to a rock-solid motherboard with first rate features and competitive prices:

MSI Z97 Gaming 7

Asus ROG and Gigabyte G1 boards have been dominating the gaming scene for years, but their $300 plus price tags are just too much for most people to stomach. Retailing for less than $190, MSI Z97 Gaming 7 motherboard offers almost as much in features and build quality... at a fraction of the price. No wonder that it has been winning over gamers and reviewers in droves.

Let's begin with its graphics card support: 3 PCI-E 3.0 x16 slots with SLI and CrossFireX support gives us a motherboard that is able to accommodate up to 3 Nvidia or 3 AMD graphics cards at the same time. Along with its 4 other PCI-E x 1 slots, this ATX board has a 7 expansion slots in total for graphics cards, sound cards, network cards, connector cards etc.

Killer is the undisputed champion in game networking, with enthusiasts routinely forking out $100+ for a dedicated Killer network card. That explains why we were excited to find a Killer LAN port on board. This luxury component has its own processor to direct Internet traffic and minimize game lag.

Its premium onboard sound also deserves an honorable mention. By combining a top end audio codec (Realtek ALC1150) with custom refinements (EMI shielding, high grade capacitors, gold plated audio jacks), this motherboard is able to produce superior sound that's almost on par with dedicated sound cards.

True to its name, MSI's OC Genie makes overclocking so simple that it's almost magical. Press the "OC GENIE" button on the motherboard. That's it - MSI automatically tweaks the clock speeds and voltages to overclock your CPU and RAM. Power users who prefer manual control can turn to MSI's Extreme Tuning Utility to push the CPU, RAM and graphics card even harder.

To round things off, here's a quick run-down of its other features: connects up to 8 internal hard drives (with RAID for instant backup and quicker data transfers), onboard mSATA slot (for SSD caching) and 10 USB 3.0 ports (2 front + 8 back).

At the end of the day, we end up with a gaming motherboard CPU combo that truly does it all: hardcore gaming, heavy graphics editing, heavy multitasking, heavy overclocking and more. The real triumph for us is achieving this without breaking the bank. While most gaming motherboard CPU combos cost $500 to $600+, this high end combo goes for just ~$400 on Amazon.

CPU:

Motherboard:


Click here for Intel Core i5-4690K's latest price and specs.

Click here for MSI Z97 Gaming 7's latest price and specs.


4. Best Motherboard CPU Combo for HTPC

AMD A6-6400K APU + MSI A88XI AC Motherboard

AMD A6-6400K

Once considered as oddities, home theater PCs have been gaining mass popularity in recent years, replacing traditional Hi-Fi systems in living rooms across the world.

Introduced in 2011, AMD APUs are a refreshing development in CPU design. While most CPUs focus on processor speed and power, APUs lavish attention on the integrated graphics. The end result is APUs having so-so CPU performance but boasting superb integrated graphics. This makes them especially ideal for HTPCs where video performance matters a lot more.

AMD A6-6400K is a dual core 3.9 GHz CPU that sports 8470D integrated graphics. Retailing for just $70+, its graphics and video performance blows away anything Intel has to offer at that price range. For most scenarios, its graphics capabilities are comparable to Intel's HD Graphics 4600 (found only in $140+ CPUs).

This AMD motherboard CPU combo handles all common HTPC tasks with ease: watching full HD videos, streaming 1080p videos online, encoding videos, playing and burning Blu ray & DVD discs, listening to music and viewing high res images. What's more, it can even double as a light gaming machine that runs most modern games at low settings (or older games at mid settings).

This CPU motherboard combo has a neat feature that's often overlooked: overclocking. In fact, AMD A6-6400K is one of the cheapest processors that comes fully unlocked... allowing you to overclock both its CPU and integrated graphics for performance gains.

MSI A88XI AC

Since most people prefer a small HTPC that can placed on a TV shelf or tucked away in a corner, we have selected a compact Mini-ITX motherboard that will easily fit into a small form factor case.

For starters, MSI A88XI AC comes with what all good Mini ITX motherboards should have:

1 PCI-E x16 slot (for a dedicated graphics, sound or TV tuner card etc.),  2 standard DIMM slots (supporting up to 32 GB RAM), 4 USB 3.0 ports (2 front, 2 back), 6 USB 2.0 ports, 4 SATA3 ports (for hard disk, solid state and optical drives) and a high speed LAN port.

When it comes to display ports, this motherboard has it all. With 1 VGA, 1 DVI and 1 HDMI port, you can hook up this mini ITX motherboard CPU combo to virtually any monitor, TV or projector.

High quality audio is also essential for a HTPC, and we were pleased to find a very respectable Realtek ALC887 sound chip on board. It supports 7.1 HD audio and S/PDIF digital audio, allowing you to connect to high end speakers and headphones for a true home theater experience.

But what really excites us about this little board are its integrated wireless features: It comes with the latest Wi-Fi 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.0 on board, allowing you to connect to the Internet and Bluetooth devices (phones, tablets, wireless speakers etc.). This frees up your USB ports and PCI-E slot, plus you won't have to spend a cent on separate wireless adapters.

CPU:

Motherboard:


Click here for AMD A6-6400K's latest price and specs.

Click here for MSI A88XI AC's latest price and specs.