Motherboards. They’re an integral part of every computer, responsible for the inglorious but absolutely necessary job of keeping everything in a PC, from the processor to the video card to the hard drives, connected in working together in happy harmony. The difficulty of this job has lead to motherboards gaining a legacy of frustration, evidenced by a trail of posts on hardware forums with the subject line of “I think I fried my motherboard ”
What also becomes clear on those forums is that there is a dazzling number of motherboard manufacturers and that everyone has an opinion about which is the most reliable and best designed. This can becoming overwhelming if you’re looking for information about your motherboard or looking to purchase a replacement. I this guide I am going to clearly lay out a summary of each motherboard brand so that your next motherboard purchase won’t be a blind one.
A veteran of the motherboard scene, ASUS has been cranking out board since 1990 and has earned a solid reputation while doing so. If you ask blindly for a motherboard recommendation on most hardware forums you’ll find that many of the recommendations are for a board by ASUS. I can’t disagree, as ASUS is an excellent brand which seems to have a low rate of failures. Just as importantly, they have excellent motherboard designs. ASUS boards always seem to have expansion slots, SATA ports, and other connections placed in the most convenient locations. ASUS is also know for shipping their motherboards with a well executed BIOS. You do pay for the quality, however, as ASUS boards tend to be among the most expensive for any given chipset.
ASRock has only been around since 2002, making them a relative newcomer to the business. As a result, most people don’t pay attention to or recommend ASRock boards. The company rarely builds high-end products, perhaps because it feels it doesn’t yet have the brand reputation necessary to compete. ASRock motherboards, being budget products, don’t usually have the features found with their competitors. They seem to be reliable, however, and they do make some nice micro-ATX boards which would work well in HTPC builds.
Although they’ve been around since 1986, Biostar has never gained the same reputation as the most well regarded motherboard brands. It isn’t from lack of trying or lack of good products, because Biostar certainly has both. In fact, Biostar’s mid-range motherboards are extremely competitive because they usually carry the same features as other brands but cost less. Their TForce line of motherboards are usually the ones which occupy this space. However, Biostar doesn’t always get it right, and I suggest reading a few reviews of any Biostar motherboard you’re thinking of buying.
An old but not particularly large motherboard manufacturer, DFI has been around since 1981. The company’s most popular line of products is the LanParty line, which is targeted towards gamers but is also reasonably priced. DFI boards have an average reputation for reliability, design, and price. As a result, DFI boards are usually hard to recommend, but they’re also not usually singled out for criticism.
Undoubtedly one of the least respected brands in the motherboard industry, ECS’s lack of respect is a result of the company’s consist lack of high-end products. Most ECS motherboards seem to be built with the goal of being the least expensive in their market, which also results in them feeling the cheapest of any board in their market. ECS motherboards are also notorious for shipping with a BIOS which doesn’t offer much room for customization of BIOS settings.
Another relative baby, having been founded in 1999, EVGA is a tightly focused brand which targets gamers and high-end hardware enthusiasts. Their motherboards usually have features which are not found on other motherboards and are designed for high-end hardware configurations including overclocked processors and multiple video cards. The brand is very well respected, but their motherboards are too expensive to recommend to most users.
Found in 1974, Foxconn is the oldest company on this list and one of the largest. However, this size isn’t on the strength of their motherboards, which have generally not been well respected by enthusiasts. They aren’t necessarily unreliable, or of low quality, but they rarely seem to be great either. It is very rare to find a review of a Foxconn motherboard which argues that the board is better designed than all of its competitors. Foxconn prices accordingly.
Also founded in 1986, Gigabyte is neck-and-neck with ASUS for number one brand in the minds of most enthusiasts. They’ve earned this reputation through years of delivering boards which are of high quality, reliable, and well designed. Gigabyte seems to be a little more aggressive than ASUS when it comes to marketing low-end boards, particularly micro-ATX boards. While inexpensive – often just shy of $100 bucks – these boards are just as well constructed as any other Gigabyte product and are a good choice for value shoppers.
Yet another company founded in 1986, MSI has been and up-and-comer in the motherboard scene as of late. Many of MSI’s new motherboards seem to be as well designed as products from top-tier companies like ASUS and Gigabyte, but they cost less. Some examples of this are MSI’s new P55 motherboards. MSI boards have also been shipping with a nice suite of software. MSI’s brand still isn’t well known, however, and the verdict still seems to be out on reliability, so MSI products are not priced high and are usually a good value.
An extremely new motherboard brand, Zotac was just founded in 2006. Zotac is still relatively unheard of even among enthusiasts, but they have made a name for themselves in the production of incredible small motherboards like the H55ITX-A-E, the best mini-ITX board for Core i3/i5 processors. I’ve posted about and recommended them before and I’m sure I will do so again in the future as it so far seems that no one has been able to compete with them on their home turf.
I love Gigabyte and ASUS to death, and I highly recommend them to anyone who would like to buy a high-quality motherboard with the least chance of failure.
However, I feel that the pricing of their boards is a bit too high considering what competitors can offer. Because of that MSI earns my recommendations as the go-to brand for a solid, mid-range motherboard. MSI boards are fully featured, but they usually cost twenty dollars less than a comparable board from Gigabyte or ASUS. Take advantage of this now, because if MSI keeps this up their brand will sky-rocket and they’ll soon be charging a premium as well.
My other recommendation is Zotac. This is Smidgen PC, remember – and I love small motherboards. Zotac was frankly a revelation when they burst onto the scene. Before Zotac most mini-ITX options were from Jetway, a motherboard brand which has become so irrelevant that I didn’t bother to list them here. The Zotac boards are clearly superior to what Jetway offers and to any other mini-ITX board around. If you want small, buy Zotac.