In our series of Best Motherboard guides, here’s the latest update to our recommended motherboards list. All numbers in the text are updated to reflect pricing at the time of writing (Nov 20th).
Best Motherboards: Holiday 2018
With 2018 coming to a close and probably one of the busiest years in recent times in terms of motherboard and new chipset releases, an overabundance of choice makes choosing the right motherboard to seem a somewhat arduous task. With competition picking up once again between Intel and AMD in the CPU segment as noted in our Best CPUs for Gaming Holiday 2018 piece, it’s time to pick out some notable and interesting motherboards from what’s currently available (at time of writing) on retail shelves heading into the holiday period.
|AnandTech’s Best Motherboards: Holiday 2018|
|Favorite Motherboard (Money is no Object)|
|MSI MEG Z390 GODLIKE||$599||$598|
|Favorite Motherboard (Gaming/Performance)|
|ASUS ROG Maximus XI Code||–||$350|
|Favorite Motherboard (Value)|
|MSI B450 Tomahawk||$106||$107|
|Favorite Mini-ITX Motherboard|
|ASRock Z390 Phantom Gaming-ITX/ac||$212||$190|
Our recommendations for motherboards are based entirely on my personal and professional opinion. There are notably lots of different motherboards across a host of chipsets so I selected my top four picks based on the four segments, regardless of chipset.
Users may note, the picks are sided a lot to Z390. There’s a lot to love in the current crop of Z390. We’ve also gone over other chipset families as well in the links below.
Best Motherboard 2018: Money is no Object
MSI MEG Z390 GODLIKE ($599 at Amazon/$598 at Newegg)
When buying a new motherboard, one of the most commonly compared aspects when choosing between motherboard models is the price. The budget spent on a motherboard is an investment in not just the raw specifications on offer from the chipset, but vendor-specific features brought to the table by manufacturers in an attempt to show consumers why the hard earned money should go to them. One such board which includes an impressive and jam-packed bundle is the MSI MEG Z390 GODLIKE which, outside of the MSI MEG X399 Creation, is the companies most comprehensive desktop motherboard for a very long time. Not only is the specifications list long and distinguished like the board itself, the aesthetics are RGB-inspired with multiple lighting zones which are all customizable, as well as neutral grey and black heatsinks and a small programmable OLED screen embedded into the panel between the RAM slots and the 24-pin 12 V ATX power input. Some might say that it looks very sharp for a wide range of builds.
Some of the most distinguished features of the Z390 GODLIKE include a trio of M.2 slots with each having its own dedicated M.2 heatsink; a single U.2 port is also present for mass storage and this board has support for up to three-way SLI and four-way CrossFire multi-graphics configurations for the fastest gaming systems desirable. For enthusiasts and overclockers, the board has a solid looking 16-phase power delivery and for gamers is a pair of Realtek ALC1220 HD audio codecs to take care of the front and rear panel audio connectivity. What sets this apart from the rest is the inclusion of a dedicated capture card located in the accessories bundle means content creators and streamers can buy one solution to do everything they need. The MSI Z390 GODLIKE is one of the most feature-rich boards ever on the socket LGA1551 socket, but it does come at the rather large cost of $598 from Newegg, or $599 from Amazon.
Best Motherboard 2018: For Gaming/Performance
ASUS ROG Maximus XI Code ($350 at Newegg/Currently N/A at Amazon)
Looking at the massive stack of Z390 motherboards currently on the market, a lot of the product ranges are catered towards gamers. One of the most prominently marketed component based gaming brands is from ASUS and the Republic of Gamers brand. ASUS has three main gaming focused motherboard brands at present with the entry-level rebranded TUF Gaming, the mid-range Strix and the higher end Maximus series. My pick for performance and gaming users is the ASUS ROG Maximus XI Code. With its blend of armored up aesthetics, performance focused 8+2 phase power delivery and capacity to support DDR4-4400 memory out of the box, it’s a good overall package. The ROG armor features a solid black theme which stands as a stylish and neutral backdrop for the multi-zoned RGB which is customizable with the ROG Aura Sync software.
With support for two-way SLI and up to three-way CrossFire multi-graphics card setups, it’s a solid foundation for a stylish gaming system. The ROG Maximus XI Code has a pair of M.2 slots hidden beneath the ROG armor covering the majority of the PCB and also includes six SATA ports too. Some of the more useful features for gamers include the SupremeFX S1220A 7.1-channel HD audio codec as well as the inclusion of the Intel 9560 Wi-Fi 802.11ac module which is capable of supporting speeds of up to 1.73 Gbps (2T2R). One of the things which can make or break a users gaming experience is software and ASUS is at the top of the game as far as that goes with included software such as the GameFirst V utility and the Sonic Radar III audio software which helps gamers identify things like the location of gunshots and explosions for an extra advantage.
As far as the cost, the Maximus XI Code is currently retailing for $350 at both Newegg which is a fair price when you consider it’s bigger sibling, the ROG Maximus XI Formula retails for $450. Sure the Formula adds a few more things like a brand new Aquantia AQC111C 5 G NIC and EKWB power delivery heatsinks, but the Code represents a better-valued deal for gaming.
Best Motherboard 2018: The Value Option
MSI B450 Tomahawk ($106 at Amazon/$107 at Newegg)
Moving onto my top value pick going into the holiday period of 2018 is on a very welcomed platform for gamers and content creators on a budget. It’s no secret that AMD hit the right performance metric with its Zen architecture, but good value isn’t just limited to the processors, but the motherboards too. The MSI B450 Tomahawk is the epitome of value with a variety of low cost, but effective features in a package which costs just $107 at both Amazon and Newegg. A mixture of black and grey patterning across the PCB, with gunmetal grey heatsinks and an array of RGB LEDs in the top right-hand corner, makes this a neutral foundation for a Ryzen based single graphics card gaming system.
The MSI B450 Tomahawk has a pair of mid-range controllers with a Realtek ALC892 HD audio codec and Realtek 8111H Gigabit LAN. Also present is a single M.2 slot, six SATA and two full-length PCIe 3.0 slots with support for two-way CrossFire which make up the bulk of the physical feature set. There’s support for DDR4-3466 memory and MSI includes a robust software package to complement this good valued option. The B450 Tomahawk costs around $107 currently which outside of the X470 chipset boards and MSI’s own B450 Gaming Pro Carbon AC offers the best value in my opinion of all the ATX sized B450 motherboards.
Best Motherboard 2018: The Best Mini-ITX Motherboard
ASRock Z390 Phantom Gaming-ITX/ac ($212 at Amazon/$190 at Newegg)
The rise of smaller but equally adept hardware is on the up and to complement this, vendors are cramming even more features and componentry onto their mini-ITX motherboards. One standout model from the smaller sized crowd is the new ASRock Z390 Phantom Gaming-ITX/ac which on paper looks like one of the most comprehensive models in a long list of ASRock’s small form factor series. The Z390 Phantom Gaming-ITX/ac has a wave of features including two M.2 slots, four SATA ports with two RAM slots with support for up to DDR4-4266 RAM and a desirable Thunderbolt 3 Type-C port on the rear panel.
Other prominent features include four USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-C ports, a DisplayPort and HDMI 2.0 output with a clear CMOS switch also located on the back panel. Networking is handled by an Intel 9560 802.11 2T2R Wi-Fi adapter and a single Intel I219V NIC which is more premium than some ATX models offer. For overclockers, a solid looking 5+2 power delivery is more than adequate to propel the new Intel Core i9-9900K to its limits on ambient cooling and the ASRock Z390 Phantom Gaming-ITX/ac even has some RGB LEDs on the rear of the PCB; located just behind the full-length PCIe 3.0 x16 slot. The ASRock Z390 Phantom Gaming-ITX/ac can found at Newegg for $190 which is a really good price.