The 15 Best PC Cases of 2021

Best PC Cases

Source: Jaqobe

The 15 Best PC Cases of 2021

Kaelum Ross

I

Jan 2, 2021

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We’ve been through a lot of cases on What in Tech.

Anything from the cheapest to the largest to the quietest (to name a few).

But after 100s of PC case reviews, which stand out as the top choices?

Today’s feature is here to guide you through the best computer cases for gaming, general use, streaming, and production requirements (e.g. video editing) in all shapes, sizes, and budgets.

Top Picks

Best of the Rest: Quick-Fire Picks

Overall Best PC Case: Lian Li PC-O11 Dynamic

What a fantastic PC case this is.

From one of the best tower manufacturers in the business today; the PC-011 is simply incredible at balancing everything most users want: build quality, design, internal features, and airflow all at a fantastic mid-range price-point.

Starting with aesthetic: the PC-011 is not done justice by stock photos.

We also gave the PC-011 the best looking PC case accolade. With an exterior made of beautifully finished thick aluminum and dual full-length tempered glass windows, it has the nicest build quality in its price range (as durable as it is beautiful).

The tower looks slick on its own, but what really gives it such a unique presentation is how a completed, powered-on build looks with the case’s fantastic internal visibility (this feature’s cover photo is an example, but the chassis looks even better in person). We love how much aesthetic customization you have here; you can go all out with an RGB lighting build, or something more minimalist. Either way, the chassis looks great.

Many of the PC-011’s competitors will just have a half-length window on the side only (with a PSU shroud at the bottom). The full-length windows on 2 sides may seem daunting if you’re a novice builder and can’t hide your cables at the bottom, but the PC-011 is a dual-chamber PC case. This means it has an additional compartment behind the motherboard designed for your “uglier” parts (think PSUs, drives, and cable management). Not only does this mean that you can get an incredibly clean aesthetic in the main chamber, but your primary parts will have more room to breathe/benefit from better airflow.

But this is far from just a beautiful chassis.

The PC-011 is an ATX PC case, with great space inside for:

  • 8 expansion slots
  • 2 x 3.5″ + 4 x 2.5″ drive bays
  • GPU length up to 420mm (more than enough room for mainstream cards, and one of the best PC cases for RTX 3070, 3080 & 3090 graphics cards)
  • I/O front panel that includes a USB3.1 Type-C

We think the PC-011 is the best ATX case for gaming available, with its excellent space for GPU installation/breathing room, more than enough storage capacity (hidden in the second chamber for a clean setup), and a beautiful aesthetic to show off your fancy hardware.

But the cherry on top for its gaming capability (or even someone more focussed on production), is the cooling. With up to:

  • 9 x 120mm fans
  • 1 x 360mm, 1 x 280mm & 1 x 240mm radiators

This is a fantastic allotment for the dimensions of the case. Bear in mind that’s on top of the dual-chamber design that already gives you a great internal layout for ventilation.

We’ve included a choice below that we consider the best case for airflow, but the PC-011 really does have everything most builders will need in this respect. The fact that Lian Li has also managed to create such a beautiful and durable offering alongside its internal feature/cooling capability at a mid-range price is simply fantastic.

The last PC case you’ll need for a long time, we consider the PC-011 to be the best computer tower on the market today to satisfy most builder’s needs and simply can’t recommend it enough.

Best PC Case for Quiet Builds: Fractal Design Define R5

Now, as much as we love the PC-011, there is one competitor that makes the top computer case spot a very close race.

Fractal Design has been at the peak of the case manufacturing game for years, and their flagship Define R series has been refined over many iterations to the R5 which, without a doubt, is the best quiet PC case in the mid-range price point.

If you are more inclined towards a minimalist PC case, the R5 shines in aesthetic. With a beautiful, sophisticated steel build surrounding most of its exterior (the front is plastic to retain lightness when opening the front panel, but has a beautiful metal finish).

Fractal are the masters of the quiet computer case. The R5 is the epitome of that; with its windowless design and powerful sound-dampening materials throughout. Even with a powerful gaming/production rig running inside, you can expect to have something very close to silence.

The best part about all of the low-decibel capability? The R5 is still an excellent PC case for cooling. Many towers dedicated to quietness compromise by running hotter, but this Fractal offering still records excellent low temps in benchmarks, with capacity for:

  • Up to 9 x 140mm fans with 2 top-quality Fractal Design Dynamic GP-14 fans (designed for silent builds) included
  • Or up to 420mm top, 360mm side, 240mm bottom & 140mm rear radiators

This is a fantastic allotment, with both water cooling and fan cooling builders having great options here with the R5 being one of the best PC cases for overclocking if you also don’t want your setup to sound like a jet engine.

While you don’t need the hyper-clean internals that a window PC case demands, the R5 still has some decent cable routing facilities to keep your internal ventilation going well.

This Fractal chassis is a mid-tower case, with room inside for:

  • 7 expansion slots
  • VGA card lengths up to 310mm (enough space for most GPUs, but can be expanded up to 440mm with HDD cage removal)
  • 8 x 3.5″ / 2.5″, 2 x 2.5″ & 2 x 5.25″ drive bays
  • Decent, easy to use dust filters
  • Minimalist I/O top panel including USB 3.0, 2.0 & a fan controller (perfect to control noise depending on your task).

The R5 is one of the top computer cases for gaming; but as you can see from the incredible storage space, this would also be an excellent production chassis if your work demands a large quantity of hard drives (think video editors, rendering, etc.).

All-in-all, what makes the Define R5 so impressive is how it pretty much ticks all of the boxes.

It’s well-built, beautifully minimalist, runs cool, has one of the best sound-dampening setups, and has great internal room for whatever your build demands.

And all of that comes at a mid-range price?

If you like the idea of a quieter PC case, or simply prefer the aesthetic over the PC-011, know this is easily one of the best mid-tower cases that has ever been produced.

Best PC Case for Airflow: Corsair Obsidian Series 750D Airflow Edition

Next up is one of our favorite offerings from perhaps the biggest PC case brand today.

Corsair’s 750D Airflow Edition is, as the name suggests, a case designed to offer the best ventilation and cooling for mid-range builders. 

While the PC-011 and Define R5 has excellent cooling capabilities in their own right for gaming/production use, the 750D is even more impressive if decent airflow is your single most important objective.

This case has been around for several years simply because it hasn’t needed any serious refinement (why fix what ain’t broke?). With a build quality consisting of aluminum, high-quality steel, and tempered glass; the 750D is very durable and has a balanced aesthetic between the high visibility vs minimalist designs of our top two picks (with still enough window space for you to show off your beautiful internal hardware).

One of the best full tower PC cases on the market, you have room for:

  • E-ATX motherboard compatibility
  • 9 x expansion slots
  • GPU length clearance up to 450mm
  • 3 x optical/5.25″, 4 x 2.5″ & 6 x 2.5″ / 3.5″ hybrid drive bays

As you can probably tell, there is some serious room in this case for a powerful build; be it for gaming, streaming, or other high-end usages.

You’ll have no issues fitting mainstream graphics cards inside. Tied with its great airflow, this is one of the best PC cases for RTX 3080, 3090, or 3070 overclocking.

Speaking of airflow, this is what this 750D edition was designed to excel in, with:

  • Up to 5 x 140mm and 4 x 120mm fans (with 3 top quality 140mm fans included)
  • Or up to 1 x 360mm, 1 x 280mm & 1 x 140mm radiators

Not only are these cooling specs great, but you’re combining it with a case design that is internally and externally very well equipped for ventilation & cable management. You can achieve some really excellent temps in the 750D (and you certainly don’t need to max out the fan/radiator count to do so, the generously included 3 140mm fans would be enough to get a build up and running).

While we give the overall top PC case edge to the Lian Li and Fractal offerings, you can probably see why we still hold the 750D in high regard.

If your focus is on ensuring ventilation for a beastly setup, or if you prefer the balanced aesthetic of this Corsair offering, then know it’s one of the best full tower cases on the market today.

Best Budget PC Case: Phanteks Eclipse P300A Mesh

We appreciate some readers will be looking for the best cheap PC case options for a budget build. Phanteks, another classic manufacturer, has a fantastic offering in the P300A Mesh.

While we do explore an even cheaper computer case further below (the N200), this Phanteks case represents the best compromise between running at a much cheaper price range, while still retaining what we believe any good budget gaming, streaming or general use build will want.

The build quality, while not up to quite the same level as our top 3 picks, is still very impressive for the price. With a full steel exterior and tempered glass side panel, it’s a surprisingly beautiful case when you compare it to other budget options. The full-length mesh front panel excellent way to provide additional ventilation without loading up on fan purchases (there is a non-mesh edition if you prefer the design, but we would go with mesh if you’re looking to cool as cheap as possible).

This is a budget ATX case, still boasting good room inside for:

  • 7 x expansion slots
  • 355mm GPU clearance (enough for nearly all mainstream cards)
  • 2 x 2.5″ & 2 x 2.5″ / 3.5″ drive bays 

With all the GPU and storage room we think anyone would need on a low wallet, this is easily one of the best budget PC cases for gaming.

Cooling-wise, you have room for:

  • Up to 3 x 140mm + 1 x 120mm fans with 1 120mm fan included
  • Or up to 1 x 280mm + 1 x 120mm radiator (could be combined with a 140mm fan)

While this capability isn’t as high as the more expensive options on the list, there is enough here to comfortably cool a budget gaming/streaming PC.

We like how even at this price range, with the case already being relatively high quality, you’re still getting an included fan. You’ll want an extra 1-2 fans for most builds, but with the mesh ventilation design, this is a great little runner.

If you’re looking for the best cheap PC case for gaming, or another classic budget build, this is the best you’ll find on the market today.

Best PC Case for Watercooling & Large Builds: Thermaltake Tower 900

Now, if you’re looking for something more high-end, perhaps for an extra-large PC or to liquid cool your premium gaming/production setup, the Tower 900 is one of the best options available to you.

Thermaltake is another fantastic brand in the chassis business. Amongst their many great offerings, the Tower 900 really stands out in so many ways.

Starting with its aesthetic/build quality: the 900 is dubbed the “fish tank pc case”, with a wonderfully thick SGCC steel exterior and 3 durable full-size tempered glass windows. This is one of the sturdiest clear PC cases available today. It’s built to last and has a commanding presence due to its huge size. 

This is another chassis that isn’t done justice by stock photos. Not only does it have great visibility, but its also one of the best modular PC cases on the market, giving you incredible customization capability in how you setup your parts/cooling, you can get an amazing look. On top of that, the Tower 900 is a dual-chamber case, with room in the second hidden compartment for your cables, power supply, and drives (to hide away for aesthetic and ventilation purposes).

One of the top full tower cases available today, there’s room for:

  • E-ATX Motherboard support
  • 8 expansion slots
  • GPUs up to 400mm (with vertical mounting install options)
  • 1 x 5.25″, 6 x 2.5″/3.5″ & 2 x 2.5″ drive bays

With these specs, you have an incredible PC case for multi-GPU setups, serious overclocking, and other demanding build types (we like that there is an option for an optical drive too even though we appreciate most users no longer require this).

To take such an intense build further, you have some seriously capable cooling capability, with room for up to:

  • 13 x 120mm fans
  • Or 1 x 480mm & 1 x 560mm radiators (or other smaller variations of these sizes)

This case is big, but there aren’t many other cases at its dimensions that provide this level of cooling. We rank this as the best PC case for liquid cooling not just for the number of radiators, but the incredible modularity in the chassis that will really allow you to get the exact setup you want (not just practically, but aesthetically).

The Tower 900 is a beast in build quality, cooling, and internal space. If you’re someone looking after a unique aesthetic, or you’re serious about building something truly monstrous, we think you’ll love this chassis.

Cheapest PC Case for Gaming: Cooler Master N200

Now, while we would recommend you at least try and go with our top budget option (the Phanteks P300A) if possible, we appreciate some readers will be looking for the best computer tower we can comfortably recommend at very low price ranges.

We did a full feature on this recently, and the clear stand-out is the Cooler Master N200.

This cheap Micro ATX case is a little smaller than our other picks, in the mini tower form factor. But for a super budget build, mATX PC cases are exactly what you should be looking at.

So why does the N200 stand out? Well at its incredibly low price tag, you’re still getting:

  • A case from a reputable manufacturer (many super-cheap computer cases are from lesser-known brands).
  • A build quality superior to its other competitors at the same price point
  • 2 120mm fans – this inclusion is simply fantastic for the price and, combined with the mesh ventilation around the case, will be enough to get a budget setup going
  • Great GPU space for a budget gaming mATX case: up to 355mm (more than enough for nearly all cards)
  • 1 x 5.25″, 3 x 2.5″ & 4 x 3.5″ drive bays (we can’t imagine any budget builder needing even half of these bays)

The N200’s specs really are very impressive for the price. The fact that you’re getting 120mm fans is especially excellent as they could’ve easily included 0, and we’d still be highly recommending it for budget builds!

If you’re looking at gaming, we would recommend adding an extra fan or 2 eventually (with the N200 supporting up to 4 x 120mm) but this won’t be essential to get the build started if you’re on an extra tight budget.

If you’re looking for a non-gaming PC case for a general use build, then the fans included will be all the cooling you need.

If your budget can’t stretch any further than the N200, know that you’re still in luck, Cooler Master has really knocked it out of the park for those after the cheapest computer case possible.

Best Micro ATX Case: Thermaltake S100

Much of our list has been focused on the top ATX computer cases. For those interested in the best Micro ATX PC cases for gaming, streaming, or other use, we consider the S100 to be the best option.

Coming in at a very impressive price, the design of the S100 is beautiful. With a slick SPCC steel exterior and full-length tempered glass window, you’re getting an aesthetic and build quality rivaled by little else at the price point. We like that the window is an easy-access magnetic swivel design too. Too many PC case windows are still screw-based. The S100’s approach is way nicer and makes the building process more pleasant.

As you’d expect even from the best mATX cases, there’s a reduction in internal feature space; but still more than enough for most builders, with:

  • 4 x expansion slots
  • VGA lengths up to 330mm (enough for nearly all mainstream cards)
  • 2 x 2.5″ / 3.5″ and 2 x 2.5″ drive bays
  • Can host up to 6 x 120mm fans (with 1 pre-installed)

All the specs are decent for a chassis with this dimension range; with more than enough storage/GPU space for gaming or most other setup types.

We like that on top of having a pre-installed 120mm fan, the case can host up to 5 more. This is great for the form factor and gives you everything you need to cool even a powerful GPU.

Simply put, the S100 is an excellent all-rounder. It could be 20% more expensive and we’d still highly recommend it. Because of its very competitive price, we consider it to be the best mini-tower case for the average mATX build.

Best Mini ITX Case: Thermaltake Core V1

We’ve recommended the Core V1 many times in our various PC case features, and it’s no surprise that it comes out as the best smaller form factor PC case available.

The V1 is one of the most popular PC cases for Mini ITX builds ever (and for good reasons). Not only does this tiny chassis come at a very competitive price, but it also manages to balance its small size with some great cooling (for its form factor), build quality, and internal feature set.

For design, Thermaltake has created a fantastic cube PC case with a full SPCC steel & tempered glass exterior. This is a durable little unit and would comfortably act as a portable computer case as many ITX builders demand. Our favorite design choice is the focus on mesh for the front panel and other areas around the chassis.

It can be really difficult to reach acceptable temps in this form factor, but the Core V1 is very capable of that with its design, alongside an included 200m fan and room for 2 further 80mm fans. The 200mm fan is meant to act as the main cooling, and the fact that this is included at an already low price-point makes the V1 feel like a steal. 

In terms of other specs, we consider this one of the best mini ITX cases for gaming, with room for:

  • 2 x expansion slots (standard for form factor)
  • 2 x 2.5″ & 2 x 3.5″ hidden drive bays
  • Graphics cards lengths up to 285mm 

The GPU clearance is, of course, lower than larger cases. 285mm will still suit most cards (perhaps not RTX 3090s), but of course, check all the dimensions before you complete your build (that goes for power supplies & CPU coolers too).

The storage capability is perhaps the most impressive part of this case. We’ve seen larger ITX cases with only 1 x 2.5″ drive bays. The fact that you have great room for your HDDs & SSDs is one thing, but the way the case also manages to hide them in covered areas really adds to the sharp aesthetic.

We love the Core V1. Whether you’re looking at a Mini ITX case for gaming, streaming, or general use, this chassis provides so much utility for its price.

We’re comfortable in considering it the best mITX PC case for most builders and, providing you know the limitations of the form factor, think you’ll love it.

Alternative Quick-Fire Picks (Best of the Rest)

The above cases are our absolute top picks for a majority of situations. That said, we’ve reviewed a lot of cases, and some stand out as being excellent alternatives, or perfect for people after a less common aesthetic/build requirement – the below cases are still very much worth considering.

Best Dual System PC Case: Corsair Obsidian Series 1000D

Ranking at the top of our premium PC case feature, this is the best full tower case for those with no budgetary constraints who want to either achieve immense cooling or a dual system setup (perfect for production and streaming).

Alternative High-End PC Case: Thermaltake Core P8

The Core P8 is an incredible offering for those after high visibility and high cooling. It’s the perfect place for a beautiful RGB build if you purchase fans separately. You can create both a powerful and beautiful machine with it. See our full write-up here.

Most Unique PC Case: Antec Torque

For those after something truly head-turning, the Torque is an incredible option and has a motherboard tray that is deceptively simple to work with despite the intimidating look. We talked more about it in our best-looking cases feature.

Best Mid-Range Budget Alternative: Phanteks P400

The P400 is the perfect pick for someone who doesn’t quite have the budget for the P-011/Define R5, but can stretch a little further than our best cheap PC case picks. Read more here.

Best High-End Micro ATX Case: Corsair Crystal 280X

We’ve recommended the 280X in a lot of features through What in Tech. If you’re after the best mATX case for gaming at a premium price-point, this case is perfect for you. Read our full take here.

Best Mini ITX Premium Case: SilverStone LD03B

A fantastic PC case from a classic manufacturer, the LD03B is perfect for ITX builders who want something a little higher-end than our top Core V1 pick.

Best Mini ITX Case Alternative: InWin A1 Plus

Last but not least, from another great PC case brand, is a case we’ve featured several times before. With a beautifully unique aesthetic and included PSU, this is a fantastic option if the design speaks to you.

Best NZXT PC Case?

We know some gamers may be wondering what the best NZXT options are. The only reason we haven’t included a pick from them in this list is the above choices tend to beat out in most of the major categories slightly.

But make no mistake, NZXT are still a fantastic PC case manufacturer and one of the best for budget/mid-range stylish options, our favorite options are detailed here.

Best RGB PC Case?

To be clear, many of the windowed cases on this list would make great high-visibility options to show off ARGB fans and other illuminated parts (especially our top Lian Li pick, you can see an example of how good a build can look with the PC-O11 in this feature’s cover photo).

That said, if you want to purchase a PC case with RGB fans readily included (or in-built ARGB elements) we have another full feature on just that.

What's Next?

The Complete Guide to Motherboard Sizes – EATX vs ATX vs Micro ATX vs Mini ITX

Motherboard Size Guide

Motherboard Sizes - The Complete Guide

Kaelum Ross

I

Dec 31, 2020

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Sizing up your motherboard is a big deal.

What is an ATX motherboard anyway?

Who wins in the battle between E-ATX vs ATX vs mATX vs mITX?

Whatever the question, we’ve put together this guide to explain the differences between motherboard sizes.

With this piece and our detailed feature on PC case sizes, you have everything you need to size up your next build.

Table of Contents

Motherboard Size Comparison Chart

Motherboard Sizes Comparison Chart

Note: Sizes are approximations, check product listing for exact dimensions

Form FactorProsCons
E-ATX • Best for the most powerful PC builds
• Up to Quad-GPU/8 x DDR4 RAM support
• Fantastic overclocking/cooling options
• Best for high-end, production, and servers PCs
• Most expensive
• Very large/bulky
• "Overkill" for many users
ATX • Best "all-round" option
• Plenty of GPU/hardware room
• Fantastic overclocking/cooling
• Lots of ATX case styles available
• Perfect for most gaming PCs
• Still quite large/heavy
• More expensive than Micro ATX
Micro ATX • Best budget motherboard
• Compact with stylish case options
• Dual-GPU possible
• Most have 4 x RAM slots
• Good part compatibility
• Dual-GPU setups may be hard
• Less cooling/overclock potential
Mini ITX • Smallest motherboard size
• Perfect for a portable build
(e.g. a VR demo / LAN party PC)
• Cheap motherboard/case options
• Most mITX cases look fantastic
• Single GPU build only
• 2 x RAM slots
• Limited space for other features/cooling
• Harder build due to size
• Effort needed to find parts that will fit.

Motherboard Sizes Explained

E-ATX Motherboard

The largest of the main types. An Extended-ATX motherboard is for builders focussed on building the most powerful PC possible.

This mobo form factor is designed to work alongside a full tower PC case, providing you with incredible space/features.

This often includes support for Quad-GPU builds and 8 RAM slots (which could achieve up to 256GB of memory).

Not to mention the breathing room to cool all of these components with immense overclocking potential.

E-ATX cases, with their massive size, will often be good for part compatibility (with many popular components being based around hosting ATX motherboards, cases designed to included EATX mobos can essentially fit things like most mainstream power supply units with more room to spare).

Perfect for very high-end enthusiast gaming & production (editing, rendering, etc), an E-ATX motherboard will open up some great utility with its large size.

Note that there are, of course, diminishing returns when building such a powerhouse.

If you’re the average gamer or don’t need the best PC money can buy, E-ATX is often going to be overkill (with SLI/Crossfire support becoming less common in games now).

The real benefits will be to those who can make use of the GPUs independently, like a high-end video editing or crypto mining rig.

The boards are very expensive and alongside an E-ATX case, are enormous. Make sure you have space.

That being said, if you care less about the budget and more about the most power possible, this is the size for you.

ATX Motherboard

The mid-tower motherboard. This motherboard form factor is what many would consider the “standard ATX” option and has reigned as the most popular size for a long time, and for good reasons.

When considering EATX vs ATX, sure the latter will have slightly less space for high-end desktop computers.

But ATX boards still have everything important to the majority of gamers/enthusiast builds.

Including support for 2-3 GPUs, 4 x DDR4 RAM, plenty of SATA ports, more than enough expansion slots, and their ATX case-counterparts come with plenty of decent cooling options.

Even if it’s not the best motherboard for overclocking (that belongs to E-ATX), it’s still a very close second and will achieve what most gamers need.

The other great advantage is due to the popularity, there are so many good ATX mobos and combos with CPUs available at competitive prices. You’re also best placed for part compatibility, with a lot of power supply options being sized with ATX PC cases in mind.

An ATX build is still going to be fairly big with limited portability. Bear that in mind if you’re building an on-desk setup.

But overall, if you’re looking for the best “all-round” option, an ATX build is the way to go.

Motherboard Sizes 2

mATX Motherboard

While ATX may be the most popular overall, Micro ATX motherboards have been giving them a run for their money in the last few years.

Why? Well, the quality of this small form factor has dramatically improved over the last several years for both Intel and Ryzen motherboards, and the pc case sizes it runs with are a nice balance between space and compactness.

With a majority now having 4 x DDR4 RAM slots, good SATA connector availability, and even 2 PCIe slots for a small SLI/Crossfire GPU build.

This is the smallest PC build you can create while still accomodating a majority of mainstream components.

Note that as we get to this size, running a dual-GPU build will usually get cramped and isn’t ideal.

It’s certainly possible, but the preference would be to stick to a single graphics card (with the utility to overclock).

As we discuss further below in our top picks, the Micro ATX motherboard size nails affordability.

If you want something compact/cheap but not so small that you have to be extra careful with your hardware choices, this is the pick.

mITX Motherboard

And then there are those looking for the smallest PC possible.

A Mini-ITX build is for those very focussed on portability or a compact style (e.g. LAN-party build, HTPC, or perhaps a streaming computer).

With such a tiny size, you’re of course compromising on feature availability.

Most Mini-ITX mobos come with 2 RAM slots (still providing up to 64GB), a single PCIe slot, and limited SATA ports.

The cases that support them are also on the smaller side. Leading to limited ventilation/cooling. You’re going to struggle with overclocking.

With this small size, you will need to pay more attention to the other parts you buy (most notably GPU/PSUs).

This can often include having to buy parts that are a bit more expensive (usually offset by the cheap motherboard and cases, however).

With all that being said, the convenience of a portable PC is massive and compact builds often look fantastic.

If this is what your heart is set on, don’t fret! You can build a great gaming computer on a Mini-ITX motherboard, and our guides on motherboard CPU combos/PC cases include ITX options.

How to Choose a Motherboard Size

Ahead of giving you our top picks, we’ve broken down the key criteria for what to look for in a motherboard.

Just know that not all these factors will be important to you individually (many people don’t need to worry about having more than a few SATA ports, etc.).

Don’t be overwhelmed by all the factors, just focus on what’s important to you, and check out our recommendations if in doubt.

Computer Case Size Comparison Chart

Form Factor / PC Case Size

Let’s start with an obvious one.

Whatever motherboard you pick, you want to make sure that you have an appropriately sized case to go with it (e.g. E-ATX case for an E-ATX motherboard).

Check out our joint-feature on PC case sizes if you want more info.

But in short, the type of motherboard you want will probably also guide the case size you need anyway (e.g. if you’re looking at a smaller motherboard, the case will have fewer hardware space/cooling options, but that’s the trade-off for portability).

CPU compatibility

Motherboard CPU CompatibilityAlthough not explicitly related to size, this one is worth covering as it’s one of the most important buying factors.

When purchasing a motherboard, make sure it’s compatible with the CPU you’re looking at.

Firstly there’s LGA vs PGA vs BGA.

There’s already good resource if you want the very technical explanation, but in short:

  • LGA is most common for Intel CPUs.
  • PGA is most common for AMD CPUs.
  • BGA is more for manufacturers and not worth considering for your individual build.

Note: this isn’t universal, you may (rarely) in the future see an AMD CPU on LGA – but this will usually be very clear in a listing.

The most common socket types right now are LGA 1151 & LGA 1200 for Intel, and AM4 for AMD.

Intel LGA 1151 vs LGA 1200

Right now, Intel’s mainstream processors are in an awkward space of transitioning to a new socket type, the LGA 1200.

This socket is what supports the new 10000 range (i5-10600k, i7-10700k, i9-10900k, etc). 

These are the latest and greatest from Intel, and if you’re building a new Intel personal computer, it would make sense to go for the latest socket/CPU range.

But if your budget is lower than these motherboards and CPUs, know that the current LGA 1151 socket still has plenty of decent combos that are worthy of powering a beefy PC for gaming, production, or general use.

These will support the most common CPUs you’ll be looking at for gaming.

There will be more terms in this area that will probably confuse you like Z370 vs z390 (which is mainly just a difference in wifi/USB compatibility).

Instead of learning every chipset (there’s a lot) – we’d recommend a beginner check the product listing to see.

We’ve only provided this info for the full picture. Once you’ve found the CPU you want, it’s pretty clear what a motherboard supports in the product listing like below:

CPU Chipset Compatibility Explained

This motherboard supports Intel 8000 and 9000 series, and there’s an LGA1200 version for the 10000 CPUs. The product listing will then talk about the kind of features included based on the chipset on offer.

Let’s take the LGA1200 motherboard just linked as an example; this model has a Z490 chipset, which will have features for enthusiasts like overclocking capabilities, high-quality ports/Wi-Fi, and good capability for M.2 storage).

Assuming you’re buying a popular motherboard/CPU combo, it’s usually really easy to find out if your desired CPU is supported with that motherboard, and what kind of audience it’s catering to by reading some of the product description.

PCI Slots

Motherboard PCIe SlotsPCI slots are what host your external components, the most common one being graphics cards (in PCI Express/PCIe slots).

The larger your motherboard size, the more PCIe slots you will (usually) have available.

An E-ATX motherboard, for example, will often have 4 PCI-e 3.0 slots, allowing for a 4-way GPU PC.

As we made clear in the EATX mobo section, however, more doesn’t mean better for gaming unless you’re a very high-end enthusiast who is happy tweaking things (or a production user/high-end editor). Most gamers will be fine with a board that has 1 or 2 decent PCIe slots (which a huge majority of motherboards have now, as most are catering to gamers).

Aside from GPUs, other PCI slots are often included if you have other focuses (e.g. installing a high-quality independent sound/network card).

Just know that you’ll usually have to put them in a place that blocks you from fitting an extra GPU if you are wanted to install multiple ones.

That’s the beauty of a large motherboard though. Not many people need 4 GPUs, so those PCIe slots can come in handy for other things if needed.

PCI-E x4 vs x8 vs x16

When looking at PCI-E slots you may notice the different numbers next to them (i.e. PCI-E 3.0 x4/x8/x16).

Putting it simply, a motherboard can only circulate a certain amount of data/bandwidth at a time.

So if you have a lot of PCI-e slots, some of them will be x4 – x8 which means they can’t output the same bandwidth as your main x16 slot/s.

But: There have been many benchmarks on what the performance difference is between these types.

The difference between PCIe x4, x8, and x16 is very minimal for performance/gaming.

We’re talking a couple of FPS in games.

This is because most GPUs don’t come close to actually requiring the x16 power that an x16 slot provides.

Whichever x type, you’re still going to be getting a majority of the card’s power overall. Although to state the obvious, your GPU is nearly always the component that should be in the highest bandwidth slot.

SATA Ports

Motherboard SATA portsLarger boards will often come with more SATA ports to allow you to connect more SSDs, HDDs, and optical drives.

For most gaming builds, you’ll have more than enough SATA ports for your requirements on most boards.

However, it’s worth checking if you’re purchasing an mATX / mITX motherboard to ensure you have enough.

It’s only if you’re building say, a video editing PC, or if you have other requirements that means you want to install a lot of storage/other components, should you be too worried about confirming these beforehand.

Miscellaneous

NVMe M.2 Storage

Motherboard M2 StorageM.2 storage is becoming increasingly popular over the standard 2.5″ SSDs / 3.5″ hard drives and worth your consideration if you’re all about speed.

It’s a type of solid-state drive that larger motherboards have become more compatible with over the last few years.

M.2 SSD vs SSD (2.5″) – An M.2 SSD installed via NVMe is around 5 times faster than a SATA-installed SSD.

Note that this is during benchmarking. In real terms to the user, this will likely be around 2-3 times faster (still nothing to complain about!).

These storage units are of course a lot more expensive (here’s our top pick) but run like a dream when you’re installing your OS and common apps on there.

If you like the sound of this, we recommend looking at an ATX or E-ATX motherboard.

You might be able to squeeze out the utility for an NVMe M.2 within mATX but it will likely mean the board is sacrificing bandwidth somewhere else.

Most motherboard listings will detail their support for this storage type so don’t fret about compatibility too much.

Just make sure to get an NVMe M.2 SSD (SATA ones perform similarly to a 2.5″ SSD) – here’s our top pick.

RAM slots

Motherboard RAM SlotsA majority of motherboards from E-ATX to Micro ATX will provide a minimum of 4 x DDR4 RAM slots.

The smallest form factor, mITX, tends to come with a maximum of 2 x DDR4 RAM slots.

In reality, this means you can still make a build with up to 32GB of storage which is plenty for gaming and most other functions.

A better motherboard can be beneficial for RAM as on top of having more slots, better motherboards tend to be more capable of working well alongside higher RAM speeds (though this is all mostly concerning to enthusiasts who want to mid-max performance; if you’re the average user getting confused, a mid-range motherboard will be more than powerful enough for gaming and more!).

It’s also nice to have RAM slot options as more RAM sticks are marginally more effective than overall storage (e.g. 4 x 8GB RAM is better than 2 x 16GB RAM for most users).

We wouldn’t worry about RAM compatibility too much unless you’re running some high-quality production/editing/streaming computer.

Gaming PCs won’t need more than 32GB for a while.

If you do have specialist requirements, high-end E-ATX/ATX motherboards include up to 8 RAM slots/256GB capability!

I/O Panel

Motherboard IO PanelThe features available in an I/O back panel will typically increase not just with chipset (which allows your mobo to support more inputs, e.g. USB 3.1 type C) but also the size.

E-ATX/high-end ATX motherboards often have a host of great ports available.

Smaller motherboards will usually have the standards though (some USB/audio ports) but check that your choice will have what you need, or you have a suitable extender.

Extra features

Finally, there are all the extra bells and whistles motherboards can come with.

The most common ones are:

  • Integrated sound card
  • Integrated network card (Wi-Fi/ethernet)
  • Integrated Bluetooth (if not, adapters are dirt cheap)

Typically, larger motherboards include more of these features as it’s easier for the manufacturers to add.

We would say it’s often preferred to buy a standalone sound card or network card if you have PCIe slot room (not essential if your budget is tight, though).

Even Mini-ITX boards can come with these features integrated, just know that you may not get quite the same quality as large integrations or standalone cards.

That being said for smaller builds, we’d recommend getting integrated versions of features you need where possible so you’re not having to use your very finite USB/PCI inputs.

Which Motherboard Should you get?

Best budget gaming motherboard

If your focus is on affordability above all else, go with Micro ATX.

While you may not get the same features as E-ATX/ATX you’re not going to need them for a cheap build.

Things like excellent cooling/space for multi-GPU builds aren’t so important for a cheap gaming PC where you should be focussing on 1 graphics card.

Micro ATX builds are the perfect balance between being small enough for good mobo/case affordability while not so small that you have to fork out more money/effort for “specialist” small parts.

Our best cheap gaming motherboard picks:

Best mid-range gaming motherboard

For most builders, the sweet spot is an ATX motherboard for gaming.

With all the feature a large majority of builders need, good space for parts/cooling in their compatible cases, and lots of choices, ATX mobos are perfect for most setups.

Even if you don’t need every PCIe/SATA/RAM slot, know that having an ATX case/motherboard gives your parts more room for ventilation (and makes the build process easier).

Our top picks for the best ATX motherboard:

Best high-end gaming motherboard/production PC

Now let us be clear: the options above will be enough for a majority of readers.

But, if you’re less concerned with budget and more with creating the most powerful PC you can, then you want to look at an E-ATX motherboard.

These will give you the most space and utility possible with no compromises made for compactness.

This is what makes them appealing not just for gaming, but for someone looking for the best production PC possible (video editing, rendering, etc).

Not to mention the large cases that come with the most room for cooling, drives, and ease-of-build.

In fact, even if you wanted an ATX motherboard for your high-end build (also doable), we’d recommend looking at E-ATX full tower (or “super tower”) cases for the best airflow/cooling options as long as you don’t mind the size.

Our top picks for the best E-ATX motherboards for gaming:

Best small motherboard for portable/HTPC build

Finally, there are those after the smallest motherboard for a portable build or HTPC.

It will come as no surprise that Mini ITX motherboards are the best option for you if this is what you’re hunting for.

Yes, as we’ve discussed, you’re losing out on some hardware compatibility and other features with a PC this small.

But combined with a high-quality case and some consideration for which parts you’re going to buy (ensuring they fit), you can still create a gaming PC capable of LAN parties or streaming.

Our top picks for the best Mini ITX motherboard:

FAQ

XL-ATX vs E-ATX?

XL-ATX motherboards are another form factor that traditionally are a similar width to E-ATX, but a bit longer.

We’ve chosen not to include them in our guide for a couple of reasons:

  • This size type is super uncommon and the options available aren’t great.
  • The use-cases are incredibly specific, given you can build anything from a powerful server to gaming PC on an E-ATX mobo, we’d wager XL-ATX isn’t necessary for anybody reading this.
  • Similarly to “full tower vs super tower”, XL-ATX is loosely defined and is a marketing term as much as it is a legitimate form factor. A lot of “extra-large motherboards” are E-ATX or even ATX anyway.

Short answer: don’t worry about Xl-ATX.

ATX vs BTX?

BTX (balanced technology extended) is a format that was originally meant to replace ATX (advanced technology extended) with superior cooling and other quality of life improvements for manufacturers/users.

However, with different mounting hole alignments and the need to develop different products to support them, BTX motherboards never took off, and are essentially redundant today.

Short answer: BTX is no more, go with ATX.

What is Nano-ITX?

Technically Mini-ITX isn’t the smallest form factor, Nano-ITX used to offer even smaller motherboards to build the tiniest PCs possible.

The key words there are “used to” however. Nano-ITX motherboards don’t exist in the mainstream in any capacity now; if you do see them, they are likely old, or not supportive of modern CPU/GPU/RAM hardware.

Short answer: If you want a small form factor motherboard, go with Mini-ITX.

What order should I pick PC Parts?

Reading this guide and the criteria for selecting a motherboard, you may be confused as to how you should build your PC (e.g. do you pick a compatible motherboard for your chosen CPU or vice versa?).

It’s a bit of a “chicken and egg” situation, there’s no “right” order to pick parts in.

But here’s the outline we would recommend for most confused builders (from first to last):

GPU – > CPU – > Motherboard – > Case – > RAM/storage/extras – > PSU

Don’t think that the above also represents the order of importance, a PSU is very important!

It can just make sense to pick it last once you know the power requirements of your PC/what size PSU will fit in your case.

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