Before you buy a motherboard, you must first decide if you’re going to recycle your old CPU or upgrade to something new. If you’re keeping your old proc, make sure it will work with your new mobo. If you’re going new, will it be AMD’s Quad FX uber chip[s], Intel’s blazing Core 2 Extreme QX6800 with a whopping 8mb of onboard cache, or something in between?
Choosing a core-logic chipset is as important as your CPU choice. Intel, NVIDIA, and VIA all make excellent chipsets for the mid and high end processors.
Now it’s time to decide which features you want on your mobo. In the old days (well, if you consider 1999 the old days), motherboards were about as stripped as a Chevy Impala left parked on a Bronx side street. These days, motherboards come with everything you need, save a videocard, CPU, and RAM. What are you looking for? Dual Gigabit Ethernet? HD Audio? Enough SATA ports to feed a rack of hard drives? Make your list.
Once you find a motherboard that tickles your fancy, read the owner’s manual before you plop down your dough. Most motherboard vendors offer their manuals as free downloadable PDFs on their websites. The manual will reveal any of the board’s limitations (such as the types of memory and CPUs it supports), and it will let you know if a PSU upgrade is necessary.
If the motherboard has been out for a few months, visit the forums on the manufacturer’s website and see what buyers are saying. But remember to keep everything in perspective: People don’t go to the forums to wax poetic about their AM2 board, they go there to bitch. It’s all but impossible to determine if the person complaining is a fried customer or one of the manufacturer’s competitors looking to sow fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Always take forum comments with a grain of salt, but if you see a pattern emerging, it could be a warning sign.
It’s not at all uncommon for motherboard manufacturers to revise their designs without going so far as to introduce an entirely new model. Newer revisions are almost always better than older boards, so try to purchase the latest version of the motherboard that’s available. You’ll find the rev numbers silk-screened on the board.