A motherboard is the central nervous system of your PC. It is the part of your computer that enables all the different components to communicate, so it’s safe to say it’s of critical importance. With that in mind, can (and should) you go cheap on a motherboard?
You can go cheap on a motherboard, but that doesn’t mean that you should. Cheaper motherboards tend to sacrifice power and capabilities to lower the price, and they often don’t deliver stable power to all components, leading to all kinds of errors and potential hardware failure.
Cheap motherboards are not ideal. It depends mainly on your purposes and use of the computer. Not everyone will need (or want) a high-performance gaming motherboard. But going for the absolute cheapest option is simply not worth it. Let’s see why.
Will A Cheap Motherboard Affect Performance?
Motherboards in themselves are not the primary determining factor when it comes to performance for your PC. The CPU, RAM, and GPU play far more significant roles in your PC’s general performance than the motherboard.
However, modern motherboards contain different components that are already built into the board itself that could affect your computer’s performance in various ways.
Motherboard Built-In Technologies That May Affect Your Pc’s Performance
The Northbridge is a co-processor chip that controls several crucial PC functions. For example, it manages communications between your CPU and RAM and many other high-performance components like your graphics cards. In many cases, the Northbridge will already have built-in “on-board” graphics, which could be your only graphics if you don’t have a dedicated screen card.
Since the Northbridge handles so many crucial, power-hungry, and performance-affecting functions, a lower-end Northbridge will negatively affect your PC’s performance. Furthermore, some cheap motherboards don’t mount the Northbridge properly, leading to overheating and communication issues (often causing the feared “blue screen of death” on Windows systems).
Settling for a cheap motherboard will almost guarantee poor Northbridge performance, affecting the overall performance of your PC in a negative way.
Your motherboard has a second chip called the Southbridge. This is the chip that manages secondary communications like your USB ports, storage devices, audio, etc. The Southbridge usually has a built-in sound chip, which is where you get your computer’s sound from if you don’t have a dedicated sound card.
Though not entirely as performance-intensive as the Northbridge, the Southbridge is still crucial for getting any input, output, or storage from your PC. If you have a lower-grade Southbridge chip, like that found on cheaper motherboards, you may have all kinds of storage, input, or communications problems.
In fact, a USB port that sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t is often caused by a faulty Southbridge. Slow file copy speeds can also be blamed on Southbridge in many cases. Though this doesn’t affect your PC’s speed directly, it affects how productive you can be on the PC.
The BIOS Or UEFI
A third crucial chip that your motherboard has is called the BIOS or UEFI. This chip contains instructions that allow all your computer’s components to work together; without the UEFI, your PC wouldn’t even boot up when you switch it on.
Many modern UEFI chips have built-in features that allow you to tweak your computer’s performance. Some of them have these features enabled by default.
Since the manufacturers of cheaper motherboards will have to save money wherever they can, they often use sub-standard BIOS or UEFI chips, which means that you won’t have so many options available to optimize your PC’s power and performance.
A cheap motherboard can and probably will negatively affect your PC’s performance. Apart from that, it could also cause various kinds of errors, making your time in front of the PC less productive.
Can I Use A Cheap Motherboard For Gaming?
You can definitely use a cheap motherboard for gaming, in the same way, that you can use a cheap CPU, cheap RAM, and cheap graphics for gaming. In other words, you can, but your performance will suffer because of it.
As mentioned, most of the performance-critical functions in your computer are handled or enabled by the Northbridge chip. In fact, the Northbridge chip handles so much that it can overheat as quickly as your CPU, so modern Northbridge chips have their own heatsinks to get rid of the heat.
The Northbridge primarily handles the front-side bus (also known as the FSB). Those are all the components that are in direct communication with your CPU, namely the CPU itself, the RAM, and your graphics card (along with a few other devices here and there).
As any gamer knows, those three components are also the most crucial things to consider when you’re building a gaming PC. A slower CPU, RAM, or GPU will negatively affect gaming performance. So, what if the chip that controls how these components communicate is also slow, sub-par, or overheats quickly?
Apart from that aspect, cheap motherboards often don’t allow all the components that you would like to add to your gaming PC. For example, it might have only two RAM slots, or one PCI-Express slot, severely limiting your upgrade options in the future.
A cheap motherboard will work for gaming, especially if you’re on a tight budget and only play games for recreational purposes. However, if you take your PC games seriously, you should not go cheap on a motherboard any more than you would go cheap on a CPU, RAM, or GPU.
How Cheap Is Too Cheap For A Motherboard?
The question, “how cheap is too cheap,” is difficult to answer. There are many variables. For example, too cheap for a gamer will be different from too cheap for a small general-use PC.
Regarding motherboards for gaming PCs, it’s acceptable to pay around $150 to $200. Note that it’s acceptable, not great. Serious hardcore gamers will often pay $1,000 or more for an excellent performance gaming motherboard. But about $200 will get you a good, upgradeable motherboard from a well-known manufacturer.
But as you move lower in price, the closer you get to $100, the worse the motherboard will generally be. A motherboard that sells for $70 or $80 simply won’t have the absolute best gaming performance.
Motherboards for smaller, general-purpose PCs are a different matter entirely. In those cases, you won’t need the upgradeability or performance-tuning capabilities of a gaming motherboard, which means that an $80 motherboard will be more than sufficient.
Anything below $80 is probably pushing your luck a bit, though. You can get motherboards for $40 or $50 from many websites and retailers, but these are often the bottom of the barrel and almost guaranteed to give you more problems than they’re worth. Your motherboard may spend more time in the repair center than your PC.
A cheap motherboard is helpful if you’re on a tight budget and urgently need a desktop PC that doesn’t have to last long or be too reliable. But for anything more than that, you are probably better off using an older second-hand PC than one with a cheap motherboard. They can simply cause too many problems, which means that going cheap on a motherboard is not a wise use of your money.
I started building and fixing PCs in high school. After a couple of years of offering consultancy to a PC repair shop, I became the goto guy for all my acquaintances for PC/Laptop related buying advice or troubleshooting.