A motherboard is essential in linking your PC’s various components. As technology advances and new improved graphics cards push a PC’s performance, the price also, unfortunately, increases. So before spending huge sums on new parts, ask, does your motherboard affect your GPU?
If your motherboard is malfunctioning, the components connected to it will not function correctly or not work at all. Your motherboard is the “brains” behind the computer and connects the CPU, RAM, GPU, and storage. Certain GPUs require specific motherboards to operate.
Aside from a faulty motherboard directly influencing a GPU’s operation, motherboards have several indirect influences on a GPU and its performance. Below we’ll investigate some of the issues between mismatched motherboards and GPUs.
Can My Motherboard Bottleneck My GPU?
While a motherboard limits components like graphics processing units (GPUs) in what they can support, a motherboard has no direct influence on how well components perform unless you’re overclocking your PC. I.e., a graphics card that fits and is supported by a motherboard will function normally.
Of greater significance to bottlenecking a PC is your GPU is your CPU (central processing unit).
However, motherboards have an indirect effect on your computer’s performance.
The limiting factor between motherboards and GPUs is the PCIe (peripheral component interconnect express) version supported by the motherboard. Older motherboards do not support newer versions of PCIe, which means that data does not move at its optimal rate between the GPU and CPU.
For example, you’ll have noticeable limitations when you use a motherboard that only supports PCIe 1.0 or 2.0 with a modern GPU, like the RTX 3080.
Currently, the latest graphics cards (including Nvidia GeForce RTX 30 series and AMD’s Radeon RX 5000 and Radeon RX 6000 series) support PCIe 4.0 and PCIe 5.0. Preceding GPUs (from 2012 until 2019) support PCIe 3.0.
How Do Motherboards Bottleneck GPUs?
A motherboard may bottleneck a GPU in one of two ways:
- The number of lanes available on the motherboard is too few for the number of lanes the GPU needs/could use. For example, an x16 GPU could work on an x8 motherboard, but only at half the capacity.
- The PCIe version of the motherboard might be “older” than the GPUs. The PCIe slots on a motherboard range from 1.0 (oldest) to 5.0. As they increase in number, their capabilities improve regarding the rate of data transfer.
PCIe 1.0 Slots
- Available from 2003
- 8b/10b line code
- 2.5 GT/s transfer rate
- ~8 GB/s total bandwidth for x16 link.
PCIe 2.0 Slots
- Available from 2007
- 8b/10b line code
- 5.0 GT/s transfer rate
- ~16 GB/s total bandwidth for x16 link
PCIe 3.0 Slots
- Available from 2010
- 128b/130b line code
- 8.0 GT/s transfer rate
- ~32 GB/s total bandwidth for x16 link
PCIe 4.0 Slots
- Available from 2017
- 128b/130b line code
- 16.0 GT/s transfer rate
- ~64 GB/s total bandwidth for x16 link
PCIe 5.0 Slots
- Available from 2019
- 128b/130b line code
- 32.0 GT/s transfer rate
- ~128GB/s total bandwidth for x16 link
Although most of these motherboards are backward compatible, newer cards will be limited in how much power they receive and how quickly the data moves between the GPU and the CPU.
GPUs generally run on x16 links (the number of lanes/pathways for data to move along), but some run on x8 links, which means the GPU limits the motherboard’s full potential.
If you have multiple solid-state drives (plugged into the M.2 slots), you might also reduce the x16 links available to your GPU, slowing its performance.
Not operating at the GPU’s full potential only becomes a problem when you run out of virtual RAM. Expensive cards begin to run slower, reducing performance, especially with demanding tasks like “high-end” gaming.
Can Any GPU Run On Any Motherboard?
Although modern motherboards support various components, unfortunately, not every graphics card (GPU) runs on every motherboard.
Since 2010, most modern GPUs can operate on the available motherboard, provided the motherboards have at least an x16 PCIe 3.0 slot for the GPU.
Anything less than PCIe 3.0 and modern GPUs may struggle to work properly.
Additionally, older motherboards may not support newer CPUs. Older CPUs are not always well-adapted to handling modern GPUs, and this mismatch could result in severe bottlenecking.
Can BIOS Affect The Graphics Card?
Although BIOS uses a graphics card when your PC starts up, it usually has little influence on your GPU, and under normal circumstances, it won’t affect your GPU at all.
However, there are several ways a BIOS might impact your GPU!
BIOS Affects Incorrectly Installed Hardware
The one way that BIOS affects a graphics card is when you incorrectly install the graphics card, and the BIOS runs a POST (power on self-test) before starting the operating system. The BIOS checks all the hardware for faults and other issues before your PC’s operating system starts.
If the BIOS detects an issue, it will prevent the motherboard from launching the operating system (OS) to prevent damage to the defective component and those connected.
Although the BIOS does not directly influence the GPU’s performance, if there is an issue with the GPU or other PC components, the BIOS will prevent the PC from working and, therefore, indirectly influences the GPU.
A Failed BIOS Update Hampers Your Motherboard’s Functioning
Many recommend that you do not update your BIOS unless there is a particular issue you are trying to fix.
The reason for not updating a BIOS is that if there is an issue with the update and it “fails,” your computer is rendered useless until you replace the BIOS chip (this is only possible if the BIOS is in a socketed chip).
If your BIOS chip is soldered to the motherboard or surface-mounted, you can often use the BIOS recovery program/feature.
Update failures are not common but occur when an update is interrupted. Although this is not catastrophic, your PC won’t work until you’ve fixed the issue.
There are situations where you might need to update your graphics card’s BIOS. Most of the newer motherboards are moving away from BIOS to UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface). Some cards might need an update to be compatible with this newer interface.
Conversely, newer graphics cards running on UEFI might not sync correctly with older motherboards.
A BIOS Attack Affects Your Entire Computer’s Functioning
Like a virtual virus, BIOS Malware attacks are often debilitating to your PC. As manufacturers attempted to make BIOS easier to install and update, they inadvertently made BIOS vulnerable to attacks.
A BIOS attack allows attackers to modify installed applications, hardware responses, and system memory.
Although your GPU is the last of your concerns when experiencing a BIOS attack, your PC won’t function properly. On rare occasions, you might contract malware that infects your GPU and causes it to not work correctly, but it is not common.
Although motherboards don’t directly influence a GPU’s performance, they play an essential role in facilitating a GPU within the PC. Older motherboards and mismatched ones might limit a GPU’s communication with other components, reducing performance. It is paramount when building a PC to ensure that the various components are compatible with one another and your motherboard.
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.