When your PC is getting slow, and it’s time to upgrade, you might wonder: Should I upgrade my motherboard? It is an essential component of your system, but it’s not always easy to know when you should upgrade your motherboard. Replacing the motherboard can be expensive, but it can also bring you benefits in terms of speed, hardware support, and better graphics support.
We’ll explain some reasons why you should upgrade your motherboard and some considerations to keep in mind when you do.
1. For Faster CPUs
One of the primary reasons to upgrade your motherboard is a new, faster CPU. If your CPU is rather new, the performance gains that come from upgrading to a newer one are going to be fairly minimal. If you have a processor that’s three or more years old, however, you’re going to notice massive gains jumping to a newer processor. For example, the jump from an older Intel 3rd Generation CPU to a super-fast modern 12th Gen CPU will be far more noticeable than coming from a more recent iteration.
But to upgrade your CPU, you’ll have to upgrade your motherboard, too. CPUs from different generations use different sockets and may require a different chipset to your existing motherboard.
Upgrading your motherboard for better gaming is also a good idea. At least, with the issues continuing to face the global PC hardware market at the time of writing, buying a better motherboard and installing a faster CPU is likely cheaper than sourcing a graphics card. However, in more regular times, buying a new GPU is often the easiest way to better gaming performance.
2. For Faster RAM
Making the upgrade to newer iterations of RAM requires a motherboard that will support those new RAM modules. If you’re currently using DDR3, for example, you can’t make the jump to DDR4 or the newer DDR5 without swapping out the motherboard and the CPU first.
When new RAM hits the market, it’s the perfect opportunity to consider if you need to upgrade your motherboard. The performance boost between RAM generations varies, though. Upgrading from DDR3 RAM to DDR5 RAM will feel like a significant boost. But, you’ll need a new motherboard to support the latest generation of RAM, as the DDR5 RAM configuration differs from previous generations (as does every new RAM iteration). Simply put, if you buy a DDR5 RAM module and attempt to fit it in your old motherboard, it just won’t fit.
3. For Better Graphics Cards
All of the above reasons are good, but in my opinion, this is the single greatest reason to upgrade your motherboard.
If you’re a gamer or video editor, a new CPU/motherboard combination and a higher-performance GPU will make your PC feel like an entirely different machine. As a result, games will run faster and with less lag, all while letting you increase the in-game settings to run at more graphically-intense levels than your previous card. (Depending on when you last upgraded, that is.)
If you’re not a gamer and you’re more of a casual internet user, the best bang for your buck is going to be a RAM or SSD upgrade, and you can skip GPU upgrades altogether. Again, as above, getting your hands on a graphics card anything near MSRP is a miracle, but that situation will hopefully change in the future. Either way, upgrading your motherboard for faster hardware is always worth considering.
4. For Faster Data Transfers
Another reason to upgrade your motherboard is for faster data transfers. Making the upgrade to SATA III or USB 3.0 increases the transfer speed of data from one piece of hardware to another. For example, SATA III has a maximum rated speed of 6Gbps, and USB 3.0 tops out at 5Gbps. The latest iterations of USB are even faster, with USB 3.1 delivering to 10Gbps and USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 pushing that to 20Gbps.
SATA and USB aren’t the only data transfer upgrades available, either. A new motherboard will support the latest PCIe standards, allowing you to use blazing-fast PCIe 4.0 NVMe M.2 drives that can now deliver up to 7000MB/s read/write speeds!
Pushing your motherboard and storage devices to use their maximum capacity is tricky. No matter what you do, it’s unlikely that your devices will utilize their full capacity. However, upgrading a motherboard to support newer, faster hardware will make data transfer faster regardless.
5. You Have Damaged Parts
Damaged motherboards are an infrequent but huge problem. Snapped pins, disconnected plugs, static electricity discharge, and other issues will all lead you back to the repair shop to buy new plugs or, hopefully, a professional installation.
The same thing goes for fire damage, smoke damage, water damage, and even physical trauma from impact.
Remember, the CPU/motherboard upgrade is one of the most expensive upgrades you can make to your existing PC.
If you aren’t confident in your ability to match up parts or to correctly piece everything together once you’re in the midst of your build, it’s always going to be best to opt for a professional installation rather than the cost of replacing damaged hardware.
6. You Want New Features
Finally, you might not think about motherboards as things that come with exciting features. But there are technological developments in the world of motherboards. And you may want to upgrade to take advantage of these.
The benefits of upgrading your motherboard vary. For example, you might want to use an M.2 SSD, a small format SSD that screws directly into your motherboard. But you’ll need a motherboard that supports M.2 drives for this to work. Or perhaps you want a computer that supports fast transfers via Thunderbolt 3, in which case you’ll need a motherboard with Thunderbolt 3 connectivity.
Finally, if you’re looking to squeeze a bit more performance from your system, or you’re just looking to learn, you might want to try overclocking your CPU. To do this, you’ll need not only an overclockable CPU but also a motherboard that supports overclocking.
Beware of Issues With Compatibility
To facilitate a motherboard upgrade, you’ll need to match up your new hardware to your existing hardware—or you can go buy a set of all new equipment.
The most crucial bit is that the motherboard and CPU must match. More specifically, the motherboard CPU socket needs to match that of the CPU’s socket. So, for example, if the motherboard supports LGA 1150, your CPU must also support that.
There are other considerations, such as BIOS compatibility, TDP support, and the number of SATA ports. You can use online sites like PC Part Picker, an invaluable resource for first-time PC builders, to check whether your parts are compatible.
Choosing the Right RAM
Remember that the option of DDR3, DDR4, and the emergence of DDR5 RAM means that you’ll have to take extra caution to ensure that your motherboard/CPU combo is capable of handling the specified memory you select. If it’s not, you’ll need to upgrade. Unfortunately, there isn’t a workaround for this one, but you can write it off as a learning experience.
The RAM’s frequencies and voltage must also match the motherboard’s desired range. Meaning, if you have 2400MHz RAM and use it with a 2133MHz CPU at 1.65v, you could run into compatibility issues that could be detrimental to performance or lead to machine failure. Again, PC Part Picker is your friend when upgrading a motherboard and buying new RAM, as it’ll flag any incompatible hardware and explain why it’s an issue.
Watch Out for Bottlenecks When Upgrading Your Motherboard
Remember, the motherboard connects to the CPU, RAM, HDD, SSD, GPU, and other hardware, so it’s not only important to ensure compatibility, but also that you aren’t experiencing a bottleneck in the system somewhere.
No matter how fast your CPU/motherboard combination is, it’s still reliant on existing adapter cards that control video, storage, and processing speed (as it relates to RAM). If any of these items are on their last legs, incompatible, or lagging behind in performance, your entire machine can slow to a crawl with or without the new CPU/motherboard combo.
You might not be getting the most out of your PC hardware, especially if one component is vastly more powerful than the rest.
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