When your PC is getting slow and it's time to upgrade it, 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
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.
But to do that, you'll need a motherboard that supports the upgrade.
On another note, if you're upgrading for the sake of gaming, save your money and upgrade your graphics card instead. Most modern games lean more heavily on your GPU than your CPU.
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.
The performance increase between iterations of RAM, however, isn't all that mind-blowing. If speed is the sole reason for the upgrade, rethink where you're spending your money.
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. 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.
4. 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. Both are fast enough for simple file and data transfers, but the highest-end SSDs top out around 2Gbps in terms of transfer speed. Most don't even hit that mark.
There are other considerations at play, such as SATA III being faster than USB 3.0 due to drive options like native queuing, and USB 3.0's disadvantage of being a shared bus.
But the reality of the matter is that while both are fast enough for what you'll need them to do, neither will hit their max speeds. You'll probably have to upgrade your motherboard on an older system in order to use them.
It's not all sunshine and rainbows in upgrade land, however. For those of you that don't have a lot of experience in building your own PCs and don't typically catch on to written tutorials all that quickly, you may be spending additional cash to fix novice mistakes.
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, to get a professional installation.
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 which 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.
For example, you might want to use an M.2 SSD. This is a very small format SSD which screws directly into your motherboard. But you'll need a motherboard which supports M.2 drives for this to work. Or perhaps you want a computer which 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 which supports overclocking.
Beware of Issues With Compatibility
To facilitate an 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. For example, if the motherboard supports LGA 1150, your CPU must support that as well.
There are other considerations too, such as BIOS compatibility, TDP support, and the number of SATA ports. You can use online sites like PC Part Picker, which is an invaluable resource for first-time PC builders, to check whether your parts are compatible with each other.
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 up to the motherboard's desired range. 1,333, 1,600, 1,866, 2,133 and 2,400MHz with voltages of 1.65v should match up equally to the stated range of the motherboard.
Meaning, if you have 2,400MHz RAM and use it with a 2,133MHz CPU at 1.65v, you could run into compatibility issues that could be detrimental to performance or lead to machine failure.
Watch Out for Bottlenecks When Upgrading Your Motherboard
Remember, the motherboard connects to the CPU, RAM, HDD, 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.