The motherboard is a key supporting element in your gaming rig. The other elements all fit into the motherboard, so your motherboard, or mobo, needs to be compatible with the other pieces, like the CPU and GPU. The motherboard also plays an important role in performance because it conducts signals and data around the computer's components.
Motherboards meant for gaming have the latest architecture and efficinecy improvements, as well as slots for items that gamers need, like graphics cards, power sources, and cooling systems. They often also have extra bells and whistles, like Wi-Fi connectivity, analytic readouts, and special consoles to help you overclock. Not all mobos come with these features. Generally, manufacturers release several tiers of quality for each new form of motherboard design, and the lower-end ones will have less features. This system is designed to dovetail with the tiers of quality in CPUs and GPUs to help you build a complete and unified system.
There are jobs that require a lot of computing power, and they need good motherboards just as much as gamers do. A professional motherboard is generally not that different from a gaming one from a performance perspective: their stats are often similar. Generally, these boards have less extreme design in terms of appearance because they are meant to be used in an office or lab. A professional motherboard may also have fewer extra features compared to its gaming cousin. That also means that professional versions tend to cost less money. The prices of both kinds fluctuate often, so you will need to stay on top of the changes to make sure you get a good deal.
Motherboards designed for basic consumers of computers are generally not particularly good, but they should be reliable enough to last for a good few years. That is about all that can be said in their favor. In laptops, the CPU and, if there is one, the GPU are often integrated into the motherboard, making it hard to replace any of those components. A home motherboard will not give you great performance, but if it fits a new GPU or CPU, you can get away with upgrading one of those to a strong entry-level or mid-tier chip in the low end of the spectrum without needing a good mobo. If you plan to make your own rig or go further with upgrades, though, the stock motherboard you get will not cut it. This is important because a good motherboard can be just as expensive as a CPU or a GPU.
Most graphics cards and CPUs have one standard type of port, so any mobo you buy needs to be compatible with all of your other components in this respect for the setup to work at all.
New models come out every year or so. Some years have big changes, with major differences that mean new boards might not work with cards that are too old. Other yearly upgrades are more forgiving.
Overclocking is a big part of a gaming rig, and not all motherboards are compatible with it. On the other hand, some make it easy. It's worth some research, because overclocking can make such a big difference to your performance that you need to know whether it is an option for you as soon as possible.
It has to fit inside the case with enough room for all the other parts of the computer, leaving space for cooling. A board that is too large will not fit, but one that is too small with leave the components too close together, contributing to overheating while making the whole rig hard to adjust.
The best motherboards are not the most expensive ones, and it might not be easy to tell which ones deliver the best value right away. Moreover, the best ones on paper cost a lot more than the slightly inferior versions down the market. You will end up paying extra for the latest and greatest.
The motherboard market is more chaotic than in CPUs or GPUs. There are several companies involved, including Asus, MSI, Intel, and others. Depending on their research, any one of them could be the best in a category or the best value at any time. This is because each manufacturer works to create new architecture every year and to build a cheap process for making motherboards. The cheaper the production process is, the lower the price can be. In all likelihood, you will be shopping for a new motherboard at the same time as you are buying a CPU, GPU, or both. Those two should be your priority, but make sure you leave room for the motherboard. The best deals now range from around $50 up to $200 and beyond for the latest Skylake architecture.
Top examples include the Asus Z170-Pro, a professional-grade motherboard with the latest Skylake setup. It's a great value buy for almost anyone. The MSI Z170A Gaming Pro has almost as much power at a lower price, making it great value. MSI also sells the MSI H170 Gaming M3, which is more of a budget motherboard, but it has a great design and power for the price.