Finding a motherboard superbly capable of handling your gaming needs at a cheap price point can be challenging. Most solid motherboards cost a pretty penny, and once you add cheap into the mix, you’re more likely than not going to make a few concessions.
In this guide, I pick out cheap gaming motherboards with the best tolerable ‘concessions.’ Motherboards that, despite cutting off a few features, still provide enough of the performance omphh to be very capable gaming motherboards.
A few things to note
Specs don’t make the best gaming motherboards
Marketing teams for motherboard manufacturers are well funded, so you’re going to see a whole lot of what I like to call specification hype as you shop around for a motherboard. ‘Special cooling,’ ‘Advanced power staging,’ that kind of stuff.
Many budget motherboards come with a great deal of specification hype that might influence you to make the pick despite there being better options. Think about it, do you really need four M.2 slots and an RGB header if you’re building a budget gaming PC?
What makes a great cheap gaming motherboard
Support for capable CPUs
Motherboards are CPU specific. It’s important that any motherboard you choose supports latest-gen CPUs and latest-gen technologies that might improve your gaming performance.
PCIe gen 3/gen 4 support
PCIe is the onboard tech for data transfer; it is what ‘connects’ various components of your PC build, including the CPU, Graphics card and Storage device to each other. PCIe gen four is the latest and fastest version of this technology, with transfer speeds of up to 16GT/s.
Simply put, with PCIe gen four onboard, you get faster data transfer across compatible PC components and this, in turn, bolsters gaming performance, helping you achieve better frame rates, faster loading times and higher graphics resolution.
Do you need support for overclocking
Many motherboards will come with chipsets and solid VRMs that allow you to dependably overclock your CPU. Makers of those motherboards will try to sell both features to you as a gaming essential.
It’s not. Except you’re a gamer head who’s obsessed with overclocking your PC, you’re not going to need an overclocked PC to enjoy most (all) of the gaming titles available today in high definition and high FPS.
Support for DDR4 RAM
Much like how PCIe gen 4 supports faster data transfer across motherboard components, DDR4 RAM supports faster (and more energy efficient) data transfer between your RAM card and motherboard.
Certain extras are essential for gaming. Some motherboards come with both ethernet and Wi-Fi support, and in my experience, they tend to be costlier than ethernet or Wi-Fi only motherboards. If your goal is solely gaming PC, go with an ethernet only motherboard. They’re cheaper and provide better connectivity performance than wifi-type motherboards.
Overall best budget gaming motherboard
For intel builds – MSI B560M – Pro motherboard
MSI’s B560M – is one of the few motherboards at the extremely cheap price point that still manages to pack in support for PCIe gen 4. It tops this list of the best cheap motherboards not just for its PCIe Gen 4 support but also because it is perhaps the most complete motherboard build you can get for less than a hundred bucks.
Out of the box, you get a motherboard that’s compatible with DDR4 (not DDR3, which is what is prevalent in sub-$100 mobos), USB 3.2 (latest gen USB at the time of writing this), and Intel’s latest-gen CPUs. Put simply, this motherboard has all it takes to power through your latest favorite high-end games with no issue.
What MSI has done is keep everything streamlined to include only what you need to improve the gaming experience. So unlike most motherboards marketed as cheap for gaming, this doesn’t come with an RGB header, for instance. It also lacks a Wi-Fi card, and there’s also no onboard native RGB lighting. What you get is a mobo built exclusively for gaming performance. So instead of DDR3 RAM support clocked at 3200, which is what you get with ASUS’s Prime H510M-E mobo, you get DDR4 RAM support with max clock speed of 5200 (OC) on the MSI B560M. I’ve already talked about PCIe gen 4, which is a scarce commodity in mobos at this price range. The Prime H510M-E, and practically every other mobo at the sub $100 price point from other manufacturers, ships with PCIe gen 3.
You also get a particularly impressive cooling system that covers both the CPU and the M.2 slots. MSI is calling it FROZR AI cooling, which is just fancy terms for regular cooling, but it’s nonetheless impressive that cooling goes around the CPU and extends to the mobos, storage and RAM slot as well. For connectivity, you get a 2.5Gbps LAN setup that’s most certainly fast enough. The only drawback is you need a router derived LAN cable to connect and not just Wi-Fi which is simpler to use, but hey, anyone serious about gaming would know that LAN ethernet speeds absolutely trump Wi-Fi speeds in any gaming connections test.
Taken together, the B560M is a performance freak for the price. You’re not going to have any problems running your favorite titles at max settings with this motherboard, provided it’s properly spaced out.
For AMD builds – Asrock B550M
The Asrock B550M is in many ways similar to the MAG B560M only this time, it’s a motherboard chipset designed specifically for AMD processors. With an AM4 socket, onboard this motherboard supports 2nd to 3rd gen AMD processors, including AMD’s headliner (at the time of writing this) Ryzen 5000 processors.
Like the B560M, this mobo ships with all it takes to go hard with gaming. You get support for DDR4 RAM, Gen 4 PCIe, USB 3.2 and all the additional essential extras like a solid power stage, HDMI for 4K video output, a dedicated audio chip and dual M.2 (PCIe gen 4) storage slots. RGB headers, native RGB lighting and all the frivolities as far as budget gaming mobos are concerned don’t make the cut – like the MAG B560M, this is a bare-bones motherboard purely optimized for performance.
To further amp up performance, the Asrock B550M ships with RAID, AMD’s onboard software module for pairing individual NVME SSD storage devices and treating the whole block as one for faster and more efficient storage performance. There’s a whole bunch of other accessory features like hot-plugging, but that’s beside the point of this review.
What’s important is that the Asrock’s B550M motherboard is a more than enough mobo for any type of gaming enthusiast. As was the case with the MAG B560M, this thing has the backbone to float even the most performance-intensive gaming titles, provided you spec it out well. It’s durable and relatively future proof. The current crop of Ryzen processors for the AM4 (PGA type) socket on this motherboard truly capable and will be for a while to come too.
Budget friendly options
If you’re on a tighter budget and need something cheaper, I’ve got a few suggestions. Of course, there’ll be a slight drop in performance, but it’s ever so slight and you might not really notice it except when running top of the line performance intensive game titles.
For AMD builds – ASUS PRIME A320M-K
The prime A320M-K scales back on a few core specifications for an almost 40% cut off the typical price of a budget gaming motherboard. It spots an AM4 socket, so it is compatible with virtually all current-gen AMD processors, including the hallowed series 5000 Ryzen processors. But for the price drop, you have to make do with PCIe 3.0
(as opposed to gen 4 PCIe), USB 3.0, and a smaller number of expansion ports. Only four USB ports in total and just one PCIe x16 slot.
You still get support for DDR4 RAM storage, a solid VRM module for efficient CPU power delivery and additional SATA ports (four in total). Taken together, this motherboard is a well worth setup, and while it doesn’t have the latest and greatest spec sheet, you can expect it to run performance-intensive gaming titles at good enough settings without breaking a sweat.
Build quality is also decent, and that’s something to be wary of when shopping for mobos at this price bracket. The Prime A320M-K is, of course, an ASUS motherboard, so both build quality and durability are well accounted for.
One other thing to note is this is a micro-ATX format motherboard meaning you don’t get that much motherboard real estate. Depending on your use case – how you plan on specing your build – this might be good or bad news. But since this is a guide on building a budget gaming PC, which means you’re not planning on fitting two RTX 3060s to leverage AMD crossfire, ill assume it’s the former – good news.
For intel builds – ASRock B365M-HDV
Similar to the Prime A320M-K, the ASrock B365 steps down on the specifications front for some components. You get PCIe gen 3, USB 3.1 (better than USB 3.0 on the A320M), and fewer ports than you’d find on the > $100 mobos. You still get support for DDR4 RAM, so that’s nice. Surprisingly this mobo only supports RAM expansion up to 32Gb, which is usually more than enough for most gaming titles (even the most performance-intensive ones) but something to note anyway.
It’s certainly the motherboard to get if you plan on going full cheapskates with your build. Since it supports 8th and 9th gen intel processors, a step down from current in vogue 10th and 11th gen processors, with this mobo, you can also go cheap with your processor options. And most times, even later gen processors still do a good job of being as performant as you’d them need. This is especially true for 9th gen intel processors – you won’t be losing any performance edge as far gaming goes if you did settle for a top-tier gen 9 CPU.
Build quality is excellent, and that’s nice coming from ASrock, a mobo manufacturer outside the ‘popular’ group. Additional features on the B365M-HDV are plenty, so much that I just gotta mention some, even though they don’t necessarily make or break a mobo. On the B365M, you get support for Intel’s RAID tech, which, as I said earlier, allows you to virtualize your RAM setup so multiple drives function as one device improving performance. Type C USB ports are standard on the B365M, and you also get two SATA data cables as part of the motherboard package.
Overall the B365M-HDV is a solid motherboard, especially when you consider its sub $100 price. Like the other motherboards on this list of cheap gaming mobos, provided you spec it right, you should be home and dry as far as performance on a gaming PC is concerned.
Remember, your motherboard though essential is just the starting point of building a capable gaming PC. Other essential components include your CPU, storage devices, and GPU (graphics processing unit).
To get the perfect gaming PC, you need to get every selection individually right. Your CPU has to be performant, same thing for your GPU and even your storage devices. Pair a solid motherboard to a trashy CPU, and gaming will be expectedly thrash. Pair it to a trashy GPU, and it’s the same story. The perfect gaming rig is one with a perfect mobo, CPU, GPU and storage chips integrated as one.