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Motherboard vs. CPU (What’s The DIFFERENCE?)

If you’re just getting into PC building, then you may be confused about the various hardware that goes into a PC and the function of each component.

What’s the Difference Between Motherboard and CPU?

The difference between the motherboard and the CPU is that the motherboard connects all functional parts of a computer, while the CPU is the main processor in a computer, responsible for executing programming instructions and performing complex calculations. 

If we compare the computer to the human body, the motherboard is similar in function to our spinal cord, while the CPU is analogous to our brain. 

While the CPU (the brain) does all the processing (thinking), the motherboard (spinal cord) allows the various components of a PC to communicate with each other. 

The motherboard also facilitates communication between your CPU (processor) and the data stored in your computer’s memory (RAM).

The CPU is a small chip that sits in a dedicated slot on your motherboard, while the motherboard is a rather large circuit board that houses the CPU, graphics card, RAM, hard drives, and other vital components.

Which Is More Important for a PC: Motherboard or CPU?

For a PC, the CPU is more important than the motherboard. A better CPU always means better PC performance. Meanwhile, a better motherboard only translates to better performance when it allows you to use a better CPU. 

Note that you can’t do without either the motherboard or the CPU. To understand which one is more important than the other, we have to analyze the effect of both components on a PC’s performance. 

Using a newer-generation CPU or one with higher clock speed will almost always result in better performance for a variety of computing tasks. 

That said, the motherboard determines which CPUs you can use. For example, an older motherboard might not be compatible with a new, more powerful CPU for any of the following reasons: 

  • The CPU might require a newer socket. 
  • Existing RAM may be unable to keep up with the new CPU. 
  • The current chipset’s data transfer ability may not match the requirements of the new CPU. 

To maximize performance, you should only spend more on a motherboard if you need it to use the CPU you want.

Once you’ve ensured compatibility with your desired CPU, you’ll get higher performance by spending more on the CPU than you will by spending more on the motherboard. 

Considering the above, a CPU is usually more important than a motherboard. But does this hold true when it comes to gaming? 

Which Is More Important for Gaming: Motherboard or CPU?

For gaming, the CPU is more important than the motherboard. Aside from the GPU, the CPU has the highest impact on important gaming features like FPS. A CPU upgrade results in better game performance than a motherboard upgrade. 

The motherboard does have an extra role when it comes to gaming: just as with the CPU, it determines how new your GPU can be, and the GPU is the single most important part of a gaming rig.

However, the motherboard doesn’t have a direct effect on your gaming experience. 

In any case, unless you have a very old motherboard, you should spend more money on your CPU. The setups of most enthusiastic gamers have higher budgets for the CPU than for the motherboard. 

It’s clear that the CPU is more important, but does that mean you should upgrade it first? 

Should You Upgrade Motherboard or CPU First?

You should upgrade the motherboard first only if it doesn’t support the CPU you want. In most cases, you should upgrade your CPU first. It will greatly improve your gaming performance, while the motherboard won’t have a direct effect on it.

Ideally, your upgrade process should look like this: 

  1. Determine your performance needs, which depend on what you’re using your PC for. 
  2. Determine the CPU that matches your performance needs. 
  3. Determine whether your motherboard is compatible with the CPU you want.
  4. Buy a motherboard if necessary. 
  5. Buy the CPU. 

To show why the order in which you purchase the motherboard and CPU matters, let’s discuss the compatibility of the two. 

Are All Motherboards and CPUs Compatible?

Not all motherboards and CPUs are compatible. For a CPU to work with a PC, the motherboard needs to have a compatible socket. The sockets of older motherboards may be incompatible with newer CPUs. Furthermore, the two components may not work together if they are from different manufacturers. 

In addition to direct hardware incompatibility, the compatibility of a motherboard and a CPU is affected by how powerful each component is.

For example, a motherboard may only support a RAM module that can’t keep up with the demands of a powerful CPU.

As a result, even if the CPU may physically fit into the socket, it won’t be used to its full capacity. The reason behind this is that better CPUs typically require faster RAM. 

In the above scenario, the CPU would be functionally incompatible with the motherboard. 

The same applies to the chipset, a part of the motherboard that controls data flow between the CPU and other computer elements like storage.

If the chipset’s data flow rates don’t match the CPU speed, the CPU is functionally incompatible with that motherboard. 

All this begs the question: How do you know that the two components are compatible? 

How to Know If a Motherboard and CPU Are Compatible?

To know if a motherboard and CPU are compatible, check your motherboard’s specifications and compare them with the CPU’s features. Alternatively, check the packaging for your motherboard. Most motherboards are manufactured for a particular CPU model, which will be listed on its packaging.

You can also check compatibility by going to the website for your motherboard’s manufacturer, and checking the list of compatible processors for your particular motherboard model.

The CPU support list will show you all the CPUs that have been confirmed to work with your motherboard. It’s a relatively straightforward way of determining CPU compatibility.

If a CPU is not listed, it’s not compatible. You’ll only be able to use a CPU if it can be mounted on your motherboard.

👋 Hey There, I'm Eric!

Since 2018, I've been making streams come true.

I like gaming, streaming and watching other people stream. I created this website to help streamers, viewers, and gamers answer questions they have regarding live streaming, gaming, and PCs. I am a Twitch affiliate and currently stream on Twitch 3 days a week. I also have a Youtube channel where I make videos about streaming. I hope you find my content helpful. Feel free to stop by one of my streams to say hi.