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Mini-ITX Motherboards

 

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Historically, AMD motherboards have been less expensive than the equivalent Intel products. It’s one of the ways AMD has consciously attempted to position itself as offering a better value proposition than Intel. Buy an AMD motherboard, and you’ll not only save money on the initial purchase, but you’ll also be able to upgrade it for a longer period of time.

Right now, however, this equation has been flipped on its head, at least if you want a smaller-than-typical motherboard. We compared pricing on AMD’s AM4 chipsets going back to the original Ryzen launch against Intel’s LGA 1200 and LGA 1151 prices on 300-series motherboards. Comparing in this fashion allowed us to control for the impact of recent launches, and hopefully, offers a broader window into what people may be choosing to buy if coronavirus-related shortages are causing production problems for any specific motherboard. (Note: All data was gathered from Newegg, and only in-stock products were used for direct price comparisons.)

ATX board pricing tilts a little towards Intel, but chipset choice has a larger impact, so the net effect here is mostly a wash. If you plan to buy an ATX motherboard, you don’t need to worry. mATX and mini-ITX, however, show larger gaps.

Cheap mATX LGA 1200 (Comet Lake) Intel boards start at $60 on Newegg, while the cheapest B450-based motherboard is $80. On the plus side, B550M motherboards are also $80, so while you’ll pay a $20 premium over Intel, you won’t pay more for the newer chipset.

We also checked price on the 15th-cheapest motherboard in the stack, or the closest in-stock product. For AMD, that’s the Asus Prime B550M-A/CSM, at $135. For Intel, that’s the Gigabyte H310M S2P 2.0 LGA1151 board, at $75. The closest LGA 1200 board that’s more expensive than the H310M is a Gigabyte B460M DS3H motherboard at $79.

In mini-ITX, the gap between Intel and AMD motherboard pricing is even larger.

Fun Fact: While writing this story, I discovered Asus actually built a mini-DTX motherboard. DTX is an AMD standard alternative introduced some 13 years ago. It is not widely advertised or supported, to put it mildly.

The cheapest Intel mini-ITX board for LGA 1151 is the Gigabyte H310N, at $89. The cheapest LGA 1200 board is the Asrock B460M-ITX/AC, at $95.

The cheapest AMD AM4 mini-ITX board is supposed to be an Asrock A320M-ITX, at $99. The cheapest mini-ITX motherboard you can actually buy, however, is the Asrock X570 Phantom Gaming ITX/TB3, at $240. There are so few AMD AM4 mini-ITX motherboards in stock, I can’t really give you a meaningful 15th board price. The Asrock X570 Phantom Gaming ITX/TB3 is the 10th board on Newegg’s list as it is, and the 14th board costs $400. The 15th is not in stock. The 10th Intel board is the Asrock Z490M-ITX/ac LGA 1200, at $160.

You can have any AM4 mini-ITX motherboard you want, as long as you don’t want any of these.

These are large enough gaps to represent material differences in CPU price points. The $20 gap for cheap mATX boards isn’t much, but the 15th board gap is $56 for the LGA 1200 and $61 for the LGA 1151. There’s a $43 gap in the 10th position.

In mini-ITX, an X570 is a whopping $145 more expensive than an LGA 1200, and availability is so poor, we’re limited to a bare few comparison points. But the price difference between the two motherboards is less than the price gap between, say, a Core i5-10600K (6C/12T, 4.1GHz base, 4.8GHz boost, $285) and the Core i7-10700K (8C/16T, 3.8GHz base, 5.1GHz boost, $409).

Here’s what that means, in AMD-versus-Intel terms. Instead of comparing the 3700X ($273) against the Core i5-10600K ($285), you could argue it’s now fair to compare the 3700X against the Core i7-10700K, on the basis of overall system cost. The 3700X + Asrock X570 motherboard discussed above adds up to $513. The 10700K + Asrock B460M is $504.

There are basically two reasons why AMD boards might be running expensive. First, it’s possible that some coronavirus-related inventory issues have resulted in better Intel board availability than AMD availability. We only see real gaps in mATX and mini-ITX. If manufacturers have cut back on building boards that AMD buyers don’t choose all that often, it would explain the limited inventory and high prices.

Second, it’s possible that strong AMD retail demand is emptying store shelves as quickly as parts can be gotten. Our retail sales data arguably supports this trend. The reason I’m not sure it’s true is that I’m not sure how many desktop owners have begun preferencing mATX or mini-ITX over full-sized ATX motherboards. If most desktop builders still build with ATX, then we’d expect the impact of any shortage to be most visible in that segment. The fact that we’re seeing it in mATX and mini-ITX could reflect diminished production of those parts as opposed to extreme demand. It’s also possible both explanations are in play.

Regardless, it’s something to keep in mind when evaluating whether to buy AMD or Intel. Motherboard prices have historically favored AMD, and overall upgrade paths still do, but the current situation in mini-ITX and mATX boards rewards a more careful consideration of the market.

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