Getting the most out of your gaming or heavy duty video editing requires your PC to be capable of high-end graphical processing. While you do not need the absolute best equipment in order to run most games at high settings, when you get into insane resolutions, multiple monitors, and benchmark-testing games like Crysis or Metro, you will need multiple GPUs to get the performance you want. Picking out what GPUs you want to combine is a task in and of itself, but deciding on a good motherboard for running a Crossfire configuration is the first step.
What Makes a Good Crossfire Motherboard?
The chipset of the motherboard determines a number of features, such as whether or not the board can support multiple GPU technologies like SLI or Crossfire. Despite Crossfire being an AMD technology via its acquisition of ATI, chipsets from other manufacturers can come with Crossfire support, and most gaming motherboards will feature support for both Crossfire and SLI. Going over all of the chipsets is beyond the scope of this article, but the Intel X79 and Z77 chipsets are considered high quality in the current generation, and AMD’s 990FX chipset is their flagship motherboard product, with 970 and 980 being acceptable alternatives.
Each motherboard manufacturer has their own reputation based on the quality of the products they have put on the market. A cursory glance through the list of high end motherboards on a site like Amazon will give a good picture of the big names in the field: ASUS, MSI, Acer, EVGA, ASRock, Gigabyte, Intel, and Sapphire. You should do at least a small amount of research into the manufacturer for topics like hardware reliability, quality, and customer service reviews before purchasing a motherboard from them.
RAM Capacity and Type
Thanks to graphics cards containing their own memory, the upper limit of how much RAM you can put on a motherboard is not as important as making sure that your PC has enough high quality RAM to perform its tasks quickly and efficiently.
While CPU and RAM capabilities are important for any motherboard, if you intend to build a multiple GPU rig, the PCI version and configuration becomes more important. The average user may be happy with a single PCIe 3.0 slot, but a Crossfire setup needs multiple slots, and the more channels they have, the better. For example, a dual Crossfire setup on two PCIe 3.0 x16 connections will inherently perform better than one running on two x8 connections. You can likely find a motherboard with two x16 slots, but setups like x16/x8/x8 or x8/x8/x8/x8 are more common once you go above using two expansion slots.
The power of the BIOS comes into play with advanced configurations and overclocking. Considering that Crossfire setups benefit immensely from overclocking, it is likely that you either are already prepared to fiddle with the settings in order to do so, or you may become interested at a later date. It is possible to cause issues by changing the settings, so it is important that you do research into overclocking and BIOS editing before you begin messing around with it. A good motherboard will likely have a robust set of BIOS features and a GUI for interacting with it.
The Crosshair V Formula Z is a upper tier gaming motherboard that is suitable for dual or 3-way Crossfire setups. The three PCI slots can run either in a dual x16 configuration or a x16/x8/x8 setup with three cards.
It is not optimal for 3-way Crossfire , but it is still decent and you will see improvement in the 3-way configuration over the dual. Otherwise, the board performs fairly well. It is built on the AMD 990FX chipset, comes with UEFI BIOS, and supports up to 32GB of DDR3 2400 RAM.
Though it would be nice to have a shorter name for the Gigabyte motherboard, its specs do not leave much wanting for a budget dual SLI or Crossfire motherboard. The two PCIe 2.0 slots run at x16 even in a dual configuration, which is functionally equivalent to two PCIe 3.0 x8 slots. While the lack of PCIe 3.0 is liable to put this board off the radar of some, the price can’t be beat and it will make for a good AMD Am3+ motherboard and dual Crossfire setup.
This motherboard will not be turning heads or breaking records, but it is another economical option for someone looking to run a dual GPU system. Compared to the UD3, you are looking at a small price increase for a jump to PCIe 3.0, an additional slot, and a bit more performance out of the RAM. It is built on the Intel Z77 chipset as opposed to the AMD 990FX, so choosing between the MSI board and the Gigabyte UD3 might come down to your preference between AMD and Intel CPUs.
The P9X79-E offers an almost perfect foundation for a Crossfire PC. All the other bells and whistles aside, the P9X79 features a full array of four PCIe 3.0 x16 expansion slots. That alone makes it one of the best Crossfire/ SLi motherboards on the market. The board is powerful enough to be a sturdy foundation for a PC that can handle anything you throw at it for the next two or three years without any tweaking, barring the release of Crysis 4.
To finish off this brief list, we have the EVGA Z77 FTW. If you want to venture into a 4-Way Crossfire configuration, this is the board to do it on. It is not the best option for dual or 3-Way configurations, since expanding beyond the first PCIe 3.0 slot drops all of the slots to x8 channels. This is perfectly fine in a 4-way setup and acceptable for a 3-way setup, but there are cheaper options for a dual GPU configuration with a z77 motherboard at the same level of performance.