Z490 Flagship Motherboard Roundup: Three Top-End Mainstream Boards Face Off

Z490 Flagship Motherboard Roundup: Three Top-End Mainstream Boards Face Off

Since Intel’s latest Z490 chipset’s launch in May, we’ve tested and reviewed several LGA 1200 boards in the mid-range segment ranging from a Biostar Z490GTA Evo ($249) to the ROG Maximus XII Hero ($399). These boards serve most users well and come with all of the updates and features of the platform. This includes power delivery capable of handling the flagship Intel i9-10900K processor, support for next-gen CPUs and more common implementation of 2.5 GbE. Some Z490 board makers also mention support for PCIe 4.0 on the primary GPU slot and single M.2 port (though that won’t work unless you install a future Rocket Lake CPU). The chipset is catching up to AMD, but is still a bit behind the curve on that front. While these boards are all capable, we still have the flagship products to look at.

In this roundup, we’ll be taking a close look at the Asus ROG Maximus XII Extreme ($849.99), MSI MEG Z490 Godlike ($749.99) and the Gigabyte Aorus Extreme ($799.99). The ASRock Z490 Aqua wasn’t delivered in time to capture the data for this article. These boards take all that comes with Z490 and add even more features. We’ll see improved aesthetics, 10GbE across the board/boards, Wi-Fi 6 AX201, and even the ability to monitor and control your liquid cooling ecosystem from the motherboard.

While other boards have capable VRMs, all three of these models (and the Aqua) go overboard implementing some of the most robust power delivery sections for this platform. Due to this overbuilding, all of these boards are capable of overclocking the i9-10900K using sub-ambient cooling methods as well. If they are good enough for extreme overclocking, they will surely be good enough for a daily driver limited by ambient air temperatures. Assuming Rocket Lake releases in a timely manner and continues Intel’s trend of more cores/threads, higher clock speeds and more power use, the VRM bump on the platform in general is certainly welcome. These take “robust” to a whole different level.

With those highlights out of the way, all three boards performed admirably with no significant outliers in the results. These expensive boards all landed within a margin of error against less expensive boards (as expected) and their peers, so no additional performance magic was implemented by the board partners. All flagship SKUs handled our CPU temperature-limited overclocks without issue, an expected result considering how well-built these VRMs are.

(Image credit: MSI)

MSI MEG Z490 Godlike Specifications 

SocketLGA 1200
ChipsetZ490
Form FactorATX
Voltage Regulator18 Phase (16+1+1)
Video Ports(2) Thunderbolt 3 (Type-C) ports
USB Ports(2) USB 3.2 Gen 2, Type-C (10 Gbps), (2) USB 3.2 Gen 2, Type-A (10 Gbps), (4) USB 3.2 Gen 1, Type-A (5 Gbps), (2) USB 2.0, Type-A
Network Jacks(1) 2.5 GbE, (1) 10 GbE
Audio Jacks(5) Analog + SPDIF
Legacy Ports/JacksPS/2
Other Ports/JackWi-Fi Antenna
PCIe x16(3) v3.0 (x16/x0/x4 or x8/x8/x4)
PCIe x8
PCIe x4
PCIe x1(1) v3.0 (x1)
CrossFire/SLIAMD 3/2 Way CrossFireX and Nvidia 2-Way SLI
DIMM slots(4) DDR4 – DDR4 5000+(OC)
M.2 slots(2) PCIe 3.0 x4 / SATA + PCIe (up to 110mm), (1) PCIe 3.0 x4 PCIe only (up to 80mm)
U.2 Ports
SATA Ports(6) SATA3 6 Gbps
USB Headers(1) USB v3.2 Gen 2 (Type-C), (2) USB v2.0, (2) USB 3.2 Gen1
Fan/Pump Headers(10) 4-Pin
Legacy Interfaces
Other InterfacesFP-Audio, TPM
Diagnostics PanelYes
Internal Button/SwitchBIOS/LED switches, Power/Reset/Overclock Fail Save/Retry buttons
SATA Controllers
Ethernet Controllers(1) Aquantia AQC107 (10 GbE), (1) Realtek RTL8125B (2.5 GbE)
Wi-Fi / BluetoothIntel AX201 (802.11ax, MU-MIMO, 160 MHz) / BT 5.1
USB ControllersASMedia ASM1074, Intel JHL7540 Thunderbolt 3
HD Audio CodecRealtek ALC1220-VB + ESS E9018 combo DAC
DDL/DTS Connect✗ / ✗
Warranty1 Year

Provided by Tom’s Harware

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