Z490 Motherboard Buying Guide

“Choosing the best motherboard for your build.”

With the release of Intel 10th generation CPU, motherboard vendors have launched more than 40 models for their Z490 lineups. Among those 40+ models, there are some obvious improvements over Z390 motherboards including more powerful CPU power delivery, higher memory frequency support, and high-speed connectivity including 10GbE/2.5GbE LAN, Wi-Fi 6 and I/O like Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 (20Gbps).

More powerful power delivery and thermal performance.

Core i9-10900K has 10 cores, which are two more core counts than core i9-9900K and TDP is increased from 95W to 125W as well. This indicates that Core i9-10900K draws more power and could be a challenge to motherboard VRM. To meet the demand for overclocking, motherboard vendors have included more powerful VRM on their motherboards.

VRM phases on these premium motherboards range from 12 to 16 phases, and some of them even offer 90A MOSFETs, such as MSI MEG series motherboards, Z490 GODLIKE, Z490 ACE and Z490 Unify. All of them feature 16 phases of power delivery with MOSFETs rated at 90A. If you’re looking for a flagship motherboard for Core i9-10900K overclocking, strong power delivery is definitely something you should take into consideration.

Active cooling solution on MSI MEG Z490 GODLIKE

 

In addition to power delivery, some motherboards have active VRM cooling solutions too. MSI is the only brand that offers an active cooling solution for its high-end MEG models. With help from heat sink fans, the VRM temperature is significantly lower than those without active cooling solutions.

Our suggestion here is to choose the motherboard with the most powerful power delivery and an active cooling solution.

Higher Memory Frequency

Intel has introduced a new memory routing technology “Tabbed Routing” to the Z490 platform. With this new circuit routing, it can reduce cross talk noise and thus make the signal better. As a result, you can see an increase in memory frequency support on the Z490 platform. It is 200MHz~300MHz higher on average compared to the Z390 platform. To achieve better memory performance, it needs optimization in both hardware and BIOS. Most Z490 motherboards can reach at least DDR4-4600 and some can incredibly hit DDR4-5000.

MSI implements “Tabbed Routing” on its Z490 motherboards

 

Since most enthusiasts are willing to invest in an expensive high-frequency memory kit, it’s reasonable to choose a motherboard that has the best memory support.

PCIe Gen4 ready for future upgrades.

Most Z490 motherboards are PCIe Gen 4 ready even though Intel 10th Gen CPU and Z490 chipsets don’t support PCIe Gen 4. Those PCIe Gen 4 ready Z490 motherboards are implemented with PCIe Gen4 circuit and components. This means that they’ll be ready for future upgrades to enjoy the benefits from Gen 4 graphics cards and faster PCIe Gen 4 M.2 SSDs.

All MSI Z490 motherboards are PCIe Gen 4 ready

MSI, Gigabyte, and ASRock all claim that their Z490 models are PCIe Gen 4 ready. ASUS didn’t mention much about this, but so far the information shows that only some of ASUS’s Z490 models will support PCIe Gen 4.

If you plan to upgrade CPU in the future, why not get a PCIe Gen 4 ready Z490 motherboard?

Faster connectivity – networking and I/O

One of the improvements that come with Z490 is faster networking. Most high-end and mainstream Z490 motherboards are equipped with 2.5GbE LAN, and some flagship models even go with 10GbE LAN. However, at the budget segment, not all motherboards have 2.5GbE LAN. MSI is doing a good job of offering at least 2.5GbE LAN for all its Z490 models, from top to bottom. In addition to 2.5GbE LAN, Wi-Fi 6 is now nearly a standard on Z490 motherboards.

For I/O, some of the high-end motherboards feature the latest Thunderbolts 3 and USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 (20Gbps). MSI, Gigabyte, and ASRock provide Thunderbolt 3 ports, however, ASUS only provides Thunderbolt 3 cards for its flagship model. 

2.5GbE LAN, Wi-Fi 6 and USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 (20Gbps) on MSI MEG Z490 ACE

 

Z490 chipset does not support the latest USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 (20Gbps), but some motherboard vendors like MSI, Asus and ASRock use ASMedia USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 (20Gbps) chip to offer higher USB speed at 20Gbps that doubles the bandwidth of USB 3.2 Gen 2 (10Gbps). Gigabyte doesn’t offer any USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 for its Z490 motherboards.

As front Type C port is becoming more popular on PC chassis, more and more motherboards are offering front Type C headers too. Among Z490 motherboard vendors, MSI is the only one that offers front Type C connection on all its Z490 models, which benefits consumers who need Type C connection. MSI deserves credit again for doing a phenomenal job.

Choosing a premium motherboard for your build.

For consumers building a premium system, there’s no such thing as a budget. They just want the best. Enthusiasts want everything new and the best features on their high-end systems. So just pick a motherboard that has the best specifications and features. 

Choosing the most powerful VRM and active thermal solution.

Core i9-10900K has 10 cores and 20 threads so you need a powerful VRM to unleash its performance. When it comes to VRM, more VRM phases and high-current MOSFETs are helpful with pushing the Core i9-10900K more.

For high-end Z490 motherboards, VRM phases range from 14 phases to 16 phases and the MOSFET rating current is 50A to 90A. ASUS, Gigabyte, and MSI all have 16-phases plus 90A MOSFET for their flagship motherboards. However, MSI stands out among the crowd with its 16-phases and 90A MOSFET on three MEG series motherboards. ASUS and Gigabyte have either fewer phases or lower current MOSFET for the rest of their high-end motherboards. You can see the VRM information below.

 

Overkill VRM on MSI MEG Z490 GODLIKE – 16 phases with MOSFET rated at 90A

ASRock offers active VRM cooling for its Z490 Taichi and Z490 Velocita and mini-ITX board. ROG Strix Z490-I Gaming is the only ASUS model that has active cooling. However, MSI offers an active cooling solution for all MEG series including Z490 GODLIKE, Z490 ACE, Z490 Unify, and mini-ITX Z490I Unify. 

*Information as of May 7th, 2020

*VRM information is from overclock.net. Please visit the link for detail.

***”-“ indicates not available

Best memory performance and compatibility.

At this premium segment, the memory support is from DDR4-4666 to DDR4-5000. DDR4-5000 is supported on the Flagship model and mini-ITX model. It’s awesome! The rest of the motherboards at this segment can support at least DDR-4666. If you plan to get a high-frequency memory kit for your system, choose the motherboard with the best memory support.

High-speed connectivity & PCIe Gen 4 ready for future upgrade.

As you see at the comparison table, all premium Z490 motherboards are equipped with at least 2.5GbE LAN and Wi-Fi 6 connections. Flagship motherboards are even equipped with 10GbE+2.5GbE dual LAN and Wi-Fi 6.

When it comes to I/O, you can see the state-of-the-art Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3.2 GEN 2×2 (20Gbps) on some motherboards. ASRock, Gigabyte, and MSI offer onboard Thunderbolt 3 for the flagship or mini-ITX models. ASUS takes the other way by bundling a Thunderbolt card for Maximus XII Extreme.

10GbE+2.5GbE LAN, Wi-Fi 6 and 2 Thunderbolt 3 ports on MSI MEG Z490 GODLIKE

The latest USB 3.2 GEN 2×2 (20Gbps) USB is available on ASRock Taichi, ASUS Maximus XII Extreme, and MSI MEG ACE and Unify. MSI is incredibly offering the most Z490 models with USB 20Gbps, even on its mainstream MPG and MAG products. MSI and Gigabyte claim to have PCIe Gen 4 ready for all Z490 models, while ASUS and ASRock have some Z490 motherboards that are PCIe Gen 4 ready.

*Information as of May 7th, 2020

Best buy – Premium motherboard.

Here is our recommendation for a premium motherboard. If you have no budget limit, pick MSI Z490 GODLIKE. If you don’t want to spend USD700 on a motherboard, choose the powerful MSI Z490 ACE or Unify.

Flagship – MSI Z490 GODLIKE

  • Overkill power delivery
  • Incredible memory performance at DDR4-5000+
  • Great connectivity – 10GbE+2.5GbE dual LAN, WiFi 6 & dual Thunderbolt 3 ports
  • PCIe Gen 4 ready for future upgrades
  • Active thermal solution



MSI Z490 ACE/ Unify

  • Overkill power delivery
  • Good connectivity – 2.5GbE LAN, WiFi 6 & USB 20Gbps
  • PCIe Gen 4 ready for future upgrades
  • Active thermal solution

       

Choosing the right motherboard for a mainstream gaming system.

 

For the motherboard segment priced at around USD200~300, the specifications are not as impressive as the high-end segment. The power delivery is not overkilling but is still powerful enough for Core i9 and Core i7. The networking goes down from 10GbE to 2.5GbE or even 1GbE. And Wi-Fi 6 is available only on some motherboards like MSI Z490 Gaming Carbon WIFI and Gaming Edge WIFI.

No motherboard at this segment is offering Thunderbolt 3 port, but MSI is incredibly providing USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 (20Gbps) for Z490 Gaming Carbon WIFI, Gaming Edge WIFI, and Tomahawk. MAG Z490 Tomahawk is priced at less than USD200 while competing within this segment. This is why Tomahawk is listed in this segment.

For those with budget considerations, just choose the motherboard that can meet your demand the most. If you’re doing overclocking, pick the motherboard with the best power delivery and memory support. If you don’t overclock much, then choose the motherboard that offers the best connectivity.

Powerful power delivery and memory performance.

Most motherboards at this price range offer 12-phase VRM, and MOSFET is rated from 45A to 60A. It’s not difficult to choose here. Choose the one with 55A or 60A MOSFET.

MSI MPG Z490 GAMING EDGE WIFI features 12-phase VRM rated at 60A.

Currently, the 3200MHz/3600MHz memory kit is still the balance of performance and price. It’s also the choice for most people within this segment. However, we think most people are willing to push the memory by enabling XMP or to overclock manually to squeeze more performance. It’s a good idea to get a motherboard with DDR4-4800 support.

*Information as of May 7th, 2020

**VRM information is from overclock.net. Please visit the link for detail.

Choosing 2.5GbE and USB 3.2 Gen 2×2

Every motherboard in this segment offers 2.5GbE LAN, except for Asus TUF Gaming Z490-PLUS (WIFI)’s GbE LAN. As there are more and more 2.5GbE products on the market, there’s no reason to choose a GbE motherboard at this price. In addition to 2.5GbE, Gigabyte and MSI also offer Wi-Fi 6, while the Z490 Aorus Elite AC offers Wi-Fi AC only. MSI Tomahawk doesn’t offer Wi-Fi connection, but it has 2.5GbE/GbE dual LAN.

▲ 2.5GbE LAN, Wi-Fi 6 and USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 (20Gbps) on MSI MPG GAMING CARBON WIFI

MSI Gaming Carbon WIFI, Gaming Edge WIFI, and Tomahawk offer USB 3.2 GEN 2×2. Front Type C is another great feature to have. Paired with a PC chassis that has Type C panel, it’s very convenient for charging your cell phone and other electric devices. It’s great to see every motherboard at this price range offering front Type C connection except for ASUS Strix Z490-H Gaming. 

For networking and I/O, MSI still has the most comprehensive offerings including 2.5GbE LAN, Wi-Fi 6, USB 3.2 Gen 2×2, and front Type C connection.

Best buy – mainstream gaming system

MSI MPG Z490 Gaming Carbon WIFI 

  • Powerful VRM – 12 phases for CPU core with 60A MOSFET
  • All-round connectivity – 2.5GbE LAN, Wi-Fi 6, USB 3.2 GEN 2×2 (20Gbs), front Type C
  • DDR4-4800 memory support
  • M.2 Shield Frozr for both slots



MSI MAG Tomahawk

  • Good connectivity – 2.5GbE/GbE dual, USB 3.2 GEN 2×2 (20Gbs) & front Type C
  • Sub-200 price with abundant features
  • DDR4-4800 memory support
  • M.2 Shield Frozr for both slots

Choosing the motherboard for Budget gaming build.

At this budget segment, the features/price ratio is what most people focus on. It’s not difficult to choose the right motherboard if you look at a comparison table and choose the one with features most attractive to you.

First of all, take a look at connectivity. MSI still offers 2.5GbE LAN for its budget models. Z490M Gaming Edge WIFI is packed with Wi-Fi 6 and front Type C is provided on all MSI models.

2.5GbE LAN, Wi-Fi 6, front Type C & Pre-installed I/O Shield on MPG Z490M GAMING EDGE WIFI

MSI also offers a pre-installed I/O shield for Z490 Gaming Plus and Z490M Gaming Edge WIFI while the pre-installed I/O shield is not available on ASUS budget motherboards.

Three MSI models, Z490 Gaming Plus, Z490M Gaming Edge WIFI, and Z490-A Pro stand out the rest motherboards of this budget segment.

Power delivery at the budget segment is not as powerful as the mainstream segment. MSI offers 12 phases for its budget motherboards. For PCB layers, MSI and ASUS offer 6-layer PCB while Gigabyte offers 4-layer PCB for some models.

*Information as of May 7th, 2020

**VRM information is from overclock.net. Please visit the link for detail.

Best buy – budget gaming system

MSI MPG Z490 Gaming Plus

  • 2.5GbE LAN & front Type C connection
  • Pre-installed I/O shield
  • Extended heat sink
  • M.2 Shield Frozr

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