In our series of motherboards buyers guides, here’s the latest update to our list of recommended Intel motherboards. All numbers in the text are updated to reflect pricing at the time of writing.
Moving into the holiday season for many, Intel recently unveiled details about its Rocket Lake (11th Gen) processors set to come out in Q1 2020. With it will come a new wave of 500-series motherboards, and hopefully confirmation from vendors about which models will support PCIe 4.0 natively. This means we’re going to be in a bit of a mix when it comes to 400-series vs 500-series, and it will all depend on how the 500-series is rolled out to the market and what sort of excitement there will be as Intel moves down from 10 cores at the high-end to eight cores. Nonetheless, at present we have to focus on the current selection of Z490 motherboards for enthusiasts and performance users looking to build a new Intel-based desktop system.
Here are our choices in the motherboard market for Intel. For AMD recommendations, head on over to our AMD guide. This is usually updated monthly.
|Intel Motherboards Recommendations
|Intel ‘Money is no Object’ Motherboard|
|MSI MEG Z490 Godlike||$719||$719||$750|
|Intel ‘Clean Mix of Price/Features’ Motherboard|
|GIGABYTE Z490 Aorus Ultra||$270||$270||$300|
|Intel Value Motherboard|
|MSI Z490-A Pro||$160||$160||$160|
|Favorite Intel Mini-ITX Motherboard|
|ASRock Z490 Phantom Gaming-ITX/TB3||$270||$270||$280|
Our recommendations for motherboards are based entirely on personal and professional opinion. There are notably a large number of different motherboards across the Intel chipsets including B460, Z490, and the workstation focused W480 chipset. I have selected my top four picks based on the four market segments, regardless of the chipset. We have considered Intel’s HEDT X299 chipset, but we feel this platform doesn’t represent value for money since HEDT users typically have stricter requirements. We, however, may consider a workstation-based segment in future guides if there is enough interest from our readers.
The effect of Coronavirus on the motherboard market as a whole has been unfortunately chaotic, with pricing and stock levels on both motherboards and processors remaining sporadic. This has been a much bigger issue for AMD chipsets such as X570, with support for multiple families of processors, while Intel chipsets such as Z490, models have remained fairly accessible over the last couple of months. Despite this, Coronavirus has had a negative impact on hardware availability across the map, with key events such as CES 2021 moving to an online-only format.
Intel has announced that its Rocket Lake processors will be available in Q1 2021, which includes official support for PCIe 4.0. Quite a number of Z490 models include PCIe 4.0 re-drivers and external clock generators, which vendors have been advertising since the launch of Z490. This means Rocket Lake will be on the same socket as Comet Lake (LGA1200), although Intel will release a new 500-series chipset. Users will have to buy those to ensure full support.
Intel also made further announcements as to the Rocket Lake details:
- Intel Confirms Rocket Lake on Desktop for Q1 2021, with PCIe 4.0
- Intel’s 11th Gen Core Rocket Lake Detailed: Ice Lake Core with Xe Graphics
For Intel’s latest 10th Generation Comet Lake processors that are currently on the market, however, stock and supply have been somewhat impacted. The market is awash with its new LGA 1200 socket processors, including B460, H460, Z490, and the W480 chipsets, among others. All of the above has been taken into great consideration for our November 2020 motherboard guide for our Intel-based selections, although given Intel hasn’t unveiled any new chipsets, nor has vendors made considerable discounts on current motherboards, we’ve opted for the same picks as we made in October, as nothing has changed. Even monitoring the pricing of motherboards outside of flash in the pan deals, pricing remains consistent across the landscape of Z490 models.
Another thing to note is November does include the Black Friday sales event at participating retailers such as Amazon. Our prices within this guide do not reflect Black Friday event pricing, as it can change hourly, so we’ve focused on core pricing without deals added. We do recommend to keep an eye out for other models on offer, perhaps from a higher price point with a significant reduction. The most important thing to consider is features to price, as well as power delivery, which with a little research and cross-referencing from our chipset overviews listed below, can help narrow boards down to a feature to suit a specific user’s needs.
For users looking for other options, we’ve also gone over multiple chipset families as well in the links below.
- The AMD B550 Motherboard Overview: ASUS, GIGABYTE, MSI, ASRock, and Others
- The Intel W480 Motherboard Overview: LGA1200 For Xeon W-1200
- The AMD TRX40 Motherboard Overview: 12 New Motherboards Analyzed
- The AMD X570 Motherboard Overview: Over 35+ Motherboards Analyzed
- Intel Z390 Motherboard Overview: 50+ Motherboards Analyzed
- Analyzing B450 for AMD Ryzen: A Quick Look at 25+ Motherboards
- Analyzing Z370 for Intel’s 8th Generation Coffee Lake: A Quick Look at 50+ Motherboards
- An AMD Threadripper X399 Motherboard Overview: A Quick Look at Seven Products
MSI MEG Z490 Godlike ($719 at Amazon/$719 at Newegg)
The premium chipset from Intel is the Z490 chipset, which is similar in specifications to the previous Z390 chipset, but vendors have implemented more premium features and controllers than ever before. At the top tier of the Z490 product stack, all of the major vendors have options that are quite frankly overkill. They are laden with features such as 10 GbE Ethernet, triple PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 slots, and Thunderbolt 3 Type-C connectivity. One of the most extravagant and premium models is the MSI MEG Z490 Godlike which includes dual Thunderbolt 3 Type-C ports on the rear panel, support for up to five PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 slots (the bundled Xpander-Z Gen4 M.2 add-on card gives an extra few), as well as a beefy 16-phase power delivery and an OLED panel.
The MSI MEG Z490 Godlike has official support for DDR4-5000 memory, with a total capacity of up to 128 GB across four memory slots. Storage support out of the box is also impressive with each of the three PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 slots having its own heatshield, and a further two available from an Xpander-Z Gen4 dual M.2 slot adapter in the box. For SATA devices, MSI includes six SATA ports with support for RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 arrays.
Its design is both futuristic, modern and clean, with plenty of grey metallic shading, on a black contrasting background. There is also plenty of integrated RGB LED lighting with some in the rear panel cover which illuminates the MSI dragon logo, the chipset heatsink with the Godlike branding, and an OLED panel that can be customized via MSI’s Mystic Light software next to the memory slots. The MSI MEG Z490 is also using a large 16-phase power delivery with sixteen ISL99390B 90 A power stages and is controlled by an ISL69269 PWM controller operating in an 8+1 configuration, with each of the CPU phases doubled up with an ISL6617A doubler.
The connectivity on the rear panel includes the dual Thunderbolt 3 Type-C ports, two USB 3.2 G2 Type-A. four USB 3.2 G1 Type-A, and two USB 2.0 ports. A handily located pair of buttons are present which allow users to perform USB BIOS Flashback, as well as reset the CMOS. Networking includes an Aquantia AQC107 10 GbE Ethernet controller, with an added Realtek RTL8125B 2.5 GbE controller for good measure, with an Intel AX201 interface providing both Wi-Fi 6 and BT 5.1 connectivity.
The MSI MEG Z490 Godlike has an MSRP of $750 and at present, is retailing with a nice reduction present at $719 at both etailers. When compared to other brand’s flagship models such as the ASUS ROG Maximus XII Extreme ($750) and GIGABYTE Z490 Aorus Xtreme ($799), these include similar feature sets, but what sets the Godlike apart from the other is its superb accessories bundle, the overall networking configuration with a 10 GbE and 2.5 GbE Ethernet controller pairing with Wi-Fi 6 connectivity, but five PCIe 3.0 x4 is surely a benefit to those looking to build a very high-speed storage configuration. Each of the models mentioned has its own individual merits, but one thing to consider is the added compatibility for PCIe 4.0 when Rocket Lake hits the market next year, which allows users some PCIe 4.0 support without purchasing a new motherboard.
GIGABYTE Z490 Aorus Ultra ($270 at Amazon/$270 at Newegg)
If we are looking for a model which blends price, performance, and functionality, then there are a number of high-quality products to choose. Performance is one angle to compare, as well as controller set, the power delivery, and expansion slot support while keeping things as reasonable in regards to pricing as possible. One model which stands out is the GIGABYTE Z490 Aorus Ultra which is designed for gamers but has the versatility to be the foundation for a solid high-performance system with a good feature set at a mid-market price too.
The GIGABYTE Z490 Aorus Ultra sits below the more premium GIGABYTE Z490 Aorus Master in the product stack but keeps much of the same in regards to feature set and capability. In terms of controllers, the GIGABYTE Z490 Aorus Ultra includes an Intel I225-V 2.5 GbE Ethernet controller, with support from an Intel AX201 interface which adds Wi-Fi 6 and BT 5.1 connectivity. Also on the rear panel is a single USB 3.2 G2 20 Gbps Type-C port, with three USB 3.2 G2 Type-A, two USB 3.2 G1 Type-A, and four USB 2.0 ports. There are four memory slots with support for up to 128 GB, with official support for up to DDR4-4800 which is great for a mid-range model. For storage, there’s three PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 slots with each slot inclusive of its own M.2 heatsink, and six SATA ports which include support for RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 arrays.
On Z490 at the $250 to $300 price point, there is a stack of models to select from, all of which have their own merits and caveats. The GIGABYTE Z490 Aorus Ultra has an MSRP of $299 but both Newegg and Amazon don’t currently have any deals on this model. Users can find the competitive ASUS ROG Strix Z490-F Gaming for $269 at Newegg, but the GIGABYTE model offers a better power delivery. The MSI MPG Z490 Gaming Carbon Wifi ($250) is close in terms of features with a Realtek 2.5 G Ethernet controller and much of the same feature set, but the GIGABYTE model seems to be the best board for under $300 on Z490 on paper, as well as looking good too. It is currently available to buy for $270 at both Amazon and Newegg, which is around $20 cheaper than it was last month and is a good $30 cheaper than the launch MSRP pricing of $300.
MSI Z490-A Pro ($160 at Amazon/$160 at Newegg)
The term ‘value’ can be taken any different ways, as it can be related to budget but with plenty of quality, or it can be relative to how much money is available. With lots of Intel LGA 1200 chipsets available with the H410, B460, H470, and Z490, there are a lot of solid contenders in this particular area. My pick for value is the MSI Z490-A Pro which isn’t on a budget-based Intel chipset such as H410, but for users to overclock and squeeze out more performance from the 10th generation Comet Lake processors, the Z490 chipset is needed. The MSI Z490-A Pro is one of the cheapest Z490 models available on the market and has a solid feature set for the price. This includes a 12-phase power delivery, a Realtek ALC1200 HD audio codec, two PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 slots, a Realtek 2.5 GbE Ethernet controller and a single USB 3.2 G2 Type-C port on the rear panel.
The biggest feature of note on the MSI Z490-A Pro is the power delivery, with a 12-phase design as well as the inclusion of a Realtek RTL8125B 2.5 GbE Ethernet controller. It also includes a solid budget storage configuration with six SATA slots and two PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 slots, with one slot coming with a heatsink, and the other reliant on the user installing one, or going for passive cooling. The rear panel is pretty standard for a board of this calibre, with a single USB 3.2 G2 Type-A, five USB 3.2 G1 Type-A, and two USB 2.0 ports. It includes an HDMI and DisplayPort video output pairing for users looking to leverage Intel’s UHD integrated graphics, as well as six 3.5 mm audio jacks powered by a Realtek ALC1200 HD audio codec.
Despite the existence of the budget-focused H410, H470, and B460 chipsets, none of them officially support for overclocking or memory faster than the default JEDEC specifications, which when combining a Comet Lake desktop processor with adequate cooling, can offer very good performance. The MSI Z490-A Pro isn’t just one of the cheapest Z490 models with an MSRP of $160, but it’s actually solid on paper too, for both overclocking and with a host of value-orientated features, but still more than capable controller set for a board at this price point. The Z490-A Pro is currently available for $160 at Amazon and Newegg. Its biggest competition comes via the equally impressive GIGABYTE Z490 Gaming X model at $160, but it lacks the 2.5 GbE Ethernet controller and instead opts for an Intel Gigabit controller, and uses a USB 3.2 G2 Type-A instead of the Type-C on the MSI.
ASRock Z490 Phantom Gaming-ITX/TB3 ($270 at Amazon/$270 at Newegg)
With fewer mini-ITX models than other form factors on the Z490 chipset, there are just six models to select from for small form factor enthusiasts and gamers. One of the biggest groundbreakers in mini-ITX is ASRock, and these models are generally popular with enthusiasts looking for a solid balance of features, good quality componentry, and pricing. The ASRock Z490 Phantom Gaming-ITX/TB3 is an update over the previous Z390 model, with a similar feature set, but designed with Intel’s LGA 1200 socket in mind.
Out of the small handful of available mini-ITX Z490 motherboards, only two include Thunderbolt 3 connectivity on the rear panel: the ASRock Z490 Phantom Gaming-ITX/TB3 and the MSI MEG Z490I Unify. The reason for selecting the similarly priced ASRock over the MSI, having seen numerous ASRock mini-ITX models over the years, including the Z390 Phantom Gaming-ITX/ac before, we know what to expect from ASRock and it’s a feature-packed model for its size. Aside from the single Thunderbolt 3 Type-C connector on the rear panel, it includes a Realtek RTL8125BG 2.5 GbE Ethernet controller and Intel AX201 Wi-Fi 6 interface pairing for the networking, as well as supporting up to two PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 drives, one on the front and another slot on the rear.
Also on the rear panel is five 3.5 mm audio jacks and S/PDIF optical output which is powered by a premium Realtek ALC1220 HD audio codec, as well as three USB 3.2 G2 Type-A, and two USB 3.2 G1 Type-A ports. A handily located clear CMOS button is featured in the middle of the rear panel, with a PS/2 keyboard and mouse combo port, and two video outputs including a DisplayPort and HDMI pairing, although the Thunderbolt 3 Type-C port can also output video. The ASRock also supports up to DDR4-4666 officially, with a maximum capacity of up to 64 GB across two memory slots. In addition to the two PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 slots are four SATA ports with support for RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 arrays.
The ASRock Z490 Phantom Gaming-ITX/TB3 is a solid motherboard for enthusiasts to overclock on with its 8+2 phase power delivery, as well as the potential foundation for a monstrous single graphics card gaming system. The Z490 Phantom Gaming-ITX/TB3 has an MSRP of $280, but it is available at present for $270 at both Amazon and Newegg, which makes the slightly eye-watering MSRP a little more bearable. In regards to the competition, we reviewed the MSI Z490I Unify ($270) with a similar feature set and a 10-layer PCB, as well as the GIGABYTE Z490I Aorus Ultra ($270). The ASUS ROG Strix Z490-I Gaming is slightly more expensive with an MSRP of $300, but the ASRock is our pick in regards to Intel-based mini-ITX boards for September. One important thing to consider is boards such as the ASRock Z490 Phantom Gaming-ITX/TB3 make solid options for Rocket Lake, as it includes the capability for PCIe 4.0 with one of the M.2 slots, and the full-length PCIe x16 slot.