Sunday, December 4, 2022

MSI Z490 Series Motherboard Buyer’s Guide

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By the release of the 10th generation Intel Core processors, motherboard manufacturers have released more than 40 models based on the Z490 chipset. Compared to Z390-based products, there are significant improvements, including more powerful power systems, support for higher memory frequencies, and advanced interfaces such as 10G and 2.5G Ethernet, Wi-Fi 6, Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3.2 Gen2x2 (20 Gbps).

More powerful power system and improved cooling
The Core i9-10900K has 10 cores, two more than the Core i9-9900K, and its TDP has been increased from 95W to 125W. Thus, the Core i9-10900K consumes more power, which can be a problem for the motherboard’s power system. That’s why board manufacturers have begun to implement more powerful voltage regulators in their products aimed at overclockers.

Power systems of premium motherboards have from 12 to 16 phases. Some of them use 90 amp transistors. For example, MSI’s MEG series Z490 GODLIKE, Z490 ACE and Z490 Unify have 16-phase 90A transistor power systems. processor Core i9-10900K.

MSI MEG Z490 GODLIKE: active cooling system

Some models use active cooling for power components, with MSI being the only manufacturer to use active cooling for all of its MEG series models. This allows you to significantly reduce the temperature of the elements of the power system compared to passive cooling (using only radiators).

Our recommendation is motherboards with the most powerful power supply system and its active cooling.

Increased memory frequency
As part of the new Z490 platform, Intel has proposed a new layout for DIMM slots – trapezoidal. This helps to reduce crosstalk, resulting in improved signal transmission when using high-frequency memory modules. As a result, boards based on the Z490 chipset allow the use of memory at a higher frequency than their predecessors based on the Z390 chipset. The difference averages 200-300 MHz. Improved RAM support requires both hardware and software (in the BIOS) optimizations. Most boards based on the Z490 platform offer DDR-4600 mode, and some even reach DDR4-5000 mode.

MSI Implements “Trapezoid” Memory Slot Layout on Its Z490 Boards

Most enthusiasts are willing to invest in expensive high-frequency memory kits, so it would be wise to choose a motherboard that is compatible with such modules.

PCIe Gen4 bus – for future upgrades
Most motherboards based on the Z490 platform are PCIe Gen4 compatible, although 10th Gen Intel Core processors and the Z490 chipset do not. This means that the boards use the components and wiring needed to run the PCIe Gen4 bus, and will later be able to install graphics cards and SSDs using this high-speed interface.

All MSI Z490 Series Motherboards Support PCIe Gen4 Bus

MSI, Gigabyte, and ASRock have already announced that all of their Z490-based motherboards support PCIe Gen4. ASUS does not cover this topic, however, according to the information available at the moment, only some of the ASUS products based on the Z490 platform support PCIe Gen4.

So, if you plan to upgrade your processor in the future, consider buying a motherboard with a PCIe Gen4 bus.

High-speed interfaces: network and peripheral
One of the benefits of the Z490 platform is faster network connectivity. Most of the new high and mid-range motherboards are equipped with a 2.5G Ethernet controller, and some flagship models are equipped with 10G. In the budget segment, however, not all products support 2.5G Ethernet, but this is not the case with the MSI motherboard line: all MSI Z490 series boards offer at least 2.5G Ethernet. When it comes to wireless networking, Wi-Fi 6 has almost become a mandatory feature on motherboards with the Z490 chipset.

Peripheral interfaces on some high-end models include Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3.2 Gen2x2 (20Gb/s). MSI, Gigabyte, and ASRock offer built-in Thunderbolt 3 ports in their products, while ASUS offers an external Thunderbolt 3 expansion card for its flagship models.

MSI MEG Z490 ACE: 2.5G Ethernet, Wi-Fi 6 and USB 3.2 Gen2x2 (20Gb/s) interfaces

The Z490 chipset does not support the latest USB 3.2 Gen2x2 (20 Gb/s bandwidth), but some manufacturers, including MSI, ASUS and ASRock, use a separate ASMedia controller for this. Its bandwidth is twice that of USB 3.2 Gen2 (10Gb/s). Gigabyte does not implement the USB 3.2 Gen2x2 interface on its Z490 series boards.

Computer cases are increasingly offering a USB-C connector on the front panel, so motherboards are starting to be equipped with a corresponding port. MSI is the only manufacturer to offer a front USB-C port on all of its products based on the Z490 chipset. This is a very commendable achievement that will be appreciated by all who often use the USB-C interface.

Choosing a High-End Motherboard
For users who build a computer with high-end components, there are no budget restrictions. They want only the best, new and functional. Therefore, the choice is simple – take the motherboard with the best performance!

The most powerful power system + active cooling
The Core i9-10900K processor has 10 cores capable of performing 20 computational threads simultaneously, and for stable operation of such a powerful chip, an equally powerful power system is required, including as many phases as possible and transistors designed for high currents.

High-end motherboards based on the Z490 chipset have 14 to 16 power phases, and transistors are rated for current from 50 to 90 amps. ASUS, Gigabyte, and MSI implement a 16-phase power system with 90-amp transistors in their flagship models, but MSI offers three such models within the MEG series at once, while other ASUS and Gigabyte boards, with the exception of the flagship ones, either have less phases, or use transistors designed for less current. Details can be found in the table below.

MSI MEG Z490 GODLIKE Heavy Duty Power System: 16 Phases and 90A Transistors

ASRock provides active cooling for its Z490 Taichi and Z490 Velocita boards, as well as mini-ITX models. The ROG Strix Z490-I Gaming is the only ASUS model to feature this kind of cooling. As for MSI products, all models of the MEG series are equipped with active cooling, including the Z490 GODLIKE, Z490 ACE, Z490 Unify and the compact (mini-ITX) Z490I Unify.

RAM support
The premium segment supports memory modes from DDR4-4666 to DDR4-5000, the latter on the flagship model, as well as on the mini-ITX form factor model. The rest of the models in this segment allow you to use a memory frequency of at least 4666 MHz. If you plan to purchase a high-frequency module kit, choose the appropriate motherboard.

High-speed interfaces and PCIe Gen4 compatibility
As can be seen from the comparison table, all high-end motherboards with the Z490 chipset are equipped with at least two network controllers: 2.5G Ethernet and Wi-Fi 6. Flagship models, in addition to Wi-Fi 6, offer two Ethernet ports at once: 10G and 2.5G .

Among the peripheral interfaces of some models are Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3.2 Gen2x2 (20 Gb / s). MSI, Gigabyte, and ASRock have integrated Thunderbolt 3 ports in their flagship and compact (mini-ITX) models, while ASUS offers an external Thunderbolt expansion card for its Maximus XII Extreme.

MSI MEG Z490 GODLIKE: 10G + 2.5G Ethernet, Wi-Fi 6 and two Thunderbolt 3 ports

The latest USB 3.2 Gen2x2 (20Gb/s) USB interface is available on ASRock (Taichi), ASUS (Maximus XII Extreme) and MSI (MEG ACE and Unify) boards. Moreover, MSI also offers it on almost all of its other products with the Z490 chipset, including the mid-range MPG and MAG series. In addition, MSI and Gigabyte have stated that all of their Z490 motherboards are compatible with the PCIe Gen4 bus. In ASUS and ASRock product lines, such compatibility is declared only for some models.

*The information is current as of May 7, 2020.

High-End Motherboards – A Great Buy
Our recommendation for high-end motherboards is this: if you’re on a budget, go for the MSI Z490 GODLIKE. If you don’t feel like spending $700 on a motherboard, go with the MSI Z490 ACE or Unify.

Flagship model – MSI Z490 GODLIKE

Heavy Duty Power System
Support for incredibly high frequency DDR4 memory – 5000+ MHz
Excellent set of interfaces: 10G + 2.5G Ethernet, Wi-Fi 6, two Thunderbolt 3 ports
PCIe Gen4 compatible – for future upgrades
Active cooling system
Colorful and bright backlight

MSI Z490 ACE/Unify

Motherboard for mid-range gaming system
The technical characteristics of motherboards in the $200-300 price segment will also impress you. A decent power system is quite sufficient for both Core i7 and Core i9. The network interface is represented by a 2.5G or even 1G Ethernet controller instead of 10G, and the MSI Z490 Gaming Carbon WIFI and Gaming Edge WIFI have a Wi-Fi 6 wireless adapter.

MSI offers USB 3.2 Gen2x2 (20Gbps) on the Z490 Gaming Carbon WIFI, Gaming Edge WIFI, and Tomahawk models. Moreover, Tomahawk costs less than $200, but its parameters are quite capable of competing with products in this price segment.

For those on a budget, here’s a simple tip: choose a motherboard that fits your specific requirements. If you’re into overclocking, you’ll want a board with a more powerful power system and better memory support. If you are not interested in overclocking, choose the model with the best set of interfaces.

Powerful power system and optimized memory support
Most motherboards in this segment are equipped with a 12-phase power system with transistors rated for current from 45 to 60 A. It is easy to choose here – boards with 55 or 60 A transistors are preferable.

MSI MPG Z490 GAMING EDGE WIFI: 12-phase power system rated up to 60A

At the moment, sets of memory modules with a frequency of 3200/3600 MHz remain the most balanced in terms of price / performance ratio. These are the ones most often chosen by buyers in this segment. However, we believe that many users would like to speed up the RAM by enabling XMP profiles or manually overclocking, so it would be a good idea to purchase a motherboard with support for DDR4-4800 memory.

*The information is current as of May 7, 2020.

**Data on power systems are taken from overclock.net.

Interfaces 2.5G Ethernet and USB 3.2 Gen2x2
Every motherboard in this segment supports 2.5G Ethernet, except for the ASUS TUF Gaming Z490-PLUS (WIFI), whose Ethernet controller complies with the Gigabit Ethernet standard. As more and more 2.5G Ethernet devices come to market, it makes no sense to choose a Gigabit Ethernet board in this price range. In addition to 2.5G Ethernet, Gigabyte and MSI offer a Wi-Fi 6 wireless adapter, while the Z490 Aorus Elite AC only comes with a Wi-Fi AC adapter. The MSI Tomahawk board lacks a wireless Wi-Fi adapter, but it has two Ethernet ports: 2.5G and Gigabit Ethernet.

Плата MSI MPG GAMING CARBON WIFI: 2.5G Ethernet, Wi-Fi 6 и USB 3.2 Gen2x2 (20 Гбит/с)

MSI Gaming Carbon WIFI, Gaming Edge WIFI and Tomahawk boards offer USB 3.2 Gen2x2 interface. Another useful feature is the ability to connect a USB-C case connector – very convenient for recharging a smartphone and other gadgets. It’s nice that every motherboard in this price segment, with the exception of the ASUS Strix Z490-H Gaming, offers a front-facing USB-C interface.

MSI implements the most complete set of network and peripheral interfaces, including 2.5G Ethernet, Wi-Fi 6, USB 3.2 Gen2x2 and front USB-C.

Great buy for a mid-range gaming system
MSI MPG Z490 Gaming Carbon WIFI

Powerful power system: 12 phases for processor cores, 60-amp transistors
A good set of interfaces: 2.5G Ethernet, Wi-Fi 6, USB 3.2 Gen2x2 (20 Gb / s), front USB-C
DDR4-4800 memory support
Shield Frozr heatsinks for both M.2 slots

MSI MAG Tomahawk

A good set of interfaces: two Ethernet ports (2.5G + Gigabit), USB 3.2 Gen2x2 (20 Gb / s), front USB-C
Wide functionality at an affordable price (less than $200)
DDR4-4800 memory support
Shield Frozr heatsinks for both M.2 slots

Motherboard for a budget gaming system
In the budget segment, buyers are most interested in the price / functionality ratio. The choice is quite simple to make – just compare different models and stop at the one whose feature set seems the most attractive.

First, let’s take a look at the interfaces. Even in its budget products, MSI offers a 2.5G Ethernet network interface. All MSI models also have a front USB-C interface, while the Z490M Gaming Edge WIFI model has a Wi-Fi 6 wireless adapter.

MPG Z490M GAMING EDGE WIFI: 2.5G Ethernet, Wi-Fi 6, front USB-C interface and pre-installed interface panel

MSI’s Z490 Gaming Plus and Z490M Gaming Edge WIFI boards come pre-installed with interface panels. Budget ASUS models are deprived of this element.

MSI’s three models, namely Z490 Gaming Plus, Z490M Gaming Edge WIFI, and Z490-A Pro stand out from other budget segment motherboards.

Power systems in the budget segment have good power. On MSI boards, they are 12-phase. MSI and ASUS use 6-layer PCBs here, while Gigabyte uses 4-layer PCBs for some of their models.

*The information is current as of May 7, 2020.

**Data on power systems are taken from overclock.net.

Great buy for a budget gaming system
MSI MPG Z490 Gaming Plus

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