Z490 Motherboard Buyers Guide Presented by MSI

With the release of Intel’s 10th Gen Processors, various manufacturers i.e. ASRock, ASUS, Gigabyte, have already shared their Intel Z490 board information. These include a more powerful CPU delivery platform, higher memory frequency support, and even higher connectivity such as WiFi 6 and 10GbE/2.5GbE LAN. There are even inclusions for I/O such as Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 (20Gbps) technology. But for MSI, they’re sharing a buyer’s guide on things to look out for when getting an Intel Z490 motherboard. 

MSI Z490 Motherboard Upgrades in a Nutshell

With the release of the 10th Gen Intel Core Processors, several key features were changed/improved upon. These are the addition of Hyperthreading, the general increase of clock speed, which in turn increased the TDP. With that being said, the Z490 motherboards need to compensate for these improvements.

First would be to address the increased TDP. increasing the power phases of the motherboard enable better handling of higher end i9 processors, especially when overclocking. A range of 12-16 phase enable ample distribution of reliable power to the processor. An improved cooling design allows for the increased number of phases to be cooled.

Tabbed Routing applied on an MSI Z490 motherboard.

Intel has introduced a memory technology called “Tabbed Routing” to the Z490 platform. What it does is it reduces the cross talk noise for the installed memory modules. As a result, there will be an increase on the Z490’s frequency support. It is 200MHz-300MHz higher than the Z390 platform.

As for connectivity, as mentioned at the beginning, newer and faster WiFi 6 is included in most boards by manufacturers by default. Not only that, but 10GbE are included in some, and 2.5GbE LAN are the default in most boards. Now, for USB; some Z490 motherboards get USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 (20Gbps) for a very fast USB transfer speed as a bonus feature. The Thunderbolt3 port has become part of the default I/O on most manufacturer boards, except ASUS which kept it for its Flagship motherboard.

PCIe Gen4 ready for future upgrades

Most Z490 motherboards that were announced have PCIe Gen4 included already. But the thing is, Intel 10th Gen CPU and even the Z490 chipset has yet to support PCIe Gen4. Major manufactures like MSI, Gigabyte, ASRock; however, are steps ahead and added PCIe Gen4 support for components on several Z490 boards, and marketed as ready. ASUS has not marketed their boards, but upon closer look of their lineup, some boards have implemented such support. In the end, this will prepare users of the possibility of having PCIe Gen4 on the next generation of Intel CPUs for socket 1200, which adds the appeal of getting a Z490 board.

Choosing a premium motherboard for building

For consumers building their own high-end systems, the sky’s the limit on what gear want. Picking a motherboard should therefore be easy and simply get the one that has the best specifications and features. The Core i9 10900K has 10 cores and 20 threads, and in order to unleash its full potential; a powerful VRM is needed. The more VRM phases and high current MOSFETs, the better in pushing the i9 10900K to perform better.  For high-end Z490 motherboards, MSI offers three Z490 MEG motherboards with a 16 phase VRM and 90A MOSFET. Compare that to ASUS or Gigabyte’s selection where their flagship motherboards only have a similar spec, other Z490 boards would have fewer phases and lower current ratings for the MOSFET. A list of motherboards and their VRM ratings can be seen for comparison.

For VRM cooling, MSI offers three of its MEG boards, Z490 GODLIKE, Z490 ACE, and Z490 Unify; come with Active VRM cooling.

Best memory performance and compatibility

For the high end segment, memory support ranges from DDR4-4666 to DDR4-5000. Flagship models and mini-ITX model support DDR4-5000, while other Z490 models can support DDR4-4666 as base. As always, if building for the best performance, get the model with the highest memory support.

High speed connectivity & Future proofing.

Looking at the comparison table, all premium Z490 motherboards come with at least 2.5GbE LAN and WiFi 6 connectivity. Flagship models, have it better with a combination of 10GbE+2.5GbE dual LAN and WiFi6. For I/O, Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3.2 2×2 (20Gbps) are found on some motherboards. Thunderbolt 3 has become a default inclusion on some brands such as ASRock, Gigabyte and MSI for flagship or mini-ITX models. 

10GbE+2.5GbE LAN, WiFi6, 2 Thunderbolt 3 ports on a MEG Z490 GODLIKE I/O

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 has opted to broadly offer the most Z490 models with USB 20Gbps, even on its mainstream MPG and MAG products. MSI and Gigabyte claimed to have PCIe Gen 4 ready for all Z490 models, while ASUS and ASRock have some Z490 motherboards that are PCIe Gen 4 ready.

Also Read: ASRock Z490 AQUA Flagship Motherboard Unveiled

Best buy – Premium Motherboard

For MSI, the following motherboards are their recommendation. If budget is no issue, then the MEG GODLIKE is the way to go. If you’re looking for a more affordable, yet up scaled motherboard, then the MSI Z490 ACE or Unify will do.

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 mainstream gaming system.

Mainstream gaming doesn’t require all of the cutting edge features found on flagship enthusiast motherboards. Priced between $200-$300, these motherboards need to have some adjustments made to their feature set in order to be competitive at the given price point.

Take example power delivery. While fewer phases mean less performance is gained through overclocking, it can still certainly support higher end i9 or i7 CPUs. As for networking, not everyone will be able to have 10GbE already in place, so going for a 2.5GbE or a 1GbE would suffice. WiFi 6 in this bracket are limited to select units like the MSI Z490 Gaming Carbon and Gaming Edge WiFi. Thunderbolt 3 is not a mandatory feature in this segment, but in place; MSI is offering USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 for the Z490 Gaming Carbon WiFi, Gaming Edge WiFi and Tomahawk. While it is priced less than $200, the MAG Z490 Tomahawk has features that competes enough to be in this particular 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.

MSI MPG Z490 GAMING EDGE WIFI with 12-phase VRM rated 60A

Most motherboards at this price range offers 12-phase VRM, and MOSFET is rated from 45A to 60A. Choose the one with 55A or 60A MOSFET. 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. While most will try to overclock their memory by enabling XMP to overclock; it’s still a good idea to get a motherboard that supports higher memory like DDR4-4800.

Choose 2.5GbE and USB 3.2 Gen 2×2

Every motherboard from different brands in this segment offers 2.5GbE LAN. All except for Asus TUF Gaming Z490-PLUS (WIFI)’s 1 GbE LAN. As there are more and more 2.5GbE routers on the market, getting a 1 GbE motherboard at this price point is no longer economical. In addition to 2.5GbE, Gigabyte and MSI also offer Wi-Fi 6. While MSI Tomahawk doesn’t offer Wi-Fi connection, but it has 2.5GbE/GbE dual LAN.

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 these 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, people tend to focus more on getting more for what they pay for. And with MSI’s motherboard lineup it shouldn’t be a difficult choice to pick one after browsing through the comparison table. For networking, MSI offers 2.5GbE LAN for its budget models. The MPG Z490M Gaming Edge comes well equipped with WiFi6. And even at this segment, the Z490 Gaming Plus and Z490M Gaming Edge WiFi, come with built-in I/O shields, which budget motherboards from other brands like ASUS don’t have. There are three MSI models to choose from: Z490 Gaming Plus, Z490M Gaming Edge WiFi and Z490-A Pro against other boards in this segment.

And two more things: power and build. MSI has 12 power phases for budget boards, same with its mainstream models, and MSI builds Z490 motherboards with 6 layers of PCB, same with ASUS’s build process.

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

More information about the MSI Z490 Motherboard at msi.com.

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