GIGABYTE Z490 Aorus Master Motherboard Review: Clawing at the Competitionby Gavin Bonshor on January 7, 2021 8:00 AM EST
Throughout the majority of 2020, we saw an escalating war between AMD and Intel battling for supremacy in the desktop CPU market, which is an obvious win for the consumers. One of the side battles thus appeared in the motherboard market, with the Z490 chipset paving the way for Intel's 14 nm Comet Lake processors. One such model is the GIGABYTE Z490 Aorus Master, which is poisitioned in the mid-range segment's upper end with a premium feature set. Some of the most notable features include 2.5 GbE and Wi-Fi 6 networking, triple PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 slots, and plenty of rear panel connectivity.
To Answer The Question: Z490 in 2021? Shouldn't I wait for Z590?
We've been hearing a lot of rumors about Z590, but nothing concrete from Intel at this time, so naturally some users will question why we have a Z490 review this late in the cycle. Intel has mentioned that its next-generation Rocket Lake processors will be coming out Q1 2021, likely the end of Q1 2021, but we have no real read at this time on Z590 progress, or future support. For those that are looking at Intel systems today or corporate budgets that need to be spent today, the 400-series is the only option. Assuming that 500-series motherboards are set to launch soon, users will obviously have a choice between the old and the new; and by all accounts GIGABYTE is still set to sell the Z490 Aorus Master for a good 12-18 months, and so this review may assist anyone who is looking in that time. The 400-series is also expected to roll out BIOS updates for the next generation processors, including those Z490 boards that are pre-built with PCIe 4.0 support in mind (such as the Z490 Aorus Master), and we might see price decreases as 500-series models come onto the market.
GIGABYTE Z490 Aorus Master Overview
For decades, GIGABYTE has been one of the mainstays in the motherboard market, with many notable and interesting models throughout the years. With the industry changing to suit trends, the prominence of esports has played a massive part in system design, and what users were accustomed to a decade ago typically used to be more about function than style. In 2017, GIGABYTE unveiled its Aorus division, which is officially a GIGABYTE subsidiary aimed at gamers. Since then, Aorus has evolved in a similar way to competitive brands has over the years, with many competitive models ranging from the entry-level to the ridiculously high-end flagships.
The GIGABYTE Z490 Aorus Master sits towards the upper echelon of its premium range for Intel Comet Lake processors, with the only models above it in the series are the flagship GIGABYTE Z490 Aorus Xtreme and Xtreme WaterForce. The $300-400 price segment is a highly competitive area for Z490 models, with all the major vendors operating in this space. It uses an Aorus inspired design throughout with black and silver armor stretching from the board's left-hand side across to the chipset, with integrated RGB LEDs located within the rear panel cover and chipset heatsink additional capabilities provided via integrated RGB headers.
GIGABYTE includes a premium feature set including one of Intel's latest 2.5 GbE controllers and uses Intel's Wi-Fi 6 CNVi to provide users with both wireless connectivity and support to connect BT 5.1 devices too. It also provides the capability to use up to three PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 drives and support for Intel's Optane technology, with six SATA ports with support for RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 arrays. It also includes an impressive array of USB connectivity with as many as ten ports on the rear panel, with four of them coming via USB 3.2 G2 (three Type-A, one Type-C), with plenty more available through internal headers. GIGABYTE offers support for up to DDR4-5000 speeds, which is towards the top end of what any Z490 officially supports, with up to 128 GB supported across four available memory slots.
Putting the Z490 Aorus Master under our test suite yielded positive and competitive performance when compared to other Z490 models. The most advantageous of the testing came in our system benchmarks with decent performance in our power consumption testing, given the large number of onboard controllers the board includes. It was competitive in performance in our DPC latency and non-UEFI POST time testing and across our CPU and gaming tests.
The GIGABYTE Z490 Aorus Master is a very capable board for overclocking with its solid 14-phase power delivery for the CPU. It uses premium 90 A power stages, with adequate VRM cooling, which we saw in our thermal testing. The GIGABYTE performs better in this regard than most Z490 models we've tested, and when it came to testing the overclocks, we saw very tight VDroop control. There are plenty of potentials to unlock with the Z490 Aorus Master, not just for the CPU but also in memory, with official support for DDR4-5000 memory.
The GIGABYTE Z490 Aorus Master has an MSRP of $390 and has typically remained at this price. It has been seen as low as $325 for a week back in September 2020 at Amazon, which would represent serious value for money considering all the Master has to offer. Even at its MSRP pricing, the Z490 Aorus Master has a very competitive feature set which competes with the ASUS ROG Maximus XII Hero Wi-Fi ($400), the ASRock Z490 Taichi ($370), and the MSI MEG Z490 Ace ($400), each with its own unique aesthetics and vendor associated bundles and traits. The GIGABYTE represents an attractive sub $400 offering for users looking to build a new system or upgrade an existing one for Intel's 10th generation Comet Lake platform, with expected support being offered for Intel's 14 nm Rocket Lake chips, which are expected at the end of Q1 of this year.
Read on for our extended analysis.