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    ASUS Prime Z490-A Review: An Expansive Midrange Board for Comet Lake-S

    With the introduction of Intel’s Comet Lake-S processors, means the arrival of new motherboards. Intel’s 10th Generation processors will now require Z490 chipset motherboards. In this review, we’ll be taking a look at the ASUS Prime Z490-A. As leader of the Prime series, the Prime Z490-A comes with a predominantly white design and beefy internals.

    ASUS Prime Z490-A

    ASUS Prime Z490-A
    CPU Support Intel 10th Generation Processors, LGA 1200
    Chipset Intel Z490
    Power Stage 12 + 2 DrMOS
    Memory Frequency Up to 4600MHz
    Memory Slots 4 DIMM Slots
    Maximum RAM 128GB
    RAM Channels Dual Channel
    PCIe Slots 3x PCIe 3.0 x16
    3x PCIe 3.0 x1
    Multi-GPU Support NVIDIA SLI, AMD CrossFireX
    Storage 2x M.2 slots (M-Key)
    ·         PCie 3.0 x4 or SATA III
    ·         PCIe 3.0 x4
    6x SATA III
    Audio Realtek S1220A
    Networking Intel I225-V
    USB Rear USB Port
    ·         4x USB 3.2 Gen2 (3x Type-A, 1x Type-C)
    ·         2x USB 3.2 Gen1 Type-A
    ·         2x USB 2.0
    Front USB Port
    ·         1x USB 3.2 Gen2 Front panel connector
    ·         2x USB 3.2 Gen1
    ·         4x USB 2.0
    Rear I/O 1x Intel I225-V 2.5G Ethernet
    1x DisplayPort
    1x HDMI
    4x USB 3.2 Gen2 (3x Type-A, 1x Type-C
    2x USB 3.2 Gen1
    2x USB 2.0
    1x Optical S/PDIF
    5x 3.5mm audio jack
    Form Factor ATX

    Comet Lake-S

    Simply put, Intel’s Comet Lake-S is its 5th iteration of the Skylake architecture, which basically means that it’s 14nm++++. Despite the rather stagnant 14nm node, they have made strides to improve the process in order to pump out more performance, provide additional security, and higher core counts.

    Intel is offering quite a few processors under the Comet Lake-S name. From 10-core, 20-thread high-end offerings like the i9-10900K to modest processors like the Celeron range. On the top-end of the scale, Intel is offering different frequencies to their SKUs:

    • Base Frequency – Minimum frequency that the CPU will run at if not at thermal limits.
    • Turbo Boost 2.0 – Highest frequency that the CPU will run at below power limits.
    • Turbo Boost Max 3.0 – Initially available in HEDT processors, Turbo Boost Max 3.0 recognizes the four most performing cores and ups their clocks to 5.1GHz or to 5.2GHz in single- or dual-core instances.

    The latest technology for Intel’s search for higher clocks is Velocity Boost. This affects both single and all-core turbo speeds under specific conditions. An additional 100MHz will be added to its clock speeds so long as the temperature stays below the limit of 70°C. Motherboard manufacturers, however, are allowed to bypass the set thermal limits. This allows the processor, paired with an appropriate motherboard, to reach higher clocks even when the temperature is higher than the 70°C recommended maximum.

    Intel’s latest processors will also have a thinner die. This enables better heat transfer from the die to the IHS. With all the cores inside the chip, any bit of added efficiency in cooling is a welcome addition.

    LGA 1200 and the Z490 Platform

    Intel is moving away from LGA 1151 and is now using LGA 1200 socket on Comet Lake-S processors. This means that they will now require a new platform. At the time of this review, the only boards shipping that can house the Intel 10th generation CPUs are motherboards with the Z490 chipset.

    Comet Lake-S processors will strictly be PCIe 3.0-compatible processors, which is quite a step down from PCIe 4.0 compatibility that the other team has. The Z490 platform, however, is PCIe 4.0 compatible. There is a caveat, however, current motherboards don’t support PCIe 4.0 yet although some boards have been future-proofed for PCIe 4.0 usability. This means that future processors from Intel on the Z490 chipset will fully support the next generation PCIe standard.

    Intel is also pushing their new I225-V controller, which promises 2.5Gb Ethernet although it’s up to their partners if they are going to implement it on their motherboards. Of course, WiFI 6 (802.11ax) will be supported by the chipset in order to deliver the fastest wireless speeds possible at this time.

    As for data connectivity, the Z490 chipset will now have support for up to 10 USB 3.2 Gen2 ports, up to 10 USB 3.2 Gen1 connections, as well as six SATA III ports for SATA-based SSDs and HDDs. Higher end boards can also be fitted with USB 3.2 Gen2 2×2 ports, but that’s up to the board maker if they will put it into their boards.

    Up close with the ASUS Prime Z490-A

    The ASUS Prime Z490-A ships with a black PCB with a dominant white design on its I/O shield and PCH. There are also white lines that run diagonal across the board making it one of the most sought after motherboards if you’re building a white or a black and white themed build for your rig.

    Since Comet Lake-S processors have higher power draw, especially the Intel Core i9-10900K with a 125 TDP, ASUS is implementing a 12 + 2 DrMOS power phase design on the motherboard to ensure the system gets consistent power. In addition, its VRMs are cooled by two aluminum heatsinks to bring down the temperature and let the VRMs perform in tip-top condition.

    At the top left of the motherboard are its 8-pin + 4-pin 12v headers. ASUS is increasing their reliability and overall delivery by using what they call ProCool connectors. Instead of having hollow pins, the pins on the 12v headers now have solid pins that increases their draw from 7A to 10A.

    At the side of the LGA 1200 socket are four DIMM slots that can house up to four RAM sticks at dual channel. Those who require faster memory will be pleased to know that the Prime Z490-A can officially support RAM up to 4400MHz. It’s far from the 5000MHz support on some of the more exotic high-end motherboards but it is fast enough to support RAM that most people would need.

    The ASUS Prime Z490-A comes with three PCIe 3.0 x16 slots and three PCIe 3.0 x1 slots. The top two x16 slots get their bandwidth directly from the processor while the bottom x16 slot runs at only x4 courtesy of the bandwidth provided by the Z490 chipset. Depending on your preference, you can run two NVIDIA cards in SLI or three AMD GPUs in a three-way Crossfire configuration.

    Storage options come aplenty on the Prime Z490-A. In between the PCIe slots are three M.2 slots. The top can be used for PCIe 3.0 x4 and SATA III drives while the bottom M.2 slot will exclusively run PCIe 3.0 x4 drives. The latter shares bandwidth with SATA 5 and 6, which means that if you’re using the bottom slot, SATA 5 and 6 will be automatically disabled.

    Speaking of SATA, its six SATA ports are located at the right-hand side if you want to use traditional SSDs and HDDs. The last M.2 slot found on the board will only accommodate devices with WiFi adapters with an E-key.

    ASUS is implementing their built-in I/O shield on the Prime Z490-A. Previously only found on their high-end motherboards, it’s great to see for them adding the pre-installed I/O shield on midrange offerings.

    In terms of rear connectivity, the board has three USB 3.2 Gen2 Type-A ports, a single USB 3.2 Gen2 Type-C, two USB 3.2 Gen1 ports, two USB 2.0 connections, a 2.5Gb Ethernet, an Optical S/PDIF, five 3.5mm audio jacks, a DisplayPort, and HDMI.

    If that’s not enough USB ports for you, the Prime Z490-A ships with several internal I/O connections for expansion. Pins include a USB 3.2Gen2 connection, one USB 3.2 Gen1 that can accommodate up to two USB 3.2 Gen1 ports; and 2 USB 2.0 pins.

    System and Benchmarks

    Intel Core i9-10900K.

    Although the ASUS Prime Z490-A has rather beefy set of power delivery system, the sheer thermal output that the i9-10900K when overclocking produces can’t be cooled by the Cryorig R1 Universal. Despite this, the board allowed the i9-10900K to boost to its maximum clocks with the VRMs only reaching a frosty 44°C.

    Editor’s Note: The benchmarks for the ASUS Prime Z490-A will share the ones found on our Intel Core i9-10900K review as the board was used to review the processor as well.

    Test Bed
    • CPU: Intel Core i9-10900K
    • GPU: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 Founders Edition
    • RAM: Team Group T-Force Vulcan Z 2x 8GB DDR4-3200
    • Motherboard: ASUS Prime Z490-A (BIOS 0607)
    • PSU: EVGA 650 GQ Gold 650W
    • Cooler: Cryorig R1 Universal
    • OS: Windows 10 Build 1909
    • Driver Version: NVIDIA GeForce Game Ready Driver 451.49 WHQL

    Synthetic Benchmarks

    CPU-Z 1.80

    CPU-Z is a freeware that gathers information on some of the main devices of your system such as processor name and number, codename, process package, cache levels, mainboard and chipset, as well as memory type, size, timings, and module specifications. It also offers real time measurement of each core’s internal frequency and memory frequency.”

    Cinebench R15

    Cinebench R15 CPU test scenario uses all of your system’s processing power to render a photorealistic 3D scene. This scene makes use of various algorithms to stress all available processor cores. In fact, CINEBENCH can measure systems with up to 256 processor threads.This test scene contains approximately 2,000 objects which in turn contain more than 300,000 polygons in total, and uses sharp and blurred reflections, area lights, shadows, procedural shaders, antialiasing, and much more. The result is displayed in points (pts). The higher the number, the faster your processor.”

    7-Zip 16.04

    7-Zip is a file archiver with a high compression ratio for ZIP and GZIP formats, which is between 2 to 10% better than its peers, depending on the exact data tested. And 7-Zip boosts its very own 7z archive format that also offers a significantly higher compression ratio than its peers—up to 40% higher.”

    wPrime v2.10

    wPrime is a leading multithreaded benchmark for x86 processors that tests your processor performance by calculating square roots with a recursive call of Newton’s method for estimating functions, with f(x)=x2-k, where k is the number we’re searching, until Sgn(f(x)/f'(x)) does not equal that of the previous iteration, starting with an estimation of k/2. It then uses an iterative calling of the estimation method a set amount of times to increase the accuracy of the results. It then confirms that n(k)2=k to ensure the calculation was correct. It repeats this for all numbers from 1 to the requested maximum.”

    3DMark Fire Strike

    Designed to showcase the DirectX 11 API, the Futuremark 3DMark Firestrike became a standard in benchmarking as it not only tests the capabilities of the GPU, but also the capabilities of the whole system for a complete stress test.”

    3DMark Time Spy

    With its pure DirectX 12 engine, built from the ground up to support new API features like asynchronous compute, explicit multi-adapter, and multi-threading, Time Spy is the ideal benchmark for testing the DirectX 12 performance of modern graphics cards.

    Gaming Benchmarks

    In order to deliver more precise data, we’re shifting our data collection methods to CapFrameX. Not only does CapFrameX record the average FPS of games but it can also show frame times to see if there’s any significant dips in performance that can differentiate a smooth gaming experience to a one marred with inconsistent stutters.

    Based on the data we’ve gathered from the three gaming benchmarks we put the i9-10900K through, it seems that the processor is able to keep up with any kind of gaming workloads. Its performance allowed the GPU to redline to the max to achieve the most possible framerates.

    Frametimes remained consistently low without any significant dips in performance littered across the chart. This means that even though there are dips in performance, the framerates remained consistent enough to remain smooth while in-game.

    As you can see from the benchmarks, the ASUS Prime Z490-A allows the Intel Core i9-10900K to perform in tip-top shape. Though we can’t overclock the processor to its absolute limit as of now, we’re confident that the motherboard can push the i9-10900K to 5.2GHz on all cores safely.

    Conclusion

    Although the ASUS Prime Z490-A is only a midrange motherboard, its feature set and added power delivery systems allow for it to become more than a serviceable board. It’s also one of three motherboards from ASUS that has a white aesthetic if you’re building a rig with that kind of theme in mind.

    Priced at USD 320, the ASUS Prime Z490-A is a decent board for the money with its expansive feature sets, uncommon colorway, as well as the ability to competently house one of the flagships of the Comet Lake-S processors. With these in mind, we’re giving it our seal of approval.

    If you’re looking to upgrade to an Intel Comet Lake-S processor and are looking for a motherboard that won’t break the bank and comes with a ton of offerings, you can’t go wrong with the ASUS Prime Z490-A.

     

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