NZXT have long been the purveyors of excellent cases and, with their Kraken range, some fantastic CPU cooling options too.
Recently we’ve seen them branch out into the world of motherboards, and today they launched two new additions. The NZXT N5 Z690 is the more affordable of the two and hasn’t got that famous, sleek, white armour that is the hallmark of the NZXT range, whilst for a tiny bit extra you can get the full on N7 Z690 model, which has the armour and a much more serious feature set too.
Like with many things it would be easy for NZXT to leverage their brand loyalty amongst consumers to produce a product which has a high ticket price for maximum profit, understanding that the hardcore will buy it anyway. Or at least those of us who are keen to keep the amount of brands within our system at a minimum to reduce the number of control software packages we need to have installed. As anyone who has a Corsair/ASUS combination can attest, having many things trying to control your lighting can become troublesome. Why not keep it all under one roof? That’s what the NZXT motherboards seek to bring to the table.
It isn’t the only feather in their cap, or string to their bow depending on if you prefer metaphorical hats or archery, as both the N7 and N5 are aggressively priced. So aggressively in fact – the N5 is £210 and the N7 £270 – that you would have to be on an extremely tight budget, but somehow still seeking to run a 12th Gen Intel CPU, to consider the lower of the two models. Both of them are DDR4 offerings which might be starting to be moved out of what is considered current at your retailer of choice but is thankfully still plentiful enough that the affordability of a DDR4 kit hasn’t been inflated because of its scarcity.
We know we’re a few hours post launch so without further ado let’s take a look at them and then see how they perform.
We’ve got the specifications for the N7 here. the N5 is very similar in the majority of things, just with fewer USB ports and fan headers. Plus you’re not getting the white armour which is the main reason to go with the NZXT options. We’ll show you on the next two pages.
Up Close Part One
As these are by no means the first NZXT motherboards we’ve reviewed we’re familiar with the white and purple packaging. The N7 itself looks just like the others we’ve seen, which make the N5 look somewhat naked in comparison.
When you’re at this end of the price spectrum you don’t get masses of accessories in the box, and both the N5 and N7 have the same. But with an M.2 screw set, WiFi antenna and the requisite SATA cables you don’t actually need anything else. Most of us have a motherboard box somewhere full of things we never use, so we don’t mind paying a little less and only getting what we need.
We know that there is a £60 difference between the two, but we think it’s fair to say that the N5 – the bottom of these two pictures – looks like a £210 motherboard whilst the N7 above has that gorgeous armour and looks like a much more expensive model. This is particularly true when you look at the pricing of higher end Z690 motherboards around. It’s very attractive and would look perfect in an NZXT case.
Despite being both based around the Z690 chipset the design is surprisingly different. Both have 8+4 pin CPU power inputs and the connectors that allow you to plug in your NZXT cooler and lighting into the CAM Ecosystem directly. The N5 has a 8+1 DrMOS power phase design, whilst the N7 goes with 12+1 DrMOS.
When you move lower down the board the difference become more plain. The N5 has different placement of front panel USB options and fewer fan headers for that all-important cool airflow. It’s tough to escape the stripped down aesthetic of the N5 when compared to its big brother though. That armour hides a multitude of sins. Not actually of course, just it’s obvious both are priced at a certain point from the amount of extra gubbins, but the N7 makes these less obvious.
Up Close Part Two
Looking in more detail you can see that the N5 has a tiny bit less in the way of fan headers. The N7 also has a slightly better arrangement for the ease of keeping your system tidy. It’s not that the N5 is bad, but it perhaps shows its affordable nature a little more than the N7.
Both motherboards only offer 4 SATA ports, which is slightly strange given that they are based upon the Z690 chipset. It’s not like the Intel 12th Gen is short of lanes to control it all.
The bottom edge also shows off the extra fan headers you get with the N7. Both have the single PCI Express 5.0 slot at the top with the other two full length slots being PCI Express 4.0. Has anyone got anything in their bottom two slots? We haven’t. Perhaps it’s less of a real-world issue than it might appear on paper.
Lastly around the back you get a suite of USB ports for all your connection needs, as well as an Intel 2.5G LAN and their AX210 Wi-Fi 6E. It’s not a massive amount of USB ports, but at this end of the market its very much in keeping with its competitors.
NZXT N7 Z690
NZXT N5 Z690
DDR4 – Corsair Dominator Platinum 3600 MHz
Intel Core i9-12900K
Windows 11 64bit
Sabrent 4TB Rocket Plus
Nvidia RTX 2080Ti
Corsair H150i with Noctua 3000 RPM fans
The two motherboards are so similar, as is the case with all the Z690 chipset options, that we’ll just be showing off the N7 today. We’ve tested the N5 enough to see that the pair were basically identical, so rather than fill our graphs with two motherboards producing the same results we’ll combine them under a single result.
Since its early days as Everest, AIDA64 has provided an excellent way to benchmark your system without requiring you to take a week off work whilst the tests run. From the memory bandwidth benchmarks which test your throughput, to the CPU benchmarks which vary in scope to test everything from raw calculation – CPU Queen – through compression algorithms – zLib – and the all important encryption – AES256.
It’s worth bearing in mind that the ASUS TUF, ASUS Strix and NZXT results are obtained utilising DDR4, so naturally the memory has better latency but worse overall throughput.
Sandra performs a similar function to AIDA64, but it tests it in a different manner which gives us an excellent overview of the whole setup and how well rounded it is. The tests take longer than the AIDA64 ones, but that just makes them more likely to trip up a poorly implemented overclock, or weed out any hidden depths.
Blender is a free rendering program that is supremely powerful. If you ever find yourself wondering why 3D elements take so long to create in films or games, a moment with Blender will show how much raw horsepower you need to perform even the simplest tasks. We have our own custom blend render available in both 1080P and 4K. The 4K one will bring even the hardiest setup to its knees.
Cinebench has been a staple of the OC3D benchmark suite since we began and it is very good at testing both the single threaded performance as well as the overall thread count of your setup, regardless of which version you choose to run. Watching it on high core count CPUs is spectacular.
The middle version of Maxon’s rendering engine tests both single core performance as well as the multi-threaded option. We have graphs sorted by both the full multithreaded score as well as single threaded result for those of you who want to see how the Efficient-Cores match up to the Performance-Cores.
Although we never saw R21 or R22 in benchmark form, Cinebench R23 is the newest edition available to us. It uses the same scene as the R20 benchmark – an office – but tests it slightly differently behind the scenes. Naturally we’ve got both multicore and single-core sorting for your delectation.
One only needs to glance at the amount of content available on the internet from simple cat videos through to incredibly complicated films and gaming footage to realise how important fast video encoding is and the x.265 benchmark does a good job of testing that. If you prefer your encoder to be of the H variety then the HEVC benchmark does a similar thing to the x.265 benchmark but instead of running with the x265 encoder it utilises the popular H.265 format which is rapidly becoming the standard for video encoding.
3DMARK: Time Spy Extreme
Time Spy is another part of the 3D Mark suite but here in its Extreme guise it’s as taxing as you could wish for. We’re also including the CPU Score here as it’s a better representation of the systems capabilities which is what our Z690 reviews are attempting to show.
Gaming – Average FPS
Our gaming benchmarks are the real world application of the results we’ve seen on the preceding page. Civilization VI is all about how long it takes to calculate a complex turn. Far Cry 5 is a good all-rounder and Far Cry 6 has more modern technology pushing the pixels. Shadow of the Tomb Raider stretches every facet of your setup. Total Warhammer II has a complex battle scene for stern tests of the CPU as well as the GPU.
CPU and VRM Temperatures
There is no question that the latest Intel processors run hot. The 11th generation did and the 12th gen are no different. Sturdy cooling solutions, especially on the Core i9-12900K we’re using here, are a must. We wondered when we saw the beefy nature of the Z690 VRM heatsinks and the huge Ampage if the temperatures would skyrocket, but thankfully they are under control regardless of your motherboard choice.
Despite so many cores being available to you the power efficiency, long an Intel strong point, continues to be excellent here. Only overclocking your Core i9 causes things to get heavy on your energy bill.
If you’ve been in the market for a new system throughout the past couple of years when the world was in lockdown, or more recently as a reward to yourself for making it safely out of the other side, you’ll be aware that pricing is not the most consumer friendly thing at the moment. Additionally with a product like the NZXT motherboard range being good for everyone but particularly designed for those of you who own an NZXT case – such as the H7 group we reviewed here – they could be forgiven for leaning heavily upon their install base to squeeze a few extra Shekels out of them.
Thankfully this isn’t the case with the NZXT N5 Z690 just peeping above the two hundred pound mark, whilst the N7 is only sixty quid more. With both of them utilising DDR4 they are perfect for those of you who haven’t got unlimited funds but still want to take advantage of the latest Intel chipset and 12th Generation CPUs, whilst not spending through the nose on some memory with only questionable benefits this early in its lifespan. Of course having DDR4 does somewhat limit any futureproofing, but Intel nearly always throw their old sockets away with the next CPUs, so it isn’t as much of an issue here as it might be on the AMD platform as there is little future to proof against with Intel (i.e it’s not that upgradable by design).
However, whilst the NZXT efforts might be coming late in the life cycle of the Z690 chipset, that doesn’t mean that you are losing out on any performance. As we saw throughout our testing both the N5 and N7 are equivalent to nearly all the more famous brands, with only the true flagship models providing any gap on the field. None of them cost anything like the money that the NZXT pairing do though. You’re getting, particularly with the N7, a motherboard that would be twice the price if it came with a ROG logo. Additionally the design is perfect for the NZXT cases, and by allowing you to install your NZXT RGB lighting directly in to the motherboard and controlling it with their vastly improved CAM software you’re getting an easy build and system to run for your money.
If it was down to us we’d go with the N7. The N5 is perfectly fine and looks exactly like many other motherboards in the price bracket that starts with a 2, but the N7 utilises the NZXT Armour to really be a much more pleasing motherboard to look at. The extra cooling headers, beefier power section and greater selection of USB ports also score big points for us. The price difference between the two isn’t anything like you might expect for all those extra features, and if you’re planning to go to the 12th Gen you understand there will be some cost involved. The NZXT N7 Z690 is still super-affordable, but with the feature set and looks of something costing at least a hundred more. Something you could put towards one of their Kraken AIOs, or the NZXT case range itself.
The newest NZXT N5 and N7 Z690 motherboards might not shake up the world with class-leading performance or any revolutionary features, but if you want to get on board the Alder Lake train without breaking the bank they are excellent value and win our OC3D Value For Money awards.
The NZXT N5 Z690 is £209.99, whilst the N7 Z690 has an MSRP of £269.99.