Here is the latest update to our list of recommended Intel motherboards in our series of motherboards buyers guides. All numbers in the text are updated to reflect pricing at the time of writing.
Best Intel Motherboards: March 2021
Intel has announced that its latest processors are coming on March 30th, and Z590 motherboard models are already starting to appear at retailers. As we approach a new cycle for Intel’s new Z590 chipset, the current state of the PC market from a buyer’s perspective hasn’t been this bad for a long time, with graphics cards in high demand and second-hand options way overpriced. Focusing on motherboards, our Intel motherboard guide focuses mainly on Z490 models, mainly due to maturity and costs in the market. With PCIe 4.0 coming to Rocket Lake, some Z490 are already equipped with this and will be enabled through a BIOS update, but some Z490 are not. We make our recommendations for March based on our research, as well as availability.
Here are our choices in the motherboard market for Intel. For AMD recommendations, head on over to our AMD guide. This is usually updated monthly.
|Intel Motherboards Recommendations
|Intel ‘Clean Mix of Price/Features’ Motherboard|
|MSI MPG Z590
Gaming Carbon WiFi
|GIGABYTE Z490 Aorus Ultra||$340||$340||$300|
|Intel Value Motherboard|
|MSI Z490-A Pro||$155||$170||$160|
|Favorite Intel Mini-ITX Motherboard|
|ASRock Z490 Phantom
|Intel ‘Money is no Object’ Motherboard|
|MSI MEG Z590 Godlike||–||$1000||$1019|
Our recommendations for motherboards are based entirely on personal and professional opinion. There are notably many different motherboards across the Intel chipsets including B460, Z490, the latest Z590, and the workstation focused W480 chipset. Some of our choices and options here are also limited by what stock is available.
Best Intel Motherboard For Gaming/Performance
In this instance, we are recommending both a Z590 and Z490 model as Rocket Lake is incoming, but stock of Z590 seems to be a limiting factor right now. Our recommended Z490 board seems to be going in and out of stock and we expect the Z590 stock to land sometime this month.
Z490: GIGABYTE Z490 Aorus Ultra ($340 at Amazon/$340 at Newegg)
If we are looking for a model that blends price, performance, and functionality, then there are many high-quality products to choose. Performance is one angle for comparison, as well as controller set, the power delivery, and expansion slot support – keeping all these in mind while being reasonable with price can be a difficult task. One model which stands out is the GIGABYTE Z490 Aorus Ultra which is designed for gamers but has the versatility to be the foundation for a solid high-performance system with a good feature set at a mid-market price too – if you can find one that is.
The GIGABYTE Z490 Aorus Ultra sits below the more premium GIGABYTE Z490 Aorus Master in the product stack but keeps much of the same in regards to feature set and capability. In terms of controllers, the GIGABYTE Z490 Aorus Ultra includes an Intel I225-V 2.5 GbE Ethernet controller, with support from an Intel AX201 interface which adds Wi-Fi 6 and BT 5.1 connectivity. Also on the rear panel is a single USB 3.2 G2 20 Gbps Type-C port, with three USB 3.2 G2 Type-A, two USB 3.2 G1 Type-A, and four USB 2.0 ports. There are four memory slots with support for up to 128 GB, with official support for up to DDR4-4800 which is great for a mid-range model. For storage, there’s three PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 slots with each slot inclusive of its own M.2 heatsink, and six SATA ports which include support for RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 arrays.
The GIGABYTE Z490 Aorus Ultra has an MSRP of $300 but both Newegg and Amazon are currently listing it for $340. This seems to be a temporary issue that is plaguing a lot of models at present, with stock levels just not enough to keep up with the demand. Despite the discrepancy in the price, it’s still a decent board with a combination of premium features.
Z590: MSI MPG Z590 Gaming Carbon WiFi (MSRP $324)
Despite Intel’s latest Z590 models either not being available at retail, or fully announced, one model that piqued our interest in the mid-range is the MSI MPG Z590 Gaming Carbon WiFi. Typically positioned at the mid-range, the Z590 Gaming Carbon WiFi has plenty of features and at the time of writing, is a very good alternative to Z490 models.
Some of its main features include three M.2 slots, with one PCIe 4.0 x4 M.2 and two with support for PCIe 3.0 x4 and SATA drives. Typical of a mid-range Z590 model, there’s Intel’s new AX210 Wi-Fi 6E CNVi and one Intel I225-V 2.5 GbE controller which is now a staple for most vendors in the way of networking. The rear panel includes one USB 3.2 G2x2 Type-C port which is now native to Intel’s Z590 chipset, as well as three USB 3.2 G2 Type-A, two USB 3.2 G1 Type-A, and four USB 2.0 ports. MSI is using a Realtek ALC1220 HD audio codec for its onboard audio solution, and also includes a small, but handy BIOS Flashback button on the rear panel.
Although there isn’t yet a comprehensive list of Z590 pricing at this time, the MSI MPG Z590 Gaming Carbon WiFi looks set to include a ‘reasonable’ MSRP of $324.
Best Intel Motherboard: The Value Option
MSI Z490-A Pro ($155 at Amazon/$170 at Newegg)
The term ‘value’ can be taken any different ways, as it can be related to budget but with plenty of quality, or it can be relative to how much money is available. Prices of high-end motherboards have increased over the years – I remember when a high-end board would cost $175! But today the top chipsets are only near that price at the bottom of the stack.
With lots of Intel LGA1200 chipsets available with the H410, B460, H470, and Z490, there are a lot of solid contenders in this particular area. My pick for value is the MSI Z490-A Pro. This isn’t on a budget-based Intel chipset such as H410, but it allows users to overclock and squeeze out more performance from the 10th generation Comet Lake processors. The MSI Z490-A Pro is one of the cheapest Z490 models available on the market and has a solid feature set for the price. This includes a 12-phase power delivery, a Realtek ALC1200 HD audio codec, two PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 slots, a Realtek 2.5 GbE Ethernet controller and a single USB 3.2 G2 Type-C port on the rear panel.
The biggest feature of note on the MSI Z490-A Pro is the power delivery, with a 12-phase design as well as the inclusion of a Realtek RTL8125B 2.5 GbE Ethernet controller. It also includes a solid budget storage configuration with six SATA slots and two PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 slots, with one slot coming with a heatsink, and the other reliant on the user installing one, or going for passive cooling. The rear panel is pretty standard for a board of this caliber, with a single USB 3.2 G2 Type-A, five USB 3.2 G1 Type-A, and two USB 2.0 ports. It includes an HDMI and DisplayPort video output pairing for users looking to leverage Intel’s UHD integrated graphics, as well as six 3.5 mm audio jacks powered by a Realtek ALC1200 HD audio codec.
Despite the existence of the budget-focused H410, H470, and B460 chipsets, none of them officially support overclocking or memory faster than the default JEDEC specifications. When combining a Comet Lake desktop processor with adequate cooling, can offer excellent performance. The MSI Z490-A Pro isn’t just one of the cheapest Z490 models with an MSRP of $160, but it’s actually solid on paper too, for both overclocking and with a host of value-orientated features, but still more than capable controller set for a board at this price point. The Z490-A Pro is currently available for $155 at Amazon and $170 Newegg, so we recommend buying it from Amazon. Its biggest competition comes via the equally impressive GIGABYTE Z490 Gaming X model at $160, but it lacks the 2.5 GbE Ethernet controller and instead opts for an Intel Gigabit controller, and uses a USB 3.2 G2 Type-A instead of the Type-C on the MSI.
Best Intel Motherboard: The Best Mini-ITX Motherboard
ASRock Z490 Phantom Gaming-ITX/TB3 ($200 at Amazon/$269 at Newegg)
There are just six Z490 mini-ITX models to select from for small form factor enthusiasts and gamers, and one of our favorites is from ASRock. These models are generally popular with enthusiasts looking for a solid balance of features, good quality componentry, and pricing. The ASRock Z490 Phantom Gaming-ITX/TB3 is an update over the previous Z390 model, with a similar feature set, but designed for Intel’s LGA1200 socket.
Out of the small handful of available mini-ITX Z490 motherboards, only two include Thunderbolt 3 connectivity on the rear panel: the ASRock Z490 Phantom Gaming-ITX/TB3 and the MSI MEG Z490I Unify. The reason for selecting the similarly priced ASRock over the MSI, having seen numerous ASRock mini-ITX models over the years, including the Z390 Phantom Gaming-ITX/ac before, we know what to expect from ASRock and it’s a feature-packed model for its size. Aside from the single Thunderbolt 3 Type-C connector on the rear panel, it includes a Realtek RTL8125BG 2.5 GbE Ethernet controller and Intel AX201 Wi-Fi 6 interface pairing for the networking, as well as supporting up to two PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 drives, one on the front and another slot on the rear.
Also on the rear panel are five 3.5 mm audio jacks and S/PDIF optical output powered by a premium Realtek ALC1220 HD audio codec and three USB 3.2 G2 Type-A and two USB 3.2 G1 Type-A ports. A handily located clear CMOS button is featured in the middle of the rear panel, with a PS/2 keyboard and mouse combo port, and two video outputs including a DisplayPort and HDMI pairing, although the Thunderbolt 3 Type-C port can also output video. The ASRock also supports up to DDR4-4666 officially, with a maximum capacity of up to 64 GB across two memory slots. In addition to the two PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 slots are four SATA ports with support for RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 arrays.
The ASRock Z490 Phantom Gaming-ITX/TB3 is a solid motherboard for enthusiasts to overclock on with its 8+2 phase power delivery, as well as the potential foundation for a monstrous single graphics card gaming system. The Z490 Phantom Gaming-ITX/TB3 has an MSRP of $280 and is currently available at Amazon with a very attractive price tag of $200, and $269 at Newegg. In regards to the competition, we reviewed the MSI Z490I Unify ($270) with a similar feature set and a 10-layer PCB, as well as the GIGABYTE Z490I Aorus Ultra ($270). The ASUS ROG Strix Z490-I Gaming is slightly more expensive with an MSRP of $300, but the ASRock is our pick in regards to Intel-based mini-ITX boards for September.
One important thing to consider is boards such as the ASRock Z490 Phantom Gaming-ITX/TB3 make solid options for Rocket Lake, as it includes the capability for PCIe 4.0 with one of the M.2 slots, and the full-length PCIe x16 slot. For $200, it’s very difficult to find a mini-ITX board that’s as feature-packed, so if you need a small LGA1200 board, this is what we recommend while stocks last.
Best Intel Motherboard: Money Is No Object
MSI MEG Z590 Godlike (N/A at Amazon/$1000 at Newegg)
Our previous pick for our ‘money is no object’ was the MSI MEG Z490 Godlike which sat at the top of MSI’s desktop offerings as a worthy flagship. With Intel’s new Rocket Lake processors coming at the end of this month, stock of Z590 is thin on the ground, to say the least. We expect this to pick up going into April, but one model which is currently available at Newegg is MSI’s new flagship model, the MEG Z590 Godlike.
The MSI MEG Z590 Godlike is a fantastic example of a premium flagship model with plenty of aesthetic upgrades over the previous Z490 version. This includes MSI’s improved Dynamic Dashboard II which blends in seamlessly with the black and silver design. Users looking for plenty of RGB LED will appreciate a large customizable RGB MSI Dragon logo on the rear panel cover, with a funky new triangular shaped set of LEDs built into the chipset heatsink.
MSI has opted for a very overkill power delivery which consists of a direct 20-phase design just for the CPU, with premium 90 A power stages and a pair of 8-pin 12 V ATX CPU power inputs. Other features include a pair of full-length PCIe 4.0 slots operating at x16 and x8/x8, with another full-length PCIe 3.0 x4 slot located along the bottom of the board. For storage, there are four PCIe M.2 slots, including one operating at PCIe 4.0 x4 and three with support for PCIe 3.0 x4 and SATA drives. MSI also includes six SATA ports with support for RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 arrays.
The MSI MEG Z590 Godlike has official support for DDR4-5333 memory with Rocket Lake which is an improvement over the last generation, with a total capacity of up to 128 GB available across four memory slots. Rear panel connectivity is also impressive with Intel’s latest Thunderbolt 4 controller providing two Type-C and two mini-DisplayPort inputs, as well as two USB 3.2 G2 Type-A, and six USB 3.2 G1 Type-A ports. The Z590 Godlike also offers dual Ethernet with one Aquantia AQC107 10 Gb and an Intel I225-V 2.5 Gb controller pairing, as well as Intel’s newest AX210 Wi-Fi 6E CNVi for access to the 6 GHz Wi-Fi band and BT 5.2 connectivity. It is also using Realtek’s ALC1220 HD audio codec which adds support for 7.1 surround sound via five 3.5 mm audio jacks and one S/PDIF optical output.
The MSI MEG Z590 Godlike has an MSRP of $1019 and at present, it’s available at Newegg for $1000. Stock worldwide for components is sketchy, to say the least. We do expect stock of the Z590 Godlike along with other Z590 models to filter into retail channels quicker as Rocket Lake’s processor launch looms at the end of the month. As it stands, the MSI MEG Z590 Godlike is the only flagship model even listed on Newegg currently, with Amazon’s listings also being slim pickings too. That being said, MSI has increased the price of its flagship model for Intel’s latest desktop model from $750 to $1000-$1017, and judging by what’s on offer, it’s easy to see where the money has been spent.
Z590: The Future (Coming Soon)
We’ve covered as much as we can in our Z590 overview before we can get one of the new Rocket Lake processors into test, and no doubt when that platform comes into bloom, we’ll be examining them even more closely when it comes to our buyers guides.
Is there a particular Z590 model that you think we should review? Please let us know in the comments below.