After almost a decade of total market dominance, Intel has spent the past few years on the defensive. AMD’s Ryzen processors continue to show improvement year over year, with the most recent Ryzen 5000 series taking the crown of best gaming processor: Intel’s last bastion of superiority.
Now, with a booming hardware market, Intel is preparing to retake some of that lost ground with the new 11th Gen Core Processors. Intel is claiming these new 11th Gen CPUs offer double-digit IPC improvements despite remaining on a 14 nm process. The top-end 8-core Intel Core i9-11900K may not be able to compete against its AMD rival Ryzen 9 5900X in heavily multi-threaded scenarios, but the higher clock speeds and alleged IPC improvements could be enough to take back the gaming crown. Along with the new CPUs, there is a new chipset to match, the Intel Z590. Last year’s Z490 chipset motherboards are also compatible with the new 11th Gen Core Processors, but Z590 brings some key advantages.
First, Z590 offers native PCIe 4.0 support from the CPU, which means the PCIe and M.2 slots powered off the CPU will offer PCIe 4.0 connectivity when an 11th Gen CPU is installed. The PCIe and M.2 slots controlled by the Z590 chipset are still PCI 3.0. While many high-end Z490 motherboards advertised this capability, it was not a standard feature for the platform. In addition to PCIe 4.0 support, Z590 offers USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 from the chipset. The USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 standard offers speeds of up to 20 Gb/s. Finally, Z590 boasts native support for 3200 MHz DDR4 memory. With these upgrades, Intel’s Z series platform has feature parity with AMD’s B550. On paper, Intel is catching up to AMD, but only testing will tell if these new Z590 motherboards are up to the challenge.
The AORUS line from Gigabyte spans a broad range of products: laptops, peripherals, and core components. Across the enthusiast spectrum, the AORUS name denotes Gigabyte’s gaming-focused products, with the AORUS motherboard range featuring a consistent naming scheme that includes the Pro, Elite, Ultra, Master, and Extreme motherboards. Within this lineup, the AORUS Pro AX is Gigabyte’s mainstream offering with a strong feature set and palatable price.
The Gigabyte Z590 AORUS Pro AX features an impressive direct 13-phase VRM utilizing 90 A power stages and Gigabyte’s signature finned cooling solution. An ample helping of USB ports as well as 2.5 Gb/s Ethernet and four M.2 slots promote superior connectivity, while Gigabyte’s signature AORUS styling provides an attractive, neutral platform to build on. The Gigabyte Z590 AORUS Pro AX is promising on paper, so let’s see how it performs in practice!
|CPU Support:||Intel 10th Gen/ 11th Gen Core Processors|
|Power Design:||CPU Power: 13-phase*
Memory Power: 2-phase
|Integrated Graphics:||Dependent on installed CPU|
|Memory:||4x DIMM, supports dual-channel DDR4-5400 (OC) MHz|
|BIOS:||Dual AMI UEFI BIOS|
|Expansion Slots:||3x PCIe 3.0 x16 slots (x16/x0/x4 or x8/x8/x4)|
|Storage:||6x SATA 6 Gb/s ports
4x M.2 ports (SATA3/PCIe x4)
|Networking:||1x Intel 2.5 Gbps LAN
1x Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX210
|Rear Ports:||1x USB Type-C® port, with USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 support
4x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A ports (red)
4x USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports
4x USB 2.0/1.1 ports
2x SMA antenna connectors (2T2R)
1x RJ-45 port
1x optical S/PDIF Out connector
5x audio jacks
|Audio:||1x Realtek ALC4080 codec|
|Fan Headers:||8x 4-pin|
|Form Factor:||ATX Form Factor: 12.0 x 9.6 in.; 30.5 x 24.4 cm|
Packaging and Contents
The front of the Gigabyte Z590 AORUS Pro AX box features a dark background dominated by the AORUS logo. “Z590 AORUS Pro AX gaming motherboard” is printed in white and orange on the left side, with the brand badging on the right.
The back of the box has all the highlights: a top-down shot of the board, several panels detailing prominent features, a shot of the rear I/O, and the specifications list. The box design is well executed and matches the board perfectly.
The accessories are above standard and include extras like RGB extension cables, thermistors, and Gigabyte’s G-Connector. Notably absent is any kind of rear I/O shield because the shield is integrated into the board.
The full list of accessories includes:
- AORUS badge
- 4x SATA 6 Gb/s cables
- Thermistor cable pack
- RGB extension cable
- Wi-Fi antenna
The Z590 AORUS Pro AX features a black PCB matched with a black and gray I/O cover and heatsinks.
The CPU socket is open enough for most air coolers. The VRM features a finned heatsink design with direct touch heatpipes to maximize cooling performance.
There are four M.2 slots on the Gigabyte Z590 AORUS Pro AX. All four slots feature double-sided full-coverage heatsinks.
Note that the top M.2 slot is PCIe 4.0 compliant and will only function when an 11th Gen CPU is installed.
The Gigabyte Z590 AORUS Pro AX offers three PCI Express x16 slots. The top slot is metal-reinforced and PCIe 4.0 compliant, while the bottom two slots are PCIe 3.0 only. The board has a total of six SATA 6 Gb/s ports on the side, angled 90 degrees from the board.
The Gigabyte Z590 AORUS Pro AX has a good I/O offering that includes an optical S/PDIF Out port, Wi-Fi 6, and lots of USB connectivity.
- USB Type-C port with USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 support
- 4x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A ports (red)
- 4x USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports
- 4x USB 2.0/1.1 ports
- 2x SMA antenna connectors (2T2R)
- RJ-45 port
- optical S/PDIF Out connector
- 5x audio jacks
Networking on the Gigabyte Z590 AORUS Pro AX is handled by an Intel 2.5 Gb/s controller. For wireless connectivity, there is an AX201 Wi-Fi 6 module.
VRM Specifications Power Design: Vcore: 12-phase
SOC: 1 phase
Doublers: N/A CPU PWM: Intersil ISL69269 (x+y=12)
Power Stages: Vcore: Intersil ISL99390 (90 A)
SOC: Vishay SIC649A (50 A)
The Gigabyte Z590 AORUS Pro AX features a 13-phase VRM configuration not including VCCSA phases. 12 phases are for the Vcore and one phase for the SOC.
Gigabyte is using an Intersil ISL69269 PWM controller to drive the Vcore on the Z590 AORUS Pro AX, while an RAA229001 controls the single SOC phase independently.
The Gigabyte Z590 AORUS Pro AX uses Intersil ISL99390 power stages for the 12 Vcore phases. These power stages are top of the line and support a maximum of 90 A of continuous current each. The SOC is powered by a Vishay SIC649A 50 A power stage.
The Gigabyte Z590 AORUS Pro AX has a maximum output of 1,130 A, with 1,080 A dedicated to Vcore.
Clocks Range Interval BCLK Frequency: 80 MHz … 500 MHz 0.01 MHz CPU Ratio: 8 … 127 1 Memory Dividers: 800 MHz … 8400 MHz Voltages Range Interval CPU Voltage: 1.1 V … 1.8 V 0.005 V DRAM Voltage: 1.00 V … 2.00 V 0.01 V
The BIOS on the Gigabyte Z590 AORUS Pro AX is similar to Gigabyte’s previous offerings; it is easy to navigate and has tons of customization options.
For software, Gigabyte has included App Center, which serves as a hub for other applications, as well as Fusion RGB for lighting control.
EasyTune is for in-OS overclocking.
System Information Viewer is used for hardware monitoring and fan control.
RGB Fusion 2.0 is for lighting control.
Fan Control and Options
Fan Type Range Interval CPU Fan 0 … 100 1% System Fan 0 … 100 1%
Fan speed is controlled by temperature, actual minimums dependent on fan ability.
Fan control on the Gigabyte Z590 AORUS Pro AX can be accessed in the BIOS and System Information Viewer.
The Gigabyte Z590 AORUS Pro AX has a total of eight fan headers; four along the top edge of the board, one next to the 24-pin connector, and three more along the bottom edge.
The Gigabyte Z590 AORUS Pro AX has a neutral black and gray theme that is easy to match and will compliment a wide range of components.
The RGB on the Gigabyte Z590 AORUS Pro AX is limited to a single zone over the rear I/O. Diffusion is excellent, but the brightness and effects could be improved. Overall, the implementation feels dated.
Test System Processor: Intel Core i9-10900K
5.3 GHz (maximum Boost clock), 20 MB Cache
Intel Core i9-11900K
5.3 GHz (maximum Boost clock), 16 MB Cache
Memory: 2x 8 GB DDR4 3600 MHz
G.SKILL Trident Z Neo F4-3600C16Q-32GTZN
Cooling: Custom loop: Swiftech Apogee SKF LT block,
Bitspower SC6 pump, and 360 mm radiator
BIOS Version: F6d Graphics Card: EVGA RTX 2080 FTW3 Ultra Harddisk: 1x Crucial MX500 500 GB SATA 6 Gb/s SSD (OS)
1x Crucial P1 1000 GB NVMe SSD (data)
1x Crucial P1 1000 GB NVMe SSD (external I/O testing)
Power Supply: Seasonic Titanium 1000 W Case: Primochill Praxis Wetbench Software: Windows 10 Pro 64-bit, NVIDIA GeForce 452.06 WHQL
For 11th Gen testing, I have left the board at its default settings except to enable XMP. Notably, I have left the “Gear” setting on auto. Most boards ran my 3600 MHz kit in Gear 1 (synchronous) mode, but a few ran it in Gear 2 (1:2) mode.
The Gigabyte Z590 AORUS Pro AX lives up to the standards I expect from modern motherboards and has the extras I like to see—namely, the S/PDIF Out port.
RMAA results are below:
RightMark Audio Analyzer
Storage Support SATA: 6x 6 Gb/s Intel Z590 M.2 (32 Gb/s): 4x PCIe x4, SATA Intel Z590 USB (rear): 4x USB 3.2 Gen1
4x USB 2.0
1x USB 3.2 Gen2x2 20 Gb/s
4x USB 3.2 Gen2 10 Gb/s
Intel Z590 USB (internal): 2x USB 3.2 Gen1
4x USB 2.0
1x USB 3.2 Gen2 Type-C
The Gigabyte Z590 AORUS Pro AX has a good complement of storage options and performed well in my testing.
HDTune Pro (SATA 6 Gb/s)
HDTune Pro (USB3.0 Front Panel)
HDTune Pro (USB 3.1 Type-C)
HDTune Pro (NVMe M.2)
3DMark Time Spy and Fire Strike
Shadow of the Tomb Raider
For overclocking, I have kept the same procedures as for Intel’s 10th generation. I have left the “Gear” setting on auto for memory overclocking. Every board tested so far has used “Gear 2” when pushing past the 3600 MHz XMP speed for my Trident Z Neo kit.
The Gigabyte Z590 AORUS Pro AX showed a fair bit of headroom for overclocking, at least for short runs of wPrime. I was able to achieve 5.2 GHz at 1.38 V core voltage on my i9-10900K and 5.1 GHz on the i9-11900K sample. Overclocking is largely limited by temperature because the Intel Core i9 processors will overpower any ambient cooling solution. Depending on settings, the system will either crash or severely drop frequency.
For memory overclocking, the Gigabyte Z590 AORUS Pro AX performed about average, reaching 3900 MHz stable at XMP timings and voltages on my Trident Z Neo kit with my i9-10900K, and 3800 MHz on my i9-11900K.
Gigabyte has a feature that auto-tunes the memory timings to maintain stability when overclocking. While I disabled it for my test to keep the benchmark standardized, I think it is a great feature for new overclockers because it gives them a starting point for their manual tuning.
Power Consumption and Temperatures
Stock CPU, 3600 MHz Memory CPU Voltage: 1.270 V DRAM Voltage: 1.35 V Idle Power: 7 W Load Power: 248 W VRM Temperature: 45.2°C Chipset Temperature: 37.2°C 4.9 GHz CPU, 3600 MHz Memory CPU Voltage: 1.38 V DRAM Voltage: 1.35 V Idle Power: 18 W Load Power: 250 W
Power draw and thermal testing were conducted with my i9-10900K sample.
With the test bench update, I have also overhauled my temperature measurement methodology. For measurement, I now use a Reed SD-947 4-channel Data Logging Thermometer paired with four Omega Engineering SA1 Self Adhesive Thermocouple probes. One probe directly touches the chipset and two are placed on select power stages. The last probe actively logs the ambient temperature.
For the Gigabyte Z590 AORUS Pro AX, one probe is centered along each bank of power stages. A probe is left out to log the ambient temperature. All temperatures are presented as Delta-T normalized to 20 °C, which is the measured temperature minus the ambient temperature plus 20 °C. The end result accounts for variation in ambient temperature, including changes over the course of a test, while displaying the data as if the ambient were a steady 20 °C for easy presentation. Additionally, there is no longer any direct airflow over the VRM with this new setup, placing extra strain on the VRM cooling.
For the numbers seen in the chart above, I use wPrime for both temperature and power draw. However, relatively short tests do not put enough strain on the system to get a look at how the VRM performs at the limit, so I added an additional test to try to thermally abuse Vcore as much as possible.
This test typically involves a 30 minute Prime95 run at the maximum overclock the motherboard can maintain, again with no airflow over the VRM. For Z490 and Z590, I took a slightly different approach. The goal was to keep VRM testing as fair as possible, so I chose to keep the stock 4.9 GHz frequency and simply boosted the voltage to 1.38 V in order to get the desired power output of about 250 W. Temperatures are logged every second, and the two probes are then averaged for a cleaner presentation before subtracting the ambient to calculate the Delta-T. The results are charted below.
The Gigabyte Z590 AORUS Pro AX did very well in my VRM torture test, never exceeding 70 °C. This may seem a little high for the powerful VRM the Gigabyte Z590 AORUS Pro AX boasts, but is on an open bench with no airflow. In a traditional case with reasonable airflow, the Gigabyte Z590 AORUS Pro AX would be able to take full advantage of its finned VRM heatsink.