Best Intel Motherboards: July 2020
In our series of motherboards buyers guides, here’s the latest update to our list of recommended Intel motherboards. All numbers in the text are updated to reflect pricing at the time of writing.
Best Intel Motherboards: July 2020
There’s no disputing that Intel had a quiet first half of the year, with not much cadence in its product releases, aside from Comet Lake and its associated Z490 motherboards. During the middle part second quarter, Intel finally unveiled its revamped 14 nm processors through its release of the 10th generation Comet Lake for desktop, and along with it a heap of new models ranging from Z490 to H460, and even the more workstation focused W480 models. Moving firmly into the third quarter of 2020, Intel now has a fully stacked lineup and we’re unveiling our Best Intel Motherboards guide for July 2020.
We have received a lot of feedback over the last six months on our motherboard guides. The consensus is that users want a more diverse listing with inclusions and picks for both AMD and Intel models. In previous motherboard guides, we’ve selected one board in four different categories regardless of brand or chipset. We’ve decided to split the motherboard guides into two guides, one for AMD motherboards and another for Intel models.
Our picks for AMD models can be found here: Best AMD Motherboards: July 2020
|Intel Motherboards Recommendations
|Intel ‘Money is no Object’ Motherboard|
|MSI MEG Z490 Godlike||$750||$750||$750|
|Intel ‘Clean Mix of Price/Features’ Motherboard|
|GIGABYTE Z490 Aorus Ultra||$280||$300||$299|
|Intel Value Motherboard|
|GIGABYTE Z490 Gaming X||$160||$182||$180|
|Favorite Intel Mini-ITX Motherboard|
|ASRock Z490 Phantom Gaming-ITX/TB3||$280||$280||$280|
Our recommendations for motherboards are based entirely on personal and professional opinion. There are notably a large number of different motherboards across the Intel chipsets including B460, Z490 and more recently, the workstation focused W480 chipset. I have selected my top four picks based on the four market segments, regardless of the chipset.
The effect of Coronavirus on the motherboard market as a whole has been unfortunately chaotic, with pricing and stock levels on both motherboards and processors remaining sporadic. It has certainly had a huge impact on new product announcements with all of the worlds major trade shows cancelling its events for the remainder of the year, and a still bleak outlook for CES 2021 in Las Vegas, USA.
For Intel’s latest 10th Generation Comet Lake processors on the market, although stock and supply has been somewhat impacted, it has been no more affected than usual for a new Intel product launch. The market is awash with its new LGA 1200 socket processors, including B460, H460, Z490, and the W480 chipsets, among others. All of the above has been taken into great consideration in our July 2020 motherboard guide for our Intel-based selections.
For users looking for other options, we’ve also gone over multiple chipset families as well in the links below.
Best Intel Motherboard: Money Is No Object
MSI MEG Z490 Godlike ($750 at Amazon/$750 at Newegg)
The premium chipset from Intel is the Z490 chipset, which is similar in specifications to the previous Z390 chipset, but vendors have implemented more premium features and controllers than ever before. At the top tier of the Z490 product stack, all of the major vendors have its overkill options. They are laden with features such as 10 GbE Ethernet, triple PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 slots, and the popular Thunderbolt 3 Type-C connectivity. One of the most extravagant and premium models is the MSI MEG Z490 Godlike which includes dual Thunderbolt 3 Type-C ports on the rear panel, support for up to five PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 slots out of the box via its Xpander-Z Gen4 M.2 add-on card, as well as a beefy 16-phase power delivery and an OLED panel.
The MSI MEG Z490 Godlike has official support for DDR4-5000 memory, with a total capacity of up to 128 GB across four memory slots. Storage support out of the box is also impressive with three PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 slots found on the board, each with its own M.2 heatshield, with a further two available from an Xpander-Z Gen4 dual M.2 slot adapter which is present in the board’s accessories bundle. For SATA devices, MSI includes six SATA ports with support for RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 arrays.
Its design is both futuristic, modern and clean, with plenty of grey metallic shading, on a black contrasting background. There is also plenty of integrated RGB LED lighting with some in the rear panel cover which illuminates the MSI dragon logo, the chipset heatsink with the Godlike branding, and an OLED panel which can be customized via MSI’s Mystic Light software next to the memory slots. The MSI MEG Z490 is also using a large 16-phase power delivery with sixteen ISL99390B 90 A power stages and is controlled by an ISL69269 PWM controller operating in an 8+1 configuration, with each of the CPU phases doubled up with an ISL6617A doubler.
The array of connectivity on the rear panel is also impressive, which includes dual Thunderbolt 3 Type-C ports, two USB 3.2 G2 Type-A. four USB 3.2 G1 Type-A, and two USB 2.0 ports. A handily located pair of buttons are present which allow users to perform USB BIOS Flashback, as well as reset the CMOS. Networking includes an Aquantia AQC107 10 GbE Ethernet controller, with an added Realtek RTL8125B 2.5 GbE controller for good measure, with an Intel AX201 interface providing both Wi-Fi 6 and BT 5.1 connectivity.
The MSI MEG Z490 Godlike has an MSRP of $750 and is available at both Amazon and Newegg for this price, with stiff competition from the other brand’s flagship models. The ASUS ROG Maximus XII Extreme ($750) and GIGABYTE Z490 Aorus Xtreme ($799) both include similar feature sets, but what sets the Godlike apart from the other is its superb accessories bundle, the overall networking configuration with a 10 GbE and 2.5 GbE Ethernet controller pairing with Wi-Fi 6 connectivity, but five PCIe 3.0 x4 is surely a benefit to those looking to build a very high-speed storage configuration. Each of the models mentioned has its own individual merits, but for the price and the overall experience, the Godlike looks to be the one to go for at present.
Best Intel Motherboard For Gaming/Performance
GIGABYTE Z490 Aorus Ultra ($280 at Amazon/$300 at Newegg)
Moving onto the model which blends performance and functionality into one, it’s a very high paced and overloaded segment to select a model from. Performance is relative to many different factors including controller set, the power delivery, and expansion slot support while keeping things as reasonable in regards to pricing as possible. 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 solid feature set, and at a good price too. Its biggest features include three PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 slots, support for up to DDR4-4800 memory, four USB 3.2 G2 rear panel ports, and a 2.5 GbE Ethernet controller.
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.
On Z490 at the $250 to $300 price point, there is a stack of models to select from, all of which has its own merits and caveats. The GIGABYTE Z490 Aorus Ultra has an MSRP of $299, but it is available currently at Amazon for $280 which makes it a more attractive offering compared to the ASUS ROG Strix Z490-F Gaming at $269 as the GIGABYTE has better power delivery. The MSI MPG Z490 Gaming Carbon Wifi is close in terms of features with a Realtek 2.5 G Ethernet controller and much of the same feature set, but the GIGABYTE model seems to be the best board for under $300 on Z490 on paper, and it looks great too.
Best Intel Motherboard: The Value Option
MSI Z490-A Pro ($160 at Amazon/$182 at Newegg)
The term ‘value’ can be taken any different ways, as it can be the epitome of budget but with plenty of quality, or it can be relative to how much money is available. With lots of Intel LGA 1200 chipsets available with the H410, B460, H470, Q470, Z490, and W480, there’s a lot of solid contenders in this particular area. My pick for value is the MSI Z490-A Pro which isn’t on a budget-based Intel chipset such as H410, but for users to overclock and squeeze out more performance from the 10th generation Comet Lake processors, the Z490 chipset is needed. 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 calibre, with a single USB 3.2 G2 Type-A, five USB 3.2 G1 Type-A and two USB 2.0 ports. It includes a 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 includes official support for overclocking, which when combining a Comet Lake desktop processor with adequate cooling, can really offer good 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. It’s biggest competition is 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 ($280 at Amazon/$280 at Newegg)
The last of our picks is all about mini-ITX and small form factor and this wasn’t as difficult to make as the other categories in our motherboard guide. With fewer mini-ITX models than other form factors on the Z490 chipset, there are just six models to select from for small form factor enthusiasts and gamers. One of the biggest groundbreakers in mini-ITX is ASRock, and 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 with Intel’s LGA 1200 socket in mind.
Out of the six 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 is five 3.5 mm audio jacks and S/PDIF optical output which is powered by a premium Realtek ALC1220 HD audio codec, as well as 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, is 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 which is quite eye-watering, but it’s a solid all-around model with a very good quality feature set. In regards to the competition, the MSI Z490I Unify is $270 with a similar feature set and a 10-layer PCB, as well as the more expensive ASUS ROG Strix Z490-I Gaming which costs $300. Overall, the ASRock is our pick in regards to Intel-based mini-ITX boards for July, but keep your eyes peeled for the MSI MEG Z490I Unify motherboard review which is coming soon, as well as the review of the GIGABYTE Z490I Aorus Ultra which we also have in to test.