To support the launch of Intel's latest 12th generation 'Alder Lake' processors, Intel has also pulled the trigger on its latest Z690 motherboard chipset. Using a new LGA1700 socket, some of the most significant advancements with Alder Lake and Z690 include PCIe 5.0 support from the processor, as well as a PCIe 4.0 x8 link from the processor to the chipset. In this article, we're taking a closer look at over 50+ different DDR5 enabled motherboards designed to not only use the processing power of Alder Lake but offer users a myriad of high-class and premium features.

As we typically do with a new platform launch, we reached out to every motherboard vendor for all the information on its Z690 models, including images, specifications, power delivery information, and features. With new chipset launches, vendors usually have its 'launch day' models and models that come later on - for example ASRock's Aqua series, which we're still waiting to hear when the Aqua is going to hit the market. 

In this overview, we've compiled all the information we have into a single article with information we've received at the time of writing.

Intel Z690 Chipset: Like Z590, But Now With Native PCIe 4.0

With the introduction of Intel's 12th generation Core processors, one of the most significant advancements from the previous generation is that Alder Lake built on the 'Intel 7' manufacturing process, includes a hybrid PCIe lane layout. This consists of a total of x16 PCIe 5.0 lanes from the CPU set aside for graphics in either an x16 or x8/x8 configuration, and 4x PCIe 4.0 lanes dedicated to storage devices. Another significant improvement over the previous generation is a new PCIe 4.0 x8 DMI link between the CPU and the Z690 chipset. Previously with 11th gen (Rocket Lake), Intel upgraded it from a PCIe 3.0 x4 uplink on Z490 to a PCIe 3.0 x8 uplink on Z590. With Z690, the uplink is now fully-fledged PCIe 4.0 x8 lanes to interconnect things.

One of the most exciting and perhaps specific improvements is Intel's first DDR5 supported desktop platform. Intel's Alder Lake and Z690 combined actually offer support for both DDR5 and DDR4 memory. This means that those motherboard vendors either have to build their motherboards for one or the other, so it's Z690 with DDR5 or Z690 with DDR4, and no in-between. This article focuses purely on the DDR5 motherboards.

DDR5 versus DDR4 on Intel Alder Lake & Z690

Other features with Z690 include native support for USB 3.2 Gen2x2 (20 Gbps) Type-C connectivity, with the vast majority of Z690 models now opting to include this support at a base level. Intel has also upgraded its networking support at the chipset level, with an integrated Wi-Fi 6E PHY and RF for vendors. However, the majority of the cost and implementation still rely on vendors using Intel solutions through the proprietary CNVi connection. This is why some models include varying levels of Wi-Fi 6/6E CNVi at its disposal as either a feature-boosting move or cost-cutting measure to reduce it.

Intel Z690, Z590, and Z490 Chipset Comparison
Feature Z690 Z590 Z490
Socket LGA1700 LGA1200 LGA1200
PCIe Lanes (CPU) 16 x 5.0
4 x 4.0
20 x 4.0 16 x 3.0
PCIe Lanes (Chipset) 12 x 4.0
16 x 3.0
24 x 3.0 24 x 3.0
PCIe Specification (CPU) 5.0/4.0 4.0 3.0
Memory Support DDR5-4800B
DDR4-3200
DDR4-3200 DDR4-2933
PCIe Config x16
x8/x8
x8/x8/x4
x16
x8/x8
x8/x8/x4
x16
x8/x8
x8/x8+x4
DMI Lanes x8 4.0 x8 3.0 x4 3.0
Max USB 3.2 (Gen2/Gen1) 10/10 6/10 6/10
USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 (20 Gbps) Y Y ASMedia
Total USB 14 14 14
Max SATA Ports 8 6 6
Memory Channels (Dual) 2/2 2/2 2/2
Intel Optane Memory Support Y Y Y
Intel Rapid Storage Tech (RST) Y Y Y
Integrated Wi-Fi MAC Wi-Fi 6E Wi-Fi 6 Wi-Fi 6
Intel Smart Sound Y Y Y
Overclocking Support Y Y Y
Intel vPro N N N
ME Firmware 16 15 14
TDP (W) ? 6 6

Compared with previous generations of Intel's chipsets, the Intel Z690 is based on its 14nm manufacturing process, so it's similar to previous designs such as Z590 and Z490. Intel retains the same dual-channel memory support as previous and other brand's desktop platforms. In contrast, native SATA support has been upped to eight SATA slots instead of six of the prior generation.

Focusing on networking, Intel has upgraded to an integrated Wi-Fi 6E MAC over Wi-Fi 6 in the last two previous generations. While Intel states that it includes an integrated 2.5 GbE MAC/PHY, this is a little nonsensical, as wired ethernet still requires a MAC/PHY as an attached PCIe controller. This means regardless of whether a vendor is using a Gigabit, 2.5 GbE, or even 10 GbE, it connects the exact same way to the PCIe interface. 

Looking at the above Intel Z690 chipset block diagram, we can see the PCIe 4.0 x8 DMI interconnecting the processor with the chipset, with 16 x PCIe 5.0 lanes to either one full-length slot (x16) or two full-length slots (x8/x8), with 4 x PCIe 4.0 lanes designated to storage devices such as NVMe M.2 slots. (Ian has confirmed that storage on the main x16 slot is possible if desired.) 

From within the Z690 chipset, it offers various avenues of configurations available to motherboard vendors to use. New for Z690 includes 12 x PCIe 4.0 lanes, with another 16 x PCIe 3.0 lanes as part of the high-speed IO (HSIO). The onus is on motherboard vendors to use these new native PCIe 4.0 lanes as they wish, including through the use of either storage, additional PCIe 4.0 slots, or a mixture of both. Focusing on connectivity, Z690 allows vendors to use up to and include four USB 3.2 G2x2 Type-C (20 Gbps) ports, with up to 10 x USB 3.2 G2, 10 x USB 3.2 G1, and up to 14 x USB 2.0 ports. 

Alder Lake & Z690 Overclocking: Base Frequency Versus Turbo Power

Intel is also offering an enhanced overclocking model available with Alder Lake, which takes Processor Base Power (Base) and Maximum Turbo Power (Turbo) into account. The Base is the guaranteed peak power at base frequency which for the Intel Core i9-12900K is set at 125 W, whereas the maximum available Turbo Power is 241 W. Users with a basic understanding of Intel's former PL1 and PL2 methodology will note that it still exist under the hood - the base power is PL1, whereas Turbo is PL2. Tau, the time for turbo, is practically infinite for the unlocked K processors.

When it comes to overclocking in the current day and age, the main factors in play are still the same: cooling, capability, and power. As we saw with overclocking on numerous Z590 motherboards throughout the year, it was possible to pull nearly 500 W from the wall from the system when testing them. Using figures from our MSI MEG Z590 Ace motherboard review as an example, we were pulling 321 W peak power from the wall at default with CPU load only. In contrast, at 5.2 GHz all-cores with 1.425 V on the CPU VCore, we pulled 485 W. Overclocking with any platform, Intel or even AMD, adequate cooling needs to be considered for the designed core frequency and CPU VCore voltage combination, as well as equally sufficient power headroom from the power supply.

The Current Z690 For DDR5 Product Stack

Motherboards Confirmed So Far 

Through our contact with vendors, more than 50+ models are available Z690 using the new DDR5 memory. Most of these have currently been announced and detailed, with a small number waiting to be revealed or without specifications to date. Simply put, there will be no shortage of models to select from. It's no secret that motherboard pricing has been on the up, with the cheapest Z690 board having an official price of $190.

As with Z590, there are not that many micro-ATX options for Z690, with availability looking again to be limited. We are with only one micro-ATX sized model at launch, the ASUS ROG Strix Z690-G Gaming WIFI. It remains to be seen if we will see any more micro-ATX Z690 with support for DDR5, but watch this space.

Let's take a look at the current Z690 product stack with support for DDR5 (at the time of writing):

ASRock

ASRock's product stack for DDR5 on Z690 is the smallest of all of the 'major' vendors at launch, with just seven models. At the top of the stack, albeit the details of which are unannounced, is the unique ASRock Z690 Aqua. For now, the ASRock Z690 Taichi is the premier model, and it is one of the most expensive Taichi models to have ever existed. That's a bit odd for what used to be an entry level brand. 

ASRock Z690 Motherboard Product Stack (DDR5)
Model Size Overview
Link
Review
Link
Price
ASRock Z690 Aqua E-ATX Link   TBC
ASRock Z690 Aqua OC E-ATX Link    
ASRock Z690 OC Formula ? Link   $580
ASRock Z690 Taichi ATX Link   $590
ASRock Z690 Taichi Razer Edition ATX Link   TBC
ASRock Z690 PG Velocita ATX Link   $470
ASRock Z690 Phantom Gaming 4/D5 ATX Link   TBC
ASRock Z690 Phantom Gaming-ITX/TB4 ITX Link   TBC

While we expect there to be more ASRock Z690 and DDR5 models shortly, other models in the stack are from its Phantom Gaming series of models. This includes the ASRock Z690 PG Velocita, which is more premium than mid-range than compared to last-gen, and the Z690 Phantom Gaming 4/D5 acting as the mid-range model this time around. There's also the mini-ITX Phantom Gaming-ITX/TB4, which, as the model name suggests, returns with Thunderbolt 4, and its mini-ITX series has been a solid option for small form factor users over the years.

ASUS

Looking at the ASUS Z690 models with support for DDR5 memory, it has a typically well-rounded stack from top to bottom. It should be pointed out that ASUS has started to make its Republic of Gamers Maximus series more distinguishable and now opts to use the chipset name instead of Roman numerals for the higher end Maximus parts. As it stands, its flagship models include the ROG Maximus Z690 Extreme Glacial with a newly designed EKWB 'Ultrablock' for liquid cooling. At the same time, it shares the same premium and impressive feature set as the regular ROG Maximus Z690 Extreme. Other ROG Maximus models in the lineup include Z690 Formula with dual-cooled VRMs, and the first time it's been done since Z490.

ASUS Z690 Motherboard Product Stack (DDR5)
Model Size Overview
Link
Review
Link
Price
ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 Extreme Glacial E-ATX Link   $2000
ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 Extreme E-ATX Link   $1100
ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 Formula ATX Link   $800
ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 Apex ATX Link   $720
ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 Hero ATX Link   $600
ASUS ROG Strix Z690-E Gaming WIFI ATX Link   $470
ASUS ROG Strix Z690-F Gaming WIFI ATX Link   $400
ASUS ROG Strix Z690-G Gaming WIFI mATX Link   TBC
ASUS ROG Strix Z690-I Gaming WIFI ITX Link   $440
ASUS ProArt Z690 Creator WIFI ATX Link   $480
ASUS Prime Z690-A ATX Link   $300
ASUS Prime Z690-P WIFI ATX Link   $250
ASUS Prime Z690-P ATX Link   $230

Other mainstays return for ASUS include the Hero and the extreme overclocking equipped Apex. Looking down the stack is the ROG Strix series, with all the alphabet models returning, including the premium E, the more wallet-efficient F, and the mini-ITX I series. The Prime series sits more towards the mid-range than the entry-level with most of its models, and the entry point for its Z690 models is the $230 ASUS Prime Z690-P.

GIGABYTE

GIGABYTE has the largest DDR5 Motherboard stack, with 14 new models unveiled at present. Looking from the top is the GIGABYTE Z690 Aorus Xtreme WaterForce with a custom water block, while the regular Z690 Aorus Extreme caters to the hardened enthusiast market. Both models share the same high-end feature set. Moving down the stack is the premium Z690 Aorus Master with an impressive feature set for the price, while the Ultra, Pro, Elite AX, and mini-ITX Ultra all make up the mid-range options with typical Aorus style and feature sets to boot.

GIGABYTE Z690 Motherboard Product Stack (DDR5)
Model Size Overview
Link
Review
Link
Price
GIGABYTE Z690 Aorus Xtreme WaterForce E-ATX Link   TBC
GIGABYTE Z690 Aorus Xtreme E-ATX Link   $900
GIGABYTE Z690 Aorus Master ATX Link   $470
GIGABYTE Z690 Aorus Tachyon ATX Link   TBC
GIGABYTE Z690 Aorus Pro ATX Link   $330
GIGABYTE Z690 Aorus Ultra ATX Link   $370
GIGABYTE Z690I Aorus Ultra ITX Link   $290
GIGABYTE Z690 Aorus Elite AX ATX Link   $270
GIGABYTE Z690 Aorus Elite ATX Link   TBC
GIGABYTE Z690 Gaming X ATX Link   $230
GIGABYTE Z690 Aero D ATX Link   TBC
GIGABYTE Z690 Aero G ATX Link   TBC
GIGABYTE Z690 UD AX ATX Link   $220
GIGABYTE Z690 UD AC ATX Link   TBC
GIGABYTE Z690 UD ATX Link   TBC

Moving down the stack and the GIGABYTE Z690 Gaming X offers a solid bridge between the Aorus series and the non-gaming branded Z690 UD AX and UD models. The GIGABYTE Z690 Aero D offers an impressive feature set with a focus on content creation, which is spearheaded by an Intel Thunderbolt 4 controller and a clean-cut aesthetic. In contrast, the Z690 Aero G offers a much more wallet-friendly feature set with a similar design.

MSI

Focusing on the DDR5 supported models, the flagship will be the MEG Z690 Godlike, but we're still waiting for details on that at the time of writing. Down a step in the stack is the MSI MEG Z690 Ace, with a very premium feature set including five M.2 slots and Thunderbolt 4 connectivity, while the Unify and Unify-X cater to those looking for an aesthetically pleasing system, but still with premium features and solid connectivity options.

MSI Z690 Motherboard Product Stack (DDR5)
Model Size Overview
Link
Review
Link
Price
MSI MEG Z690 Godlike E-ATX Link   TBC
MSI MEG Z690 Ace E-ATX Link   $600
MSI MEG Z690 Unify ATX Link   TBC
MSI MEG Z690 Unify-X ATX Link   $500
MSI MEG Z690I Unify ITX Link   $400
MSI MPG Z690 Carbon WIFI ATX Link   $400
MSI MPG Z690 Carbon EK X ATX Link   TBC
MSI MPG Z690 Force WIFI ATX Link   $390
MSI MAG Z690 Tomahawk WIFI ATX Link   TBC
MSI MAG Z690 Torpedo EK X ATX Link   TBC
MSI MAG Z690 Torpedo ATX Link   TBC
MSI Pro Z690-A WIFI ATX Link   $250
MSI Pro Z690-A ATX Link   $230

Occupying the mid-range is its Performance Gaming (MPG) series, with the MPG Z690 Carbon WIFI and MPG Z690 Force offering similar features but with a different aesthetic choice. MSI also intends to launch an MPG Z690 Carbon EK X model with custom EKWB monoblock included to keep the processor and VRM cool. For gamers on a budget, the MAG series is also back with mainstay models such as the Z690 Tomahawk WIFI and MAG Z690 Torpedo; both have similar feature sets, a decent array of connectivity. The Pro series occupies the entry-level, with less aggressive aesthetics and key and critical component choices based on usability and user experience.

Other Z690 Product Stack Options

There are also a few Z690 models to consider outside of the major players.

Biostar has announced one DDR5 enabled Z690 motherboard for the launch of Alder Lake with the Z690 Valkyrie. It has plenty of premium features and a different aesthetic from those outside of the major vendors. EVGA has also announced it will release two Z690 models, the EVGA Z690 Dark K|NGP|N edition for extreme overclockers, as well as a more gaming-centric Z690 Classified model. Colorful to date has also announced one Z690 model for those looking to use DDR5 memory, the Colorful iGame Z690 Ultra D5, which targets entry-level users.

Other Z590 Motherboards
Model Size Overview
Link
Review
Link
Price
Biostar Z690 Valkyrie ATX Link   $600
Colorful iGame Z690 Ultra D5 ATX Link   TBC
EVGA Z690 Dark K|NGP|N ? Link   TBC
EVGA Z690 Classified ATX Link   TBC

Each subsequent page is a brief analysis and rundown of each model announced, culminating with a conclusion of board features versus other models.

We will also be publishing a DDR4 version of this article shortly.

ASRock Z690 Taichi (DDR5) & Z690 Taichi Razer Edition (DDR5)
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  • Kevin G - Wednesday, November 10, 2021 - link

    The current LGA 1700 platform from Intel is set for three generations: Alder Lake, Raptor Lake, and Meteor Lake. In that time frame with future generations as well as AMD releasing AM5, featuring DDR5 and PCIe 5.0 support as well, will remove the current premium prices and reach parity with what we have today. Even in the short term, Intel supports DDR4 on Alder Lake and the various Alder Lake i3's and lower will arrive in less than 6 months further reducing prices.

    The big feature of PCIe 5.0 isn't the additional bandwidth but on the server side it'll bring CXL. For consumers, I wouldn't be surprised if AMD enables their PCIe 5.0 slot to switch over to an Infinity Fabric mode when paired with a Radeon graphics card. (AMD recently announced something similar with Epyc and CDNA2.) The benefits wouldn't be the bandwidth but rather lower latencies between devices and increased efficiencies due to coherency/direct memory access. The way things are aligning, this could arrive in late 2022.

    X58 did have a few cards that took advantage of PCIe 2.0 right away (dual 10 Gbit networking on an eight lane PCIe 2.0 cards). Beyond that, multi-GPU was emphasized by both nVidia and AMD at the time giving some usage to those additional lanes. X58 wasn't the first DDR3 platform from Intel but it still carried a premium over DDR2 when it was first introduced.

    Intel HEDT is currently dead with the glimmer of hope that Saphhire Rapids brings it back. However, I'd expect any Sapphire Rapids HEDT platform to be half of what Intel is offering on the server side (dual chiplet instead of quad chiplet). AMD still has Zen 3/Zen 3D Threadrippers to launch to counter.
    Reply
  • Bp_968 - Wednesday, November 10, 2021 - link

    Ahh, X58. Good stuff. I upgraded from an X58 system in 2017 and its still going strong as my neighbors PC. It took 6+ cores and (more importantly) NVMe storage to dislodge its position as "good enough" while i spent the PC money on video cards and I finally got a 8700k in 2017.

    I expect something similar to happen for my next upgrade. A new memory tech, pcie5, and more and faster USB at the minimum, and at a lower price than these 690 boards. I don't expect that until zen 4 at the earliest so late 2022 early 2023. But even then i doubt CPU performance will be the killer feature that forces me to upgrade. It will be something related to IO or memory. Bleeding edge CPU performance just isnt that relevant to most gamers anymore. And the upgrade cycles have slown down so much compared to the past. I remember when year or two old hardware was at risk of being unable to play the latest titles!
    Reply
  • JasonMZW20 - Monday, November 15, 2021 - link

    I don't see much advantage for PCIe 5.0 dGPUs, but PCIe 5.0 SSDs should offer improved sequential read/write speeds with more NAND layers. Unfortunately, in Z690, you'd need to use a PCIe 5.0 -> NVMe expansion card, as mobo NVMe are 4.0 only. I wonder how that will be handled. Some early Z690 slides listed support in 5.0 expansion slots for Intel SSDs only.

    Oof, these motherboard prices are pretty high. I struggle to justify anything over $400, especially in mainstream market.
    Reply
  • mode_13h - Monday, November 15, 2021 - link

    > PCIe 5.0 SSDs should offer improved sequential read/write speeds with more NAND layers.

    Why? What's the use case for > 8 GB/sec storage reads/writes, in a consumer desktop? And I'm not aware of a consumer SSD that's even maxed out PCIe 4.0 x4, BTW.

    These are probably the reasons Intel didn't bother with it. However long it takes consumer GPUs to support PCIe 5.0, SSDs could take even longer. And with Raptor Lake coming in just <= 1 year, Intel will soon have another chance to re-evaluate whether a PCIe 5.0 M.2 slot makes any kind of sense.
    Reply
  • Samus - Tuesday, November 9, 2021 - link

    Yeah, definitely too much for a "current" system - you can't use half the tech you are paying for because there is literally nothing on the market, and there likely won't be for a year. I mean we are only at Gen2 PCIe 4.0 SSD's, and only recently did PCIe 4.0 GPU's launch (if you could call it that since they are still difficult to even buy.) On top of that, the difference in most applications (like GPU's, for example) between PCIe 3.0 and PCIe 4.0 is almost nothing, because the bus isn't the bottleneck.

    Other than TB4, I don't know what PCIe 5.0 is going to be good for in the near term because PCIe 4.0 is already a lot of bandwidth even in small lanes. Obviously PCIe 5.0 has more bandwidth in narrower lanes, but again, in desktop\mobile platforms there isn't a lot of demand for that much bus bandwidth.

    Definitely a technology showcase launch more than a marketable one.
    Reply
  • Kakkoii - Thursday, November 11, 2021 - link

    I will say in regards to PCIe 5, there is the advantage that you can do more on the board with less lanes. Some of these boards split the PCIe 5 lanes between two x16 slots, effectively giving you two full speed PCIe 4.0 x16 slots, instead of x8/x8.
    While this still won't benefit you much in most games, it's a big help for anyone who uses multiple GPUs for workstation purposes, or needs extremely high-speed storage in the second slot.
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Tuesday, November 9, 2021 - link

    Did Intel say why they upped the number of SATA ports to 8? If the number were to change at this point, I'd expect it to start going down.

    With M.2 SSDs having largely displaced SATA models the demand for SATA continues to dwindle outside of DIY NAS systems for which a much cheaper basic chipset mobo is suitable. With only about 1 in 10 mobos adding the last 2 ports the mobo makers mostly seem to agree that it was unneeded as well.
    Reply
  • Silver5urfer - Tuesday, November 9, 2021 - link

    Its for RAID, they are adding some RAID features. And M.2 is nothing vs SATA. M.2 all drives are basically TLC, only MLC ones are 970 Pro which are now obsolete. SATA gets you 860 PRO MLC 4TB drives. Plus M.2 is barely useful in gaming, at max reduces load times by a fraction vs regular SATA SSD plus they get wayy too hot for what they have in mediocre endurance, capacity and usefulness in general purpose workloads.

    Bonus is SATA gets you NAS class devices - WD Red / Seagate Exos etc, no need to buy extra NAS and deal with Plex and all simply run all your media on your own PC. I bet many like that option when they do not prefer any TV or others.

    Really unfortunate that everyone dropping them even ASUS Apex dropped it this time, only EVGA is offering on their mobos, and ASRock.
    Reply
  • lilkwarrior - Tuesday, November 9, 2021 - link

    It seems to be a tangent on your part, but games currently don't even leverage PCIe 3 SSD speeds. When DirectStorage is utilized by actual games, your statement becomes grossly false when it comes to NVMe M.2 SSDs vs SATA SSDs.

    If you need endurance and so on, most pros would opt for Intel Optane in U.2. format (that you can alternately slot in through a PCie or M.2 adapter.
    Reply
  • Silver5urfer - Tuesday, November 9, 2021 - link

    Yeah I have been hearing the same BS ever since DX12 came out and where are we with those promises ? Talk when tech is there do not place ladders in sky. PCIe4.0 itself is useless even in benchmarks for GPUs a minor boost at very very high FPS is all it is at now. Reply

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