Intel Z690 Motherboard VRM, Entry-Stage Roundup

Today we're taking a look at the VRM thermal performance of nine Intel Z690 motherboards, priced between $ 220 and $ 300. This price range can be considered the "entry-level" for the Z690, which can be a problem for the cheaper CPUs in Intel's new Alder Lake series like the Core i5-12600K, but for now these are your options, up to the H670. is supported and B660 boards are coming next year.

So, if you really want to make sure that the Z690 motherboard you bought isn't hot junk – as we found with the previous generation Z590 motherboards, it did – here comes our VRM test. In that regard, this round-up does not feature Asrock motherboards, and that's not because we are ignoring Asrock, but because we are still being blacklisted by the company to provide accurate and honest reporting on the performance of their products receive.

Normally we would just buy their boards, and we will, but for some reason their entry-level models have yet to be launched. We pre-ordered the usual culprits like Phantom Gaming, but they won't arrive until mid-December.

With the exception of the Asus Prime Z690-P D4, the rest of the boards were made available by the manufacturers, which Asus did not want to sample. It sounded like Asus HQ didn't have a lot of confidence in this product so we bought it too and luckily we were able to do so in time for this review.

We'll quickly group the functions of the boards by manufacturer and then go for testing …

Asus Z690 motherboards

These are the three Asus offerings that sell at or under $ 300. Unfortunately, the Prime Z690-A doesn't have a DDR4 variant, so this board doesn't make sense, but we'll cover it anyway because at some point DDR5 memory will be available, and at a reasonable price.

The entry-level Prime Z690-P D4 is available as either a DDR4 or DDR5 version and both use 14 Vishay SiC654 50A power levels for the Vcore. This is one of the weakest VRMs you'll find on an ATX-Z690 motherboard. Even so, it's still capable, so it will be interesting to see how it handles the 12900K.

The TUF Gaming Z690-Plus WiFi D4 is significantly improved in this regard, as it uses 14 Vishay SiC659 80A power levels, which means a 60% higher current-carrying capacity at face value. There is also a DDR5 version of this board that uses the same VRM.

Then we have the slightly more expensive Prime Z690-A, which is a pure DDR5 model and uses the slightly weaker SiC643 60A power amplifiers from Vishay, but there are sixteen in total. So the more expensive Asus models look good and the entry-level model should be decent.

Gigabyte Z690 motherboards

From Gigabyte, we got the Z690 UD AX DDR4 for $ 220, although there are five versions of this board that all use the same VRM, so the thermal results apply to all models. The Vcore portion of the VRM is made up of 16 OnSemi NCP303160 60A power levels which aren't the best, but there are plenty of them out there so this budget Z690 board should perform well.

For $ 10 more, they are also offering the Z690 Gaming X DDR4, which comes in two versions: the DDR4 version that we have and a DDR5 version that differs in VRM design. Both have a 16 power stage Vcore with 60A power amplifiers, but while the DDR4 model uses the same OnSemi models as the UD versions, the DDR5 version has been upgraded to DrMOS 60A power amplifiers. We don't have the DDR5 model to test, but it will probably be better than the DDR4 version.

Then for $ 270, we have the Gigabyte Z690 Aorus Elite AX DDR4, which comes in half a dozen versions, which is extremely confusing. There are two Micro ATX models that only have a dozen 60A power amplifiers for the Vcore, and we're not sure which model power amplifiers exactly because Gigabyte doesn't give us that information – you have more chance of figuring out which ones VRM components Gigabyte used to ask anyone but Gigabyte.

The MicroATX boards may be a little weak, but without knowing the exact Powerstage models it's hard to tell. For the ATX boards we have the Aorus Elite and Aorus Elite AX, both with DDR4 and DDR5 versions. The DDR4 boards use different VRM components than the DDR5 models, with the former using 16 On Semi FDMF5062 70A power levels for the vcore and the latter using DrMOS 60A power levels.

MSI Z690 motherboards

The MSI Z690 series is by far the most coherent and therefore most consumer-friendly. At the bottom of the stack is the $ 220 Z690-A Pro WiFi DDR4. This board can be purchased with or without WiFi support, and both options come in DDR4 or DDR5 variants, which means there are four models in total. The good news is that all four use the same 14-phase vcore VRM that Alpha & Omega AOZ5016QI uses 55A power stages.

Then we have the Z690 Torpedo for $ 280 and like the Asus Prime Z690-A, this board only supports DDR5 memory, which is a bit of a hassle in the current market. There are two versions of the torpedo, one we have for testing and another with a custom EK water block, although we have not yet seen this model in the wild. Both have a 16-phase Vcore with MPS MP87992 70A power levels and this is the same VRM configuration as the slightly more expensive Z690 Tomahawk WiFi DDR4 for $ 300, which we also included in this review.

After all, there are only two versions of the Z690 Tomahawk WiFi, one with DDR4 and one with DDR5, and luckily they both have the exact same VRM design.

Test Notes

Before we get to the graphs, let's talk about the test conditions and methodology. For this article and for all future LGA 1700 VRM heat tests, we've built a dedicated system into the Corsair iCUE 7000X case. The drive is the HX1000 power supply and the iCUE H170i Elite Capellix for cooling.

The iCUE 7000X was configured with a single 140mm rear exhaust fan and three 140mm intake fans, which is the default configuration for this case. Above we have the H170i 420mm radiator with three 140mm exhaust fans. This is a pretty high end configuration, airflow is good, and in a 21 degree room we would say this is an optimal setup.

We use a digital thermometer with type K thermocouples to record the temperature. This allows us to report the peak temperature of the rear circuit board. However, we do not measure Delta T via ambient, but keep a room temperature of 21 degrees and use a thermocouple next to the test system to ensure a constant ambient temperature.

We have three CPU configurations for testing, with the exception of the F variants, you won't be shocked that we tested with 12900K, 12700K and 12600K. The stress test consists of a one-hour loop of Cinebench R32, on which we report the maximum PCB temperature recorded with K-type thermocouples.

Benchmarks

Based on the Core i9-12900K results, we find the Asus Prime Z690-A at the top of our graphic next to the TUF Gaming Z690-Plus WiFi D4 with a top temperature of only 60 degrees.

The MSI Z690 Tomahawk was also there, which is essentially the same as the two Asus boards with a temperature of just 61 degrees. The MSI Z690 Torpedo also performed very well, although this is a pure DDR5 model, so it is currently only of limited appeal.

The Gigabyte Z690 boards were all quite disappointing, although they gave a satisfactory result. The Z690 Aorus Elite AX DDR4 reached 74 ° C and is therefore significantly hotter than competing boards from MSI and Asus.

Interestingly, the Aorus Elite was little better than the Gaming X and UD. We're not sure what the Gigabyte limitation is, but all of the boards ran in the mid-1970s, 10 ° C to 15 ° C hotter than most competing models. The only exceptions were the entry-level MSI Z690-A Pro and Asus Prime Z690-P D4, which hit 74C, which is a decent result and as best it can for $ 200 Z690 motherboards.

Despite the different case performance, all boards ran and maintained a P-Core frequency of 4.9 GHz, and none of these motherboards were performance-limited at the factory. Since the new Alder Lake CPUs are quite complex, we also included the Cinebench R23 score after the 60-minute stress test.

As you can see, we didn't have more than 0.3% score variation between the different boards so the performance was the same.

The thermal gap between the best and worst boards has decreased significantly when using the Core i7-12700K. Here we don't see more than 10C difference.

The Asus Prime Z690-A and the TUF Gaming Z690-Plus WiFi D4 also delivered the best results here. Then we have the MSI Z690 Tomahawk and Torpedo followed by the MSI Z690-A Pro. Oddly enough, at the bottom of the graphic there are three gigabyte boards, all of which peaked at 60 ° C.

It might seem strange that these Gigabyte boards would all reach the same peak temperature as they use different components, but we tested it again and even the built-in VRM temperature sensors all hit the same 68C.

With the Core i5-12600K, we then see a difference of up to 6c between the best and worst boards. Of course, the VRM temps are no longer relevant at this point, as all boards ran well within safe limits. At least if picked from this pile, anyone will work fine with the 12600K, even in warm climates, and the same is true when paired with the Core i7-12700K.

Choosing the best Z690 budget boards

Although Asus refused to ship the Prime Z690-P D4, it's actually a decent budget Z690 motherboard. The MSI Z690-A Pro WiFi and Gigabyte Z690 UD AX DDR4 are arguably better, but there's certainly nothing wrong with the Prime Z690-P, provided prices are competitive in your region.

The good news is that all of the boards tested worked even with the high-end LGA 1700 processor and were far from reaching PCB temperatures of 100 ° C. So you could say the performance was acceptable across the board.

Whereby the Prime Z690-P D4 falls apart a bit when you look beyond the VRM, in terms of functions it is not exactly stacked. There are only half a dozen USB ports on the I / O panel – two fewer than the MSI Z690-A Pro and four fewer than the Gigabyte Z690 UD. You also get one less M.2 slot than the Z690-A Pro and two less SATA ports.

There's also the Gigabyte Z690 Gaming X DDR4 for $ 230, which is a really nice looking board for the price, especially if you don't need WiFi.

The rest of the motherboards are just under $ 300, and the Gigabyte Z690 Aorus Elite AX DDR4's weaker VRM thermal performance makes it less attractive at this price point. The Asus Prime Z690-A and MSI Z690 Torpedo only support DDR5, so that's off the table for most, while the Asus TUF Gaming Z690-Plus WiFi D4 and MSI Z690 Tomahawk WiFi DDR4 are left behind.

In terms of VRM thermals, they were pretty much the same so no real winners. They are also very similar in terms of functions with comparable I / O connectivity. Both offer WiFi 6, 2.5 GB LAN, 4 M.2 slots and pre-installed I / O shields. The Tomahawk has 2 additional SATA ports and an additional full-length PCIe x16 slot, although it is only cabled for the x4 bandwidth. Overall, they are very similar, so price and availability are key when buying.

Purchase abbreviation
  • MSI Z690-A Pro WiFi DDR4 at Amazon
  • Gigabyte Z690 UD AX DDR4 at Amazon
  • Gigabyte Z690 Gaming X DDR4 at Amazon
  • Asus TUF Gaming Z690-Plus WiFi D4 on Amazon
  • Asus Prime Z690-P D4 on Amazon
  • MSI Z690 Tomahawk WiFi DDR4 on Amazon
  • Intel Core i5-12600K at Amazon
  • Intel Core i7-12700K at Amazon
  • Intel Core i9-12900K on Amazon

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