IntroductionThe first of Intel's new 12th Gen Core CPUs and matching Z690 motherboards will be available for sale today, and we've taken a closer look at all the upcoming Alder Lake motherboards to help you choose the right one if you're looking at upgrading to the new platform. There's a lot to consider, such as which type of memory to go for, how much connectivity you need, and which ports, as well as how much you want to spend on the new motherboard.
We'll break things down by manufacturer and their various tiers, although some products are to a degree crossing tiers as well. We'll also highlight special features that might be of interest, but it's too early to look at things like power phases since many manufacturers haven't as yet provided full specifications of their motherboards. As such, some pertinent information may be missing, especially as most of the motherboard manuals haven't been published yet.
The Intel Z690 Chipset
Let's start by taking a quick look at the Z690 chipset since it is the common denominator. Although we already covered it in the Intel Core 12th Gen Alder Lake preview article, a quick refresher might be handy before we delve into the boards. The key addition compared to the Z590 platform is of course Intel's headline feature, PCIe 5.0 for the CPU-connected x16 PCIe slot, although as you'll see, some motherboards allow for dual x8 PCIe 5.0 as well.
The chipset itself gains up to 12 lanes of PCIe 4.0, which makes for three PCIe 4.0 M.2 NVMe slots on most boards, though not all. The DMI interface has also been upgraded to the equivalent of PCIe 4.0, but retains the upgrade to eight lanes the Z590 chipset got. Rather oddly, Intel also added support for a pair of additional SATA ports for a total of eight, but as these are shared with other interfaces courtesy of Intel's HSIO design (often called SERDES in similar implementations), most motherboards will have fewer SATA ports than eight.
Other changes include a reduction of PCIe 3.0 lanes from 24 to 16, although thanks to the extra PCIe 4.0 lanes, this shouldn't be an issue. We also spotted support for an extra USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 (20 Gbps) USB-C port and WiFi 6E through Intel's CNVi interface, while the CPU supports a fourth display output, as well as the other headline feature for the platform: DDR5. So there are quite a few changes, but none are truly unexpected. That having been said, we're looking at a very competent high-end consumer chipset platform here. Intel does actually charge an additional dollar for the Z690 chipset compared to either the Z590 or Z490, but to anyone thinking pricing was increased due to the inclusion of PCIe 5.0 and 4.0, well, that isn't really the case.
It now just comes down to how the various motherboard makers have chosen to implement the features on offer and which extras they've thrown in to differentiate their motherboards from the competition. One thing we should also point out is that both the DDR5 DIMM holders and PCIe 5.0 slots on all Z690 are surface-mount-technology (SMT) rather than through-hole mounted. This is done to improve signal integrity and reduce interference, but also makes ripping these slots off motherboards easier if you're being too rough with them. Since people have managed to rip off through-hole soldered slots in the past, we might see more people doing something similar with these new SMT-mounted parts, so please be careful out there.
Before we delve into things, just a note on the pricing in this article: It's based on listings on Newegg unless otherwise stated and will vary depending on the retailer and country you live in.