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.
ASUS Z690 MotherboardsWe're going to start off with ASUS's non-ROG products and will follow up with a separate page for their ROG products; with so many new models on offer from ASUS alone, we chose to divide them up a bit to make it easier to take in. Outside of ROG, there are so far only the ProArt, Prime, and TUF Gaming product families from ASUS. So far, the company has unveiled nine boards in total, but according to earlier leaks, at least another five models or variants are coming.
ASUS ProArt Z690-Creator
We'll start with ASUS's ProArt board since it appears that, at least for now, there's only a single ProArt board, the ProArt Z690-Creator. It comes with or without WiFi depending on the region you buy it in. The ProArt series is said to be for content creators, which had ASUS always add a lot of connectivity to these boards. All except for one ProArt model has had 10 Gbps Ethernet, and the ProArt Z690-Creator is no exception. This is also the first ProArt board for Intel CPUs to feature Thunderbolt 4, as well as the first ProArt motherboard to feature a front-panel USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 (20 Gbps) connector, with the added benefit of Qualcomm Quick Charge 4+ and USB PD up to 60 W. The Thunderbolt slots support 8K60p video output for one display, which requires external cables from a discrete graphics card to the two DisplayPort inputs at the top of the board.
When it comes to expansion, the ProArt Z690-Creator has a pair of PCIe 5.0 slots that function in either single x16 or dual x8 mode, as well as a third PCIe 3.0 x16 slot that's limited to x4 mode. There are four PCIe 4.0 M.2 NVMe drive slots, of which two can accept 22110 drives; the other two take the more standard 2280 drives, one of which supports SATA drives. Depending on which interfaces are being used, there's also support for up to eight SATA drives. Other things worth mentioning are an HDMI 2.1 port, although it's limited to 4K60p output, another 2.5 Gbps Ethernet port, WiFi 6E in supported regions, and DDR5 support. This is going to be an expensive board; we've so far only found it listed in the UK for £425. That equates to around US$465 even without VAT, which isn't cheap. That said, for the features on offer here, it's quite unbeatable value.
ASUS PrimeThe Prime series from ASUS has been demoted over the years, and it's now for ASUS's most basic motherboard models, which is really starting to show on the Z690 based boards as they're quite scaled back, although maybe not quite as much as some models from some competitors. So far, ASUS is listing six different SKUs, but we are expecting at least four more based on earlier leaks, as the -V models haven't made an appearance yet. As such, we have the Prime Z690-P D4 with or without WiFi, Prime Z690-P with or without WiFi, Prime Z690-A, and Prime Z690M-Plus D4.
ASUS Prime Z690M-Plus D4
Sadly, the Prime Z690M-Plus D4 is both the only mATX board in the lineup and most stripped down board of the lot, as it only gets Gigabit Ethernet, whereas all the other SKUs so far have 2.5 Gbps Ethernet. We don't understand the persistent dislike bordering on hatred for the mATX form factor from motherboard makers, as they rarely get feature parity compared to standard ATX boards. As the model name implies, this is a DDR4 board. It has a single PCIe 5.0 x16 slot, as well as a secondary PCIe 4.0 capable x16 slot, though limited to x4 bandwidth, and two PCIe 3.0 x1 slots. This is one of few boards with a PCIe 4.0 expansion slot since it "only" has three PCIe 4.0 M.2 NVMe slots and four SATA ports for storage devices. The board has a single USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 (20 Gbps) capable USB-C port around the back, and a case connector for a USB 3.2 Gen 1 (5 Gbps) USB-C port. You also get DP 1.4 and HDMI 2.1, one of each, although both are limited to 4K60p output, as well as an M.2 Key E slot for an optional WiFi module. Overall, this isn't a very exciting board, but it does at least have the minimum feature set you'd expect from a modern motherboard. Pricing should be under $200, making this one of the cheapest Z690 motherboards.
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