Best motherboards for i9-12900K in 2021

Intel is back with Alder Lake CPUs that have excellent performance albeit at a price.

Intel is back with Alder Lake CPUs that have excellent performance and competitive prices. The most powerful CPU of the bunch is the Core i9-12900K, a 16-core 24-thread design (eight efficient cores don’t have hyperthreading) that beats every Ryzen 5000 model in games and productivity benchmarks. This is the CPU to get if you want the best performance, no matter the price. And since every CPU needs a quality motherboard to unleash its full potential, today, we’re covering the best motherboards for the Core i9-12900K.

Now, before we start, we want to share some info regarding certain Z690 motherboards. First of all, most ASUS boards come both with LGA 1200 and LGA 1700 mounting holes. This allows users to mount their old LGA 1200 cooling solutions. Further, some ASUS boards won’t play nice with air coolers, so do your research before pulling the trigger.

Next, a good number of Gigabyte boards come with only two audio jacks (Line Out and Mic) on the rear I/O, not the usual array of three/six jacks. Some of these boards come with optical (S/PDIF) outs, but most don’t. Finally, the Z690 lineup includes almost ninety different models. In other words, we didn’t have the space to place every quality Z690 board on this list. If none of the boards featured below piques your interest, you have a vast selection of potential alternatives. Okay, that’s about it, now let’s dive into our list. We’re starting with the budget option.

1. Gigabyte Z690 UD: Best budget motherboard for i9-12900K

Memory
4× DDR4 DIMM
max. 128 GB
Storage
3× M.2
6× SATA
Expansion Slots
3× PCIe x16
2× PCIe x1
Wi-Fi
No

While the Gigabyte Z690 UD is one of the cheapest Z690 motherboards around, it’s more than capable of running the 12900K at stock. Z690 models are known for their fantastic VRMs, and the Z690 UD isn’t an exception. It features a sixteen 60A CPU-phase design that should be fine even with an overclocked 12900K. The design isn’t anything to get excited about, but you do get decently sized VRM heatsinks, a rear I/O shield, and one M.2 heat shield. The board supports DDR4 memory (you can get a DDR5 version if you want) up to DDR4 5333. There are also three PCIe 4.0 M.2 slots. That’s less than on pricier boards but enough for most users. Six SATA III ports complement the M.2 slots.

As for the expansion ports, you have one PCIe 5.0 x16 slot, two PCIe 3.0 x16 slots working at x4, and two PCIe 3.0 x1 slot. The rear I/O hosts ten USB ports (1xUSB-C 20Gbps; 1xUSB 10Gbps; 4xUSB 5Gbps; 4xUSB 2.0), a 2.5Gbps LAN port, a PS/2 port, three audio jacks, and an HDMI 2.1 + DisplayPort combo. The audio section is a budget one; Gigabyte lists a Realtek codec on its website but doesn’t share any additional details. As for the extra features, you get a BIOS flash button found on the lower right part of the PCB. The version featured here doesn’t come with Wi-Fi, but Gigabyte does offer the Z690 UD with Wi-Fi 6 if you require wireless connectivity.

2. MSI Z690 Tomahawk: Best mid-range motherboard for i9-12900K

Memory
4× DDR4 DIMM
max. 128 GB
Storage
4× M.2
6× SATA
Expansion Slots
3× PCIe x16
1× PCIe x1
Wi-Fi
Yes

Moving up a notch, we have the MSI Z690 Tomahawk, another board with DDR4 support. We love the design of this board. The all-black color choice looks slick as hell, augmented with brushed metal details on the rear I/O cover, M.2 heat shields, and chipset heatsink. VRM is a slight upgrade over the Z690 UD, made of sixteen 70A CPU phases. This time, the board comes with substantial VRM heatsinks that should keep it extra cool even if you decide to test the OC limits of the 12900K.

The board supports DDR4 up to 5200 MT/s. The Z690 Tomahawk comes with four M.2 slots, each covered by a nice-looking heat shield. You also get a standard, six-port SATA III array. The primary PCIe 5.0 x16 slot is coupled with one PCIe 3.0 x16 slot working at x4 and one PCIe 3.0 x16 slot working at x1. The fourth PCIe port features x1 design and support for PCIe 3.0. Connectivity options here are excellent. The board supports Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.2. Wired connectivity includes a 2.5Gbps LAN chip. Overall, more than a decent selection. What’s even better is that the Wi-Fi chip is installed in a Key-E M.2 slot, allowing you to replace it with a faster one in the future.

The audio section here is much better than on the Z690 UD. The codec used is the relatively new ALC4080 from Realtek that should be on the same level as the ALC1220. In short, a much better solution than on the Z690 UD. The rear I/O hosts eight USB ports (1xUSB-C 20Gbps; 3xUSB 10Gbps; 2xUSB 5Gbps; 2xUSB 2.0), an RJ-45 port (LAN), a selection of audio ports, an HDMI 2.1+ DisplayPort combo, and a selection of audio jacks (five + optical out). As for the extra features, you get a BIOS flashback button – for updating the BIOS without a CPU – on the rear I/O and a set of four debug LEDs.

3. Gigabyte Z690 Aorus Master: Best high-end motherboard for i9-12900K

Memory
4× DDR5 DIMM
max. 128 GB
Storage
5× M.2
6× SATA
Expansion Slots
3× PCIe x16
Wi-Fi
Yes

The Z690 motherboard lineup has a number of extremely pricey boards that come with a metric ton of features and enough RGB to cause permanent blindness. However, if we’re being honest, you don’t have to aim higher than the Z690 Aorus Master from Gigabyte. Unless you’re looking for Thunderbolt 4 connectivity. And even then, ASUS offers a similarly priced board that you can find below.

Anyway, the Z690 Aorus Master offers a complete package that includes excellent VRM, slick design, lots of RGB, a ton of connectivity options, a high-end audio solution, and more. The VRM is a complete overkill, made of nineteen 105A CPU phases. This VRM should run a balls-to-the-wall overclocked 12900K with enough headroom for a second one without even going near-critical temperatures. Next, this is a high-end board with DDR5 support that can run DDR5 memory up to 6400 MT/s.

Storage options include four PCIe 4.0 M.2 slots and one PCIe 3.0 M.2 slot. They’re all covered with massive thermal shields. You also get six SATA III ports. The primary PCIe 5.0 x16 slot is coupled with two PCIe 3.0 x16 slots working in 4x mode. As we already said, connectivity options are superb. There’s a 10Gbps LAN, Wi-Fi 6E, and Bluetooth 5.2. The audio section revolves around the Realtek ALC1220-VB codec combined with the ESS ES9118 DAC. This combo guarantees a high-def audio experience.

And unlike on many other Gigabyte Z690 boards, you get a regular combination of five audio jacks along with an optical out instead of just two. The rear I/O includes eleven USB ports (1xUSB-C 20Gbps; 1xUSB-C 10Gbps; 5xUSB 10Gbps; 4xUSB 5Gbps), an RJ-45 port, a single DisplayPort, the aforementioned selection of audio jacks, Wi-Fi antennas, and a BIOS flashback and Clear CMOS buttons. Other features include a POST code and power and reset buttons on the PCB.

4. ASUS ROG Strix Z690-G: Best mATX motheroard for i9-12900K

Memory
4× DDR5 DIMM
max. 128 GB
Storage
3× M.2
6× SATA
Expansion Slots
2× PCIe x16
1× PCIe x1
Wi-Fi
Yes

There are a couple of mATX Z690 designs on the market and, if we were getting the 12900K, we wouldn’t go lower than the ROG Strix Z690-G Gaming from ASUS. Mainly because this is the only mATX Z690 board with a high-end VRM. It’s a fourteen CPU-stage design, made of DrMos power stages (probably 75A or higher considering the price). It should be good enough to run an overclocked 12900K without thermal issues, especially if we look at those chunky VRM heatsinks.

The board supports DDR5 up to 6000 MT/s. It comes with three PCIe 4.0 M.2 slots (mATX form factor limits the max number of M.2 slots) and six SATA III ports. Expansion slots include three PCIe slots in total: one PCIe 5.0 x16, one PCIe 4.0 x16 working at x4, and one PCIe 3.0 x1. As for connectivity options, you have a 2.5Gbps LAN chip, 2×2 Wi-Fi 6E module, and support for Bluetooth 5.2. The Realtek ALC4080 codec, augmented with Savitech SV3H712 amp, is responsible for audio quality. In other words, this is a superb audio solution for an mATX board.

On the rear, you can find ten USB ports (1xUSB-C 20Gbps; 1xUSB-C 10Gbps; 2xUSB 10Gbps; 4xUSB 5Gbps; 2xUSB 2.0), an RJ-45 port, an HDMI 2.1 + DisplayPort combo, a selection of audio ports (five gold plated jacks + optical in), Wi-Fi antennas, and BIOS flashback and clear CMOS buttons. Finally, you can find four debug LEDs on the PCB. Overall, the ROG Strix Z690-G Gaming is by far the best mATX Z690 motherboard and an excellent Z690 board regardless of the form factor.

5. Gigabyte Z690I Aorus Ultra: Best mini-ITX motherboard for i9-12900K

Memory
2× DDR4 DIMM
max. 64 GB
Storage
2× M.2
4× SATA
Expansion Slots
1× PCIe x16
Wi-Fi
Yes

Users looking for an SFF board to couple with the Core i9-12900K should consider the Z690I Aorus Ultra (DDR4 version) from Gigabyte. This board offers a lot while selling at a highly competitive price. Do note that this board can have issues with air coolers since it has chunky heat shields. It can also have problems with AIOs with tubes coming out of their sides for the same reason. Finally, it requires a BIOS update that you can perform without the CPU since the board has a BIOS flashback button located on the rear I/O.

The VRM section of this board is more or less the maximum you can have on a mini-ITX form factor. There are ten 105A CPU power phases, which is more than enough for the 12900K. The two DIMM slots can run memory up to DDR4 5333. Storage options include two PCIe 4.0 M.2 slots along with four SATA III ports, a standard offering on an m-ITX motherboard. Next, you get only one PCIe 4.0 x16 slot. Again, this is standard for this form factor due to size limitations.

The audio section revolves around the Realtek ALC 4080 codec, and when it comes to connectivity, you have a 2.5Gbps LAN, Wi-Fi 6, and Bluetooth 5.2. On the rear, you have eight USB ports (1xUSB-C 20Gbps; 3xUSB 10Gbps; 2xUSB 5Gbps; 2xUSB 2.0), HDMI 2.1 + DisplayPort combo, Wi-Fi antennas, two audio jacks (Line Out and Mic), and the aforementioned BIOS flash button. Additional features include a reset button on the PCB (lower right, above the PCIe slot).

6. ASUS ProArt Z690-Creator: Best Thunderbolt 4 motherboard for i9-12900K

Memory
4× DDR5 DIMM
max. 128 GB
Storage
4× M.2
8× SATA
Expansion Slots
3× PCIe x16
Wi-Fi
Yes

Last but not least, we have the best Z690 board for professionals and content creators. With that said, the ProArt Z690-Creator is an excellent high-end board for anyone looking for a high-quality base for their 12900K machine. If you require Thunderbolt 4 connectivity, this is the best board on the market. First of all, the VRM here includes sixteen 70A power stages. This is perfect for stable performance and more than enough for advanced users looking to overclock the 12900K.

Next, the board comes with DDR5 support (up to DDR5 6000). Not a speed record when it comes to DDR5 but enough for a high-end system. The board also features four shielded PCIe 4.0 M.2 slots. Not five like other high-end options, but at least you get eight SATA III ports instead of six. Expansion slots include two PCIe 5.0 x16 slots that can work in x8/x8 mode. Great for users having high-end capture cards. The third PCIe slot supports PCIe 3.0 and works at x4.

Connectivity-wise, this is another win. The board includes dual LAN (10Gbps + 2.5Gbps), 2×2 Wi-Fi 6E, and Bluetooth 5.2. The audio section is pretty good. You have Realtek S1220A codec, but no DAC or amp. Rear I/O houses two Thunderbolt 4 ports with DisplayPort video output capabilities and 15W charging support. Other members of the rear I/O household include six 10Gbps USB ports, two DisplayPort (input only) ports, one HDMI 2.1 output, two RJ-45 ports, Wi-Fi antennas, BIOS flashback button, and five audio jacks (no optical port here).

Extra features include an internal USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 (20Gbps) front panel with Quick Charge 4+ (60W) support, and four debug LEDs. Finally, the design is phenomenal. We have a see-through I/O cover coupled with a see-through audio cover, all-black PCB, brushed metal M.2 heat shields, and chunky VRM heatsinks. If you don’t care about RGB, this is probably the best high-end Z690 board you can get right now.

Why buy the i9-12900K

The Core i9-12900K is the flagship Alder Lake SKU so we can’t talk about bang for the buck here. With that said, Intel did manage to surpass AMD and their Ryzen 5000 CPUs with the 12900K. It trumps over the sixteen-core 5950X and comes with advanced features such as PCIe 5.0 and DDR5. Overall, the performance is there, and the CPU is very power efficient as long as you don’t load all sixteen cores to the max. Still, for heavy-multithreaded use cases, you’ll want a capable AIO to keep the CPU under control.

With that said, the Core i5-12600K presents a much better choice for gamers. The i5 is less than five percent slower than the 12900K while being massively cheaper and not requiring pricy AIOs for cooling. On the other hand, if you’re a professional and don’t want to overpay for your next CPU, the Core i7-12700K is a much more affordable option than the 12900K. It’s almost as fast as the flagship in heavy multithreaded workloads while costing – at the moment of writing – nearly half as much as the i9. That’s almost fifty percent less for about 90+ percent of the performance of the bigger cousin. Not bad if you ask us.

DDR4 vs. DDR5

In short, DDR5 isn’t worth the higher price it sells at. The performance difference is virtually nonexistent in the majority of workloads, especially in games. There are some outliers. 7-Zip compression, for instance. With that said, we don’t know anyone who compresses files in 7-Zip for a living. Compiling code and encoding videos is also much faster with DDR5 but not faster enough to justify the higher price.

And it’s not like faster DDR5 memory will make a bigger difference. Remember, DDR5 is stuck running in Gear 2 on Z690 motherboards (1:2 ratio to the memory controller frequency), which comes with massive latency penalties. This is the main reason why we’re not seeing faster performance compared to DDR4. DDR4, on the other hand, DDR4 can run in Gear 1 (1:1 ratio to the memory controller frequency) up to about DDR4 4000. This translates into much lower latencies and almost the same performance as DDR5.

Further, the upcoming Raptor Lake CPUs will most likely support DDR4, meaning you don’t have to go with DDR5 to future-proof your system. With that said, if you’re going for a high-end system, most boards only support DDR5. In other words, it isn’t like you have much choice in the high-end Z690 segment. The good news is that even budget and mid-range Z690 boards come with excellent VRMs and lots of features that should cover most users. Our recommendation is to stick with DDR4 when buying the 12900K but if you have the cash, feel free to embrace the new generation of memory.