Best Z690 motherboards in 2021

Intel 12th gen (Alder Lake) CPUs are just around the corner. And new CPU generation also means a new chipset, the Z690. Since the LGA 1700 socket used by Alder Lake CPUs is physically different from the LGA 1200 socket, you cannot use Z590 motherboards with the new CPUs. Only motherboards based on the Z690 socket support 12th gen CPUs. And today, we’re showing the best Z690 motherboards you can get at the moment. Before we dive into the list, let’s talk about Alder Lake CPUs and new features found on the Z690 boards.

1. Gigabyte Z690 UD: Best budget Z690 motherboard (DDR4)

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 there are cheaper Z690 boards out there, this is the most affordable model we can recommend pairing with the i9-12900K. It should run the flagship Alder Lake CPU without issues with OC/power limits turned off. The Z590 version of the Gigabyte UD is able to run overclocked 11900K with the CPU seeping north of 220W, and the Z690 version has noticeably improved the VRM section. We’re talking about sixteen 60A power stages vs. twelve 50A stages, which is a healthy upgrade. Overall, this board should handle ~20W higher max power of the 12900K (compared to the 11900K) without issues.

Memory support goes up to DDR4 5333; the board features three PCIe 4.0 NVMe slots and six SATA III ports. Two M.2 slots support 2260/2280 SSDs. Not a big deal since most consumer-grade SSDs feature the 2280 form factor. You also get one PCIe 5.0 x16 slot, two PCIe 3.0 x16 slots working in x4 and x1 modes, and two PCIe x1 slots.

On the back, you can find a 2.5Gb LAN port, four USB 5Gbps ports, one 10Gbps USB, one 20Gbps USB-C port, audio jacks, and four USB 2.0 ports. The board also includes one HDMI and one DisplayPort. There’s also a BIOS flash button, found on the PCB and not on the rear I/O. Finally, the AC version of the board comes with Wi-Fi 6 and sports a ten percent higher price.

2. MSI Pro Z690-A: Best budget Z690 motherboard (DDR5)

Memory
4× DDR5 DIMM
max. 128 GB
Storage
4× M.2
6× SATA
Expansion Slots
3× PCIe x16
1× PCIe x1
Wi-Fi
No

If you’re looking for a budget Z690 board with DDR5 support, check the MSI Pro Z690-A. This board’s pricier than the Gigabyte Z690 UD for about 15 percent. VRM is, again, good enough for every Alder Lake CPU (fourteen 55A stages). Other specs include support for up to DDR5 6400, four M.2 slots (three are PCIe 4.0, one is PCIe 3.0), and six SATA III ports. The Z690-A has three PCIe x16 slots (one is PCIe 5.0, the other two are PCIe 3.0 working in 4x and x1 modes) and one PCIe x1 slot.

Realtek ALC897 Codec is responsible for audio. At the back, you can find a 2.5Gb LAN port, one 10Gbps USB port, one 20Gbps USB-C, two 5Gbps USB ports, and two USB 2.0 ports. There’s also the usual selection of audio jacks along with a single HDMI and DisplayPort outputs. The rear I/O houses the BIOS flash button, and the board features Debug LEDs. Compared to the Z690 UD, you get more M.2 slots, an equally capable VRM section (a bit weaker on paper), fewer USB ports, a BIOS flash button on the rear I/O and Debug LEDs.

3. Gigabyte Z690 Aero G: Best Z690 motherboard for most users (DDR4)

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

If you want a quality board with DDR4 support that isn’t too expensive while packing a wide range of features, we recommend the Gigabyte Z690 Aero G, DDR4 version. First of all, the VRM section is excellent (sixteen CPU power stages). Next, the design is striking, with a silver-black color combo and just the right amount of RGB. Memory support goes up to DDR4 5333; the board features four full-sized PCIe 4.0 M.2 slots and six SATA III connectors.

There’s one PCIe 5.0 x16 slot and two PCIe 3.0 x16 slots working in x4 mode. The Realtek ALC4080 codec powers the audio section. As for the wireless support, you get Wi-Fi 6 2×2 along with Bluetooth 5.2. Rear I/O features two 10Gbps USB ports, one 20Gbps USB-C, one 5Gbps USB-C, four 5Gbps USB ports, two USB 2.0 ports, 2.5Gb LAN port, audio jacks and HDMI+DisplayPort combo.

Being targeted towards content creators and professionals, the Z690 Aero G includes an internal USB 3.2 connector with 20Gbps USB (3.2 gen2x2) support and two Thunderbolt add-in card connectors. That said, this is also a great gaming motherboard. The 20Gbps USB-C features VisionLink tech that allows 60W power delivery with DisplayPort video output support. Other extra features include the BIOS flash button on the PCB.

4. MSI Z690 Tomahawk Wi-Fi: Best Z690 motherboard for most users (DDR5)

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

The MSI Z690 Tomahawk is the best choice for users looking for a capable Z690 board with DDR5 support (the board’s also available in the DDR4 version). The VRM section features sixteen 70A CPU phases. In other words, more than enough for any overclocked Alder Lake CPU. Memory support goes up to DDR5 6400. The Z690 Tomahawk has four M.2 slots (three of those support 2242/ 2260/ 2280 NVMe SSDs) and six SATA III ports.

The board houses three PCIe x16 slots. One of those is a full-sized PCIe 5.0 X16 slot. The other two are PCIe 3.0 compatible, working at x4 and x1 modes. Finally, you also get one PCIe 3.0 x1 slot. The audio section features Realtek ALC4080 codec, and the LAN port supports speeds up to 2.5Gbps. The Wi-Fi 6E module includes Bluetooth 5.2. A separate M.2 (Key-E) slot houses the Wi-Fi card, meaning you can replace it with a faster one down the road.

Rear I/O features one 20Gbps USB-C port, three 10Gbps USB ports, two 5Gbps USB ports, and two USB 2.0 ports. There’s also a selection of audio jacks, an HMDI port, a DisplayPort connector, and the BIOS Flash button. The board also features four debug LEDs.

5. Gigabyte Z690 Aorus Xtreme: Best high-end RGB Z690 motherboard

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

If you want the best and are ready to pay for it, the Gigabyte Z690 Aorus Xtreme packs a ton of features, looks great, and is filled to the brim with high-speed USB ports. First of all, the design is striking. You get lots of RGB combined with armor that covers pretty much everything sans the CPU socket. Even DIMM slots for memory have a removable cover that also hosts a giant RGB LED array. Overall, we love the design.

The VRM section features twenty 105A CPU power stages. The board comes with four DIMM slots and support for up to DDR5 6600 memory. There are four PCIe 4.0 M.2 slots on the PCB, coupled with four SATA III ports. The Z690 Aorus Xtreme comes with two PCIe 5.0 x16 slots that can work in PCIe 5.0 x8/x8 mode if you need to use both of them simultaneously. The third PCIe x16 slot supports PCIe 3.0 standard and runs in x4 mode.

The audio section is superb. The board houses 1 ESS ES9280AC DAC chip + 2 ESS ES9080 chips. You also get an additional ESSential USB DAC to use with headphones. Dual RJ45 (LAN) ports include one 10Gbps and one 2.5Gbps, both found on the rear I/O. The board also features a Wi-Fi 6E chip with Bluetooth 5.2 support. Rear I/O also hosts ten 10Gbps USB ports, two Thunderbolt 4 connectors, two audio jacks, an optical S/PDIF connector, BIOS flash button, clear CMOS button, and an auto OC button.

6. ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 Apex: Best high-end Z690 motherboard for overclocking

Memory
2× DDR5 DIMM
max. 64 GB
Storage
5× M.2
6× SATA
Expansion Slots
2× PCIe x16
1× PCIe x4
1× PCIe x1
Wi-Fi
Yes

Users who want to test the i9-12900K’s OC limits should look at the ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 Apex. This is an OC-focused board that only has two DIMM slots. This should allow overclockers to push the memory to higher frequencies, thus also increasing the maximum CPU clocks. The VRM section has twenty-four (!) 105A power phases, which should be enough even for two overclocked 12900K CPUs running simultaneously.

Memory support goes up to DDR5 6600, and the board comes with two PCIe 4.0 M.2 slots. You also get a DIMM card that hosts two extra PCIe 4.0 M.2 slots. This card goes into the third DIMM slot, found next to the two DIMM slots used for memory. Finally, the board comes with a PCIe 5.0 M.2 add-on card that goes into one of the two PCIe x16 slots. There are two PCIe x16 slots that work in x8/x8 mode when used at the same time. Other expansion slots include one PCIe 3.0 x4 slot and one PCIe 3.0 x1 slot.

And yes, the board comes with SATA III ports, six of them in total. The audio section revolves around the Realtek ALC4080 audio codec. Connectivity-wise, you get a 2.5Gb LAN port and a Wi-Fi 6E chip with Bluetooth 5.2 support. Rear I/O hosts six 10Gbps USB ports, one 20Gbps USB-C, four 5Gbps USB ports, a selection of audio jacks, and BIOS flash and clear CMOS buttons. Other OC-friendly features include a POST code and a selection of buttons that should help during OC sessions (bus clock buttons, a BIOS switch button, safe boot button, etc.). Finally, the ROG Maximus Z690 Apex houses twelve ProbeIt measurement points for monitoring thermals all around the PCB.

7. Gigabyte Z690I Aorus Ultra: Best mini-ITX Z690 motherboard

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

At the moment, there aren’t too many Z690 boards rocking the ITX form factor. The best one, considering both the price and available features, is the Gigabyte Z690I Aorus Ultra. The ten-stage VRM is impressive, made of 105A power stages. This should be enough for running an overclocked 12900K without thermal issues. The board supports up to DDR4 5333 memory (there’s also a DDR5 version of the board).

The PCB hosts one PCIe 5.0 x16 slots, two PCIe 4.0 M.2 slots, and four SATA III ports. The Realtek ALC4080 codec powers the audio section, and the connectivity options include a 2.5Gb LAN and a Wi-Fi 6 card with Bluetooth 5.2 support. You have three 10Gbps USB ports on the rear side, one 20Gbps USB-C, two 5Gbps USB ports, a BIOS flash button, two audio jacks, and an HMDI+DisplayPort combo.

8. ASUS ROG Strix Z690-G Gaming Wi-Fi: Best mATX Z690 motherboard

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

If you’re looking for a powerful Z690 board with an mATX form factor, ASUS got you covered. As usual, ASUS released a packed mATX motherboard that isn’t your typical budget mATX model with questionable VRM and a lack of advanced features. Fourteen CPU power stages should be more than enough for running an overclocked 12900K. Next, we have DDR5 support with max frequencies of DDR5 6000.

Smaller, mATX form factor resulted in “only” three PCIe 4.0 M.2 slots coupled with six SATA III ports. Expansion slots include one PCIe 5.0 x16 slot, one PCIe 4.0 x16 slot working in x4 mode, and one PCIe 3.0 x1 slot. The new Realtek ALC4080 codec is powering the audio section of yet another Z690 motherboard. As for the connectivity options, you have 2.5Gbps LAN, Wi-Fi 6E, and Bluetooth 5.2.

The rear I/O hosts two 10Gbps USB ports, one 20Gbps USB-C, one 10Gbps USB-C, four 5Gbps USB ports, two USB 2.0 ports, BIOS flash, and clear CMOS buttons, a selection of audio jacks, and an HDMI+DisplayPort combo. We’re also pleasantly surprised to see a 20Gbps (USB 3.2 2×2) internal header alongside a Thunderbolt header on an mATX motherboard. ASUS did it again, and we have to commend the company for keeping the trend of feature-packed mATX boards alive.

9. Asus ProArt Z690-Creator: Best Z690 motherboard for professionals

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

While the Gigabyte Z690 Aero G packs an excellent selection of features for content creators, the board lacks some advanced features that could significantly help professional users looking at upgrading to an Alder Lake CPU. This is where the Asus ProArt Z690-Creator comes in. First of all, the board features dual, 10Gb+2.5Gb, Ethernet. Next, you get two Thunderbolt 4 ports found on the rear I/O. Further, the Wi-Fi chip supports the newest Wi-Fi 6E protocol.

The board also houses two DisplayPort In connectors vs. one found on the Aero G and an HDMI 2.1 port. The internal USB 3.2 gen2x2 header includes 60W power delivery with Quick Charge 4+ support. The board also comes with four PCIe M.2 slots and eight SATA III ports. VRM section is pretty good. Not the best overall, but sixteen 70A CPU power stages should run any Alder Lake CPU without power limits and without issues.

Other specs include memory support for up to DDR5 6000, two PCIe 5.0 x16 slots (x16 or x8/x8 mode), and one PCIe 3.0 x16 slot working in x4 mode. The high-end Realtek S1220A audio codec is powering the audio section. Aside from the aforementioned ports, the rear I/O also hosts six 10Gbps USB ports, a selection of audio jacks, and a BIOS flashback button.

Intel Alder Lake CPU lineup – LGA 1700, New CPU power labels

At the moment, Intel offers only the top (K series) Alder Lake SKUs. This includes both CPUs with and without (the KF series) integrated graphics. There are six CPUs in total:

  • i9-12900K – 8 performance cores + 8 efficient cores, 24 threads; 5.1GHz boost clock; 125W processors base power/241W Maximum Turbo Power
  • i9-12900KF – 8 performance cores + 8 efficient cores, 24 threads; 5.1GHz boost clock; 125W processors base power/241W Maximum Turbo Power
  • i7-12700K – 8 performance cores + 4 efficient cores, 20 threads; 4.9GHz boost clock; 125W processors base power/190W Maximum Turbo Power
  • i7-12700KF – 8 performance cores + 4 efficient cores, 20 threads; 4.9GHz boost clock; 125W processors base power/190W Maximum Turbo Power
  • i5-12600K – 6 performance cores + 4 efficient cores, 16 threads; 4.9GHz boost clock; 125W processors base power/150W Maximum Turbo Power
  • i5-12600KF – 6 performance cores + 4 efficient cores, 16 threads; 4.9GHz boost clock; 125W processors base power/150W Maximum Turbo Power

Let’s talk about the new stuff. First of all, 12th gen CPUs feature Big Little core architecture that sees performance (big) cores combined with efficient (little) cores. Big.little architecture is used in smartphone space for years but this is the first time we’re seeing it on a PC platform. This combination allows better optimization (depending on the use case) higher power efficiency, and higher overall performance. Smaller cores use less power and are activated during light workloads – while browsing the web or watching Netflix.

Once you start gaming or doing CPU-intensive workloads, big cores kick in to provide the best performance. And for some heavy multithreaded workloads (video editing, rendering), both core clusters work in tandem to provide maximum performance. This isn’t the case with games since they aren’t thread-heavy applications. As you probably have noticed, big cores support multithreading while efficient cores do not.

You’ve probably also noticed the Maximum Turbo Power (MTP) label. This, previously known as PL2, is now the official max CPU power for Alder Lake CPUs. We also have the PBP (processor base power) label that has the same wattage (125W for all CPUs) TDP (or PL1) had in older CPUs. But this time, instead of users wondering just how high their CPU can go in terms of power, Intel provided official numbers under the MTP label.

And since all Z-series boards can run CPUs without power limits (this feature’s called MCE or multi-core enhancement in older CPU generations), you should look at the MTP as the default power mode. Running an Alder Lake CPU with MTP on can net you a noticeable performance bump, at least in Cinebench. Do note that all our Z690 picks can run Alder Lake CPUs in Maximum Turbo Power mode without issues.

A new socket also means new cooling brackets. If you want to keep your current cooling solution but the manufacturer doesn’t plan to release updated LGA 1700 cooling brackets, your best bet is getting an ASUS motherboard. All Z690 ASUS boards come with both LGA 1200 and LGA 1700 cooling brackets. Now, let’s talk about the two most important new features supported by Alder Lake CPUs and the Z690 chipset.

Z690 chipset – PCIe 5.0 & DDR5

The two most prominent new features found on Z690 motherboards are PCIe 5.0 and DDR5. Alder Lake CPUs have both DDR4 and DDR5 memory controllers. But because DDR4 and DDR5 memory use different physical slots, Z690 boards support either the former or the latter, not both at the same time.

As for the PCIe 5.0 advantages, the new standard doubles the bandwidth compared to PCIe 4.0. That said, current GPUs work great even with PCIe 3.0, so higher bandwidth isn’t such a big deal. Next, there is no graphics card at the moment that supports PCIe 5.0. There are some rumors Nvidia will release PCIe 5.0 compliant GPUs (like the RTX 3090 Ti) early next year. Current GPUs will work on PCIe 5.0 boards without issues.

Further: at the moment, there aren’t any PCIe 5.0 SSDs. The first PCIe 5.0 SSD controller came out recently, but it will take some time (a year, maybe longer) before we’re able to actually buy PCIe 5.0 storage. In other words, the PCIe 5.0 is a future-proof feature that you cannot utilize right now. This is probably why the first batch of Z690 boards only comes with PCIe 4.0 M.2 slots.

Next, we have DDR5 support. There are DDR5 modules on the market, and you can use DDR5 memory with Alder Lake CPUs from the start. But their price is, at least right now, noticeably higher when compared to DDR4 memory. Next, DDR5 technology is still in its infancy, and while there are kits that can reach speeds way above the capabilities of DDR4, they are even more expensive than regular DDR5 kits. Chances are, you won’t be able to run them at their max speeds.

The official DDR5 memory support for Alder Lake CPUs is set at DDR5 4400 if a board has four memory slots. The max speed drops further if you fill all four slots with dual rank memory. This doesn’t mean these CPUs cannot run faster memory – remember, the official 11th gen Intel CPU specs is DDR4 3200, while the CPUs can run memory much higher than that. But since this is the first CPU generation with DDR5 support, we reckon it will take some time before you’ll be able to use faster DDR5 memory without issues.

DDR4 vs. DDR5 – Which one to pick?

At the end of the day, when it comes to a decision between DDR4 and DDR5, our advice is to wait a few weeks/months and see reviews and early adopter experiences. A bit of patience also means you’ll skip the usual stock issues and price gouges at launch. If you wait, you’ll also have a much better choice since, right now, there’s just a handful of DDR5 memory kits to pick between. Finally, each new RAM generation went through the usual growing pains, so waiting is the right thing to do. If you really want to run 12th gen Intel CPUs with DDR5 memory ASAP, start with the base, DDR5 4800, spec, and don’t spend lots of cash on faster memory. Now, let’s check out the best Z690 motherboard. We’re starting with budget picks.