Intel just loves dropping new chipsets once every couple of years. Just as some people love seeing new technology and new possibilities, other people simply see a new reason to switch to a new motherboard. Different motherboards are designed for different chipsets and they have different CPU sockets installed. Intel dropped the Comet Lake-S desktop CPUs in Q2 2020 and alongside them new Z490 chipsets.
The constant improvement of processor speeds and power requirements means that Intel also needs to develop new CPU sockets that are used to connect CPUs to your motherboard. The socket that is featured on the Z490 motherboards is the LGA 1200 socket. The main question everyone asks is whether it’s worth upgrading to the latest generation and we’ll try to answer the question by providing detailed insight into Z490.
List of Z490 motherboards
This is a list of all the Z490 motherboards that have been released.
Z490 will be the face of the Intel 400 chipset series. According to the data available, before the actual Z490 motherboards have been released, there is not much difference between Z490 and its predecessors like Z390 and Z370. Z490 is released alongside Comet Lake-S 10 nm CPUs that will represent the 10th Gen Intel Core Processors.
The most important change is the implementation of the new CPU socket: LGA 1200. Much like its predecessors, LGA 1200 draws its name from the number of pins used to connect the processors to the motherboard. Its physical dimensions remain the same but the orientation of socket keying has changed, meaning there is no forward or backward compatibility with other sockets.
The Z490 chipset will support up to 24 PCIe 3.0 lanes, each with the maximum supported speed of 8 Gb/s. You will also be able to take advantage of 6 SATA ports, each with the maximum speed of Gb/s. It will also come loaded with USB ports, supporting up to 6 USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports, up to 10 USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports, and up to 14 USB 2.0 ports.
The chipset will implement the latest Intel technologies, including Intel Platform Trust Technology, Intel Rapid Storage Technology with RAID, Intel Optane Memory Support, Intel Smart Sound Technology, and Intel High Definition Audio. Z490 uses dual-channel memory, up to DDR4-2933 with i9 or i7, or up to DDR4-2666 with i5, i3, and other CPU series. Overclocking is supported, as was expected.
Perhaps the most drastic difference between Z490 and its predecessors is its networking options. Intel Wi-Fi 6 CNVi is integrated into the chipset which allows motherboard manufacturers to integrate wireless solutions directly from the chipset.
Z490 vs Z390 vs Z370
If we were to break down the crucial differences between these three chipsets, we would quickly conclude that they are nowhere to be found. We’ve already pointed out the most obvious difference in the CPU socket. Just like Z490 possesses the LGA 1200 socket, Z390 and Z370 feature the LGA 1151 socket.
The PCIe configuration remains the same for all three chipsets. It’s interesting to notice that Intel has delayed the implementation of PCIe 4.0 and it won’t feature alongside the 10th generation of Core CPUs. However, they’ve promised to include it from the 11th generation and the Rocket Lake series of CPUs, leaving us wondering how they would pull it off. We’ll review this problem soon enough…
Maximal memory speed for Z490 has increased to DDR4-2933 for Core i7 and i9 CPUs, as opposed to DDR4-2666 for Z390 and Z370. Integrated Intel Wi-Fi 5 feature was available for Z390 as well but Intel Wi-Fi 6 has been implemented to ensure greater speeds, better performance, and allow motherboard manufacturers to integrate their wireless capabilities directly from the chipset.
Z370 and Z390 chipsets can be paired with the 8th-gen and 9th-gen Intel CPUs. Z370 users need to install a BIOS update if they want to use a 9th-gen CPU with their motherboard, though. The Z490 chipset is developed for the 10th generation of Intel Core CPUs but the good news is that the 11th generation (Rocket Lake CPUs) will also ship with the Z490 chipset! So, if you purchase a Z490 motherboard, you should be ready set for two generations of Intel CPUs, which should be enough. This might be a perfect chance for people who are looking to build their gaming rig from scratch to invest in the upcoming Z490 motherboards!
PCH PCIe 3.0 Lanes (CPU/PCH)
x16, x8/x8, x8/x4/x4
x16, x8/x8, x8/x4/x4
x16, x8/x8, x8/x4/x4
USB 3.2 (Gen2/Gen1)
SATA 3.0 Ports
HSIO Lanes (CPU + PCH)
Dual (DDR4 2933)
Dual (DDR4 2666)
Dual (DDR4 2666)
Intel Smart Sound
Intel RST Technology Port Count
Integrated Intel Wi-Fi 6
PCI 4.0 situation
Officially, the Comet Lake generation of CPUs will remain loyal to the PCIe 3.0 technology. The exact number of PCIe 3.0 lanes are assigned to the Z490 chipset and all motherboards that want to be used with these chipsets will need to provide this number of slots. However, many upcoming Z490 motherboards boast of being “PCIe 4.0” ready, in the sense that they will be able to implement this communication standard for future releases of Intel CPUs.
It all starts with Intel…
The whole situation is more complicated than it seems. First of all, Intel originally announced that their generation of Comet Lake CPUs will implement PCIe 4.0 but reports from January 2020 indicate that Intel has dropped the support for PCIe 4.0 for unknown reasons and will instead stick with PCIe 3.0. However, Comet Lake-S CPUs still haven’t been released and there is room for more drama!
It’s getting more and more obvious that PCIe 4.0 will be delayed for at least another generation. Intel’s actions confused and angered motherboard manufacturers who might have already implemented PCIe 4.0 support to pair along with Z490. What’s even more confusing is that Intel plans on keeping the same Z490 chipset and the LGA 1200 socket for the 11th generation of Core CPUs (Rocket Lake) that will probably use PCIe 4.0!
That’s probably one of the reasons many manufacturers decide to provide PCIe 4.0 support right from the beginning, despite it not having to do anything with the current generation of CPUs. Many manufacturers claim that the support is “limited” and “reserved for the future”, indicating the hope of being able to keep their motherboards usable for the future, the Rocket Lake CPUs.
A glance into the future
However, this indicates that Z490 motherboards that support PCIe 4.0 were built with Rocket Lake in mind, a CPU generation that probably hasn’t even been built yet. Some specifications are available from Intel but, because they probably won’t be released until 2021, Intel can change many of their intended specifications as they did with Comet Lake CPUs and PCIe 4.0! Despite supporting PCIe 4.0, motherboard manufacturers can’t know how many lanes will be supported by Rocket Lake CPUs, for instance. Many similar problems can occur due to uncertainty.
Motherboard manufacturers had two ways to go: build motherboards to focus solely on Comet Lake and PCIe 3.0 or try to create hybrid models that will try to stay usable even with the new generation of Rocket Lake CPUs. Keep that in mind if you’re looking forward to purchasing a motherboard and you see it’s “PCIe 4.0 ready”. You might still have to purchase a new motherboard when Rocket Lake CPUs come out or you might be able to utilize your CPU to the maximum.
Comet Lake-S desktop lineup leaks ahead of official announcement date
The official date when Intel planned to announce the full lineup of their Comet Lake-S desktop CPUs was April 30, but many details have leaked several days before that date. It’s all behind us now but it has given us an insight into what the new generation has to offer and what price range are we looking at.
Note that the prices indicated by Intel are usually around $100 lower than what you might end up paying for the CPU. It represents the price set by Intel for 1000-units-per-purchase sales, without taking into account the costs by the retailer.
The 10th gen sounds amazing: speeds up to 5.3 GHz, up to 10 cores (20 threads), 20 MB Intel Smart Cache. There’s a little bit for everyone: from casual users to hardcore gamers and anyone looking forward to building a workstation.
Z490 motherboards available for pre-order
Even though Comet Lake desktop CPUs will probably be released in the second half of May, you can already pre-order Z490 motherboards. All major motherboard manufactures have provided many different models and the indicated release date is set for May 20. Intel hasn’t specified a date for their CPUs but the CPUs should already be available by that date.
Their quality, performance, and price vary from budget-friendly options to motherboards costing more than the most expensive CPU you can purchase. However, that’s the price you’ll have to pay for water-cooling, RGB lighting, and a motherboard that looks like it’s been taken out from a spaceship!
Gigabyte confirms Z490 will support Rocket Lake CPUs
We’ve taken this fact for granted throughout the article even though Intel has been quite mysterious about the whole situation. One thing we know for sure is that Rocket Lake will use the same LGA 1200 socket and Intel would anger a lot of people by introducing a new chipset or a new socket by the time of release.
However, it was GIGABYTE’s live stream that started the talk of how Z490 will stick around even when Rocket Lake comes out. They hosted a Q&A session regarding their new Z490 motherboards and the question of Rocket Lake support was the first question that popped up.
“Um, yes,” was the answer from one of the hosts, with a nervous smile. We wonder whether Intel gave him an angry call after the stream was over, taking it out on him for spilling top-secret information. “I’m not sure if I can say that, but uh, yes.” Let’s hope Intel and GIGABYTE remain on good terms after this! This would explain why GIGABYTE motherboards offer PCIe 4.0 support from the beginning. The question remains: does GIGABYTE know something other motherboard manufacturers don’t? Also, can they be trusted that their motherboards will remain usable with both the 10th and 11th generation of Core CPUs without bottlenecking either one? These questions can only be answered with time and it’s up to you to take your chances with GIGABYTE or not!