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The Intel Z390 Chipset And The Gigabyte Z390 Aorus Master

The Z390 chipset launching alongside Intel’s 9th Generation Core processors is similar to the existing Z370, save for a couple of additional features...

z390 diagram

The high-level block diagram above gives a good visual representation of the Z390 chipset’s main features. Like the Z370 (and a few generations to come before it), the new Z390 chipset is essentially an I/O hub, as all of the traditional functionality previously found in a Northbridge chip has been integrated into the processor itself. In addition to everything that came with the Z370, like support for faster DDR4 memory, up to 24 additional PCIe lanes (over and above the 16 lanes built into the processors), Intel Platform Trust Technology, and Optane memory support – along with all of the SATA and USB 2.0/3.0 connectivity, etc. -- the Z390 also integrates USB 3.1 Gen 2 (@ up to 10 Gb/s) and 802.11ac Wi-Fi. Keep in mind, not every motherboard will actually integrate wireless networking for various reasons, but the functionality is available in the chipset itself now.

gigabyte z390 master 1

In preparation for this launch, we got our hands on the high-end Gigabyte Z390 Aorus Master. Gigabyte has a myriad of Z390-based motherboards coming down the pipeline. The Z390 Aorus Master we’ll be showing you here isn’t quite the company’s flagship product – that designation is reserved for the Z390 Aorus Xtreme -- but it only sits one notch down the stack and feature a plethora of integrated goodies including ALC1220-based audio with a 125dB SNR, a headphone amp, configurable RBG lighting, server-class digital power circuitry, beefy coolers, multiple M.2 slots with heatsinks, and all the features offered by Intel's chipset itself.

The Z390 Aorus Master is built like a tank. The board is heavy and rigid and was rock-solid throughout standard testing – overclocking was a bit of a challenge, but then again overclocking is always fraught with some obstacles, regardless of the motherboard being used. Power on this board is handled by a newly-designed digital 12-phase solution, that’s outfitted with a dense array of heatsinks fins and direct-contact heat-pipes to keep temperatures in check. There’s a metal base-plate on the backside of the PCB as well to further help dissipate heat and the power connectors feature solid-pins, which are sturdier and more reliable than the hollow press-fit pins found on cheaper motherboards.

gigabyte z390 master power

As we’ve mentioned in the past, Gigabyte is now using the “Aorus” name with its gaming-grade motherboards. All Aorus-branded motherboards feature a newly refreshed user interface for their BIOS, with “Smart Fan 5” – the latest iteration of Gigabyte’s fine-grained fan controls that give users the ability to tune their cooling using sensor data from multiple areas around the board. In fact, the UI has been updated yet again with this release, though it’s mostly the graphical accents and Easy Mode layout that have been tweaked.

One cool feature on Gigabyte’s Aorus motherboards that’s been updated on the Z390 Aorus Master are its hybrid fan pin headers. Gigabyte’s hybrid fan headers can auto-sense what type of fan or device is plugged into the header and can tune settings accordingly. For example, the headers can differentiate between a water pump and high-speed, PWM fan, and they support up to 3 amps per-header with built-in overcurrent protection. In addition, eight fan headers are accompanied by headers for thermal sensors as well, which can be placed strategically around a system to monitor various temperatures and tune fan speeds accordingly.

gigabyte z390 master slots

Aorus gaming motherboards like the Z390 Aorus Master are also outfitted with fully-customizable RGB lighting across a few segments of the PCB (for example, under the heatsinks in the VRM and on the chipset cooler and audio shielding). The lighting can be configured via Gigabyte's “RBG Fusion” app for different modes (pulsing, color cycling, etc. -- 9 modes in total) and there are additional headers on the board for adding more LED light strips as well; the board supports hundreds of LEDs in total.

gigabyte z390 master ports

The Gigabyte Z390 Aorus Master’s audio comes by way of a Realtek ALC1220 codec, paired with an ESS Sabre ES9118 DAC, and high-end WIMA caps and isolation circuitry tuned to optimize sound quality. The board is also packing an Intel Gigabit network controller, Intel Wi-Fi, support for SLI and CrossFire, a POST Code error reporter, XMP status LED, and external power and clear-CMOS switches – you name the feature and it’s probably on this board.

gigabyte z390 master bundle

The Z390 Aorus Master also features triple M.2 slots with heatsinks, 6 SATA ports (with support for RAID), USB 3.1 gen 1 and gen 2, with a Type-C connector on the back, and all of the I/O you’d expect from a high-end board. The BIOS is loaded with overclocker friendly features as well, and its accessory bundle is decent. The Gigabyte Z390 Aorus Master includes a handful of SATA cables, a user’s manual and installation guide, drivers and utility software, an Aorus case badge, some easy case connectors to simplify installation into a chassis, a couple of Velcro strips, an SLI bridge, antennas for the built-in Wi-Fi, and a sheet of Aorus-branded decals. Motherboards normally come with a custom IO shield as well, but the shield on the Z390 Aorus Master actually comes mounted to the board, so there’s no need to install one onto your chassis by hand.

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