In the lab: Gigabyte’s Z390 Aorus Master motherboard

Intel's Z390 chipset is here, and while it isn't a revolutionary change for the enthusiast desktop PC, it adds two major new features: provisions for as many as six USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports from the chipset and the brains to control Intel's Integrated Connectivity (or CNVi) Wi-Fi modules. Presuming one has the router to support it and one's motherboard maker chooses Intel's highest-end Wireless-AC 9560 RF module, Z390 motherboards can wirelessly network at speeds upward of a gigabit per second in ideal conditions.

Our first Z390 motherboard in the TR labs is Gigabyte's Z390 Aorus Master. This is the second-highest-end board in Gigabyte's Z390 lineup so far, and it's among the first boards to use Gigabyte's new naming scheme.

Unlike past Aorus boards that used a straightforward Gaming 3, Gaming 5, Gaming 7, or Gaming 9 nameplate (from lowest- to highest-end), the new naming hierarchy runs from "Elite" to "Pro" to "Ultra" and onward to the highest-end "Master" and "Xtreme" boards. Good luck remembering all that without the handy naming pyramid above.

The Aorus Master itself presents an RGB LED-friendly black-and-gray visage. Brushed-aluminum heatsinks for the VRM and M.2 slots contrast with mirrored elements on the chipset heatsink and audio-path cover.

While the VRM heatsinks of the Aorus Master may appear to have regressed to the form-over-function design we despise on first glance, it's worth looking again. Gigabyte has devised an inventive method for keeping the party going around the CPU socket while delivering function where the VRM heatsink needs it.

The company uses blocky brushed-aluminum bases with deep cut-outs to allow air to flow to real fin stacks bonded to the back edge of those bases. A single direct-contact heat pipe and high-conductivity thermal pads should prove effective in wicking heat away from the board's 12-phase International Rectifier PowIRStage power circuitry (achieved with six doubled phases) and into the fin stacks.

We've already seen how effective these heatsinks can be on recent Gigabyte boards, and I'm eager to see whether the company's new blend of style and surface area carries that torch forward.

The Aorus Master's back panel has integrated power and clear-CMOS buttons for quick shutdowns or restarts during overclocking. The antenna connectors for Intel's Wireless-AC 9560 companion RF module poke through the integrated I/O shield alongside four USB 2.0 ports from the Z390 chipset. Two USB 3.0 ports with Gigabyte's DAC-UP power control, three USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A ports, and a USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C port offer higher-speed connectivity options. An Intel-powered Gigabit Ethernet jack sits next to analog audio connections for the Realtek ALC1220 codec, the signals of which get massaged by a premium ESS DAC.

Flipping the Z390 Aorus Master over reveals a protective backplate that's thermally coupled to the PCB with more pads behind the board's VRM circuitry. On top of that functional touch, the back plate makes the board easier to handle without touching sensitive pins or traces.

We'll be using the Z390 Aorus Master as we test out our Core i9-9900K over the coming days. If you're looking for one of the highest-end Z390 motherboards we've yet seen, you can order one of your own at Newegg for $289.99 right now.

Comments closed
    • albundy
    • 1 year ago

    that’s a lot of money for crabby audio.

    • btb
    • 1 year ago

    About those M2 slots ( [url<]https://www.gigabyte.com/FileUpload/Global/KeyFeature/1014/images/m2Slot.jpg[/url<] ), will you be able to use a type 2280 m2 in the type 22110 slots(via included adapter or something)?

      • JustAnEngineer
      • 1 year ago

      Implementation seems to vary from board to board and we cannot see under the heatsink in Jeff’s photos, but it is easy enough for a motherboard to provide holes to mount the support screw at different locations for M.2 SSDs of other lengths.

      Take a look at the diagram on page 33 of the [url=https://www.gigabyte.com/Motherboard/Z390-AORUS-MASTER-rev-10#support-manual<]manual[/url<], and you can see the holes shown at 110, 80, 60 and 42 mm. The feature list at the top of page 11 also explicitly calls out support for all of those sizes.

      • Voldenuit
      • 1 year ago

      What JAE said. Most motherboards that support M.2 drives will have screwholes for smaller sizes, so a 22110 slot will be able to take 22110, 2280, 2260, 2242, etc.

      Since 2280 is the most common size for NVMe drives, and 2230 is the most common size for wifi and bluetooth cards, these will almost always be supported by most modern boards.

    • Voldenuit
    • 1 year ago

    Oh, lovely. The ‘Clear CMOS’ button is right next to the ‘Power’ button.

    Yep. Nothing can possi-bly go wrong there, nope.

      • GTVic
      • 1 year ago

      If it is properly designed then nothing will go wrong.

      If motherboard has power then:
      – clear-cmos button should do nothing
      – pressing the power button would work as expected
      – mixing up the buttons has no tragic side effects

      If motherboard has NO power then:
      – clear-cmos button should work as expected
      – pressing the power button would have no effect
      – mixing up the buttons has no tragic side effects

        • Voldenuit
        • 1 year ago

        From the [url=https://www.gigabyte.com/us/Motherboard/Z390-AORUS-MASTER-rev-10#support-manual<]Z390 Aorus Gaming Master user manual[/url<]: [quote<]Clear CMOS Button Use this button to clear the CMOS values (e.g. BIOS configuration) and reset the CMOS values to factory defaults when needed. •• Always turn off your computer and unplug the power cord from the power outlet before using the clear CMOS button. •• Do not use the clear CMOS button when the system is on, or the system may shutdown and data loss or damage may occur.[/quote<] Hm... paranoid warning or actual feasible scenario?

          • Chrispy_
          • 1 year ago

          Fastest way to corrupt a BIOS that I know of.

        • Voldenuit
        • 1 year ago

        PS I don’t think you should be getting downvotes on this.

        *If* the buttons are intelligently designed, it should be impossible to accidentally wipe your BIOS by pressing the button while the PC is on. In fact, I’d like to see TR test this in their review and put an end to speculation.

        However, I still think it’s not a great idea to put a power button next to it, or indeed, to put either of those buttons in the rear I/O panel, which can be very hard to see and easy to accidentally trigger when plugging in peripherals.

        At least don’t cheap out on a presumably $200+ motherboard and put a fricking plastic flip cover over these buttons, Gigabyte!

          • Waco
          • 1 year ago

          They could just put a 4 second delay on the clear button. That would make sense on a LOT of boards.

            • Voldenuit
            • 1 year ago

            Until you need to hold down Power to hard reset a hung system.

            It just seems to me to be that clustering Power and Clear CMOS together introduces more potential problems than it solves.

            • Waco
            • 1 year ago

            I don’t disagree at all. 🙂

            • DPete27
            • 1 year ago

            1) the alternative would be to NOT include a rear power or cmos button, which would be seen as a detriment considering most other boards on this echelon include them.
            2) where else are you going to put them?
            3) you can see there’s a flange above and below each button. By utilizing that, and recessing the CMOS button deeper than the power button you can drastically reduce the chances of accidental pushes.

            • Voldenuit
            • 1 year ago

            I’d say that power/reset/cmos buttons on the motherboard are most useful to open-bench overclockers, although nothing in the Aorus Master here tells me that it is something capable of high clocks and subzero temps. Sounds more like a gimmick to draw in customers by association.

            In that case, I’d have only one on the I/O plate, and have them both on the PCB. A good compromise would be clear CMOS accessible outside the case, that way, all functions are accessible with and without a case (every case has a power button, right?).

            Also, I would demand plastic flip covers on any buttons in the I/O shield that change the behavior of the PC. I have a ‘OC’ button on my Z370 Aorus Gaming 3, and it’s just a hassle to avoid hitting it by mistake when I’m trying to plug something in the back.

        • Waco
        • 1 year ago

        The point is that it’s incredibly easy to accidentally hit it and clear your CMOS settings. I did it TWICE accidentally on my X399 Designare since the reset/power/clear cmos buttons are clustered together on the board.

          • BurntMyBacon
          • 1 year ago

          To be fair, this board gives leaves a pretty good amount of area between these buttons and the next IO port. In addition, the next IO port is the Wifi antennas. Everything that gets plugged in is on the other side of the antennas, so you’d need to be pretty far off from your intended target to accidentally press them while trying to plug something in on this board.

          That all said, the buttons are still too close to each other and there is no reason they couldn’t put flip covers on them and eliminate the problem entirely.

      • jihadjoe
      • 1 year ago

      Did Gigabyte stop doing their Dual-BIOS thing?

      My X79-UD7 has a BIOS selector switch at the back instead of Clear CMOS, and IMO it’s a lot more useful.

        • Bauxite
        • 1 year ago

        Oddly enough, some of their dual-bios boards get rid of the usb recovery option, WTF.

        My Aorus X399 extreme is like this, honestly the only reason I went with it in the end was (undocumented) working thunderbolt support.

        Being able to aways flash a good image from a fat32 in the correct usb port is a million times more useful than whatever backup bios it shipped with, especially on platforms that get cpu updates. Combined with the “press this button to screw up your next boot” on the back panel, I really don’t like their design choices. Other vendors have done a “press this button to enter bios” which these days with really fast booting and 38 logical usb devices to enumerate every time can actually be a godsend.

      • Chrispy_
      • 1 year ago

      The use of a [i<]button[/i<] to clear the CMOS is really very dumb. The function should be a pinhole button that acts as an "are you sure you wish to reset the CMOS (y/n)" check. It depends on how the profiles are saved, but on some motherboards clearing the CMOS also clears all your saved BIOS profiles too. It's doubly painful to clear it by mistake.

      • Takeshi7
      • 1 year ago

      I don’t like buttons on the rear panel at all. When I’m reaching around to plug in cables I’ll inevitably accidentally push one. buttons on the motherboard near the top right corner is fine, but not on the rear panel.

    • tsk
    • 1 year ago

    Functional heatsink?
    Heresy.

      • Krogoth
      • 1 year ago

      Needs more dakka……

      • Shobai
      • 1 year ago

      Even the dodgy aluminium block heatsinks are functional.

      The pointless plastic cover blocks basically all airflow through the stack above the socket, and where can air flow after entering the small gap above the stack between the socket an IO cluster?

      Take that shroud off, maybe it’d work really well. As it is it’s probably perfectly fine for the vast majority of users, just like the silly ones were.

    • DeadOfKnight
    • 1 year ago

    Nice flexing eagle where you could have put a couple USB ports. I don’t know why all motherboards don’t just fill up the I/O panel with USB ports.

      • Krogoth
      • 1 year ago

      It is all about the gains!

      • DPete27
      • 1 year ago

      Considering it’s a pretty full IO panel in general, I’m not going to complain.

      Heck, they even dropped the stalwart DVI and DP ports to give more USB ports.

      • Freon
      • 1 year ago

      > flexing eagle

      Oh no, can’t unsee!

    • DPete27
    • 1 year ago

    [quote<]the board's 12-phase International Rectifier PowIRStage power circuitry[/quote<] I believe [url=https://www.anandtech.com/show/13407/intel-z390-motherboard-overview-every-motherboard-analyzed/2<]it's a 6+2 phase system[/url<] with doublers, just like all the other Gigabyte boards this season. Can't just count chokes anymore. [Add] I've had a hard time finding a definitive write-up on what having 2x chokes does for the power delivery system. I have to assume it's better than a single choke per phase, but worse than an actual 12+2 phase system.

      • magila
      • 1 year ago

      With doublers you still get most of the benefits of having more phases. It’s much better than just sticking multiple MOSFETs and chokes on each phase which is depressingly common and only improves thermals.

      Humorously, the doublers in the Aurus Master lack current balancing while the Ultra/Pro/Elite have it. Basically with the Master you are paying a premium for International Rectifier components which, on paper at least, are actually not as good as the Intersil parts used on the downmarket boards.

        • DPete27
        • 1 year ago

        Interesting! Thank you for the info.

        How do you know if a board is “sticking multiple MOSFETs and chokes on each phase”?

        Also, when you say “most of the benefits” would you consider that 75%? As-in, a 4 phase doubled system is comparable to a straight 6?

          • magila
          • 1 year ago

          The only way to know if each choke really is a separate phase is to examine the board and see what power components are in use and how they are wired up. Doublers are discrete chips so you can find them on the PCB if you know what to look for. Unfortunately this may require removing the VRM heatsink(s). Just knowing the specific model of VRM in use can be a giveaway. For example, if you see a board with an ISL95866 that looks like it has 8 phases then you know that’s bogus because the VRM is a 4+2 model with integrated drivers meaning it cannot be doubled.

          In practice if you’re shopping for a new motherboard you just have to find a review by someone who knows enough to dissect the board and report what the VRM configuration is.

          I’m kind of hazy on the details of how doublers compare to having a strait VRM with the same number of phases. My understanding is that the main difference is that you may not get the full benefit of the fancy tuning and balancing features of today’s digital VRMs.

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