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.