DDR4? DDR5? Wi-Fi? A brief overview of motherboards for Intel’s new Alder Lake CPUs

Enlarge / Gigabyte’s $270 Z690 Aorus Elite AX Z690. Alder Lake motherboards are available all shapes, sizes, and costs, so long as you’ve a minimum of $200 (and ideally, nearer to $300) to spend.


Intel’s Twelfth-generation Core processors for desktops are right here, and they’re fast. Codenamed Alder Lake, these processors devour a lot of energy to achieve the heights that they do and would require costly high-performance cooling to match. However in change, they ship wholesome single-threaded efficiency boosts over their closest competitors from AMD, and so they usually come fairly shut in multi-threaded efficiency assessments regardless of the usage of lower-performance “effectivity” cores (or E-cores).

As they so usually do, this new processor structure requires new chipsets and processor sockets from Intel—motherboards with 500-series chipsets aren’t suitable. To accompany our Alder Lake overview, we have appeared on the breadth of Z690-based motherboards which might be at the moment accessible, in addition to the state of the nascent DDR5 RAM market (spoiler: it is not nice).

Every kind of boards

Gigabyte's Z690 UD AX DDR4 is a solid entry-level Z690 ATX motherboard for Alder Lake, featuring DDR4 support, built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, a respectable port selection, and decent looking VRM heatsinks for around $220.
Enlarge / Gigabyte’s Z690 UD AX DDR4 is a strong entry-level Z690 ATX motherboard for Alder Lake, that includes DDR4 assist, built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, a good port choice, and first rate trying VRM heatsinks for round $220.


Entry-level ATX and Micro ATX motherboards with the Z690 chipset begin between $200 and $250. There are a couple of that dip under that $200 line, however they’re extra possible than the opposite fashions to be offered out as of this writing. Usually, we tried to deal with boards which you could truly purchase proper this minute; Newegg lists most ASRock and lots of Asus motherboards as out of inventory proper now, however you possibly can nonetheless discover boards to suit most budgets should you want one.

Even entry-level Z-series motherboards include their fair proportion of bells and whistles—really bare-bones motherboards are reserved for cheaper chipsets that Intel hasn’t introduced or launched but. On this worth vary, you usually get 4 DDR4 reminiscence slots, although a pair (just like the MSI Pro Z690-A DDR5 and Z690-A WIFI DDR5) do supply 4 DDR5 reminiscence slots as a substitute, in addition to a PCI Categorical 5.0 x16 slot for GPUs, a few show outputs (normally one DisplayPort, one HDMI), and three or 4 M.2 2280 slots for putting in a number of SSDs.

You additionally get someplace between six and 10 rear USB ports with a mixture of speeds, normally with a single USB-C port amongst them. Most embrace a single 2.5 Gbps Ethernet port at this level, although you will nonetheless see 1 Gbps on the very least expensive boards. Constructed-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth assist is uncommon on this worth vary however not unprecedented—yow will discover it in boards like Gigabyte’s Z690 UD AX and the DDR5 and DDR4 versions of the MSI Pro Z690-A.

It's missing Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, but for around $230, MSI's Pro Z690-A is one of the cheapest Z690 motherboards with DDR5 RAM support.
Enlarge / It is lacking Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, however for round $230, MSI’s Professional Z690-A is without doubt one of the least expensive Z690 motherboards with DDR5 RAM assist.


The one factor to be careful for on the very least expensive of those motherboards is a small heatsink for the voltage regulator modules, or VRMs. Retaining VRMs cool ensures that the processor can get a gentle provide of energy whereas boosting for prolonged durations of time. A lot of the motherboards we checked out, together with those linked above plus Gigabyte’s Z690 Gaming X DDR4, the ASRock Z690 Steel Legend, and Asus’ Prime Z690-P, Z690-P D4, and Prime Z690M-Plus D4 all have substantial-looking VRM heatsinks above and to the left of the processor socket, overhanging the ports. Others, just like the ASRock Z690 Phantom Gaming 4 and Z690 Pro RS, have smaller VRM heatsinks that won’t deal with a top-end Core i9-12900K or processor overclocking as nicely.

Step up into the $300-ish vary, and Wi-Fi/Bluetooth playing cards grow to be a typical characteristic. You will typically additionally discover extra rear USB ports (together with a second USB-C port) on boards like Gigabyte’s Z690 Aero G DDR4 or the Asus Prime Z690-A. DDR5 assist continues to be comparatively uncommon, although: each the Prime Z690-A and Gigabyte Z690 Aorus Pro assist DDR5, however many of the others nonetheless use DDR4. This worth vary can also be the place you will discover one of many few mini ITX Z690 boards, appropriate for small workstation or gaming builds: Gigabyte’s Z690I Aorus Ultra DDR4. This class of boards additionally tends to incorporate a pair extra VRM modules and even bigger, extra elaborate heatsinks for each the VRMs and the M.2 SSD slots.

There are Z690 motherboards far above $300, from the $350 Asus ROG Strix Z690-G Gaming WiFi (the extra you pay, the longer the identify, I assume) to the $600 MSI MEG Z690 ACE to the $900 Gigabyte Z690 Aorus Xtreme to the $1,100 Asus Rog Maximus Z690 Extreme that prices as a lot as an honest gaming PC did within the pre-chip-shortage days.

At $1,100, the flashy Asus ROG Maximus Z690 Extreme costs as much as a nice laptop all by itself.
Enlarge / At $1,100, the flashy Asus ROG Maximus Z690 Excessive prices as a lot as a pleasant laptop computer all by itself.


A few of these boards do have their promoting factors, like built-in Thunderbolt 4 as a substitute of only a header, much more VRMs, and elaborate VRM cooling setups with fins and heatpipes. However numerous what you pay for on this worth vary can also be model; shining LED lights grow to be much more frequent, and stylized, brand’d heatsinks come near masking the whole lot of the board.

Most individuals need not spend this a lot on a board and could be higher off dumping that cash into the processor, RAM, or no matter GPU you possibly can handle to seek out. Our Intel-supplied take a look at setup used an MSI MPG Z690 Carbon, with a relatively cheap $400 price ticket. However these spendy motherboard choices are on the market if in case you have specific wants otherwise you’re going for a selected look and you’ve got money to burn.

The DDR5 tax

If you can actually find DDR5 RAM to buy, you'll pay a lot more for the extra speed.
Enlarge / If you happen to can truly discover DDR5 RAM to purchase, you will pay much more for the additional velocity.


Our Alder Lake overview did let Intel put its greatest foot ahead, with DDR5 RAM that gives additional reminiscence bandwidth that permits Intel to wring some additional efficiency out of its chips (significantly in multithreaded duties). However the truth of the matter is that you’re going to pay much more to place collectively a desktop with DDR5 proper now, each while you purchase the motherboards (which come at a small premium over the most cost effective DDR4 variations) and the RAM itself.

Let’s evaluate some DDR4 3200 and DDR5 4800 RAM costs as a reference level, as a result of these are the quickest speeds formally listed on Intel’s Alder Lake product pages.

A 16 GB Crucial DDR5 4800 memory kit will run you about $137 proper now, in comparison with $72 for a Crucial DDR4 3200 memory kit (and this is not the most cost effective DDR4 possibility; I simply figured it will be essentially the most truthful to check RAM kits from the identical producers). The identical kits in 32 GB capacities value $274 for DDR5 and $153 for DDR4. For 64 GB, you are taking a look at $548 for that Crucial DDR5 kit or $363 for the DDR4 (and whereas the Essential package is the most cost effective 64 GB DDR5 package that exists, 64 GB DDR4 kits from completely different producers with related velocity and timings will be had for round $250).

Including insult to harm, each single DDR5 reminiscence package on Newegg is out of inventory, so you will have a tough time shopping for it it doesn’t matter what you are prepared to pay. We used Newegg for many of our analysis right here, however the scenario is identical at retailers like Amazon and B&H, too.

If you happen to’re shopping for Alder Lake on a price range, you could possibly shut that worth and efficiency hole a bit by shopping for a DDR4 3600 or 4000 package at a small worth premium over DDR4 3200 and utilizing the XMP setting in your BIOS to make the RAM run at its rated speeds as soon as it is put in. It will not shut the hole, partly as a result of DDR5 additionally makes use of extra reminiscence channels than DDR4, but it surely should get you barely higher multithreaded efficiency with out having to cope with the pricing and inventory points. Kits quicker than DDR4 4000 exist, however they are not less expensive than DDR5.

We will not simply predict what the provision of DDR5 shall be like going ahead, as a result of nobody can at the moment predict something associated to chip availability with any diploma of accuracy. But when it goes like reminiscence transitions have gone up to now, we are able to count on availability, pricing, and velocity to return down regularly over time now {that a} consumer-level product that makes use of DDR5 has truly come out. That availability will proceed to enhance as soon as AMD transitions to DDR5 and as soon as lower-end Twelfth-generation CPUs and chipsets with DDR5 assist grow to be extra broadly accessible. Speeds will even improve, placing much more distance between the very best DDR4 speeds and the bottom DDR5 speeds. However we would count on all of this to take a minimum of a yr or two to occur.

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