Introduction

GIGABYTE is among the leading high-end PC components manufacturers venturing in multiple other related categories like server products. Their AORUS Gaming brand was created for the PC enthusiasts out there who would want to have some brand association as well as powerful and stylish gaming products. GIGABYTE has also ventured into the PC peripheral and doing so by achieving the AORUS ecosystem.

Intel released their Comet Lake series Core I CPUs dubbed as 10th generation chips. These chips are still from their 14nm fab node meaning we are still seeing Skylake refresh in play from Intel. One major difference for the 10th generation is the new pin layout comprising of 1200 socket pins as compared to 1150 pins on the previous sockets. This may have something to do with the power consumption/requirement of the high-end Core i9 CPUs. This would mean we have a new Chipset to support the new socket. Intel has introduced the Z490 chipset along with other related chipsets. Good thing is that the CPU package remains the same which has allowed Intel to provide the same mounting provision on the socket area as is on the Intel LGA115x sockets. The coolers supporting the Intel LGA115x sockets will also support the LGA1200 socket. What differences are there in the chipsets coming from Z370, Z390 to Z490? Well, there is not much but Intel has focused more on a network than anything else besides better DDR4 frequencies out of the box. Also, Intel has enabled DMI and PEG overclocking without affecting related components.

The above is a block diagram of the Intel Z370 chipset.

The above is a block diagram of the Intel Z390 chipset.

We are not seeing drastic differences in both.

Again, we see no drastic difference between the Z390 and Z490 chipsets. We now have Intel WiFi 6 CNVi which is to be used in conjunction with the CRF module and we have a 2.5 gigabit Ethernet connection from a PCIe 3.0 x1 lane. The motherboard manufacturers would need a supported controller for this provision. We still have 40 PCIe lanes with 16 lanes coming from the CPU and 24 coming from the chipset. Comet Lake does not support PCIe 4.0 which is disappointing particularly when the competition is already ahead from their second last generation. The DMI is using PCIe 3.0 interface. The CPU supports up to 2999MHz as compared to the 2666MHz support on the previous generation. It is expected that the coming Rocket Lake would support the PCIe 4.0 lanes. Since Comet Lake has future support for the coming 11th generation CPUs, this has implications in terms of the PCIe 3.0/4.0 implementation on the Z490 chipset motherboards. We have seen various vendors providing support for the PCIe 4.0 on their offering which may be a sort of hybrid design using switches as with PCIe 4.0, 20 lanes would be expected from the CPU alone. How it would actually settle, is yet to be seen!

In this article, we are taking a look at the mid-range or what I would like to say upper mid-range offer from the GIGABYTE in the form of Z490 AORUS PROX AX motherboard which boasts a multitude of features, adequate thermal cooling, aggressive power design with the stylish outlook for which AORUS designers have gone back to the drawing board. Here are some of the features of GIGABYTE Z490 AORUS PRO AX:

  • Supports 10th Gen Intel® Core™ Processors and 11th Gen Intel® Core™ Processors*
  • Dual Channel Non-ECC Unbuffered DDR4, 4 DIMMs
  • Intel® Optane™ Memory Ready
  • Direct 12+1 Phases Digital VRM Solution with 55A DrMOS
  • Shielded Memory Routing for Better Memory Overclocking
  • Fins-Array II Heatsink and Direct Touch Heatpipe II
  • Onboard Intel® WiFi 6 802.11ax 2T2R & BT5 with AORUS Antenna
  • AMP-UP Audio with ALC1220-VB and WIMA for Rear 120dB SNR
  • Blazing Fast Intel® 2.5GbE LAN with cFosSpeed
  • Dual Ultra-Fast NVMe PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 with Thermal Guards
  • RGB FUSION 2.0 with Multi-Zone Addressable LED Light Show Design, Support Addressable LED & RGB LED Strips
  • Smart Fan 5 Features Multiple Temperature Sensors, Hybrid Fan Headers with FAN STOP
  • Q-Flash Plus Update BIOS without Installing the CPU, Memory, and Graphics Card
  • Product:              Z490 AORUS PRO AX
  • Manufacturer:    GIGABYTE
  • Price:                  $219.99 [AMAZON pricing at the time of the review]

Specifications

Packaging and Unboxing

The motherboard is shipped inside a cardboard-based packing box.

Z490 AORUS PRO AX is printed showing the model of the motherboard in question. The motherboard supports the Intel Z490 chipset on 10th generation Core i CPUs on the LGA1200 socket.

There is a picture of the motherboard along with the diagram of the rear IO panel. The motherboard is using 12+1 Phases Digital VRM Solution with DrMOS cooled by advanced thermal design using Fins-Array II with pre-applied 5 W/mK LAIRD thermal pads. Other features are also highlighted. The major specifications of the motherboard are printed in a tabular format.

The features of the motherboard are printed in 18 languages.

The motherboard model and supported socket/chipset are printed.

The motherboard is enclosed in an anti-static transparent container and is placed in a container above the accessories.

Contents

These include:

  • 1x Motherboard
  • 1x WiFi Antenna
  • 1x G Connector
  • 1x Installation Disk
  • 1x User Manual
  • 1x Installation Guide
  • 1x Metal Badge
  • 4x SATA Cables
  • 1x RGB Extension Cable
  • 2x Thermal Probe cables

Closer Look

The GIGABYTE Z490 AORUS PRO AX motherboard packs powerful 12+1 Phases digital VRM with DrMOS, Fins-Array II, Dual PCIe M.2 with Thermal Guards, Intel® WiFi  6 AX201, Intel® 2.5 GbE LAN with USB Type-C, RGB Fusion 2.0, and a plethora of utilities and applications. This motherboard has an integrated I/O shield which is another common becoming trend from the various manufacturers and to please the user with a backlit shroud. It is time to take a closer look at the PCB of the motherboard and its layout. Let’s take a look at the motherboard.

The picture is showcasing a glimpse of what the GIGABYTE Z490 AORUS PRO AX Gaming Motherboard has to offer.

The motherboard has mostly a blackish color accent making it a perfect candidate for any color build. The stenciling is mostly in gray and black colors. There is a silver-colored Falcon stenciling on the chipset cover which looks good in an overall symphony of the design. We have 4x DIMM slots for DDR4 RAM, 5x PCIe 3.0 slots at X16/X8/X4/X1, 6x SATA ports, Thunderbolt port, USB 2.0 ports, USB Type-C, USB 3.1 Gen 1, USB 3.2 ports, onboard audio solution driven by Realtek ALC1220-VB, Intel 2.5 GbE NIC, on-board WiFi 6 AX201 solution and nice handy I/O connectivity options. The PCB has an ATX form factor measuring 30.5cmX24.4cm and has support for Microsoft Windows 10 x64.

Let’s start with taking a look at the board from the top side.

The GIGABYTE Z490 AORUS PRO AX Gaming motherboard has an Intel LGA1200 socket. The socket is using Tantalum capacitors for better efficiency in handling transient loads. There is a small arrow indicator on the socket’s cover indicating the corner to which the arrow marked side of the CPU has to be aligned. The Intel LGA1200 on The GIGABYTE Z490 AORUS PRO AX Gaming motherboard supports Intel 10th and the upcoming 11th generation of Core i series CPUs. The motherboard comes with an HDMI port supporting a maximum resolution of 4096×[email protected] Hz with a maximum shared memory of 512MB. The HDMI port is 1.4 version and HDCP 2.3.

The shroud on the VRM heatsink and rear I/O is stylish, bold, aggressive, and bodes well with the overall layout of the motherboard. The shroud itself is made of plastic and it has RGB LEDs underneath. The shroud is secured to the PCB using three screws from the backside.

The above picture shows the heatsink covering the power delivery components on the motherboard.

GIGABYTE has gone all out on the VRM design and its cooling in the AORUS family which is similar to what we have seen in the Z390 series. All of their motherboards in this line pack almost similar VRM design and cooling and the Z490 AORUS PRO AX Gaming Motherboard is no exception to that. There are two black color coated aluminum heatsinks with multiple cut-outs to increase the surface area for effective heat dissipation. Fins-Array II uses a new louvered stacked-fins design which not only increases surface area by 300% compared to traditional heatsinks but also improves thermal efficiency with better airflow and heat exchange.

Both heatsinks are connected using an 8mm heat pipe with a reduced gap between the assembly and the heat pipe. The GIGABYTE has used 1.5mm thick thermal pads rated for 5 W/mK thermal conductivity, between the important contact points on the PCB and the heatsinks thus ensuring there is no corner left unchecked when it comes to providing a powerful cooling solution for the MOSFETs.

The GIGABYTE Z490 AORUS PRO AX Gaming motherboard employs 12+1 Digital Power Phases with DrMOS each capable of providing up to 55A of power from each phase. The 12+1 power design is actually using doubles to achieve the power delivery target. 1 phase is for the SOC.

GIGABYTE employs Intersil ISL69269 PWM controller.

The GIGABYTE Z490 AORUS PRO AX employs SiC620A doublers for 12 power phases with each capable of providing 55A.

As mentioned above, the GIGABYTE Z490 AORUS PRO AX is using Tantalum capacitors. The array of these polymer capacitors the transient response and stability is improved under overclocking and heavy load.

GIGABYTE’s exclusive 2X Copper PCB design provides sufficient power trace paths between components to handle greater than normal power loads and to remove heat from the critical CPU power delivery area. This is essential to ensure that the motherboard is able to handle the increased power loading that is necessary when overclocking.

The 8+4 power connectors to power the CPU are located on the top left most side. The provision of extra 4-pins is for the Intel Core i9 10900 and 10850 variants which would require more power during overclocking. There is a 4-pin PWM hybrid Fan Header as well.

The GIGABYTE Z490 AORUS PRO AX Gaming motherboard features solid plated ATX 24pin & ATX 12V 8pin + 4pin power connectors to offer a stable power supply. This is advantageous as there is a larger contact area for the electricity with more metal quantity to sustain the higher power and heat.

There are 4 stainless steel reinforced DIMM slots on the GIGABYTE Z490 AORUS PRO AX Gaming motherboard. These are in the Dual Channel configuration. The maximum capacity is 128GB with 32GB per DIMM slot and the maximum supported frequency is 5000 MT/s (OC). This motherboard supports ECC Un-buffered DIMM 1Rx8/2Rx8 memory modules (operate in non-ECC mode) as well non-ECC Un-buffered DIMM 1Rx8/2Rx8/1Rx16 memory modules. The good design aspect is that all memory routing is under the PCB inner layer shielded by a large ground layer to protect from external interference.

Since we are at it, there is a Realtek RT8120D for a single-phase PWM with a driver. For that, we have MOSFET configuration in the solution of 3 On Semiconductor 4C06N in a two-low one-high. We saw the same design on the Z390 AORUS PRO WIFI motherboard.

Let’s take a look at the top side’s connectivity provisions.

Starting from the right side, there is a 12V RGB header below which we have a digital RGB header. Each header has a clear label identifying which header is for what type of lighting.

Next, we have CPU_OPT and CPU_FAN headers. Another striking feature on the AORUS line of the motherboards is that every header is a hybrid one and utilizes PWM control. Each fan header is controlled by a nuvoTon 3947S PWM controller.

We have a solid pin 24-pin ATX connector, a USB 3.2 Gen-1 header, and a USB 3.2 Gen-1 Type-C header.

We have 3-pin and 5-pin thunderbolt Add-In headers. The Thunderbolt Add-In card is not included and needs to be purchased separately if needed.

There are 6x SATA ports rated at 6 Gbps located on the lower right side of the motherboard. This motherboard supports RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, and RAID 10.

We have 4 LED indicators for VGA, CPU, BOOT, DRAM marking printed at the bottom. This is the troubleshooting mechanism provided on this motherboard. Each of these 4 LEDs is dedicated to the VGA, CPU, BOOT, and DRAM. In case of any issue or error, the corresponding LED will lit up continuously until the problem is resolved. This is my complaint area. There is a thunderbolt header yet no debug LED! AORUS what’s up!

Let’s take a look at the connectivity options located at the base of the motherboard.

Starting from the right side, we have a system panel connector. The base of the pins is color-coded for ease of identification and the corresponding configuration is labeled below the connector. Gigabyte has provided a G Connector which allows the user to easily connect the chassis front panel cables to this connector and then simply connect it to the front panel connector of the motherboard.

There is a 2-pin header right on the top of the system panel connector which is called Clear CMOS jumper. The user can use this header to reset the CMOS. In order to do that, power off your PC and touch both pins at a time using the tip of a screwdriver which will short the circuit. On the next boot cycle, the BIOS would be reset to its default settings.

On the left side of the front panel connector, there are 3x 4-pin hybrid fan headers. The rightmost header is for the pump.

There is a Q-Flash Plus button located after the fan headers. There is a dedicated USB port on the rear panel. The user can update the BIOS without using the CPU by simply downloading the BIOS file from the website. Rename it to Gigabyte.bin and copy it into the FAT32 formatted USB drive. Connect the drive to the designated USB port and press the Q-Flash button. Please note that you would still need to connect the 24-pin ATX and EPS connectors.

Next, we have two 9-pin USB 2.0 headers followed by a TPM header. Next, we have two lighting headers. The first one is +12V and the next one is +5V followed by the Demo LED and in the last, there is an HD Audio header to which the chassis’ front panel audio cable is connected which is optional though.

The GIGABYTE Z490 AORUS PRO AX Gaming Motherboard features a full-length chipset cover finished in an elegant manner with colorful stenciling using black, gray, and silver colors. There is a Falcon logo on the lower left side of the shroud. There are no RGB LEDs under the cover.

The above picture shows the Intel Z490 chipset after taking the cover off.

USB Ports

Following USB connectivity options are present on the GIGABYTE Z490 AORUS PRO AX Gaming Motherboard:

Coming from the Chipset:

  • 1 x USB Type-C™ port on the back panel, with USB 3.2 Gen 2 support
  • 1 x USB Type-C™ port with USB 3.2 Gen 1 support, available through the internal USB header
  • 2 x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A ports (red) on the back panel
  • 5 x USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports (3 ports on the back panel, 2 ports available through the internal USB header)

Chipset+2 USB 2.0 Hubs:

8 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports (4 ports on the back panel, 4 ports available through the internal USB headers)

PCIe Slots

GIGABYTE has mentioned that this motherboard has PCIe 4.0 ready PCB and circuitry. They have implemented a PCIe 4.0 turbo b-clocker above the PCIe slots. This is what I have mentioned in the introduction that Comet Lake is not PCIe 4.0 ready but this socket will support the 11th gen chips which are expected to be using PCIe 4.0. This has left a little room for the vendors to implement PCIe 4.0 support on the Comet Lake platform. Much we are seeing a hybrid design otherwise there was only one choice out of two; either the motherboard supports PCIe 4.0 or not. This motherboard has a total of 5x PCIe slots. The top slot is electrically wired to the CPU socket. PCIe slots have higher slot signal stability and lower impedance, maximizing PCIe bandwidth. Here is the configuration information of these slots:

  • 1 x PCI Express x16 slot, running at x16 (PCIEX16) For optimum performance, if only one PCI Express graphics card is to be installed, be sure to install it in the PCIEX16 slot.
  • 1 x PCI Express x16 slot, running at x8 (PCIEX8) The PCIEX8 slot shares bandwidth with the PCIEX16 slot. When the PCIEX8 slot is populated, the PCIEX16 slot operates at up to x8 mode.
  • 1 x PCI Express x16 slot, running at x4 (PCIEX4)
  • 2 x PCI Express x1 slots

SLI/CF Support

  • Support for NVIDIA® Quad-GPU SLI™ and 2-Way NVIDIA® SLI™ technologies
  • Support for AMD Quad-GPU CrossFire™ and 2-Way AMD CrossFire™ technologies

The top two slots are PCIe 4.0 ready. The PCIe X16 and X8 slots are stainless steel armor reinforced on the outer shell. These brackets feature a double locking mechanism; first from the top and the second from the bottom for better retention. We have a row of 4x switches below the top PCIe slot to convert x16x into x8/x8. The bottom row is of the PCIe 4.0 Re-Drivers to strengthen the signals to longer lengths.

M.2 Port

The GIGABYTE Z490 AORUS PRO AX Gaming motherboard has two M.2 ports using PCIe Gen 3 interface.

The top M.2 port seems to have been reserved for future use. It has a warning sticker on it cautioning the user about the limited functionality which is probably due to the RAID settings on the shared resources with SATA ports. It is better to use the M.2 ports under the cover.

Both M.2 ports have thermal shields with pre-applied thermal pads on them. 2 x M.2 connectors have socket 3, M key, type 2242/2260/2280/22110 SATA, and PCIe x4/x2 SSD support. They are labeled as M2A_SB and M2M_SB.

The M2A port shared bandwidth with the SATA3 1 connector and the M2M port shares bandwidth with the SATA3 4 and 5 connectors. Refer to the picture for the overall scenario of bandwidth sharing and resulting nonavailability of SATA3 connectors.

Both M.2 ports have thermal covers on the top with pre-applied thermal pads to ensure the cool temperature on the drives.

Audio

The GIGABYTE Z490 AORUS Pro WiFi Gaming motherboard is using Realtek High-End HD Audio Codec ALC1220 120dB(A) SNR [110/114 dB(A)] HD Audio using VB Series audio controller. With Smart Headphone Amp it automatically detects impedance of the head-worn audio device, preventing issues such as low volume and distortion.

This motherboard is using a combination of Hi-Fi grade WIMA FKP2 capacitors and high-end Chemicon audio capacitors. While the high-end audio capacitors are suited for high-grade audio equipment, using state of the art technology to provide rich sound in the bass and clearer high frequencies, the WIMA FKP2 capacitors are being used widely in premium grade Hi-Fi systems. The addition of this to the exclusive AOURS AMP-UP Audio technology makes for the ideal onboard sound solution for the most demanding audiophiles. The audio section is implemented on a dedicated layered PCB. The audio solution is backed by 4 high-end Hi-Fi grade WIMA KFP2 Capacitors. These high-quality capacitors help deliver high resolution and high fidelity audio to provide the most realistic sound effects for gamers. LED trace path lighting Illuminates to show the separation of the PCB layers. Channel support is 2/4/5.1/7.1 and S/PDIF Out is supported as well.

Networking

The above picture shows the CNVi controller module installed on the Rear IO panel for WiFi 6 201AX connectivity. To which end GIGABYTE has provided an Antennae.

All new antenna supports WIFI a, b, g, n, ac with wave 2 features, ax, supporting 2.4/5 GHz Dual-Band. It supports tilting and a magnetic base. Moreover, Bluetooth 5.1 provides a better range than the previous BT protocol with faster transmission. The wireless solution supports for 11ax 160MHz wireless standard and up to 2.4 Gbps data rate.

The GIGABYTE Z490 AORUS PRO AX Gaming Motherboard is using Intel 2.5 GbE NIC. Adoption of 2.5G LAN provides up to 2.5 GbE network connectivity, with at least two times faster transfer speeds compared to general 1GbE networking. It’s perfectly suited for gamers and streamers with the ultimate and smooth online experience. It also backward compatible with Multi-Gig(10/100/1000/2500Mbps) RJ-45 Ethernet.

CMOS Chip

This board has 1x 128 Mbit flash using licensed AMI UEFI BIOS. PnP 1.0a, DMI 2.7, WfM 2.0, SM BIOS 2.7, ACPI 5.0 are supported.

Thermal Monitoring and Cooling Solution

Now, it is time to take a look at the cooling provision on the GIGABYTE Z490 AORUS PRO AX Gaming Motherboard.

The above picture shows the thermal sensors and fan headers provision on the GIGABYTE Z490 AORUS PRO AX Gaming motherboard. This motherboard comes with:

  • 8 Fan / Water Pump Connectors
  • 7 Temperature Sensors
  • 2 External Temperature Sensors

The GIGABYTE Z490 AORUS PRO AX Gaming motherboard comes with 7 sensors installed on the PCB. The GIGABYTE has provided two 2-pin sensor headers as shown as in the green color. There are two Pump/AIO headers which are 4-pin. All of these headers are hybrid in nature. The user can control these headers either through the UEFI/BIOS using the Smart Fan 5 utility or through the SIV utility from Windows. Please, note that for SIV you will also need to have the APP Center application installed first.

Back I/O Panel

  • 1 x USB Type-C™ port, with USB 3.2 Gen 2 support
  • 2 x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A ports (red)
  • 3 x USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports
  • 4 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports
  • 2 x SMA antenna connectors (2T2R)
  • 1 x HDMI port
  • 1 x RJ-45 port
  • 1 x optical S/PDIF Out connector
  • 5 x audio jacks

Here is the picture of the motherboard’s backside.

BIOS

Though GIGABYTE has been improving the user interface on their UEFI/BIOS, it is still not as good as the one provided by ASUS or MSI but spending a bit of time alone will get you going.

The Favorites section keeps a listing of your favorite marked items. It is for conveniently accessing the most commonly used settings from a single window.

The first section is the Tweaker. This is the main section covering every aspect of the CPU and DRAM ranging from the frequency to core ratio to voltages and whatnot. It has been categorized in Frequency, Voltage, and Memory Settings. CPU Base Clock, Core Ratio, Uncore Ratio, and XMP settings are located here.

Clicking on Advanced CPU Core Settings will load another page with a plethora of controlling options for the advanced users. Here you can find settings for Speed Shift Technology, EIST Function, Turbo Boost and Turbo Boost Max Technology 3.0, and various other CPU related settings.

Clicking on the Advanced Memory Settings Memory related settings. From here you can control the DRAM timings on the subsequent pages.

The user can control every aspect of the primary, secondary, tertiary, and other timings of the DRAM.

The SPD Info shows another window with loading the SPD info for each of the DIMM slots. It will only show the data of the populated slots.

There is an Advanced power/voltage setting link under the Tweaker section which will take you to further voltage related settings for some fine granular control over the voltages. The last setting here is the CPU/VRM one.

Clicking the CPU/VRM will load more options. You can set the Load Line Calibration and power protection settings here.

The Settings section has various platform-related settings like Smart Fan 5, PCIe, Storage, and power-related settings.

This is where you can decide how the system should respond upon power restoration. You can set the PC to start automatically as soon as it gets on power.

We have various settings here covering the Initial display from, Above 4G Decoding (This setting is now important after the AMD’s implementation of Smart Access Memory). The USB, NVMe, Ethernet controller, and various other settings are here.

Since we have used the NVMe drive for the OS, here is the detailed info of the NVMe drive from the BIOS.

Here the SATA and RST (Rapid Storage) related settings.

Here we have the Ethernet settings.

You can control the behavior of the LEDs under power off and standby modes.

PC Health Status shows various values of the variables including the voltage readouts.

Smart Fan 5 gives total control of the connected fans/pumps to the user. The user can change the control type of the connected fan to PWM or Voltage. The voltage is for 3-pin fans. The auto will work just fine as well. The user can set the custom fan curve as well. The control source can be set to CPU, external sensors, PCIe, etc.  The user can also select the predefined speed control modes Full speed, silent, Normal, and Manual. Selecting Manual will allow the user to plot the graph according to the required custom fan curve. Alarms can be created based on the given temperature threshold.

The System menu shows the model of the motherboard and BIOS version.

The user can control the boot time behavior of the drives and the system. Fast Boot can be activated from here as well as the CSM support. Boot drive priorities can be set from here.

The user can create profiles in this menu. Rest it does what the name indicates; save the settings and exit the UEFI.

The BIOS is loaded in the default mode which is Easy Mode. It has a graphical presentation of the overall components and related variables values like voltages, frequencies, etc. Pressing F2 will switch to the Advanced Mode. Pressing F12 will capture the current screen and dump it in BMP format on the FAT16/32 formatted USB drive.

Software

GIGABYTE has provided tons of applications that the user can download from their website to be used for this motherboard. Their App Center is the basic application that is a must installed in order for all other applications to work except for the RGB Fusion 2. Here is a list of some of the applications:

  • @BIOS
  • cFosSpeed
  • System Information Viewer (SIV)
  • Easy Tune
  • Fast Boot

Install the App Center and let it download the required software from the website. Alternatively, you can download the software directly and it will show in the app center.

Here is the list of the software which we have downloaded to showcase.

@BIOS is an easy to use software that allows the user to save the current UEFI/BIOS of the motherboard and update the UEFI/BIOS either from the already downloaded BOS file or from the internet.

The Fast Boot does exactly what it is supposed to which is to disable/enable the Fast Boot.

The RGB Fusion 2.0 is GIGABYTE lighting control software. GIGABYTE has also released its mobile app which allows the user to control the lighting using their mobile devices. We have used TeamGroup T-Force Night Hawk DDR4 RGB RAM. The software picks the RAM immediately. However, we can only set static colors when synced with the motherboard. There is no digital lighting option in the sync mode.

Clicking the motherboard picture will load the options to individually set the lighting zones on the motherboard including the connected RGB/A-RGB devices to the headers. There are many modes available at the user’s disposal to select from.

The above picture shows the change of color on the motherboard’s ports showing exactly what mode/color is selected by the user.

Easy Tune is a Tuning utility like AiSuite from ASUS. The user will be welcome by a disclaimer note when the utility is launched. Any damage resulted from the tuning aka the overclocking is purely at the user’s risk and cost.

We have 4 options under the Smart Boost. Note that 5.1GHz on a single core is listed under Eco and Default mode. 5.3 is all core mode under the OC mode. I am not sure if the software is calculating the 5.3 value or it is just provided as it is.

Advanced CPU OC section loads options to overclock the CPU.

Advanced DDR OC loads the options to overclock the DDR4 kit.

Here the user can remove the power restriction/protections for extreme overclocking.

The SIV (System Information Viewer) allows the user to fine-tune their cooling solution as per the requirement. One thing which I don’t like is that the software enters calibration mode right at the start. This should be optional particularly for advanced users.

System Information section is showing the current status of the CPU, Memory, and Motherboard.

We have four pre-defined fan control modes here. Clicking on any will load its effect.

Smart Fan 5 Advanced is a feature-rich control option to control the behavior of your PC fans.

The user can set various alarms as per the requirement to caution when the set value is reached or crossed.

Record section graphs the various data range including voltages, temperature, and fan.

Test Setup

Following test bench setup is used to test the performance of the motherboard:

  • Intel i7 10700k
  • EK-AIO 240 D-RGB
  • T-Force Night Hawk RGB 16GB @ 3200 MT/s
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Founder’s Edition
  • CORSAIR AX1200i
  • Addlink S70 256 M.2 NVMe SSD for OS
  • Samsung 840 EVO 1 TB SSD for the Games

There is no extra fan except two fans on the cooler, one in the PSU and the blower cooler in the graphics card.

Microsoft Windows 10 x64 Pro 20H2 (OS Build 19042.630) was used for all the testing. Nvidia 460.79 drivers were used for graphics card testing. Following software were used for performance evaluation: –

Storage Drive Tests:

  • AS SSD
  • ATTO
  • Crystal Disk Mark

CPU Tests:

  • Cinebench R15
  • Cinebench R20
  • GeekBench 5
  • 7-Zip
  • AIDA64 Extreme
  • Super Pi

Memory Tests:

  • AIDA64 Extreme

Overall System Tests:

  • PCMark10
  • Performance Test

For gaming and synthetic bench of the graphics card following software were used:-

  • 3DMark
  • Assassin’s Creed Origin
  • Shadow of Tomb Raider
  • Metro Exodus
  • Far Cry 5
  • DOOM Eternal

Testing

This section will show the results of the various test suites and gaming benchmarks that we have run on this motherboard.

PCMark10

Performance Test

Cinebench

Geekbench 5

7-Zip

Super PI

AIDA64 Extreme 6.2

CrystalDiskMark

ATTO

AS SSD

3DMark

Render Time

Following games have been tested using their maximum graphics quality presets/settings.

Assassin’s Creed Origin

Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Far Cry 5

DOOM Eternal

Metro Exodus

Overclocking, Power Consumption, and Thermals

For the purpose of to the point testing, we disabled the Gigabyte Core enhancement to stay with the Intel default’s. On stock, all the settings were left at Auto except the DRAM voltage and timings. We have used Blender Benchmark on stock and overclocked settings for the thermals and stability. CORSAIR Link software was used to take a reading of the power consumption.

The above picture shows what it is like to have Intel i7 10700k on the Auto, Stock settings. Two cores have hit the 5.1GHz mark which is exactly the Turbo Boost Max Tech 3.0. The average temperature was 65.75°C with an ambient of 19.5°C. The maximum power package was 134.475W.

The above picture shows the power draw of the system as reported by CORSAIR iCUE coming off their AX1200i PSU. Please, note that the graphics card was not under any load. Your mileage would vary and there is no way this should be taken as a reference point.

I was able to overclock the chip with all cores on 5.1GHz using 1.379V. For this, I have to set the Voltage Control Mode in Normal and use the override method with -0.100 offset. The LLC was set to Auto. Under Blender Benchmark the average temperature was 72.25°C at an ambient of 18.5°C. The maximum power on the package was 172.339W. The system power draw was around 332W without the graphics load.

Here is the Cinebench R23 result from the overclocking

Thermal Imaging

We have used the Hti HT18 Thermal camera to record the thermals of the VRM area of the motherboard under load using blender benchmark on the stock and with overclock scenario.

The maximum temperature on the MOSFETs was 49.7°C with an ambient of 19.5°C.

With 5.1GHz all core under Blender Benchmark testing, the maximum temperature on the MOSFETs was 62.4°C with an ambient of 18.5°C.

This goes to show the powerful cooling solution employed by the AORUS on their Z490 PRO AX motherboard. I am expecting these values to be high with Intel i9 and more aggressive overclock but given the result, these VRMs have enough cooling to handle any load.

Conclusion

We are seeing another refresh of Skylake from Intel using a 14nm fab node. AMD with their Zen 3 has broken the inertia and took over a substantial lead which in the end is a win-win for the consumers. The Comet Lake from Intel is their 10th gen Core i series CPUs using the revamped socket using 1200 pins to address the power requirements of their Core i9 CPUs in the lineup. With this new socket, Intel has released new chipsets to go hand-in-hand. Z490 is their enthusiast segment chipset with loads of features and overclocking potentials though there are meager differences between the Z490 and the Z390 chipsets with Intel focusing on networking more than any other improvement as we have 2.5 GbE connectivity and WiFi 6 with AX and Bluetooth 5.1 connectivity. Another difference is the DRAM frequency transfer of 2999MHz as compared to the 2666 MHz. Comet Lake comes with 40 PCIe lanes with 16 from the CPU socket and 24 from the chipset. I digress as this article is about the motherboard not the overview of the chipset itself.

The GIGABYTE Z490 AORUS PRO AX Gaming Motherboard is more of an upper mid-range offering from the manufacturer with balanced features which now makes more sense with reduced pricing of $219.99 as compared to $259.99 which was kinda premium price tag. Coming from the APRUS family, one is sure that this motherboard packs beefy power delivery in the form of 12+1 power phases with DrMOS using doublers and powerful cooling provision for the VRM/MOSFET. GIGABYTE is using an Intersil ISL69269 PWM controller with SiC620A doublers to deliver clean power to the CPU socket which is using an array of Tantalum Polymer capacitors for efficient transient load and stability.

Using the Intel LGA1200 socket and Z490 chipset this motherboard is supporting the Intel 10th gen CPUs and will be compatible with their 11th gen CPUs on the horizon. Unfortunately, the Comet Lake does not support PCIe 4.0 protocol which is a letdown particularly when AMD with its Zen2+ already had PCIe 4.0 hardware in the market when this generation was launched. With Zen 3, AMD has taken their game to the next level which is unrivaled at the moment. This is history in making!

The GIGABYTE Z490 AORUS PRO AX Gaming Motherboard has 4 DIMM slots with a maximum capacity of 128GB DDR4 in a dual-channel using a maximum supported transfer rate of 5000 MT/s. These slots are stainless steel reinforced with PCB having a shielded layout to avoid interference. The board has dual M.2 ports with thermal guards to ensure that the M.2 drives don’t get throttle under load and provide maximum performance. GIGABYTE has taken a hybrid approach as they have provided a PCIe 4.0 ready PCB with PCIe 4.0 Turbo B-Clock chip to provide future compatibility. We have 5x PCIe slots with the top two slots being PCIe 4.0 ready. The PCIe X16/X8 slots are stainless steel reinforced. There are 6x SATA3 ports which share bandwidth with the M.2 ports and PCIe 3.0 X4 slot.

The beefy VRM/MOSFET cooling is coming from two aluminum louvered stacked fins (Fins Array-II) and jointed by an 8mm heat pipe using Direct-Touch II technology. The complete solution is placed on the VRM/MOSFET using 1.5mm (5W/mK) thick thermal pads to ensure effective heat dissipation. In terms of the cooling department, there are 8x hybrid 4-pin fan/pump headers. There are 7x thermal sensors across the entire PCB and 2 external sensors are provided. Smart Fan 5 is used to control the functionality of these headers. The motherboard has 8+4 pin EPS connectors using a solid pin design. The board hosts plenty of USB ports including 5x USB 3.2 Gen-1 ports, 2x USB 3.2 Gen-2 Type-A, and 2x USB Type-C ports. The motherboard has 2 RGB LED zones on the shroud area and the Audio PCB layer. In addition, there are 2x 5V lighting headers and 2x 12V lighting headers. The motherboard comes with Intel 2.5 GbE NIC and a 2×2 WiFi 6 201AX solution with an antenna. The Audio section is using Chemicon capacitors to drive the Realtek ALC1220 with VB series Audio Controller. The motherboard comes with a single 256 Mbit flash UEFI/BIOS.

When it comes to the performance and actual numbers, this motherboard is crunching on the numbers in this price range. I am not expecting much on this VRM/MOSFET set but they can handle the given load at ease depending upon the CPU used and the overclocking employed. If you are into serious overclocking, then look up the Master and XTREME motherboards from AORUS as they pack very beefy VRM solution capable of handling up to 90A per phase. The beefy cooling solution on the VRM is paying off as the maximum temperature on the VRM was 62.4°C and with a bit of tweaking the voltage setting without disturbing the LLCs, we were able to run our 10700k hit 5.1GHz all core at 1.379V VCORE. The 240mm AIO solution from EK Water Block has no issue handling this overclock even with AVX load. But all efforts to make 5.2GHz happened on all core was futile as the chip easily reached thermal limits and throttled. 1.5V seems to be required to achieve the 5.2GHz. I never had a stable 5.2GHz stable overclock but 5.1GHz was like a walk in the park. The audio solution is working to its name and wireless internet connectivity was super smooth.

Tech4Gamers Recommended Award

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Design
9.0
Features
9.0
Performance
8.5
Value
8.5
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