Best Intel Motherboards: April 2021by Gavin Bonshor on April 8, 2021 12:00 PM EST
Here is the latest update to our list of recommended Intel motherboards in our series of motherboards buyers guides. All numbers in the text are updated to reflect pricing at the time of writing.
Best Intel Motherboards: April 2021
Intel's latest 11th Generation Rocket Lake processors have launched and officially on sale, which means Z590 motherboards with PCIe 4.0 can make use of the new hardware. Despite the initial reaction to reviews of the Core i9 and Core i7 being somewhat negative, the mid range Core i5 hardware seems to be a good offering, and Rocket Lake it's still seen as a technological advancement of Intel's portfolio with the new core design. To use one of Intel's new Rocket Lake processors, or indeed its previous Comet Lake processors, Intel has plenty of chipsets available offering different entry price points and purposes. A lot of Intel's latest Z590 and B560 models are still yet to hit retail, but they are slowly filtering through. This leaves some value in its existing Z490 range, and it's time to give our picks as we look ahead in our latest motherboard buyers guide for April 2021.
Here are our choices in the motherboard market for Intel. For AMD recommendations, head on over to our AMD guide. This is usually updated monthly.
|Intel Motherboards Recommendations
|Intel 'Clean Mix of Price/Features' Motherboard|
|MSI MPG Z590 Gaming Carbon WiFi||-||-||$324|
|GIGABYTE Z490 Aorus Ultra||$329||$330||$300|
|Intel Value Motherboard|
|MSI Z490-A Pro||$149||$130||$160|
|Favorite Intel Micro-ATX Motherboard|
|ASRock B560M Steel Legend||-||$120||$120|
|Favorite Intel Mini-ITX Motherboard|
|ASRock Z490 Phantom Gaming-ITX/TB3||$229||-||$280|
|Intel 'Money is no Object' Motherboard|
|MSI MEG Z590 Godlike||-||$1000||$1019|
Our recommendations for motherboards are based entirely on personal and professional opinion. There are notably many different motherboards across the Intel chipsets including B460, Z490, the latest Z590/B560 chipsets, and the workstation-focused W480 chipset. Some of our choices and options here are also limited by what stock is available.
Intel Rocket Lake and Z590
For those looking for Z590 models, we've compiled details on over 50 of them in our Z590 motherboard overview. We've also taken a look at over 30 budget-focused B560 models too:
- The Intel Z590 Motherboard Overview: 50+ Motherboards Detailed
- The Intel B560 Motherboard Overview: 30+ Budget Models Starting from $75
Our review of Intel's latest 11th generation Rocket Lake processors is also available to read:
For users looking for other options, we've also gone over multiple chipset families as well in the links below.
- The AMD B550 Motherboard Overview: ASUS, GIGABYTE, MSI, ASRock, and Others
- The Intel W480 Motherboard Overview: LGA1200 For Xeon W-1200
- The AMD TRX40 Motherboard Overview: 12 New Motherboards Analyzed
- The AMD X570 Motherboard Overview: Over 35+ Motherboards Analyzed
- Intel Z390 Motherboard Overview: 50+ Motherboards Analyzed
- Analyzing B450 for AMD Ryzen: A Quick Look at 25+ Motherboards
- Analyzing Z370 for Intel's 8th Generation Coffee Lake: A Quick Look at 50+ Motherboards
- An AMD Threadripper X399 Motherboard Overview: A Quick Look at Seven Products
Best Intel Motherboard For Gaming/Performance
In this instance, we are recommending both a Z590 and Z490 model as Rocket Lake is now upon us, but the stock and availability of Z590 seem to be a limiting factor right now. Our recommended Z490 board seems to be going in and out of stock and we expect the Z590 stock to land sometime this month (we hope).
Z490: GIGABYTE Z490 Aorus Ultra ($329 at Amazon/$330 at Newegg)
If we are looking for a model that blends price, performance, and functionality, then there are many high-quality products to choose. Performance is one angle for comparison, as well as the controller set, the power delivery, and the expansion slot support - keeping all these in mind while being reasonable with price can be a difficult task. One model which stands out is the GIGABYTE Z490 Aorus Ultra which is designed for gamers but has the versatility to be the foundation for a solid high-performance system with a good feature set at a mid-market price too - if you can find one that is.
The GIGABYTE Z490 Aorus Ultra sits below the more premium GIGABYTE Z490 Aorus Master in the product stack but keeps much of the same in regards to feature set and capability. In terms of controllers, the GIGABYTE Z490 Aorus Ultra includes an Intel I225-V 2.5 GbE Ethernet controller, with support from an Intel AX201 interface which adds Wi-Fi 6 and BT 5.1 connectivity. Also on the rear panel is a single USB 3.2 G2 20 Gbps Type-C port, with three USB 3.2 G2 Type-A, two USB 3.2 G1 Type-A, and four USB 2.0 ports. There are four memory slots with support for up to 128 GB, with official support for up to DDR4-4800 which is great for a mid-range model. For storage, there's three PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 slots with each slot inclusive of its own M.2 heatsink, and six SATA ports which include support for RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 arrays.
The GIGABYTE Z490 Aorus Ultra has an MSRP of $300 but Amazon is currently listing it for $329, with Newegg's price at the time of writing sitting as $330. This seems to be a temporary issue that is plaguing a lot of models at present, with stock levels just not enough to keep up with the demand. Despite the discrepancy in the price, it's still a decent board with a combination of premium features.
Z590: MSI MPG Z590 Gaming Carbon WiFi (MSRP $324)
Despite Intel's latest Z590 models either not being available at retail, or fully announced, one model that piqued our interest in the mid-range is the MSI MPG Z590 Gaming Carbon WiFi. Typically the Gaming Carbon is positioned at the new mid-range, the Z590 Gaming Carbon WiFi has plenty of features and at the time of writing, is a very good alternative to Z490 models.
Some of its main features include three M.2 slots, with one PCIe 4.0 x4 M.2 and two with support for PCIe 3.0 x4 and SATA drives. Typical of a mid-range Z590 model, there's Intel's new AX210 Wi-Fi 6E CNVi and one Intel I225-V 2.5 GbE controller which is now a staple for most vendors in the way of networking. The rear panel includes one USB 3.2 G2x2 Type-C port which is now native to Intel's Z590 chipset, as well as three USB 3.2 G2 Type-A, two USB 3.2 G1 Type-A, and four USB 2.0 ports. MSI is using a Realtek ALC1220 HD audio codec for its onboard audio solution, and also includes a small, but handy BIOS Flashback button on the rear panel.
Although there isn't yet a comprehensive list of Z590 pricing at this time and some Z590 models are yet to filter into retailers, the MSI MPG Z590 Gaming Carbon WiFi looks set to include a 'reasonable' MSRP of $324.
Best Intel Motherboard: The Value Option
MSI Z490-A Pro ($149 at Amazon/$130 at Newegg)
The term 'value' can be taken any different ways, as it can be related to budget but with plenty of quality, or it can be relative to how much money is available. Prices of high-end motherboards have increased over the years - I remember when a high-end board would cost $175, whereas today the entry model of Z590 starts at $175! This makes budget chipsets, or the previous generation, more palatable in cost.
With lots of Intel LGA1200 chipsets available with the H410, B460, H470, and Z490, there are a lot of solid contenders in this particular area. My pick for value is the MSI Z490-A Pro. This isn't on a budget-based Intel chipset such as H410, but it allows users to overclock and squeeze out more performance from Comet Lake and Rocket Lake processors. The MSI Z490-A Pro is one of the cheapest Z490 models available on the market and has a solid feature set for the price. This includes a 12-phase power delivery, a Realtek ALC1200 HD audio codec, two PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 slots, a Realtek 2.5 GbE Ethernet controller and a single USB 3.2 G2 Type-C port on the rear panel.
The biggest feature of note on the MSI Z490-A Pro is the power delivery, with a 12-phase design as well as the inclusion of a Realtek RTL8125B 2.5 GbE Ethernet controller. It also includes a solid budget storage configuration with six SATA slots and two PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 slots, with one slot coming with a heatsink, and the other reliant on the user installing one, or going for passive cooling. The rear panel is pretty standard for a board of this caliber, with a single USB 3.2 G2 Type-A, five USB 3.2 G1 Type-A, and two USB 2.0 ports. It includes an HDMI and DisplayPort video output pairing for users looking to leverage Intel's UHD integrated graphics, as well as six 3.5 mm audio jacks powered by a Realtek ALC1200 HD audio codec.
Despite the existence of the budget-focused H410, H470, and B460 chipsets, and more recently B560 and Z590, none of the H and B series models officially support CPU overclocking. When combining a Comet Lake desktop processor or Rocket Lake with adequate cooling, it can offer excellent performance. The MSI Z490-A Pro isn't just one of the cheapest Z490 models with an MSRP of $160, but it's actually solid on paper too, for both overclocking and with a host of value-orientated features, but still more than capable controller set for a board at this price point. The Z490-A Pro is currently available for $149 at Amazon and even cheaper at Newegg for $130, so we recommend buying it from Newegg. Its biggest competition comes via the equally impressive GIGABYTE Z490 Gaming X model at $160, but it lacks the 2.5 GbE Ethernet controller and instead opts for an Intel Gigabit controller, and uses a USB 3.2 G2 Type-A instead of the Type-C on the MSI.
Best Intel Motherboard: The Best Micro-ATX Motherboard
ASRock B560M Steel Legend ($120 at Newegg)
In previous guides, we've had many requests to include a category for micro-ATX size models, so we've decided to include one for April and going forward. The Micro-ATX form factor has trade-offs with its larger ATX sized options, albeit with less PCIe slot real estate due to the size limitations, but it does offer extra room for features compared to the small form factor mini-ITX models. We've noticed that the Z series chipsets have very few mATX boards on offer, whereas the B series chipsets are full of them. Given that the vast majority of micro-ATX models look to cut back on certain features, our pick is based on a balance of price versus features, and we feel there's no better model to fit these criteria than the ASRock B560M Steel Legend.
The ASRock B560M Steel Legend is the smaller variant of the ATX sized B560 Steel Legend and offers users a mixture of unique urban camouflage-style aesthetics, silver heatsinks, and includes some RGB LEDs. Based on Intel's B560 chipset, there's no official CPU overclocking support, but Intel does allow for memory overclocking, with the B560M Steel Legend supporting up to 128 GB of DDR4-4800 memory across four memory slots. Storage options include dual M.2 slots, with one of these allowing for up to PCIe 4.0 x4 fast NVMe drives, and the other limited to PCIe 3.0 x4 and SATA drives. For SATA devices, there are six SATA ports, including four with right-angled connectors and two with straight-angled ports.
The board also includes one full-length PCIe 4.0 x16 slot, with two PCIe 3.0 x1 slots for devices such as additional networking, audio, and storage controllers. On the rear is a Realtek RTL8125BG 2.5 GbE controller, HDMI, and DisplayPort video output pairing, with a Realtek ALC807 HD audio codec powering five 3.5 mm audio jacks and S/PDIF optical output.
For the price, and taking out the lack of CPU overclocking support which is a limitation of the B560 chipset, the ASRock B560M Steel Legend is a solid offering at $120 when paired with a good non-K processor, particularly one of the Core i5 parts. Taking other B560 micro-ATX sized models into consideration, there's plenty available including the ASUS Prime B560M-A ($110), the MSI MAG B560M Bazooka ($139), or even on Z590, there's the ASUS Prime Z590M-Plus ($229). Not only is the ASRock B560M Steel Legend cheaper than most of the models above, but there isn't much difference to signify the price increase, and with the Steel Legend, it does come with a unique aesthetic, which is of course down to personal preference. The ASRock B560M Steel Legend is currently available to buy at Newegg for $120.
Best Intel Motherboard: The Best Mini-ITX Motherboard
ASRock Z490 Phantom Gaming-ITX/TB3 ($229 at Amazon)
There are just six Z490 mini-ITX models to select from for small form factor enthusiasts and gamers, and just six for Intel's Z590 chipset, but one of our favorites is from ASRock. These models are generally popular with enthusiasts looking for a solid balance of features, good quality componentry, and pricing. The ASRock Z490 Phantom Gaming-ITX/TB3 is an update over the previous Z390 model, with a similar feature set, but designed for Intel's LGA1200 socket.
Out of the small handful of available mini-ITX Z490 motherboards, only two include Thunderbolt 3 connectivity on the rear panel: the ASRock Z490 Phantom Gaming-ITX/TB3 and the MSI MEG Z490I Unify. The reason for selecting the similarly priced ASRock over the MSI, having seen numerous ASRock mini-ITX models over the years, including the Z390 Phantom Gaming-ITX/ac before, we know what to expect from ASRock and it's a feature-packed model for its size. Aside from the single Thunderbolt 3 Type-C connector on the rear panel, it includes a Realtek RTL8125BG 2.5 GbE Ethernet controller and Intel AX201 Wi-Fi 6 interface pairing for the networking, as well as supporting up to two PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 drives, one on the front and another slot on the rear.
Also on the rear panel are five 3.5 mm audio jacks and S/PDIF optical output powered by a premium Realtek ALC1220 HD audio codec and three USB 3.2 G2 Type-A and two USB 3.2 G1 Type-A ports. A handily located clear CMOS button is featured in the middle of the rear panel, with a PS/2 keyboard and mouse combo port, and two video outputs including a DisplayPort and HDMI pairing, although the Thunderbolt 3 Type-C port can also output video. The ASRock also supports up to DDR4-4666 officially, with a maximum capacity of up to 64 GB across two memory slots. In addition to the two PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 slots are four SATA ports with support for RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 arrays.
The ASRock Z490 Phantom Gaming-ITX/TB3 is a solid motherboard for enthusiasts to overclock on with its 8+2 phase power delivery, as well as the potential foundation for a monstrous single graphics card gaming system. The Z490 Phantom Gaming-ITX/TB3 has an MSRP of $280 and is currently available at Amazon with a very attractive price tag of $200, and $269 at Newegg. In regards to the competition, we reviewed the MSI Z490I Unify ($270) with a similar feature set and a 10-layer PCB, as well as the GIGABYTE Z490I Aorus Ultra ($270). The ASUS ROG Strix Z490-I Gaming is slightly more expensive with an MSRP of $300, and we've yet to review any mini-ITX Z590 models as of yet.
One important thing to consider is boards such as the ASRock Z490 Phantom Gaming-ITX/TB3 make solid options for Rocket Lake, as it includes the capability for PCIe 4.0 with one of the M.2 slots, and the full-length PCIe x16 slot. For $229 at Amazon, it's very difficult to find a mini-ITX board that's as feature-packed, so if you need a small LGA1200 board with support for both Comet Lake and Rocket Lake, this is what we recommend while stocks last.
Best Intel Motherboard: Money Is No Object
MSI MEG Z590 Godlike (N/A at Amazon/$1000 at Newegg)
Our previous pick for our 'money is no object' was the MSI MEG Z490 Godlike which sat at the top of MSI's desktop offerings as a worthy flagship. With Intel's new Rocket Lake processors coming at the end of this month, stock of Z590 is thin on the ground, to say the least. We expect this to pick up going into April, but one model which is currently available at Newegg is MSI's new flagship model, the MEG Z590 Godlike.
The MSI MEG Z590 Godlike is a fantastic example of a premium flagship model with plenty of aesthetic upgrades over the previous Z490 version. This includes MSI's improved Dynamic Dashboard II which blends in seamlessly with the black and silver design. Users looking for plenty of RGB LED will appreciate a large customizable RGB MSI Dragon logo on the rear panel cover, with a funky new triangular shaped set of LEDs built into the chipset heatsink. The only thing that might leave a bad taste here is that $1000 usually comes with a combination CPU/chipset water block, which this board doesn't have.
MSI has opted for a very overkill power delivery which consists of a direct 20-phase design just for the CPU, with premium 90 A power stages and a pair of 8-pin 12 V ATX CPU power inputs. Other features include a pair of full-length PCIe 4.0 slots operating at x16 and x8/x8, with another full-length PCIe 3.0 x4 slot located along the bottom of the board. For storage, there are four PCIe M.2 slots, including one operating at PCIe 4.0 x4 and three with support for PCIe 3.0 x4 and SATA drives. MSI also includes six SATA ports with support for RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 arrays.
The MSI MEG Z590 Godlike has official support for DDR4-5333 memory with Rocket Lake which is an improvement over the last generation, with a total capacity of up to 128 GB available across four memory slots. Rear panel connectivity is also impressive with Intel's latest Thunderbolt 4 controller providing two Type-C and two mini-DisplayPort inputs, as well as two USB 3.2 G2 Type-A, and six USB 3.2 G1 Type-A ports. The Z590 Godlike also offers dual Ethernet with one Aquantia AQC107 10 GbE and an Intel I225-V 2.5 GbE controller pairing, as well as Intel's newest AX210 Wi-Fi 6E CNVi for access to the 6 GHz Wi-Fi band and BT 5.2 connectivity. It is also using Realtek's ALC1220 HD audio codec which adds support for 7.1 surround sound via five 3.5 mm audio jacks and one S/PDIF optical output.
The MSI MEG Z590 Godlike has an MSRP of $1019 and at present, it's available at Newegg for $1000. Stock worldwide for components is sketchy, to say the least. We do expect stock of the Z590 Godlike along with other Z590 models to filter into retail channels quicker as Rocket Lake's processor launch looms at the end of the month. As it stands, the MSI MEG Z590 Godlike is the only flagship model even listed on Newegg currently, with Amazon's listings also being slim pickings too. That being said, MSI has increased the price of its flagship model for Intel's latest desktop model from $750 to $1000-$1017, and judging by what's on offer, it's easy to see where the money has been spent.
Z590: Reviews (Coming Soon)
We've covered as much as we can in our Z590 and B560 overview prior to getting our hands on Rocket Lake, and at the time of writing, we've tested four Z590 motherboards and reviewed one, the ASRock Z590 Taichi. As we get through our stack of Z590 models and the reviews, we'll learn more about Rocket Lake behavior, and as firmware matures, we might see some bumps in performance.
We have a few models in for test already, such as the ASUS Maximus XIII Hero, the MSI Z590 Ace, the GIGABYTE Z590 Tachyon, the GIGABYTE Z590 Aorus Master, and the ASRock Z590 Steel Legend.
Is there a particular Z590 or B560 model that you think we should review? Please let us know in the comments below.