Intel has been in a tough spot ever since Ryzen launched. Combining low prices and high core counts, Ryzen is an absolutely amazing value and gives Intel a run for their money. Ever since then, Intel has been playing catchup with their direct rivals. Their answer has been better performance, overclocking support and more cores with their 8th gen and 9th gen processors. These processors only supported the new 300 series of motherboards from Intel. The flagship chipset for the 8th gen was the Z370 (launched last year in October).
Even though the Z370 chipset was aimed at enthusiast grade builds, it had a lot of caveats and was lacking in a few features which bothered a lot of people. So in October 2018, along with their new 9th gen processors, they launched the new Z390 chipset of motherboards.
Let’s see what all the fuss is about for Z390 motherboards and find out which one is worth your money.
Z370 vs Z390: Main Differences
Before we get into the actual comparison and key differences, let’s have a look at what remains unchanged in both chipsets. Intel 8th and 9th gen processors are only compatible with the newer series 300 motherboards (Z390, Z370, H370, B360, and H310). Both of these motherboards are included in the flagship lineup for 8th gen and 9th gen processors. They are definitely built with enthusiasts in mind and a quick glance at the prices for both of these motherboards will convince you of that.
Despite being the highest end motherboard offering from Intel’s side right now, the Z390 doesn’t really give much of a performance difference compared to Z370 boards. Both support memory and CPU overclocking. The overclocking results from both boards are highly positive, although, in terms of RAM overclocking, some people have had better results with the Z390 motherboard. Both boards also have support for Intel Optane, Intel’s new solution for super fast storage.
As the above description explains, most of the features are similar. the number of SATA ports, USB 3.0 ports, and PCI-Express lanes is also the same on both of these boards.
After going through all of the above similarities, it’s pretty apparent that Z390 is more of a refresh than an important upgrade. However, Z390 does add a few extra features that we were disappointed to see absent in the Z370 boards. The three main upgrades are as follows:
USB 3.1 Gen 2 support
It was surprising to see that Intel’s highest end motherboards at the time did not have any 3.1 Gen2 ports. Now, this was fixed by some 3rd party manufacturers who used separate controllers for USB 3.1 Gen2. However, native support is always better, faster and more reliable. Z390 fixes this issue and is equipped with 6 USB 3.1 Gen2 ports (rated at 10Gb/s). This also adds support for manufacturers to add high-speed Type-C ports.
Another feature, unfortunately, missing from the Z370 lineup was 802.11ac Wi-Fi support. Again this was remedied by 3rd party manufacturers who used separate controllers to support 802.11ac Wi-Fi. The newer Z390 boards have integrated this feature into the chipset itself.
In terms of channel support, both chipsets support dual-channel memory with 4 slots. At launch, Z390 seemed to have the same RAM capacity as Z370, topping off at 64 Gigabytes. Recently, Intel announced that through a BIOS update, most Z390 motherboards will now support 128GB of DDR4 memory.
Why should you buy a Z370 motherboard?
For Intel’s 8th gen processors, Z370 should be more than sufficient for most users. The initial issues at launch regarding 802.11ac Wi-Fi support and lack of USB 3.1 Gen2 ports were fixed by vendors adding separate controllers for these. Although both of these features might still be missing on the cheaper Z370 boards, they are probably not too much of an issue to be a dealbreaker.
Apart from that, Z390 would be a waste on 8th gen processors as Z370 boards can usually handle any coffee-like processor. One thing to also keep in mind is that there isn’t much of an advantage in terms of performance or overclocking if you go with Z390.
If you are looking to buy a Z370 board, we recently made a list on the best Z370 motherboards that you can buy in 2019.
Why should you buy a Z390 motherboard?
If you are thinking of putting together a new rig with Intel’s 9th gen processors, you would definitely benefit from Z390 motherboards. The reason being that some of these boards have better VRMs that can easily handle Intel’s core i9 9th gen processors. If you go with the higher end 9th gen processors, some Z370 boards might not be able to support it properly. But if you already have a build with Z370 motherboard, there isn’t much of a reason to upgrade.
In short, if you are thinking of buying either the Core i7 9700K or the beastly Core i9 9900K, then definitely go with a Z390 motherboard. We’ve also made a list of the best Z390 Motherboards as well if you’re looking to buy one.
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Prices taken/valid at the time of review.