Final Words & Conclusion
At an asking price of 299 USD the ROG STRIX Z490-E Gaming is to be considered the reasonably priced model, I'll leave the 'reasonable' for you to judge on. And yes, that is a lot of money but this is a nice high-end board when you look at the power stages and features. Compared to premium products, you'll have one less GigEE connector and are lacking stuff like a headphone DAC, other than that the differences are minimalistic. Oh, and of course there's no RGB. The STRIX is a very complete and well-built product that with subtle RGB elements looks great. We cannot complain about the VRM design at either, though it does have lower spec 50A power stages.
Whenever we write a motherboard review, for the conclusion we need to make a distinction between the CPU and motherboard in the conclusion of course. Everybody will have an opinion about Comet Lake, but for motherboards, you need to be more factual about platform performance and features. Coming from Z390, Z490 really isn't that different in terms of the infrastructure in combo with Comet lake generation processors. The big miss for this hybrid symbiosis of CPU and motherboard is the lack of PCI Express 4.0 support running through the veins of the hardware eco system., and that's a bit of a miss on the intel side. The inserting thing is that the Z490 range of motherboards factually is PCIe Gen 4.0 compatible, just not with this processor, here you will need the next-gen Rocket Lake-S series processors. So the 11th generation Core processors will double up on PCI bandwidth, opening up a plethora of options in terms of M2 storage and graphics cards. The reality is also this, do you really need PCIe Gen 4.0 in 2020? We honestly doubt it. A good PCIe Gen 3 M2 SSD is super fast, and for graphics cards, the Gen 3 or Gen 4 link just doesn't matter. In the past with Crossfire and SLI PCIe Generations made a difference, but even today if you go SLI, all data is now passed over the graphics cars though a high-bandwidth interface, internally bridged on the graphics cards. So yes, it matters less. So what's the big difference between Z390 and Z490 then? Well, nothing much on the chipset side really. Yes, the motherboards get a bump to AX WIFI (not this particular model though) and more refined Ethernet jacks starting at 2.5 Gbps. Also, overall the VRM design has been beefed up a notch, but that's a necessity for Comet Lake-S high-end processors really and their high PL2 states. However, making a move from Coffee lake (Gen9) towards Comet lake (Gen10) is not going to move mountains in terms of features and performance.
With these ten cores and twenty threads proc you get a 125 Watt TDP processor. With the system at idle with a GeForce RTX 2080 Ti installed / 16 GB memory / SSD and the Z490 motherboard, I hovered at roughly 60~65 Watts in IDLE. That's okay, the load values are okay as well but definitely higher. When we stressed the processor 100% run we reach roughly 200~250 Watts with the flagship 10-core part. That's the entire system. That is on the high side alright. Then again, does anyone actually care about it when you get performance metrics like shown today?
For Comet Lake-S (as well as 8th, 9th, and now 10th Gen Intel procs) and DDR4 we always say, volume matters more than frequency. A 3200 CL16 to 3600 CL18 MHz kit is plenty fast overall for all your needs. Higher frequency memory is more expensive and does offer better bandwidth but the performance increase in real-world usage will be hard to find. Unless you transcode videos over the processor a lot. As always, my advice would be to go with lower clocked DDR4 memory with decent timings, but get more of it. Don't go for 8 GB, get two or four DIMMs, and in total a minimum of 16 GB. we think the current sweet spot is 3200 MHz (CL14/CL16) or 3600 MHz CL16/CL18).
Performance & tweaking
Once tweaked we noticed that the 10 cores like a bit of extra voltage, we expect all-core tweaks in the 5.1~5.2 GHz marker to need 1.35~1.45 Volts on the processor. While that does increase power consumption, it wasn't something that scared me away. Some platforms will and procs will also be able to manage a lower voltage. If you plan a tweak at that 5.2 GHz marker then remember my remarks on cooling, you will need LCS, that or a very good heatpipe cooler. Again, we have been using an ES sample so I cannot say anything conclusive on the final retail products (these might run a tiny bit cooler). The infrastructure that Z490 offers is easy to use, you increase the CPU voltage and multiplier and you are good to go. Another plus for the Intel platform is that over the years they have been able to refine their memory controllers, pop in anything XMP 2.0 and you have a 90% chance it'll work straight out of the box with very fast memories.
I've been writing a lot about the price level of Z490 boards, 299 USD is still a lot of money for a motherboard I think it's safe to say that for the Z490 STRIX this is a reasonable sum of money at best. You get that nice power delivery, awesome looks, and 90% of the features that a premium board offers. Platform wise you'll get added features like AX Wifi and an Ethernet configuration on the form of 2.5, but not 10 Gbit ethernet jacks. Connectivity-wise in terms of your PCIe slots for your graphics subsystem you are looking at a full x16 Gen 3 lanes for one graphics card. While the platform is PCIe Gen 4.0 ready the reality remains that Z490 will only survive two generation s of processors, so Rocket Lake-S is the next series that will finally bring PCIe Gen 4.0. Going from Z390 to Z490 is not going to bring you massive differences platform wise other than a new series processor. We really do doubt that the upgrade from Coffee lake to Comet lake is worth this kind of money really, coming from older generations that might be different. But platform wise you'll get some added features like AX Wifi and a more luxurious Ethernet configuration on the form of that 2.5 ethernet jack. The ROG STRIX Z490-E Gaming offering 90% of the features of what the premium 400~500 USD boards offer. You get one 2.5 Gbps Ethernet jack but do still get AX WIFI6. Recommended? Sure, if you find it worth the pricetag of course.
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