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The debut of Intel Core processors January 10th "Comet Lake-S" brought some important news to the desktop market, first of all one new generation of motherboards compatible with the new LGA 1200 socket, obviously based on the renewed Intel 400 chipset family.

The offer of Intel partners is very varied and provides different solutions ranging from economic models with H410 and B460 chipsets, to more expensive and performing models that are based on the top of the range Z490 chipset. The new platforms provide for the introduction of different technologies and energy efficiency systems, elements that, in order to be fully exploited, require updated motherboards capable of supporting them in the best way. Among the elements introduced with the new platforms we report for example the support for faster DDR4 memories, WiFi 6, 10 Gigabit LAN, Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 at 20 Gbps.

An important novelty of the entire Intel Core 10th gen range is certainly the introduction of 10 core / 20 thread processors as the Core i9-10900K, a chip featuring a 125W TDP and that, even compared to the Core i9-9900K, it needs more power. This must inevitably be supplied by the motherboard, obviously alongside a valid power supply. As a natural consequence of this, the moment we decide to assemble a desktop based on Z490 with Core i9-10900K it is necessary to take this feature into account immediately. In this regard, the so-called must be carefully evaluated "Power Delivery", i.e. the power delivery capacity of the power supply section of the motherboard. Hand in hand should not be overlooked circuitry dissipation, often the Achilles heel of many cards, but now substantially optimized on the latest generation of motherboards.

Today we will see to clarify some of these issues by reviewing the new range of MSI Z490 motherboards, a rather scaled family that therefore lends itself well to being received by all those users who, before each purchase, want to weigh carefully the various offers by individual price range. From this point of view, MSI is a brand that needs no introduction, being for years a point of reference for overclocking enthusiasts and in general for those looking for high-performance products with an interesting quality / price ratio.

POWER DELIVERY AND DISSIPATION OF VRM

Let's start with a premise: the Core i9-10900K processor has 10 cores, which means an increase of 2 cores compared to the previous Core i9-9900K; also the TDP increases from 95W to 125W. Obviously, therefore, this CPU needs more power and could be a problem for the VRM of the motherboards. To meet this requirement and above all the needs of overclockers, MSI and other manufacturers have included a More robust and powerful VRM in the new generation of Z490 motherboards.

The phases of VRM on these cards premium mothers range from 12 to 16 and some of them, like the proposals of the MEG GODLIKE, ACE and UNIFY series, also offer a 90A MOSFET.

In addition to these particularly effective power delivery features, some motherboards have solutions active cooling of the VRM. MSI is the only brand to provide solutions of this kind on high-end motherboards such as the MEG line. Thanks to the help of the heatsink fans, the temperature of the VRM is significantly lower compared to motherboards without active cooling solutions.

HIGHER DDR4 FREQUENCIES AND PCI-E 4.0 SUPPORT

As for the RAM DDR4 memory, on the "Comet Lake-S" platform Intel has introduced a new one technology called tabbed routingIn practice a new circuit which ensures a "clean" signal and without stability problems, thus allowing a net increase of the frequency of memory.

This frequency is generally 200 ~ 300MHz higher than the previous generation. To obtain better performance from the memories, it is also necessary to have a hardware and BIOS optimization which, in most Z490 cards, allows to reach 4600MHz with some particular models that even go as far as 5000MHz.

PCI-E Gen. 4 Ready for future updates

Most of the Z490 motherboards are PCIe Gen4 Ready although 10th generation Intel Core processors do not support this standard. This means that the motherboards are ready for future upgrades in order to support even faster PCIe Gen4 graphics cards and M.2 SSDs. Currently MSI, Gigabyte and ASRock have reported that all their Z490 motherboards are PCIe Gen4 Ready while ASUS has so far not stated anything about it.

LATEST GENERATION NETWORKING AND I / O DEPARTMENT

One of the improvements introduced in the Z490 is the latest generation connectivity. The high-end Z490 motherboards are all equipped with 2.5G LAN and some top models support 10G LAN but at the low end these characteristics are not always guaranteed. On this front, MSI stands out by providing at least 2.5G connectivity on all Z490 models, From the most expensive to the cheapest. In addition to 2.5G LAN, WiFi 6 connectivity is a standard on all new cards from the Taiwanese company.

As for USB, however, the Z490 chipset does not natively support the latest USB 3.2 Gen2x2 standard (20Gbps) but some MSI motherboards use the ASMedia USB 3.2 Gen2x2 component to remedy the problem. It should also be noted that among the manufacturers of Z490 motherboards, MSI is the only one to offer the Type-C connection on all models.

THE BEST MSI OPTIONS FOR THE PREMIUM BAND

For those without budget problems, the choice is clearly wide, with some options with very strong features. If we choose the Core i9-10900K, for example, the best match between the MSI proposals It is represented by the MEG line, characterized by motherboards with 16 power supply phases, 90A Mosfet and active VRM dissipation; in detail we will find this solution on the models MSI MEG Z490 GODLIKE, Z490 ACE, Z490 UNIFY and Z490I UNIFY.

The MSI premium motherboards support DDR4 frequencies between 4666 and 5000 MHz and latest generation connectivity which, on the MEG Z490 GODLIKE and MEG Z490 ACE models, provides Dual-LAN (2.5G + 10G) and WiFi 6. Going down to MEG Z490 UNIFY and Z490I UNIFY we have instead 2.5G LAN and WiFi 6. There is also Thunderbolt 3 40Gbps and USB 3.2 Gen 2×2.

So if you are aiming for a top of the range motherboard in this market segment, the MSI MEG Z490 GODLIKE represents the best choice; if you don't want / can spend 700 euros for the motherboard the most valid options are MSI MEG Z490 ACE, Z490 UNIFY is Z490I UNIFY.

MSI Z490 GODLIKE

  • Power delivery to the top (16 stages + MOSFET 90A)
  • DDR4 frequency up to 5000MHz
  • 10GbE + 2.5GbE dual LAN, WiFi 6 & dual Thunderbolt 3 connectivity
  • PCIe Gen 4 ready for future updates
  • Active thermal solutions

MSI Z490 ACE / Unify

  • Power delivery without compromise
  • Good connectivity – 2.5GbE LAN, WiFi 6 & USB 20Gbps
  • PCIe Gen 4 ready for future updates
  • Active Thermal Solutions

THE MOST VALID CHOICE FOR MID-RANGE BUILDS

For the price segment ranging from ? 200 to ? 300, the specifications are obviously not the same. Power Delivery does not have the same performance as that found on flagship models but remains able to provide excellent support for Intel Core i9 and i7 processors. The LAN connectivity drops from 2.5Gbps to 10Gbps while the Wi-Fi 6 is available only on motherboards GAMING CARBON WIFI and GAMING EDGE WIFI.

No motherboard in this range supports Thunderbolt 3 technology, but MSI provides USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 20Gbps ports on GAMING CARBON WIFI, GAMING EDGE WIFI and even TOMAHAWK motherboards. With a price lower than 200 dollars La MSI MAG Z490 TOMAHAWK is probably one of the best solutions for quality / price ratio.

In principle these cards offer a 12-phase VRM and a MOSFET ranging from 45A to 60A. The choice therefore, in terms of power delivery, is quite easy because only some motherboards are able to provide a 55A / 60A MOSFET in this price range. Turning to memories, in this segment we usually aim for kits with frequencies of 3200 / 3600MHz but, having a support up to DDR4 4800 MHz available is certainly an added value.

MSI MPG Z490 Gaming Carbon WIFI

  • powerful VRM – 12 stages and MOSFET 60A
  • Full connectivity – 2.5GbE LAN, Wi-Fi 6, USB 3.2 GEN 2×2 (20Gbs), Type C
  • Memory frequency up to DDR4-4800MHz
  • M.2 Shield Frozr for both slots

MSI MAG Tomahawk

  • Good connectivity – 2.5GbE / Dual GbE, USB 3.2 in January 2×2 (20Gbs) & Type C
  • Excellent value for money
  • Memory frequency up to DDR4-4800MHz
  • M.2 Shield Frozr for both slots

PURCHASE OPTIONS FOR THE ENTRY-LEVEL BAND

Referring to the low end of the market we obviously have to focus first on the value for money. It is therefore quite simple to rely on a comparison sheet to evaluate the various options available, then choosing the one that best suits our needs.

Connectivity side MSI continues to provide 2.5G LAN even in the most economic models; there Z490M GAMING EDGE WIFI also offers support for WI-FI 6 and on all models we find the Type-C door. Also interesting is the preset of the I / O shield pre-installed on the Z490 GAMING PLUS and Z490M GAMING EDGE WIFI, a feature that for example we do not find on cheap ASUS motherboards and which is a real convenience.

The models MSI Z490 Gaming Plus, Z490M Gaming Edge and WIFI-Z490 A Pro they remain at the forefront of this price range due to their characteristics in relation to an accessible price. Power delivery in this segment is certainly not as powerful as that of the medium segment, but it should be emphasized that MSI motherboards still offer a 12-phase layout and 6-layer PCB.

If you want our advice regarding the lower-end proposals among the new Z490 MSI, the most valid option for those who have to be careful about the budget is probably to be found in the Z490 Gaming Plus that offers:

  • 12-phase VRM
  • 2.5GbE LAN and USB Type-C
  • Shield I / O pre-installed
  • Extended heatsink
  • M.2 Shield Frozr

At the moment we are not able to provide the official price list for Italy of the range of MSI Z490 motherboards, products that however should not be long in arriving on the market.