Today, we’re looking at EVGA’s extreme overclocking Z390 motherboard the EVGA Z390 DARK. As in the past, the DARK series is EVGA’s top-of-the-line serious overclocking oriented motherboard which has all the bells and whistles needed for going sub-ambient. It’s not a flashy board, we won’t find any RGB LEDs on this monster, it’s real estate is dedicated to extreme overclocking hardware.
Don’t think for a minute that looks weren’t a consideration, however, as the Z390 DARK has that too. Large, beefy heatsinks dominate the jet black motherboard. There’s a bit of white lettering and some tasteful gold accents. Other than that the unique design is fully geared toward function. Let’s dive in and see what makes this bad-boy tick and how it handles itself under pressure.
Specifications and Features
As was mentioned, the EVGA Z390 DARK is at the top of the food chain and carries a price tag that matches its position. With an MSRP of $499.99 from EVGA as well as Newegg and Amazon, it more than doubles the price of their only other offering the Z390 FTW which lists for $229.99. Even at this price point, the Z390 DARK comes in $100 below other high-end offerings such as the MSI MEG Z390 GODLIKE and ASUS ROG Maximus XI Extreme and $50 less than the GIGABYTEZ90 AORUS XTREME. While these boards have more storage options and RGB LEDs they’re more akin to high-end gaming while the EVGA DARK is aimed at overclocking. Not that you can’t game on an overclocking motherboard you just need to pay attention to which options you want for your system.
The EVGA Z390 DARK supports the eighth and ninth generation of Intel processors using the LGA 1151 socket and Z390 chipset boasting a 17-phase power section to better handle the power requirements of the eight-core i9-9900K. With the addition of two large metal heatsinks and a unique twist on VRM heat dissipation, the DARK is equipped to keep that power section cool while pushing the limits.
The EVGA DARK is limited to only two DIMM slots with a maximum capacity of 32 GB of dual-channel non-ECC memory. Limiting the DARK to only two DIMM slots helps optimize the traces enabling speeds of 4600 MHz and above. This pushes high-speed memory support well above most mainstream motherboards. Note, the ability to reach these speeds is also highly dependent on the CPU IMC and memory quality.
For PCIe expansion, we have three full-length PCIe 3.0 x16 slots all of which are x16 electrical and share bandwidth from the CPU as x16/ x0/ x0, x8/ x8/ x0 and x8/ x4/ x4. All three full-length slots are reinforced for added strength and EMI shielding. The DARK also has a single PCIe 3.0 x4 slot which shares bandwidth from the PCH with the lower M.2 slot. If this M.2 is populated then this PCIe 3.0 x4 slot is disabled.
When it comes to storage the EVGA Z390 Dark has plenty of it. We have six native Intel SATA 6 Gb/s ports which support RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10. There are also two additional SATA 6.0 Gb/s ports from Asmedia and a U.2 port which shares bandwidth with the upper M.2 slot. On the M.2 side, EVGA has included two slots on the DARK which both accept up to 110 mm drives and appear to support PCIe x4 based drives only. They both share bandwidth from the PCH with the U.2 port (upper M.2) or the PCIe 3.0 X4 slot (lower M.2).
USB connectivity is also plentiful on the Z390 DARK with a total of 15 connections between onboard headers and the rear I/O shield. Starting at the rear shield we have four USB 3.1 Gen2 (10 Gb/s) Type-A ports from the Z390 chipset with an additional Type-A and Type-C from the added ASMedia 3142 chipset. We also have two USB 3.1 Gen1 ports on the back panel for a total of eight. The remaining USB headers are found on the motherboard as are two USB 2.0 (for 4 ports), one USB 3.1 Gen1 (5 Gb/s) (for 2 ports) and one USB 3.1 Gen2 (10 Gb/s) header.
For networking, EVGA has added two Intel Gigabit LAN ports to the DARK one i219-V and one 1210-AT. The DARK also includes Intel’s 9560 CNVi based 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi with speeds up to 1.73 Gb/s and Bluetooth 5.0 for wireless connectivity.
EVGA has used the 5.1 channel Creative Core 3D CA0132 quad-core audio processor with PCB optimizations such as a fully separate audio section with dedicated left and right layers for EMI shielding and equal sound quality of both left and right channels. As well as a separate impedance sensing headphone amplifier which works with their NU Audio software and can also be used with analog 2.1 speakers.
Aside from diagnostic or sensing LEDs the EVGA DARK is “dark”, you won’t find any RGB LED on board or headers to connect and control RGB LEDs.
Below is the specification list from the EVGA Z390 DARK webpage.
|EVGA Z390 DARK Specifications|
|CPU||Supports 9th/ 8th Gen Intel Core / Pentium Gold / Celeron processors, Socket LGA 1151|
|Memory||Supports up to 32 GB Dual Channel DDR4 @ 4600MHz+ non-ECC UDIMM|
|Expansion Slots||3 x PCIe 3.0 x16 slots
1 x PCIe 3.0 x4 slot
|Multi-GPU Support||2-way Nvidia SLI, 3-way AMD Crossfire|
|Storage||6 x SATA 6Gb/s ports
2 x SATA 6Gb/s ports from ASMedia 1061
One Intel U.2 port
2 x M.2 slot (Key M)
1 x Intel i219-V Gigabit Ethernet
1 x Intel i210-AT Gigabit Ethernet
Ethernet Teaming Supported
1 x Intel Wireless-AC 9560 (1.73Gbps), Bluetooth 5.0
Creative Core 3D 5.1 channel HD Audio w/SPDIF
Nu Audio 2.1 Channel
7 x USB 3.1 Gen2 ports (5 x Intel and 2 x ASM 3142) 5 Type-A ports and 1 Type-C port on the back panel plus 1 internal connector.
4 x USB 2.0 ports available through the internal USB 2.0 headers
4 x USB 3.1 Gen1 2 ports on the back panel and 2 ports available through the internal USB header
|Fan Headers||8 x 4-pin headers (PWM and voltage control)|
|OS Support||Supports Windows 10 64 bit|
|Price||$499.99 Newegg, Amazon|
We have also included a list of features sourced from the EVGA website for the board:
Retail Packaging and Accessories
The retail packaging for the Z390 DARK is black with the name in silver printed large and bold in the center of the box with some of the Intel compatibility, the sound logo and SLI capable. Turning the box over doesn’t give a whole lot of detail about the Z390 DARK aside from warranty information and addresses. EVGA does include a wide variety of accessories but, one of my pet peeves is having all the accessories on top of the motherboard. This requires you to take everything out of the box to get to the board for most this might not be a big deal. The enthusiast, however, is continually changing systems and it’s much easier to just lift a lid and drop the board back in then pull everything out. Here’s a list of the included accessories:
- SATA 6Gb/s Cables 4
- Antenna Set 1
- SLI BRIDGE
- M.2 Screw 2
- M.2 Thermal Pads 2
- ProbeIt Connector 2
- Baseplate Screws and Standoffs 10 ea.
- Benchstand with Visual Aids 1
- Rear I/O shield 1
- Case Badge 1
- VIP Card 1
- Driver USB 1
- User Manual 1
- Quick Installation Guide
Below is a slideshow of the Retail packaging and accessories.
Meet the EVGA Z390 DARK
The Z390 DARK has a classy look to it using a matte black PCB with bright white lettering and a few gold accents. What stands out the most is the physical layout of the board. The CPU socket has been rotated counterclockwise and the two DIMM slots have been moved from the traditional side placement and relocated horizontally over the CPU socket. Combined with the right-angle power connectors this really opens up the right side of the motherboard allowing unimpeded airflow over the socket and into the VRM heatsink. The heat sink for the VRM and PCH is one piece and pretty much dominates the landscape it also acts as the cladding over the IO section. There is no cladding covering the audio section which is quite common these days but the DARK is built for speed not looks.
Just like the CPU and board power connectors the fan, extra PCIe 6-pin power, USB headers, and Probe-It connectors are also at right-angles which aids in cable management keeping everything flat for a nice clean clutter free build.
Turning the DARK over you can see that all three PCIe 3.0 slots are x16 electrically and you get a better look at the unique shape of this EATX board with its cutouts for the power connections. Aside from that not much to see back here.
A Closer Look
Starting at the left we have a large shroud covering the I/O and most of the heatsink beneath it. This shroud continues down the length of the VRM heat sink and encompasses the PCH heat sink making the entire heat sink setup one piece. EVGA has added bright white branding in three areas along the length of this cooling complex. This extra-large heat sink did a fine job cooling the power section even under heavy loads. It did get warm to the touch but this is expected when pushing the limits and demonstrates its efficiency at removing heat from the power section.
Moving on we have the dual 10-pin Probe-It connectors, each read point is accompanied by its own ground for convenience and between the two allow a user to monitor 10 different critical voltages in real-time with a DMM. Moving along the top edge near the end of the horizontal DIMM slots are the multifunction LED post indicators. These are customizable in BIOS to display CPU temperatures or voltages and can be set to alternate between the two. Just to the right, it gets a bit busier, first we have the black “safe boot” button with the two CPU PWM fan headers directly below it. EVGA has added a great feature to this board with BIOS Flashback which has its own dedicated USB port next to the power and reset buttons. Any extreme benchmarker will be quite familiar with flashback and its uses like making it easy to back up to any BIOS version you want regardless how old it is and you can also flash the BIOS if the board refuses to post even without a CPU present.
Moving down the right side of the Z390 DARK we have the right angle power connectors, one 24-pin and two 8-pin for supplying power to the motherboard and CPU. The lower 8-pin EPS is optional for typical operation but quite welcome when pushing the limits of your overclock. Directly below this is the USB 3.1 Gen1 header and moving in toward the center of the board we have a few more “enthusiast” goodies. First, we have the slow switch which drops the CPU speed to the lowest multiplier which is useful in various scenarios. The PCIe “control center” for lack of a better term has switches which can enable or disable the individual PCIe 3.0 slots on the DARK allowing for quick diagnostics or changing HW without having to physically install or remove any. Last but not least is the three position BIOS switch and next to it a removable BIOS chip just in case it gets completely corrupted and becomes un-flashable. Believe it or not, this can and does happen when going for broke on any system.
The lower half of the DARK contains all the storage, PCIe expansion, PCH, and Audio. Looking to the far left we see the two huge yellow caps for NU Audio and the 5.1 channel Creative Core 3D CA0132 quad-core audio processor with the isolation line clearly visible in contrast to the black PCB.
Moving into the PCIe area we find our two M.2 storage slots. Both slots will accommodate PCIe based drives only, and both will accept up to 110 mm drives. When using either one of the M.2 slots there will be a trade-off to accommodate the needed PCIe lanes. If the upper slot is used this disables the Intel U.2 storage port located to the right and if the lower M.2 slot is used this disables the PCIe 3.0 x4 slot located below it. We also notice that the three full-length PCIe 3.0 slots are protected with steel for reinforcement and to help with EMI shielding.
Then we have the Z390 chipset covered by a good sized heat sink which the EVGA DARK logo and moving to the far right we have the USB 3.1 GEN2 header. Below we find more storage starting with the previously mentioned Intel U.2 port. Moving down, EVGA has added two additional SATA 6Gb/s ports here using the ASMedia 1061 IC which should aid in installing older operating systems. Under these are the six native SATA 6.0 Gb/s ports which come from the chipset.
Across the bottom, we have a few more headers. We’ll just put these in a bulleted list for ease of reading (from L to R).
- PCIe Aux Power 6-pin connector
- Front Panel Audio
- System speaker
- System fan headers x3
- Right-angle USB 2.0 header x 2
- Front panel connectors
Moving around to the rear I/O area we see EVGA hasn’t included a preinstalled I/O shield which seems to be gaining popularity these days, in particular on the high-end boards. On the far left, we see a PS/2port for keyboard and mouse with two USB 3.1 GEN1 ports directly below it. Moving to the right we have the Wi-Fi antenna connections for the included antenna with a clear CMOS button right next to it. Beneath the two Intel LAN ports are four USB 3.1 GEN2 Type-A ports, then a mini-display 1.2 port for video out and two more USB 3.1 GEN2 ports one of which is Type-C. To finish things off we have the audio jacks with S/PDIF and to cover things up the IO shield is included with the accessories.
Last up, we have the native SATA 6 Gb/s ports numbered 0-5 from left to right to left and the two ASMedia ports numbered 6 and 7. Wrapping up the storage section is the Intel U.2 port which shares bandwidth with the upper M.2 slot in the PCIe area.
The power section on the EVGA Z390 DARK is advertised as a 17-phase motherboard, this is broken down into 12-phase V_Core, 2-phase VGT, and one each for the VCCSA, VCCIO, and VMem. The operations are split between two Intersil PWM the ISL69133 4-phase and ISL69138 7-phase which is the main controller for the CPU. EVGA also uses Intersil Smart Powerstage ISL99227s which deliver 45 A at 80 °C with 92% efficiency. This setup provided ample power for our i9 9900K at 5.1 GHz.
Below are images of some of the IC’s found on the board.
UEFI BIOS and Overclocking Software
The EVGA Z390 DARK BIOS greets you with a selection screen after hitting delete to enter and offers four options. Default mode which sets everything to defaults and reboots. Enter setup which as it alludes to goes into the BIOS settings. There are also two other options for overclocking your CPU. Gamer mode which sets an all core OC of 4.9 GHz with a -3 offset for AVX and then the OC Robot. This last option runs through some testing adding multipliers and voltage within the limits of your cooling. Well, that’s how it’s supposed to work. The Robot ended up with an overclock of 5.2 GHz, again with a -3 offset for AVX. Both of these “auto” OC features did the same thing, they overheated during testing with AIDA64 stability test. The DARK has a tendency to overvolt the CPU reaching up to 1.429 V under load with the OC Robot suggested settings at 5.2 GHz. This kind of voltage is way too much for a 240 MM AIO to handle.
After entering the BIOS, we can see it has been broken into six sections, Extras, OC, Memory, Advanced, Boot, and Save & Exit. Most users will head right for the OC section. This is where most of the settings you will need for overclocking are located such as Core and Cache multipliers as well as all relative CPU voltages. Within the OC section, there are some settings worth mentioning like the VCore Vdroop configuration which is the LLC setting for the DARK just a different naming. We also have the Extreme Voltage setting which sets higher voltages for sub-ambient overclocking to help with cold boot issues. Many motherboards use an onboard jumper for this.
The memory section is dedicated to all the memory timings and voltages. This is where you’ll set the XMP profile for your RAM, as well as voltages and frequency. Just one observation related to XMP, when testing at one point some 4266 MHz DIMMs were installed and the DARK’s BIOS didn’t quite get the settings correct when enabling the XMP profile. timings were fine but the frequency was set to 4133, not 4266 and the voltage was also set too low. So you may want to keep an eye out when setting XMP. I should also add that the test RAM at 3200 set up properly and there were no issues with it.
The Extras tab is interesting, it had a few settings that you may want to experiment with. It contains a stress test that runs in BIOS to test your new settings as well as the OC Robot which was also on the main screen. There also an OC Profiles section which contains some preset profiles some of them you won’t want to use unless you have some extreme cooling set up to accommodate the high voltages. This is where you’ll need to go if you’re looking to update your BIOS.
The advanced section of this BIOS contains all the CPU and board related configuration settings such as PCH, USB, and Storage to name a few. This section also contains the Hardware Monitoring section for CPU and system fan control.
The BOOT section is pretty typical containing your BOOT order selection UEFI compatibility support which is set to UEFI by default. Same goes for the and Save & Exit section, this is where you can save custom overclocking profiles and reset BIOS. I did find it was an odd spot for the BOOT override but that’s where it’s located.
Overall the BIOS was easy to navigate and everything needed for overclocking was easy to find just broken up into their corresponding sections.
Below is a slideshow of the remainder of the BIOS.
Overclocking/Monitoring Software – ELEET X
EVGA includes its monitoring/tuning software, ELEET X with the Z390 DARK, it isn’t really an overclocking suite as it doesn’t have the ability to alter CPU speed at all at the time of publication. It does allow you to fine-tune voltages and you can set CPU affinity for processes but that’s about it aside from the monitoring end of things. This wasn’t included on the install USB, it was just a link to EVGA to download the software and only after logging to your EVGA account. The link also led to the European site which didn’t have the updated Z390 ELEET X software but I was able to find it through the North American home site.
Test Setup and Performance
Here we take a slightly different approach to CPU testing with ours based on a lot of Hwbot.org benchmarks since that is what we are known for, overclocking and benchmarking. We use real-world testing as well with Cinebench, x265, POV-Ray, and 7Zip in order to give readers a good idea of the general performance of the product tested.
|Test System Components|
|Motherboard||MSI MEG Z390 ACE|
|CPU||Intel i9 9900K|
|CPU Cooler||EVGA CLC 240|
|Memory||2×8 GB G.Skill Trident Z 3200 MHz CL15-15-15-35|
|SSD||Toshiba OCZ TR200 480 GB (OS + Applications)|
|Power Supply||EVGA 750W G3|
|Video Card||ASUS ROG Strix GTX 1080 Ti (417.71 drivers)|
Thanks go out to EVGA for providing the CLC 240 CPU Cooler and 750 W G3 Power Supply to cool and power the system, G.Skill for the Trident Z DRAM, and Toshiba OCZ for the 480 GB TR200 SSD storage running the OS, benchmarks, and games. With our partners helping out, we are able to build matching test systems to mitigate many differences found between using different hardware. This allows for multiple reviewers in different locations to use the same test system and compare results without additional variables.
We’ll perform our usual set of benchmarks which test rendering, memory performance, and single/multi-threaded CPU performance. For 2D benchmarks, we’ll use SuperPi 1M and 32M, wPrime and Intel XTU. For rendering it’s Cinebench R11.5 and R15. Memory performance is checked against the AIDA64 test suite. For encoding, we use x265 (HWBOT Version) and PoV Ray. A more real-world test is included in 7zip. Testing is performed with the CPU at stock speeds (set BIOS optimized defaults, XMP only no MCE). Memory speed is 3200 MHz using the XMP profile unless otherwise specified.
AIDA64 – Memory Bandwidth and Throughput
AIDA64 Cache and Memory Benchmark
|AIDA64 Cache and Memory Benchmark – Raw Data|
|EVGA Z390 DARK||47188||47272||42876||41.8|
|MSI MEG Z390 ACE||47547||48103||43614||46.6|
|ASRock Z390 Extreme 4||47825||47818||44069||41.6|
|ASUS ROG Maximus XI APEX||47261||46188||43081||42.1|
AIDA64 – CPU Tests
|AIDA64 CPU Benchmark – Raw Data|
|EVGA Z390 DARK||100677||23601||837||42873||10793|
|MSI MEG Z390 ACE||101625||23101||842||43222||10799|
|ASRock Z390 Extreme 4||100928||23483||837||42835||10783|
|ASUS ROG Maximus XI APEX||100669||23586||834||42855||10787|
AIDA64 – FPU Tests
|AIDA64 FPU Benchmark – Raw Data|
|EVGA Z390 DARK||9571||80025||43047||11345|
|MSI MEG Z390 ACE||9059||78797||41638||11440|
|ASRock Z390 Extreme 4||8995||79979||43033||11333|
|ASUS ROG Maximus XI APEX||8997||76641||41231||11341|
Real World Tests
|Cinebench R11.5/R15, POVRay, x265 (HWBot), 7Zip – Raw Data|
|EVGA Z390 DARK||22.5||2063||4310||67.0||69554|
|MSI MEG Z390 ACE||22.4||2053||4345||67.1||69673|
|ASRock Z390 Extreme 4||22.3||2050||4301||67.0||70323|
|ASUS ROG Maximus XI APEX||22.4||2060||4320||66.7||69229|
Pi and Prime Based Tests
|SuperPi and wPrime Benchmarks – Raw Data|
|Motherboard||Spi 1M||SPi 32M||WPrime 32M||WPrime 1024M||Intel XTU|
|EVGA Z390 DARK||7.358||407.715||2.577||68.344||3295|
|MSI MEG Z390 ACE||7.357||410.257||2.483||67.749||3322|
|ASRock Z390 Extreme 4||7.404||407.8||2.593||68.429||3253|
|ASUS ROG Maximus XI APEX||7.405||407.84||2.576||68.389||3287|
In our testing, the DARK performed well with all benchmarks falling within the expected range. It traded blows very competently, but as we know with motherboards, in most cases, there is little difference in performance between them and that theme remains consistent here. It did seem to perform very well in the AIDA FPU testing suite, particularly in the VP8 test with a minimum 5% boost over the others which was consistent across multiple runs.
The gaming benchmarks as with the 2D benchmark results we saw previously were very similar again. The Z390 DARK pulled almost 90 FPS in Ashes of the Singularity and 124 FPS in Shadow of the Tomb Raider using an ASUS 1080 Ti STRIX.
Now, power consumption seemed to be a bit elevated on the DARK when compared to some of the other boards we have reviewed. One thing to mention here is that during the FPU and small FFT tests it was impossible to get an accurate reading. The reason for this as I mentioned earlier on the DARK, when left on auto, has a serious tendency to overvolt the CPU. The DARK was adding a lot more voltage than the CPU needs to run at stock speed and this was causing the 9900K to thermal throttle during the two harder tests. We did get reading of 320 W during the AIDA64 FPU test and 362 W during Prime95 small FFT but these aren’t a true representation due to the CPU throttling.
Overclocking on the EVGA Z390 DARK was pretty straightforward as far as the BIOS was concerned, select the multiplier and adjust the voltage to compensate. Taking the DARK off of Auto and manually setting voltages is what this board needs keeping the voltages in line with the CPU’s requirements. There was also no need to alter the Vdroop settings in BIOS as the DARK held the voltage right where it was set with minimal droop under load. For this part of the review, we also swapped the DDR4 3200 for a set of DDR4 4266 which needed a bit of manual caressing after enabling the XMP as noted earlier in the review.
An overclock of 5.1 GHz for the CPU with 4266 MHz memory was tested with the AIDA64 stability test for just over 30 minutes. This may not show 100% stability but it does show that the EVGA Z390 DARK is definitely capable of a decent high speed overclock on both the CPU and memory. This was done on an open test bench with minimal airflow over the motherboard, the VRM heatsinks were barely warm to the touch.
Pushing the Limits
In this section, stability wasn’t the objective, achieving the highest overclock possible within the confines of the cooling of the 240 mm CLC was the goal. We managed to squeeze another 100 MHz from the CPU which was stable enough to run some benchmarks without throttling due to heat. The DDR4 4266 RAM was also pushed a bit further reaching 4500 MHz with the same timings and just a bit of added voltage. Unlike the CPU the memory overclock proved to be stable with the AIDA64 memory stability test for over an hour. You can see the results below:
The EVGA Z390 DARK has a lot to offer but any user who isn’t familiar with navigating a BIOS or comfortable with manual settings may want to think twice. The DARK performs very well but left to its own devices in Auto at stock settings tended to run quite hot because of excessive voltage. If a user simply sets a negative offset for the core voltage in the BIOS it would behave quite nicely but you need to be prepared to finesse it a bit. Once you have the beast tamed, the performance and overclocking is outstanding.
Speaking of overclocking, the DARK handled a 5.1 GHz i9-9900K and 4266 MHz RAM with ease. EVGA’s 17-phase power design barely broke a sweat even pushing the CPU up another 100 MHz and 300 MHz for the RAM the DARK was just starting to flex its muscle and the VRM heatsink was barely warming up. It also includes all the added goodies you may want like live voltage read points, triple BIOS options, and extreme voltage mode when going for extreme sub-zero overclocks.
As far as options go the DARK has everything you may need for gaming, workstation, or 24/7 usage. It definitely has storage covered with dual M.2 slots, eight SATA ports, and an Intel U.2 port. USB ports are also plentiful with up to 15 connections available between the rear I/O and onboard headers ranging from USB 2.0 to USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-A and Type-C. The only thing some may feel is missing is RGB LED options which are so plentiful these days but what it lacks in bling is offset by its uniqueness. The board’s overall layout and design look great even though it may not be traditional. This not only adds to its appeal but is very functional improving cooling, airflow and cable routing.
Pricing is high at $499.99 and recently on sale for $449.99 but it’s still priced quite a bit lower than high-end gaming boards like the MSI MEG Z390 GODLIKE or the ASUS ROG Maximus XI Extreme and has just as much to offer if not more. Being an extreme overclocker myself, the DARK has all the features I look for when picking an extreme overclocking motherboard, price included and would definitely be on the shortlist.
– Shawn Jennings (Johan45)