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Z790 midrange selection for Spring '23

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Voodoo Rufus

Powder Junkie Moderator
Sep 20, 2001
Bakersfield, CA
So, since I built that 'budget' 13600K DDR4 build and tinkering with it, it feels noticeably better than my 9900KS rig in general use. The 13th gen is running Win11 and the 9th gen is on Win10, but I don't know if that affects it much.

This is giving me the itch to build a 13900KS and DDR5 rig to replace my 9900KS next year sometime. Don't feel like trying the AMD side yet unless the new 3D-cache chips are a game changer.

My short list of boards are the following:
MSI Z790 Carbon
Asus Z790 StrixE-F
Asus Z790 Hero

I haven't run a 'high end' board basically ever, so I have a hard time justifying the Hero, but it is very nice. I don't OC on LN2 or clock the crap out of my ram (I love XMP). I narrowed down to those because I don't really plan on jumping on the Gen5 M.2 bandwagon since any of those that come out will need some time to mature to max out the interface. I value a solid VRM, good analog gold-plated audio outputs (ALC 1220 or 4082, a nice ESS DAC is a bonus), and non-finicky bioses (My one beef with Gigabyte). I run a single 1TB M.2 for boot and a 2TB M.2 for a game drive, so I don't need a ton of extra ports I won't use.

So, what say ye?
Personally, I've had excellent luck with ASUS for my last few builds. Their highest end boards do tend to get astronomical. But their TUF series is quite good. The BIOS is super clean and intuitive.

Have you looked at the Z series Creator boards from ASUS? Looks like they have a Z790 but it's out of stock right now. I think especially with your focus on audio output quality, and an abundance of features without unneeded features, the Creator line could be the ticket. $150 cheaper than the HERO, and probably has some of the quality of life features over the STRIX for your particular needs.
I didn't used to like the Strix boards, aesthetically but they've gotten a lot nicer. The Creator is nice but I'd be paying for the 10G LAN when I have an add-in card for that already.
Probably all (at least mid/high) Z790 boards' CPU OC are the same. I had exactly the same results with ASRock, Gigabyte, and MSI. The difference is, as always, RAM OC and additional controllers. Most cheaper motherboards (even those for $300-350) have old audio codecs and don't have Thunderbolt and fast USB ports. Most other features are similar.
As far as RAM OC, I see that most motherboards can make as much as the manufacturer declares in general specs, so if they say that the motherboard can make 6800, it won't make much more. If they say that the motherboard can make 8000, it will hit a wall at 8000. ASUS seems the exception as they declare a much lower clock than some motherboards can make (probably problems to guarantee the same top quality in every motherboard, like it was with Z690), but ASRock, Gigabyte, and MSI motherboards that I tested were acting as I described.
You may think about:
- AMD with 3D cache - should be out soon (3-4 weeks?, maybe more), but it probably means no CPU OC and RAM won't make more than DDR5-6400
- ASUS Apex, wait for Gigabyte Tachyon (should be out soon) or something else if you really want something high-end... and they won't cost much more than the ASUS Hero

The last one that I picked was MSI Z790I Edge. It was because it's the cheapest mobo that can make DDR5-8000 (so far stuck there, but maybe make more), and I still can OC i7-13700k the same as on full ATX mobos. I also needed something ITX for PC builds and other tests, and all review samples were pretty average.
If I was building a PC for myself then I would pick AMD. Not because it's faster, as it isn't. It's close to Intel in performance, motherboards feel better, RAM clock is limited, but it also doesn't make you spend more money on higher-speed kits. AMD said it will live at least 2+ years while Intel will be replaced soon (not sure how soon, but they work on another gen already, so maybe 6 months or something). Even Gigabyte B650E felt good (I dislike Gigabyte BIOS and some more, but it was pretty good in everything). I also like more the layout with multiple M.2 sockets and PCIe 5.0 support.

If I knew that Z790 motherboards will support all new CPUs for the next 2 years, then I would get something like ASUS Apex. However, I'm sure they will release at least one new series this year and probably new socket/chipsets too, as Z790 is barely improved Z690 and it's already a "tock" stage. I wanted EVGA Dark, and their Z690 Kingpin seems great .... but again, it was released too late, and it's Z690, so already old stuff.
In short, I recommend to buy something that won't make you feel that you spent a lot of money on something that is just average now and will be "old series" in a half year ... and hard to sell, or it loses 50% its value. I just feel that even higher series Z790 are just forced, but required minimum nowadays. Prices went up a lot, but what we actually get is not much different than 2-3 years ago, it still required to support new CPUs and RAM.
From the list in the #1 post, I would probably think about MSI, but ASUS Strix looks good too. Hero is great, but it costs much more and gives about the same.

I don't think anything will change soon. Lower chipsets will appear in stores in the upcoming weeks, so there is nothing you really want. Motherboard manufacturers stopped improving BIOS for Z790 motherboards some weeks ago. Since about November, there have been no improvements at all, only little fixes to single models. It suggests that all BIOS teams work on lower motherboards or are already on the next-gen.
Looking back I generally upgrade once every memory generation. After DDR-1, I did DDR2 for one gen, DDR3 the next, then maxed out that setup by swapping ram from 4GB to 32GB, then DDR4. I figure since DDR5 is maturing nicely at this point, my upgrade there should carry me until DDR6 in a few years. So I guess it really is a decision over which way I want to go, AM5 with 3D cache, or Intel binned special.

I still can't see buying something like an Apex. It's just too much.....

The ITX boards do see to have a good recipe for hitting higher ram speeds due to having only two slots to deal with, just like the uber-high end OC boards.
I still can't see buying something like an Apex. It's just too much.....
There's just no point unless you're going cold. Even mid-range boards are limited by ambient cooling. Custom water bare die and the VRMs wouldn't flinch.

The ITX boards do see to have a good recipe for hitting higher ram speeds due to having only two slots to deal with, just like the uber-high end OC boards.
That and the shorter traces to and from the CPU.
My point with Apex was that on the list was ASUS Hero and Apex costs not much more. Actually in some stores is like $50 difference. So I would get or MSI Carbon or something similar or go for the Apex/Tachyon or other top OC board.

ITX mobos also have thicker/more layer PCB with better signals. In the end it still highly depends if motherboard manufacturer releases a good BIOS. Look at what MSI did with Z690 Unify-X. Seems like a top mobo for RAM OC, with 2 slots and improved PCB ... and it still can't pass DDR5-6800, so the same as higher 4-slot mobos. I think that refreshed ASUS Z690 Hero supports DDR5-6800 too. On the other hand ASUS had quality issues with most Z690 mobos. Z790 seem problem-free and they have good BIOS team so no problems with RAM.