For our next motherboard review, we will be looking at an offering from AORUS, GIGABYTE’s gaming, and high-performance lineup. There are several (seven to be exact) Z390 AORUS SKUs which span all sorts of uses and price points. Today, we will cover the Z390 AORUS Master which sits towards the top of the AORUS lineup.
The Z390 Master offers users a premium level board (around equivalent to the Gaming 7 of yesteryear) giving users three M.2 slots (all with heatsinks), the latest Realtek ALC1220-VB audio codec, RGB LED lighting, as well as a beefy VRM. Read on to see how the board performed and what we thought about it after putting it through its paces.
Specifications and Features
The Z390 AORUS lineup consists of seven boards from the flagship Z390 AORUS Extreme, to the Z390 AORUS Elite. Mixed in between the other ATX sized boards is a Mini-ITX offering, the Z390 I AORUS Pro WiFi, for the small form factor (SFF) crowd. Prices range from $549 for the AORUS Extreme, to $157 for the Mini-ITX board. The board we are looking at is priced at $290 at Newegg.
Based on the Z390 chipset, the board is able to use both 8th and 9th generation Intel processors. The VRM implementation looks to be robust by count (12+2, more on this later) and includes more copper/larger power plan than typical boards. Keeping the power bits cool are dual heatsinks that are connected via a heat pipe as well as making direct contact with the MOSFETs. The back of the motherboard uses a baseplate which helps with thermals as well via thermal pads connecting it to the back of the VRMs.
With its four DRAM slots, it is able to support up to 64 GB of DDR4 RAM in a dual channel configuration with speeds up to DDR4-4400. That speed is a bit higher than most boards.
As far as specifications go, the board has a total of three full-length PCIe slots and three x1 sized slots. The top slot is good for the full 16x lanes with the second slot sharing bandwidth from the first. When the second slot is populated the first goes to x8. The third full-length PCIe slot is a maximum x4 lanes and shares bandwidth with the M2P connector. Details aside, the AORUS Master supports both NVIDIA SLI and AMD Crossfire multi-GPU implementations. It is nice to see a board that supports both technologies as it seems some will only support one or the other for various reasons.
For storage, the Z390 Master includes the full complement of SATA ports (6) which support RAID0, 1, 5, and 10. If SATA and 7 mm drives aren’t your thing (or speed), three M.2 slots are also found on the board, each with its own heatsink for keeping the sometimes hot running PCIe based drives. Two of the slots support both SATA and PCIe x4, while the third only supports PCIe x4/x2 based modules.
USB support is plentiful on the AORUS Master giving users multiple USB 3.1 Gen2 ports including four ports on the back panel (3x Type-A, 1x Type-C) as well as an internal header. There are a total of four USB 3.1 Gen1 ports with two on the back panel and two more available through internal headers. All of the above is sourced from the chipset. Through a USB 2.0 hub and the chipset, the board offers eight USB 2.0/1.1 ports with four located on the back panel and four more through the internal headers. A lot of USB connectivity here.
For networking, the board includes a single Intel I219-V Gigabit Ethernet controller, as well as the CNVi based Wi-Fi. The Wi-Fi appears to use the Intel 9650 module supporting 1.73 Gbps transfer rates as well as Bluetooth 5.
Audio support is handled by the Realtek ALC1220-VB codec. Along with physical board audio separation, it includes an ESS Sabre reference DAC (ESS 9118) along with audio grade Nichicon Fine Gold and WIMA capacitors. Two of the USB 3.0 ports on the rear panel include the DAC-UP 2 technology said to improve connectivity and power deficiency issues from a normal port.
Keeping components and the board cool is one area where AORUS Master excels. Starting with the Smart Fan 5 software, it provides a complete ecosystem for monitoring and controlling your cooling. There are a total of eight hybrid (DC/PWM controlled) fan/water pump connectors able to support up to 24 W (2 A x 12 V), eight onboard temperatures sensors, and two external temperature sensors.
How can we forget to talk about RGB illumination? The AORUS Master integrates its lighting in the chipset heatsink which displays the AORUS eagle proudly. Integrated under the shroud covering the rear IO panel are more RGB LEDs. These give the VRM heatsink a nice glow. The last integrated RGB LED is located under the shroud covering the audio bits. From here it shines the ESS Sabre HiFi name through the cover. Two additional addressable RGB headers can also be found on the board as well.
|CPU||Intel 8th/9th Generation Processors, Socket LGA 1151|
|Memory||Supports up to 64 GB Dual Channel DDR4 @ 4400MHz+ non-ECC UDIMM|
|Expansion Slots||3 x PCIe 3.0 x16 slots|
3x PCIe 3.0 x1 slots
|Multi-GPU Support||AMD Quad-GPU SLI and AMD Quad-GPU Crossfire|
6 x SATA3 (6 Gbps) ports (Support for RAID0, RAID1, RAID5, and RAID10)
3 x M.2 PCIe 3.0 x4 slots (2x PCIe/SATA, 1x PCIe only)
1 x Intel GbE LAN chip (10/100/1000)
1 x Intel CNVi Wi-Fi 802.11ac + Bluetooth 5. 160 MHz / 1.73 Gbps data rate
|Audio||Realtek ALC1220-VB HD Audio (7.1 channels) w/SPDIF|
– ESS Sabre 9118 DAC
– Front panel line out supports DSD audio
|USB||1 x USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-C port (via internal header)|
1 x USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-C port (back panel)
3 x USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-A port (red, back panel)
4 x USB 3.1 Gen1 (2x ports back panel, 2x via internal header)
8 x USB 2.0/1.1 (4x ports back panel, 4x via internal header)
|Fan Headers||8 x 4-pin headers (PWM and voltage control)|
|RGB Headers||2 x aRGB LED strip headers|
|OS Support||Supports Windows 10 64 bit|
|Form Factor||ATX (30.5cm x 24.4cm)|
|Price||$289.99 on Newegg|
We have also included a list of features sourced from the AORUS website for the board:
Retail Packaging and Accessories
The retail packaging for the board sticks with the orange and black theme that the AORUS line is associated with along with the flexing eagle as the prominent feature gracing the front cover. Along with the imagery is the motherboard name, CPU support information, as well as a couple of features. The back of the packaging has the usual specifications and features. Inside, the board sits in an anti-static bag and foam to prevent damage from movement from the factory to the case.
The folks at a Gigabyte/AORUS have a pretty inclusive set of accessories. It comes with SATA cables, SLI bridge, Wi-Fi antenna, temperature sensors, and Velcro strips. Additionally, it has the familiar driver disk, manuals, and gratuitous stickers and other flair.
Meet the Z390 AORUS Master
The Z390 AORUS Master is good looking motherboard designed with a black PCB, slots, and shrouding along with brushed aluminum highlights found on all three M.2 slots as well as the shroud covering rear IO panel and VRMs. Hidden underneath the shrouds and heatsinks are RGB LEDs that add a tasteful light to the board. The PCH heatsink in the bottom right is fairly large and has the AORUS eagle emblazoned on it.
The back of the motherboard comes with they call a “thermal base plate”. This thermal base plate is attached to the back of the PCB and will add a bit of rigidity, and is intended to be part of the cooling solution for the power bits. We can see from the picture two indentations surrounding the socket on the baseplate. These match up to the VRM location(s) on the front of the board. The indentations have a thermal pad between it and the PCB to help cool from both sides.
Other notable features are the three full-length PCIe slots and four DRAM slots. All of these slots are protected by metal “armor” which is said to reduce EMI as well as prevent any shearing from heavy video cards.
A Closer Look
Look at the top half of the board, there are several things to talk about here. One of the first things we can see is the shroud covering the rear I/O area as well as both VRM heatsinks. The shroud contains RGB LEDs which shine over the fin portion of the heatsink as well as through frosted plastic over the AORUS symbol. The heatsink is unique in that they have the more common “block” type heatsink with strategically places cuts for more surface area and airflow, but these also contain a direct contact heat pipe on the VRMs that transfer heat to the fin array as well as the more traditional block type heatsink. Power is delivered to the VRM area by a single 8-pin EPS connector – the second is optional.
In the upper right-hand corner, we are able to see a couple of fan headers between the four DRAM slots and the VRM. Furthermore, we can see another header just below the 24-pin ATX connector on the far right. All headers on the board are hybrid and can control both PWM and DC fans. Continuing on with headers, just above the DRAM slots and to the right are RGB LED headers with one being aRGB. Just to the right of them is an XMP LED area which is lit up when enabling XMP profiles along with a one-touch OC button. Below the DRAM slots and to the right is a front panel USB 3.1 Gen2 header and to the right of it is a USB 3.1 Gen1 header.
Last, if we look above the DRAM slots again, we are able to see convenient voltage read points. Since software at times has a mind of its own as far as voltage readings go, this can be an important tool in the enthusiast/heavy overclocker’s toolbox. This area has the ability to measure VCCIO, VAXG, VCCSA, VCore, DDRVtt, PCHIO, VPP25V, and VDIMM voltages.
The bottom half of the board is also pretty robust with the audio, PCIe, PCH/SATA ports, as well as all the headers across the bottom. The left side, under the shroud, is where the audio parts are hidden including the Realtek ALC1220-VB chip and the ESS 9118 Sabre DAC. At the bottom left corner above the front panel audio header, we are able to see the Nichicon capacitors while a bit up the board in red are the WIMA “audiophile” grade capacitors.
The PCIe area consists of three full-length slots along with three x1 sized slots. Both NVIDIA SLI and Crossfire is supported on this board. The first (top) slot and second slot share bandwidth and when the second slot is in use, the first run in x8 mode as it typical with this platform and boards that do not have a PLX chip (as our SuperO C9Z390-PGW we reviewed did).
Wedged between and above the PCIe slots are locations for M.2 based devices. Each slot uses a heatsink to help keep the M.2 module underneath running cooler. The first two slots (top slots, M2_M, and M2_A as the manual calls them), support both SATA and PCIe x4/x2 SSDs and fit up to 110 mm drives. The bottom slot supports up to 80 mm drives and is PCIe x4/x2 only. The M2_M (top) slot will disable SATA ports 4/5 for SATA or PCIe based drivers, while the M2_A slot (middle) slot will lose SATA port 1 when using a SATA based SSD (nothing for PCIe modules). Last, the smaller M2_P slot at the bottom doesn’t disable anything (PCIe only). Speaking of SATA ports, we can see the six available on the right.
Across the bottom are a slew of headers from front panel audio, dual BIOS switch, RGB LED, USB 2.0, a debug LED, three more fan headers, and of course the front panel headers.
One of the cool things about this board is the integrated rear I/O panel. Gone, from this model anyway, is the flimsy rear I/O panel and replaced with one already attached via screws to the board itself. Connectivity wise, there are a total of 10 USB ports. Four are 3.1 Gen2 (3x Type-A, 1x Type-C), two are USB 3.1 (and DAC UP ports), and four others USB 2.0/1.1. The rear I/O contains Clear CMOS button and a power button as well for easy access to reset and power on/off capabilities. We can also see the Wi-Fi antenna plugs, Intel ethernet port, HDMI out for onboard video, as well as a 5 plug audio stack with SPDIF out.
Next is a closer look at the six SATA ports which are native to the chipset. There will be some sharing here when using some M.2 Ports as listed earlier.
The good folks at GIGABYTE say the VRM is 12+2 phase (CPU and iGPU) and uses an International Rectifier IE 35201 PWM controller which supports 8 phases total. For the AORUS Master board, it is in a 6+2 configuration and the 12 phases reached by using phase IR3599 phase doublers which each phase using an IR3553 40A PowIRstage. Power is fed to the VRMs by a single 8-pin EPS 12V connection with the second being optional. For our testing, only one plug was used.
Below is a slideshow showing some of the IC’s used on this board.
Below is an image of the board on the testing bench:
UEFI BIOS and Monitoring/Overclocking Software
The BIOS found on the AORUS Master uses both an Easy Mode as well as an Advanced Mode. In Easy Mode, a feature that is commonly found in most motherboard BIOS, it provides users with a high-level view of the system as well as the ability to edit a couple of options. For monitoring, Easy Mode displays CPU speed/temperatures/voltage, memory frequency/temperature as well as system (CPU) temperature. It also shows boot order, which DRAM slots are filled, and fan status. In the upper right hand corner is a one touch EZ OC section.
Not all things can be done in Easy Mode, however. When moving to the advanced BIOS section, we see a more familiar menu across the top along with additional selections under each major heading. Across the top is MIT, System, BIOS, Peripherals, Chipset, and Power. Any overclocking will be handled from within the MIT section. This includes multiplier/BCLK/voltage adjustments, access to power limits, among many other things. For the most part, finding things was relatively easy, however, each item one would need to adjust is found on a different screen or deeper down some menus. There are other BIOSes out where the majority of edited items are on one or perhaps two pages – I prefer this over digging down. That said, the inefficiencies can easily be remedied by using Favorites. This is a section in the BIOS where users are able to add specific items to a page. Just put the most frequently used items in there and you have a custom BIOS page.
Fan control is fairly robust in this system with it able to be based on multiple inputs for fan adjustment. For example, one can base the fan speed on CPU temperatures, or GPU temperatures depending on preference. Each of the eight 4-pin headers allows fan or pump control via PWM or DC regulation. Also worth noting on the fan headers is their ability to support high current fans up to 24 W (2 A x 12 V) as well as having Over-Current protection on each. We’ve seen boards with one or perhaps two headers able to support over the more typical 12 W/1 A, but this is the first I have seen all headers able to support the additional power. The board has six internal temperature sensors along with two 2-pin external temperature headers which are also supported by the software.
In the slideshow below are the remaining BIOS screenshots.
Monitoring/Overclocking Software – App Center – EasyTune/@BIOS
Most board partners include several helpful utilities users are able to download and run. These applications range from Overclocking utilities, BIOS apps, RGB LED utilities, and more. GIGABYTE/AORUS takes this a step further and has an application named App Center where all the AORUS applications can be downloaded, installed and updated.
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||Z390 AORUS Master|
|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||NVIDIA RTX 2080 (411.63 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) stock BIOS options. Memory speed is 3200 MHz unless otherwise specified.
AIDA64 – Memory Bandwidth and Throughput
|AIDA64 Cache and Memory Benchmark – Raw Data|
|Z390 AORUS Master||47356||47864||43421||42.8|
|MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Edge AC||47163||46232||42230||44.0|
AIDA64 – CPU Tests
|AIDA64 CPU Benchmark – Raw Data|
|Z390 AORUS Master||100686||23262||836||42830||10783|
|MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Edge AC||101379||23297||843||43137||10854|
AIDA64 – FPU Tests
|AIDA64 FPU Benchmark – Raw Data|
|Z390 AORUS Master||9075||80001||43032||11336|
|MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Edge AC||6830||80539||43140||11411|
Real World Tests
|Cinebench R11.5/R15, POVRay, x265 (HWBot), 7Zip – Raw Data|
|Z390 AORUS Master||22.3||2067||4274||67.0||69672|
|MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Edge AC||22.3||2054||4350||67.3||69831|
Pi and Prime Based Tests
|SuperPi and wPrime Benchmarks – Raw Data|
|Motherboard||Spi 1M||SPi 32M||WPrime 32M||WPrime 1024M||Intel XTU|
|Z390 AORUS Master||7.427||412.6||2.594||68.765||3253|
|MSI MPG Z390 GamingEdge AC||7.407||410.9||2.563||71.825||3254|
Overall, the Z390 AORUS Master proved to perform as expected in all of our synthetic testing easily keeping up with the other two boards tested so far. The board did not have any artificially low results due to power limits (what we saw out of the box on the SuperO board).
In the two games we test for motherboards. The AORUS Master was able to match the FPS we saw on the other boards tested. No differences are to be expected in gaming here.
Power use on the AORUS Master was comparable to the Supermicro C9Z390-PGW board. It used a bit more while on idle, (45 W vs. 52 W), similar amounts for both AIDA64 and Prime95 testing peaking at 285 W. Nothing anomalous here.
Overclocking on this board proved to be quite easy. Finding all the options one needs to change was easy and they are located in logical spots under the MIT section of the BIOS. The only drawback is users will have to go through multiple subheadings each item whereas in other board’s BIOS a lot of those major items (multiplier and voltage for example) can be on one page. That said, an easy way around that potential issue is to use their “Favorite” page and add whatever is needed to that page.
The board was able to handle our 5.1 GHz 1.3 V 9900K without issue. The robust 12-Phase VRM was warm to the touch through the testing in our open-air bench. We are again limited by the cooling of the CPU and not the motherboard.
Our experience with the GIGABYTE Z390 AORUS Master was overall quite positive. The feature set is lengthy with all the right parts one would expect for a mid-range board on this platform. It includes a beefy VRM with high-quality components, three M.2 slots, integrated rear I/O panel, Realtek ALC1220-VB with ESS Sabre audio components, along with Crossfire and SLI capabilities. For those who like the bling, the board has RGB LEDs tastefully applied in various locations on the. Users are also able to add more by attaching additional RGB LED strips to the headers (one of which is addressable). The cooling ecosystem is one of the more inclusive with its Smart Fan 5 controlling things off of its eight hybrid fan/water pump connectors able to support up to 24 W each, and its internal and external temperature sensors.
The Z390 AORUS Master is currently priced at $289.99 on Newegg and $329.99 at Amazon. The $290 price point puts it in company with the MSI MEG Z390 ACE ($289.99 Newegg), the ASUS ROG Strix Z390-H Gaming ($284 Newegg), and the ASRock Z390 Taichi Ultimate ($279.99 Newegg). The difference between the boards comes in power delivery, M.2 count (all but the ASUS board has three) as well as graphics outputs, and memory support (speed). Quite honestly between them, it’s a tough choice and really comes down to looks, which is up to the user, and price.
The Z390 AORUS Master provides a good value for consumers who are looking for everything the Z390 platform has to offer. From its blazing fast CNVi Wi-Fi, three M.2 slots, SLI/Crossfire capabilities, and numerous USB 3.1 Gen2 ports, the board offers users quite a bit for the money. Its robust VRM, though doubled, had no issues driving the i9 9900K to its limits. If a sub $300 Z390 based board is on your shopping list, make sure the AORUS Master is on the short list.
Joe Shields (Earthdog)