Today on the test bench we have our first Z390 based motherboard for review. As you know from the title, this isn’t a board from “the big four” as I like to call them, but from Supermicro, a company much better known in the enterprise and server space than for the consumer side and gaming. The C9Z390-PGW we will be looking at isn’t their first foray into this arena however, as they have had consumer level motherboards since the Z170 days.
The C9Z390-PGW hails from their Professional Gaming line which, according to their website “… is the best SuperO has to offer, and as the flagship of the SuperO fleet, contains the latest in features and performance-enhancing technologies to surpass your expectations.” One of the board’s claims to fame is its use of 10G LAN as well as a PLX chip to increase the amount of PCIe lanes available. I don’t believe one will find those features on other Z390 based motherboards, at least not on the same motherboard anyway.
We will put the board through its paces and see how it stacks up against other Z390 based boards as well as show some of the features and specifications and what makes it tick.
Specifications and Features
So what is in a name? The Supermicro naming scheme won’t be used for a mnemonic device any time soon, but it does have meaning! In the case of this board:
- C9 = Consumer
- Z390 = Z390 Chipset
- PG = Professional Gaming
- W = Wi-Fi
The SuperO Z390 lineup consists of four boards, the C9Z390-PGW we are looking at here, and three boards in the Core Gaming Segment C9Z390-CGW, C9Z390-CG, and C9Z390-CG-IW. In these boards, the “CG” stands for Core Gaming, while the “I” represents a Mini-ITX board. SuperO also has a Core Business set of SKUs using the B360 chipset.
The board, being from the Professional Gaming series, should come with many of the bells and whistles some professional users are used to, and it does. In this case, it includes the 10G LAN from Aquantia for ultra-fast network speeds which is something most Z390 boards do not have (the only other is the ASRock Z390 Taichi Ultimate). There are a few boards with 5G and 2.5G LANs, but only the ASRock and two SuperO boards currently have that distinction. Additionally, the board has another ethernet port, an Intel i219V chip driving the 1G port. The C9Z390-PGW also includes CNVi based Wi-Fi on the board using the Intel Wireless AC 9560 part. The Wi-Gi supports speeds up to 1.73 Gbps with 2T/2R setup and also supports Bluetooth 5.0.
One of the other more unique features is the PLX chip used to create more PCIe lanes on the board. More PCIe lanes allow for greater flexibility of PCIe lanes (more details a bit later). To that end, the board supports CrossfireX configurations (does not support SLI). From the looks of things, some sharing is still required of the board with M.2/U.2/SATA as they are all attached to the chipset. We have attached the chipset diagram from the Supermicro website for clarity on how all things connect.
Speaking of ports, on the storage side of things, the board has six SATA ports, two U.2 ports, and two M.2 slots which are all connected to the chipset. As we alluded to above, some sharing will still need to happen with these ports, but they are there for use. We do not see U.2 ports on many motherboards these days, but seeing as how this is a professional gaming board, its good to see them on here as it tends to be more enterprise/professional type feature. Both the M.2 and U.2 ports support RAID0,1 configurations while the SATA ports offer RAID0, 1, 5, and 10 options. The board also has heat spreaders for each of the M.2 slots to keep the warm running PCIe drives cool.
USB Support is plentiful with a total of five ports on the rear I/O and and those ports are all pretty quick. There is a total of four USB 3.1 Gen2 (10 Gbps) ports, three Type-A and one Type-C. In addition to those are two USB 3.1 Gen1 (5 Gbps) ports. Internally, there is an additional 3.1 Gen2 Type-C header, 3.1 Gen1 header, and a USB 2.0 header as well.
The board supports up to 64 GB of Dual Channel DDR4 with speeds to 4000 MHz using non-ECC UDIMMs in its four slots. These, as well as the PCIe slots, are fortified using the SuperO Armor and said to improve the connection between the board and peripherals.
Audio is handled by a Realtek ALC1220 HD Audio codec which features 7.1 surround. The rear panel audio stack consists of five plugs along with a SPDIF/Optical port.
As far as board aesthetics, SuperO has done a good job of implementing some “show” parts as well as providing all the “go” parts. The PCB is black along with all the most slots (the DRAM slots alternate grey and black for ease of identifying ports), heatsinks and shrouds also coming in black or a lighter grey. RGB LEDs have made their way here as well with locations under the I/O shroud (lighting up the SuperO name), the audio separation line to the left of the PCIe slots, the PCH heatsink lights up the “Play Harder” motto, along with 12 other RGB LEDs on the underside of the board near the 24-pin plug running towards the top corner. The integrated LEDs are controlled by the SuperO Booster software along with the two onboard headers for additional RGB LED strips.
One of the other big selling points of SuperO motherboards is the enterprise-grade power delivery. The VRM is a true 6+2 phase setup using Infineon parts (power stage and PWM controller) as well as Vitec power inductors. In an era where many (falsely) believe more is better, one really needs to look at the parts themselves and see. We’ll dig a little deeper later, but these parts will happily overclock a 9900K to its thermal limits and not cook themselves.
Below is a table of specifications:
|Supermicro C9Z390-PGW Specifications|
|CPU||Intel 8th/9th Generation Processors, Socket LGA 1151|
|Memory||Supports up to 64 GB Dual Channel DDR4 @ 4000MHz+ non-ECC UDIMM|
|Expansion Slots||4 x PCIe 3.0 x16 and 1 PCIe 3.0 x1 slots|
|Multi-GPU Support||AMD CrossfireX|
6 x SATA3 (6Gbps) ports (Support for RAID0, RAID1, RAID5, and RAID10)
2 x M.2 PCIe 3.0 x4 slots (Supports Intel Optane, RAID 0,1)
2 x U.2 PCIe 3.0 x4 ports (RAID 0,1)
1 x Intel i219V Gigabit (10/100/1000) Ethernet Port
1 x Aquantia AQC107 10Gb (10/100/1000/10000) Ethernet Port
1 x Wi-Fi 802.11ac + Bluetooth 5.0
|Audio||Realtek ALC1220 HD Audio (7.1 channels) w/SPDIF|
5 x USB 3.1 Gen2 (1 Type-C, 3 Type-A, 1 Type-C header)
4 x USB 3.1 Gen1 (2 Type A, 2 through header)
2 x USB 2.0 (header)
|Fan Headers||5 x 4-pin headers (PWM and voltage control)|
Supports Windows 10 64 bit
Legacy Windows Support
|Price||$335 (MSRP, $375 (Newegg), $399.99 (Amazon)|
We have also included a list of features sourced from the SuperO website for the board:
Retail Packaging and Accessories
A quick look at the retail packaging shows it is a fairly nondescript packaging coming in a black box with the board name prominently across the middle. Flip the box over and that reveals an offset image of the board itself along with some features and specifications. The board itself sits underneath a cardboard partition which holds the included accessories.
The includes accessories will get a user up and running out of the gate and include four SATA cables, Wi-Fi antenna, rear I/O plate, manual and driver disk, as well as some labels for SATA cables.
Meet the Supermicro C9Z390-PGW
In our first full shot of the board, we are able to see that jet black PCB and slots along with the grey heatsinks and shroud covering the rear I/O. The board will not win any beauty pageants with its straightforward, business-like appearance, but surely it will not take away from the look of a nice themed build. The reserved use of RGB lighting around the board will certainly help that cause.
The large M.2 heatsinks jump out on the bottom of the board and are attached to the chipset heatsink with the motto “Play Harder” written across the top. There are PCB traces etched around the outside which are lit by LEDs sittings below. We can also the DRAM and PCIe slots all clad in the SuperO armor.
The back of side of the board isn’t terribly exciting, but do note all four full-length PCIe slots are wired for and capable of x16 lanes.
A Closer Look
Zooming in on the top half of the board, we are able to see a couple of features a bit closer. Starting on the left side, the shroud with its almost space station like panels can be seen covering up a lot of the “raw” PCB underneath. The VRM heatsinks have a brushed finish and appear large enough to do a good job keeping those power bits cool. Sending power to CPU is a single 8-pin ATX connector. To the right of the top VRM heatsink, are the two RGB LED headers for additional strips.
Below the socket, under a fairly beefy heatsink itself is where the PLX chip is hidden. Moving further right, we can see the four DRAM slots where the grey/black coloring is visible under the armor. Around the DRAM slots, we can see a couple of 4-pin fan headers for the CPU, Pump, and system (the board has a total of five 4-pin fan headers). Also in that area are onboard power and reset buttons as well as a CMOS reset button. Power to the board is managed by the de-facto 24-pin connector.
On the bottom half of the board, there is a lot to talk about. We’ll start on the left side again and work our way across. Starting with the upper left, we can see a small heatsink there we don’t normally see on other boards. Under it is where we can find the Aquantia AQC107 that is used for the 10G LAN port. The heatsink appears to be glued on with thermal adhesive so we did not pop it off.
Below that is the Realtek ALC1220 along with its integrated headphone amp parts. It uses a Texas Instruments OPA1612 for the front headphone output only. Additionally, there is a physical divide on the PCB between the audio bits and the rest of the board along with its own audio capacitors.
The board comes equipped with four full-length PCIe slots and one x1 size slot which sits in the middle of PCIe slots 2/3. The PCIe slots are quite flexible in their lane count due to the PLX chip in use on the board. The lanes break down in the following manner:
Below all the slots across the bottom are several headers from USB (3.1 G2/G1 and USB 2.0) the TPM header as well as the front panel headers. Above them is the large heatsink designed to cool both the PCH as well as two M.2 devices under the long finger-like part of the heatsink. Finally, on the far right of the board, we can see the six SATA ports along with the two U.2 ports. Last but not least in this same area is the debug LED which is useful for troubleshooting boot issues.
Taking a look at the rear IO below, we are able to see a total of six USB ports (2x USB 3.0, 4x USB 3.1 G2 w/one Type-C) which should be enough for most users. Above the two 3.0 ports is a combo mouse/keyboard PS/2 port. ON the video side, the board has two DisplayPorts and one HDMI 2.0a port which allows up to three 4K 60 Hz displays without using a discrete GPU. Next, we see the dual LAN are stacked on the USB 3.1 Gen2 ports. Wi-Fi capabilities are handled by the chipset and the Intel 9560 Wi-Fi adapter. Last, is the audio stack with optical out.
The SATA configuration is pretty standard for the chipset with the C9Z390-PGW with a total of six. Next to them are the two U.2 ports. M2_1 shares its link with U.2_1, while the M.2_2 shares its link with SATA ports 4/5.
We briefly mentioned earlier the enterprise-grade hardware that found its way onto the board and we now get to see some of that close-up. The image below is the 6+2 (CPU and iGPU) phase VRM with the heatsinks removed. Controlling the power is an Infineon Primarion PXE1610 which is a 6+1 phase digital PWM controller. The MOSFETs are also Infineon based TDA21232 with the Vitec power inductors (66A rated) rounding things out.
Below is a slideshow of some other IC’s that found its way onto the board including the Parade DP to HDMI converter, the PEX 8747 PLX chip, an IDT Clock Generator, and more.
UEFI BIOS and Overclocking Software
The SuperO UEFI BIOS on the EZ Mode looks just about like any other we have seen from the rest of the AIBs. The EZ Mode is well laid out offering a good balance of information and monitoring as well as options to change such as boot priority and board supplied overclocking profiles.
Once in the advanced portion of the BIOS, it should also look fairly familiar with seven different sections across the top each with their own different functionality. The Overclocking tab is fairly self-explanatory and is the first tab in the advanced BIOS. As the name describes, this is where the vast majority of overclocking adjustments will be made. From the CPU, to memory, graphics, and voltage, it will all be under this heading.
The advanced tab is where users can find the majority of items in the BIOS. PCH and USB configurations, graphics and network configurations and a lot more will be found here.
Hardware monitoring also finds its way here as well in the aptly named H/W Monitor section. Here it lists temperatures and voltages. Towards the bottom of this screen is where fan control will be found. Users are able to select from three presets (Quiet, Stable, and Full Speed), as well as a customize setting which allows for custom curves to be input.
Finding things was relatively straightforward outside of the “boot” functionality being mixed in under the Save and Exit section. The only other quirk I found with the BIOS is the requirement to press the enter button to go into a section. Most other bios when users press the arrow to move to the next section, it automatically jumps in. Otherwise, for the overclocking and adjustments we did, the BIOS worked out fine and is an improvement over the Z370 board.
The slideshow below contains a dozen more screenshots of the BIOS.
Overclocking Software – SuperO Booster
SuperO also has its own Windows-based software application for monitoring and overclocking named SuperO Booster. The application is lightweight, but offers a lot of functionality. The software is organized well with a menu of sorts on the left side and the business being handled in the middle. The software allows users to overclock their CPU and adjust voltages (CPU and Voltage sections), adjust memory timings (Memory), control fans attached to the board (Thermals), control the RGB LEDs (Luminous), as well as update the BIOS.
Overall, the software worked as it should and was easy to navigate around. If forced to nitpick about it, I would wish the splash screen, the SuperO emblem, would simply come up and stay up until the program loads (which takes a few seconds) as opposed to going away and coming back. As I said, a forced nitpick (and personal preference really) so I can’t hold that against it.
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|
|CPU||Intel i9 9900K and Intel i7 8700K (stock)|
|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 4 GHz to eliminate any inherent differences in stock BIOS options. Memory speed is 3600 MHz unless otherwise specified.
AIDA64 – Memory Bandwidth and Throughput
|AIDA64 Cache and Memory Benchmark – Raw Data|
|MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Edge AC||47163||46232||42230||44.0|
AIDA64 – CPU Tests
|AIDA64 CPU Benchmark – Raw Data|
|MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Edge AC||101379||23297||843||43137||10854|
AIDA64 – FPU Tests
|AIDA64 FPU Benchmark – Raw Data|
|MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Edge AC||6830||80539||43140||11411|
Real World Tests
|Cinebench R11.5/R15, POVRay, x265 (HWBot), 7Zip – Raw Data|
|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|
|MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Edge AC||7.407||410.9||2.563||71.825||3254|
Summarizing the results above, one should be able to see there are only negligible differences in performance between these two motherboards. About the only notable performance difference between the two was the latency of the RAM. In this case, the SuperO board ran with slightly lower latency. Outside of that, 7Zip and x265 also showed some slight performance differences, but not much more outside of run variance.
One item to note here is these results are AFTER power limit adjustments have been made to the board. In tests like Cinebench, POVRay, x265, and wPrime, the board throttled and lowered scores and performance pretty dramatically. The lighter testing and single core benchmarks ran just fine. But in order to get the most out of this CPU, users MUST change the power limits!
Our results from the two games we test show the same story. There is no appreciable difference between the boards as we have come to expect.
In regards to power consumption, the story is a bit different here with the SuperO board using less power by a considerable amount as configured from the factory. This makes sense as we saw throttling of the CPU at stock speeds in some tests due to how the BIOS is setup (following Intel specifications) this includes our most stressful tests in AIDA64 and Prime 95. A simple adjustment of the power limits and things were a lot closer.
Our overclocking adventures using the SuperO C9Z390-PGW was met with little fanfare by the board and dealt with our 5.1 GHz 1.3 V 9900K without breaking a sweat. The enterprise-grade 6+2 Phase VRMs were warm to the touch after our testing, on an open air test bench with little airflow. Its clear these power bits can handle anything you can throw at them using ambient cooling methods.
Voltage was set in the BIOS to 1.3 V and up off we went. Initially, I noticed there is a little bit of vdroop with the system set to auto. While this is an Intel specification, at times it can hinder an overclock due to the voltage dropping too much and not rebounding fast enough, or comes up to what was set. In this case, I set the LLC to Level 2 which yielded 1.296V from the 1.3V set in the BIOS.
Digging around in the BIOS overclocking options are easy to find for the most part, though changing certain common things when overclocking will have users going through a couple of screens. For example, ASUS BIOS’ have the vast majority of things from CPU multiplier and voltage on the same page where here one will have to back out. The only other minor tweak I would make to the BIOS is to have an option for all core or sync cores in the BIOS. Without that options, users are required to manually enter the multiplier in the BIOS as many times as there are physical cores (in the case of the 9900K, that is eight times). Again, not a big deal, but something that could come in the maturation process of the BIOS down the road.
Supermicro’s C9Z390-PGW purports to be a professional gaming board and with its feature set and capabilities, has done a solid job fitting that bill. The board is one of two with a 10G LAN port, and one of a few which have U.2 slots. It is also the only one which uses power bits more in line with the enterprise than the others. It won’t help you overclock further really as temperatures are the limiting factor, and frankly, most Z390 VRM’s are plenty capable to take the 9900K to its ambient cooled limits.
Outside of the professional-grade features, the board is loaded from head to toe with capability from its four rear USB 3.1 G2 ports (one Type-C – another header for front panel support), and the smoking fast CNVi based Intel 9560 Wi-Fi. It is a feature-laden board offering just about everything the Z390 chipset offers and then some. While the overall appearance may not be spicy enough for some, it shouldn’t turn anyone away and meld nicely with most themed builds.
This can come at a price, however. MSRP on the board is $335, but we can see it being sold at Newegg and Amazon for $375, and $408 respectively. The price point places the board on the higher end of the Z390 spectrum (of over 50 boards) and directly in the crosshairs of the ASUS WS Z390 Pro priced at $399. That board, a self-described workstation class board includes a single U.2 port (versus two on the SuperO board), but only has two 1G LAN ports. Other boards around that price include the ROG Maximus XI Code with the next closest breaching the $450 mark. So the board is a bit pricey, however, users will get a couple of features on one board that not all others have. If users are able to find it closer to the MSRP, that would, of course, be the better deal.
Overall, the board performed well in our testing (once we raised the power limits). It performed on par with the MSI board used in the 9900K review. Users just need to be sure to make the power limit changes if they are running heavily threaded applications. Overclocking proved to be fairly easy while the BIOS was fairly easy to navigate, though not the most ergonomic we’ve seen. If a user doesn’t require dual U.2 ports and 10G LAN, Supermicro has other boards down the stack which could be more enticing, otherwise, your board has arrived.
Joe Shields (Earthdog)