Intel’s 10th Generation lineup has brought back competition to the market, in a way at least, by enabling hyperthreading across the entire product stack. Although I do feel that this release should have been their 9th Generation release, it’s better late than never.
Now, if you’ve decided to go with Intel 10th Generation processors for your work or gaming, or both, you’ll need a Z490 motherboard that can keep up with these power-hungry parts.
Unlike AMD Ryzen CPUs, which are on a 7nm node, Intel is continuing to push the limits of the 14nm process and guzzles quite a bit of power at the higher end of the product stack – making motherboard choice quite important.
Z490 Motherboards Quick Recommendations
|Segment||Motherboard Name||Recommended for||Link|
|$300 and above||MSI MEG Z490 Unify||10900K||Info / Buy|
|Gigabyte Z490 VISION D||10900K||Info / Buy|
|$200-300||ASUS ROG STRIX Z490-G GAMING||10900K & 10700K||Info / Buy|
|Gigabyte Z490 Vision G||10900K & 10700K||Info / Buy|
|MSI Z490 GAMING EDGE WIFI||10700K & 10600K||Info / Buy|
|$150-200||MSI Z490 TOMAHAWK||10700K & 10600K||Info / Buy|
|MSI Z490-A PRO||10700K & 10600K||Info / Buy|
Before we get into details about these motherboards, let’s go over the new Intel CPUs.
Intel 10th Gen Comet Lake-S Desktop CPU Lineup
|Name||Cores / (Threads)||Max Turbo Frequency||Base Frequency||Bulk Price (USD per 1k Units)|
|Core i9 10900K||10 / (20)||5.3 GHz||3.7 GHz||$488|
|Core i9 10900KF||10 / (20)||5.3 GHz||3.7 GHz||$472|
|Core i9 10900||10/ (20)||5.2 GHz||2.8 GHz||$439|
|Core i9 10900F||10/ (20)||5.2 GHz||2.8 GHz||$422|
|Core i7 10700K||8 / (16)||5.1 GHz||3.8 GHz||$374|
|Core i7 10700KF||8 / (16)||5.1 GHz||3.8 GHz||$349|
|Core i7 10700||8 / (16)||4.8 GHz||2.9 GHz||$323|
|Core i7 10700F||8 / (16)||4.8 GHz||2.9 GHz||$298|
|Core i5 10600K||6 / (12)||4.8 GHz||4.1 GHz||$262|
|Core i5 10600KF||6 / (12)||4.8 GHz||4.1 GHz||$237|
|Core i5 10600||6 / (12)||4.8 GHz||3.3 GHz||$213|
|Core i5 10500||6 / (12)||4.5 GHz||3.1 GHz||$192|
|Core i5 10400||6 / (12)||4.3 GHz||2.9 GHz||$182|
|Core i5 10400F||6 / (12)||4.3 GHz||2.9 GHz||$157|
|Core i3 10320||4 / (8)||4.6 GHz||3.8 GHz||$154|
|Core i3 10300||4 / (8)||4.4 GHz||3.7 GHz||$143|
|Core i3 10100||4 / (8)||4.3 GHz||3.6 GHz||$122|
Intel 10th Gen vs. AMD Ryzen 3rd Gen
Intel’s advantage is clock speed. Where does that matter? You can see a 7-11% uplift in frame rates in gaming as well as better and snappier viewport performance within professional applications.
However, you should know – getting this bump comes at a significant cost. Hence, going with Intel should justify the performance improvement.
But if you’re considering a locked SKU (yes, Intel still has locked CPUs in their CPU lineup…), this advantage pretty much disappears.
So, our recommendations for professional viewport applications is – stick to the K or KF SKUs from the Intel product stack. For gamers, the Core i5 10600K might be an interesting choice.
Here’s a quick look at the difference in gaming performance of an RTX 2080 Ti along with a Core i9 10900K at 1080p to reduce GPU limitations:
Now, there is a consistent difference. But is it worth the considerable price bump? The answer will undoubtedly vary from person to person. Just remember, when you’re using either higher resolutions or lower-tier graphics cards, the disparity between these CPUs reduces even further.
Factors to Consider When Picking a Motherboard for 10th Generation Intel CPUs
Although Intel hasn’t changed the architecture this time around as well, they did add a new product to the top of the stack.
To accommodate these power-hungry processors, most motherboard manufacturers have gone all out on motherboard components, so you should be okay with any decent Z490 motherboard. However, a few of them do still stand out. I’ve given more importance to the following factors when picking recommendations:
Intel’s mainstream platform has never had to handle a 10-core/20-thread processor. Intel’s use of the 14nm node is already at its limit and packing 10 cores onto a single die, and then going on to clock it so high (5.2GHz+) does come with substantial power draw if you plan to overclock. And if you’re going with Intel, you probably do want to overclock.
Our 10900K recommendations focus on making sure that your processor isn’t held back by your motherboard in any way.
On the other hand, the 10700K and the 10600K are basically the 9900K and the 8700K with tweaked clock speeds. You shouldn’t have too much of an issue with either of them with a decent motherboard.
Making sure that your motherboard is compatible with your case is crucial. If your case CAN accommodate it, I’d recommend sticking to the ATX form factor. However, that’s more of a personal choice as some people do prefer M-ATX motherboards for a more compact build.
Although everyone doesn’t need access to features like Dual LAN, Thunderbolt, 10G LAN, and so on, it’s better to pick boards that give you access to them if you’re shopping in that price range anyway.
That said, make sure you’re not compromising on core motherboard quality to get at features you won’t use.
Memory Overclocking Support
While most Z490 motherboards will handle mainstream memory speeds easily, Intel’s excellent performance uplift when using higher-clocked memory makes it worth it to consider memory kits rated at 4000 and even higher.
Gamers Nexus investigated the effect of such memory kits on lower-end parts like the Core i5 10600K with an easy overclock. Here’s an example of the results –
Of course, this doesn’t mean you should spend more on your memory kit than your processor. However, if you do find them at lower prices down the line, you should have an option to swap out your old kit without worrying about your motherboard.
Storage Expansion: M.2 and SATA
Creators have always needed ample storage space, especially those who work with raw data and graphics. However, with games now starting to reach crazy install sizes, storage expandability has become quite important even for gamers.
If you’re building a PC that’ll last you for years, you really don’t want to find yourself running short of storage and have no way of adding more.
Extensibility (mostly for creators and professionals)
Although the Z490 platform isn’t a workstation platform by any measure, I can see a use-case for creators who want an all-in-one render machine that doesn’t compromise on viewport performance.
Hence, PCI-E slot placement and availability does become kind of important.
Z490 Motherboard Recommendations for 10th Generation Intel CPUs (10900K, 10700K, 10600K)
Gigabyte and MSI have outdone themselves this time around and offer pretty decent features at excellent prices. Although I did try to include ASUS and ASRock options, the other two manufacturers seemed to have better answers to every one of their products at popular price ranges.
Premium Segment: $300 and Above
If you’re planning to buy a motherboard in this price range, you should either be pairing it with a 10900K or looking for a specific feature you need.
The Unify name seems to have become synonymous with value and quality, regardless of whether you’re going with Intel or AMD builds. It outclasses many other competitors in its price range and is sure to offer a sublime overclocking experience on the Core i9 10900K.
The evenly-spaced PCI-E slots do make the Unify an excellent option for even workstation builds that require GPU rendering.
Although the Intel platform isn’t the best choice for professional applications, some workloads do prefer Intel to AMD. It’s also not too outlandish for someone to build a combined workstation and render machine around the Core i9 10900K.
The full-length PCI-E slots run in an x8/x8/x4 configuration when you populate all three. There are three M.2 slots to add plenty of high-speed storage. Do keep in mind that a few SATA ports will be disabled if you populate all three of those slots, though.
For gamers, this motherboard is almost certainly overkill. That is, unless you want to get the best motherboard possible to make sure you can clock your CPU as high as possible without worrying about any other factors holding it back.
A well-populated rear I/O makes me and many others happy. You would assume that most motherboards within the premium price category don’t skimp on this part of the motherboard, but there are a few boards that will surprise you (ASRock, I’m looking at you).
Although the motherboard comes with 2.5 GbE Realtek LAN, WiFi 6 support, and Bluetooth 5.1 support, the lack of Dual LAN at this price point does sting.
If you want access to better networking as well as Thunderbolt, I’d recommend looking at Gigabyte’s Z490 Vision D instead.
Note – The Unify doesn’t support iGPU power. Although the Gigabyte Vision D below does, its memory layout isn’t as great if you want to run high-speed memory (4000~). So, if your workload involves Intel QuickSync and you don’t need the Vision D’s Thunderbolt/Networking capabilities, consider the ASUS Z490-E Gaming Motherboard (ATX) as an excellent alternative.
Gigabyte’s Vision D is geared towards creators who need access to a few features like dual LAN and Thunderbolt.
Again, the equally-spaced full-length PCI-E slots (x8/x8/x4) will come in handy for those who want to focus on a workstation build that can also handle gaming. But as I said, make sure that your workload does exceptionally well when using Intel before jumping into this upgrade.
The Vision D offers dual Thunderbolt ports as well as dual LAN (Intel 2.5 GbE and 1 GbE). I was hoping that the Vision D would come equipped with 10G LAN, but oh well, the availability of dual LAN and dual Thunderbolt at this price point is neat too.
It also comes with WiFi 6 support and Bluetooth 5.1.
Best Value Segment: $200-$300
Most people who’re looking to build a PC around the 10th Generation Core i9 and Core i7 Intel processors should be shopping in this price range.
The motherboards in this category would be best suited to gamers who are buying Intel’s new CPUs and want to make sure they’re pushing their hardware to the limit.
Gigabyte again shines at this price point with the Vision G offering an excellent motherboard with great memory overclocking support. What’s more, it looks gorgeous as well. As always, it’s better to check the QVL to try and find validated memory kits if possible.
Although the VRMs aren’t as beefy as you’d find on pricier motherboards, these boards can still handle the Core i9 10900K, no problem.
However, the Vision G is more of a perfect fit if you’re building around something like the Core i7 10700K. The motherboard has two shielded M.2 slots for NVMe storage.
I genuinely wish all rear I/O implementations were like what Gigabyte has done on the Z490 Vision G. It features a total of 10 USB ports, a PS/2 port, and Intel 2.5 GbE LAN.
However, if you’re looking for WiFi at this price point, I’d recommend considering the MSI board below instead.
MSI offers WiFi 6 and Bluetooth 5.1 support at the $200 price point, without compromising on overall board quality at all. Lately, their motherboard releases have been on point, and the Z490 lineup seems to continue with this welcome trend.
The only real ‘downside’ when going with this motherboard over the Vision G is the lack of a third PCI-E slot. Even if you’re not looking to add multiple GPUs, additional PCI-E slots do help you add M.2 storage.
It does come with two M.2 slots (only one is shielded), so you do get some flexibility.
The rear I/O isn’t as generous as the Vision G, but the fact that you get WiFi 6 and Bluetooth 5.1 support does more than make up for this. If you don’t need WiFi and, dropping down to the MSI MPG Z490 Tomahawk is also a good option.
Note – If you need an M-ATX motherboard at this price point for a compact build, the ASUS ROG STRIX Z490-G Gaming is an excellent option. It doesn’t skimp on power delivery and offers great features.
Budget Segment: $150 – $200
Although you should be shopping in this price segment (ideally) when considering the Core i5 10600K, grabbing one for a Core i7 10700K isn’t that much of a stretch.
However, if you’re going with a Core i9 CPU, just go with a higher quality motherboard and don’t shop in the budget range.
I do understand that many would balk at the idea of ‘budget’ being close to $200. But the Z490 motherboard lineup is pricey, and things are how they are.
MSI’s Tomahawk name has become synonymous with insane value for money, and this doesn’t change with their Z490 lineup! The MAG Z490 Tomahawk comes equipped with quality components, excellent VRMs, and dual LAN (!), at a budget price.
The VRMs are quite well-built and should be able to handle even the 10700K without too much of a fuss. Although it can theoretically handle the 10900K as well, I don’t feel comfortable recommending this until I have had a chance to test the performance myself.
You really don’t want to buy a $500+ CPU, slap a pricey cooler on it, and then find that your motherboard is holding it back.
As with most Z490 motherboards we’ve covered here, the Tomahawk also offers two M.2 slots for adding fast storage to your system. The lack of a third full-length PCI-E slot shouldn’t make too much difference for buyers focused on the budget category of boards.
The fact that MSI offers a motherboard with dual LAN (Realtek 2.5 GbE and Intel Gigabit) at this price is enough to set it apart from the competition already.
But add to this the build quality, beefy VRMs, and no compromises on important features – you get a motherboard that’ll be an excellent companion for most 10th Generation Intel processors.
If you’re on the lookout for the cheapest Z490 motherboard that isn’t terrible, MSI again comes in swinging with the Z490-A Pro. Gigabyte’s similarly priced offerings seem quite inferior to MSI’s entry-level Z490 board.
The VRMs are decent on this motherboard (still waiting to test the heatsink effectiveness), and you should be able to run the Core i5 10600K without holding it back at all.
The Z490-A Pro is an excellent choice for those who want to enjoy intel’s premium chipset features without being stuck with an inferior motherboard.
Storage-wise, it’s pretty much like the other boards.
Two M.2 slots and 6 SATA ports (3 of them are disabled if you populate both M.2 slots) should give you more than enough flexibility with regards to storage.
A lower price does take a toll on some features, most notably, the rear I/O. The onboard LAN is still 2.5 Gigabit Realtek, and there is both a PS/2 as well as a USB Type-C port available as well.
Again, I reiterate, if you’re looking for the best value, please jump up to the Z490 Tomahawk. However, if you’ve stretched your budget as much as you could, the Z490-A Pro is decent.
Z490 motherboards have been overbuilt just enough to handle Intel’s latest chips without holding them back. Unless you’re shopping at the bottom end of the product stack, most motherboards should work just fine.
However, it’s still important to consider value for money.
Intel’s Z490 platform isn’t cheap, and the motherboard prices would probably have already painted this picture perfectly.
The new Intel processors don’t offer too much to professionals. The platform, hardware, power consumption, and cooling costs make even Intel’s 10-core chip a less-than-ideal choice for a workstation.
On the other hand, if you’re building with a focus on viewport performance, the lower end chips could be an interesting choice (we’ll be doing some viewport testing soon!).
However, gaming is a different story. The Core i5 10600K is going to be the best gaming CPU, hands down (for now). For gamers who want the best frame rates possible, the 10th Generation Intel chips could be well worth it.
Addressing a Few Frequently Asked Questions
Why is audio not an important factor when picking motherboards?
Most motherboards I’ve recommended here come with decent audio hardware that should have most people covered. However, if you need specialized hardware for work or are an audiophile, even the priciest motherboard won’t have what you need.
I don’t see any Z490 motherboards with 10G LAN. Why?
I’m not sure why, but manufacturers have reserved 10 Gigabit LAN for only the most top-end Z490 motherboards (the cheapest one coming in at $500).
An ASUS motherboard does come with an add-in 10G LAN card, but it gives up too many features to recommend at the $300 price point.
However, since add-in cards do cost a pretty penny, the ASUS Z490 ProART Creator 10G is not a bad choice. If you’re okay with losing WiFi and Bluetooth in exchange for a single Thunderbolt and a 10G LAN card, go right ahead!
Which 10th Generation Intel Processors Should You Buy?
If you’ve already landed on Intel being the best choice for your next PC build, make sure you pick a processor that offers decent value to you.
The Core i7 10700K is priced too close to the Core i9 10900K to be worth it. I’d recommend either jumping down to the Core i5 10600K or hopping up to the Core i9 10900K.
As for the Core i5 10400F, it depends on the kind of games you play. Some games do prefer Intel over AMD, and if your PC will spend most of its time running those games, it makes sense.
Should you overclock your CPU?
The edge that Intel has over AMD is clock speed. If at all possible, please avoid the locked SKUs and spend a bit more to get the ‘K’ chips. They’re well-worth the performance uplift when you overclock them when we’re talking about gaming tasks.
Here’s a benchmark run by GamersNexus that indicates this uplift:
The Core i5 10600K is going toe-to-toe with the top-tier CPU from Intel’s lineup – making it a very reasonable choice for those who want the best gaming CPU.
Now, when it comes to workstations and drawn-out render workloads, I’d recommend sticking to stock or just trying a mild overclock. The performance improvement in such tasks is really not worth compromising system stability
Which Z490 motherboard did you end up picking, and what sort of PC are you building? Do leave a comment below if you’d like to ask me about your build! 😊