Today marks and important day in the diary of desktop motherboard makers because Intel is releasing 24 processors based on 10th Gen Core technology. Important for the fortunes of OEMs because they require a new socket layout known as LGA1200 and, consequently, support from all-new 400-series chipsets, Aorus and Gigabyte are ready to go with 14 boards harnessing the Z490 chipset.
Though we can't share any benchmark numbers today, we can take a look at a motherboard we'll formally review in the near future when testing is permitted. Near the very top of the stack, let's take a closer look at the Z490 Aorus Xtreme.
This is the highest-specified board for anyone not requiring explicit watercooling - there's the Xtreme WaterForce model for that. Previously reviewed Xtreme boards have had a distinctive, minimalist look evidenced by almost board-wide cooling, rotated ports, and restrained RGB. This, unmistakeably, is an Xtreme, and it looks good in the flesh.
There's likely no change from £700, mind you, so it needs to be paired with the Core i9-10900K for maximum impact on an utterly premium system. The eATX board carries on the tradition of rotated ports and fan-headers, which we very much like, massive cooling around the chipset and M.2 slots, and provision for muted RGB in a couple of areas.
As before, Aorus uses 16 proper phases for power delivery, of which 14 are primed for the CPU. 90A per stage translates to board power that's far in excess of anything a 10th Gen CPU can handle - don't bother with this beast unless you're overclocking with some heavy-duty equipment.
Some may argue that it doesn't carry the same level of OLED goodness as the top-end Asus boards, which is true, and we reckon that Aorus ought to implement such a feature here; it's something that stands out. In keeping with tradition, the board features a large brace/heatsink on the back, pushing weight up to an impressive 2,160g. This really is a beast.
Underneath that huge central heatsink reside the board's three M.2 slots. The top one, just above the primary x16, is connected to the CPU at PCIe 3.0 x4, and we suggest you use this if only running one drive. The bottom two, between the two lower x16 slots, both attach to the PCH (or southbridge). As usual, the limited bandwidth between PCH and CPU, which remains DMI 3.0, means there's a fair bit of switching depending upon how the board is populated. This is not Aorus' fault; it's Intel's.
For example, the primary PCH M.2 shares bandwidth with SATA ports 3, 4 and 5 - so it's one or the other. Similarly, contention arises between Ethernet and the bottom PCIe slot, which is run at x4. In fact, all the contentions that existed on Z390 are exposed here fully, putting the chipset well behind AMD's X570 for multi-peripheral use. This is also why Aorus refrains from adding M.2 expanders - the Z490 isn't up to it. We'll cover the exact ins and outs in the full review.
We like that the Xtreme features 10G Ethernet from Aquantia alongside a 2.5G from Intel's Foxville stable (let's hope its bugs are fixed before launch). Aorus also adopts Thunderbolt 3 on the two Type-C connectors (which also support USB 3.2 Gen 2), though exactly how much bandwidth you'll be able to achieve is, once again, significantly dependent upon how the board is setup.
About the only connectivity trick the board is missing is USB 3.2 Gen 2 2x2 (20Gbps) support. That really ought to be present on a board of this ilk. In fact, closer perusal of this offering and its immediate predecessor, Z390 Xtreme, reveals there isn't much new in the transition between models. That makes sense, of course, as Aorus is effectively transplanting from one chipset to another that is practically identical save for new CPU support.
That said, it looks better than the board it replaces as mainstream head honcho, adhering to the new Aorus style of massive cooling, restrained RGB and fully-angled connectors. We'll find out just how good it is in due course, so stay tuned for the full review with Intel's latest 10th Gen processors.