A new chip demands a new motherboard chipset, and on October 8, Intel and its partners revealed a wide array of Z390 motherboards to accompany the new 9th-gen Core processors. Z390 builds atop the foundation set by existing Z370 boards. Its capabilities come as no surprise, as Intel published documentation detailing the high-end chipset all the way back in May. Nevertheless, Z390’s arrival gives Intel a new flagship motherboard lineup and should finally bring the bizarre, drawn-out saga of Intel 300-series motherboards to a cohesive close.
Last year, Intel’s 8th-gen “Coffee Lake” processors launched in October 2017 with only enthusiast-class Z370 motherboards in tow. In April, Intel finally released the full lineup of 300-series motherboards, but surprisingly, the cheaper H370, B360, and H310 chipsets included premium features that Z370 lacked. They integrated support for speedy 10Gbps USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports into the chipset, and also moved a lot of the functions needed for wireless networking into the platform controller hub itself with Intel’s CNVi wireless-AC technology.
The new Z390 chipset launching alongside the Core i9-9900K, Core i7-9700K, and Core i5-9600K weaves those swanky extras atop Z370’s already formidable capabilities. Specifically, Z390 boards will include up to six USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports (compared to four in the lesser-priced chipsets). Z390 motherboards can also include integrated 802.11ac wireless capabilities if the motherboard manufacturer chooses to do so. Z390 motherboards also include integrated SDXC (SDA 3.0) support and a newer Intel Management Engine (IME) firmware version.
Beyond that, Z390’s specifications mirror Z370’s, including support for CPU overclocking with compatible K-series chips, RAID setups, and Optane Memory. Yes, it’s mostly an incremental update. Intel’s 8th-gen and 9th-gen processors will run on both Z390 and Z370 motherboards, though you’ll need to apply a BIOS update to run a 9th-gen part on a Z370 board. If you’ve already invested in a Z370, it’s probably not worthwhile to upgrade to Z390 unless you need those USB 3.1 Gen. 2 ports. If you’re building a new system from scratch, however, Z390 is clearly the better option.
Brad Chacos spends his days digging through desktop PCs and tweeting too much. He specializes in graphics cards and gaming, but covers everything from security to Windows tips and all manner of PC hardware.