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.