The serious preparation of motherboard manufacturers for the launch of new products on the Intel Z390 can be judged only by the speed with which the corresponding section on the hotline.ua is filled. It took only a couple of weeks after the start of sales, and on the retail market in Ukraine about four dozen different models are already represented. Today we have a compact motherboard on the review – ASUS ROG STRIX Z390-I GAMING. The company's developers have repeatedly proved that even in the Mini-ITX format, they can offer very functional solutions. Let's see how this time the Taiwanese masters pacified the top-end chipset as part of a miniature form factor.
ASUS has very thoroughly prepared for the launch of Intel Core 9th generation and the emergence of a top-end chipset for the LGA1151-v2 platform – Intel Z390. By the start of sales, the manufacturer has prepared about two dozen motherboards based on new PCH. A similar scale speaks of the relevant expectations of the company. Much attention is paid to products for enthusiasts and fans to play – the target audience of functional devices that allow you to experiment with overclocking. So far, the only highlight of the Mini-ITX format – ROG STRIX Z390-I GAMING has become the highlight of the new line.
ASUS ROG STRIX Z390-I GAMING is offered in a compact cardboard box with a recognizable design. Included with the board is a manual, a CD with drivers and software, four SATA cables, an external amplifying antenna for the Wi-Fi module, an extension for the addressable RGB tape (80 cm).
Also in delivery included extension cord for convenient connection of buttons / indicators to the control panel, a pair of brackets for installing M.2 2242 disk drives with mounting screws, seven plastic ties, a set of stickers and a coupon for purchasing CableMod products.
Design and layout  For motherboards gaming line manufacturer use zuet design with muted colors – black PCB with a matte finish and graphite elements of the cooling system. In the case of the ASUS ROG STRIX Z390-I GAMING radiators are large in size, covering a large part of the printed circuit board.
The model is made in Mini-ITX format, which means that developers had to squeeze all the functional elements on the 170 × 170 mm platform . Well, in principle, ASUS engineers have a lot of experience in this.
The power unit uses a 10 channel circuit (8 + 2) with DrMOS elements (ON NCP302045) with operating currents up to 45 A and peak 75 A. The parameters of the power stabilizer are controlled DIGI + ASP1401 discrete controller.
Additional cooling is provided for MOSFET assemblies. At the same time, an overall design is used to remove heat from elements lined up along the interface panel. The aluminum casing covering all interface connectors contacts the power switches via thermal pads. Finally, such an element is used not only for decorative purposes. The heat capacity and the dissipation area of such a radiator will probably come in handy when overclocking processors. For MOSFET, located at the upper edge of the board, there is a separate medium-sized radiator. There is one 8-pin connector for connecting additional power to the board.
There is a lot of free space around the processor socket, but the Mini-ITX format still imposes certain limitations when choosing a processor cooling system. Air coolers with a pair of fans require special attention. In particular, in the case of the Arctic Freezer 33 eSports Edition, the second fan had to be abandoned, effectively turning the cooler into an analogue of the Arctic Freezer 33 eSports ONE. The second “120-ka” has already closed access to the nearest DIMM slot, and the standard mount does not imply height adjustment for the fan.
The motherboard has two slots for DDR4 memory modules. The manufacturer claims support for high-speed sets up to DDR4-4600. In the endless list of kits that have been validated with ASUS ROG STRIX Z390-I GAMING, modules with such an effective frequency really appear. The board also already knows how to work with modules of double volume, because the theoretical maximum RAM capacity has been increased from 32 GB to 64 GB. But this is more likely to take a look at the future, because 32GB DIMMs are not yet commercially available.
Slots for DIMMs have a one-way module fixing mechanism, which is very useful in this case. The distance to PCI-E x16 is minimal, therefore, with a video card installed, it would be difficult to remove the memory modules. There is no difficulty here.
As befits Mini-ITX boards, the ASUS ROG STRIX Z390-I GAMING model has one expansion slot. In this case, it is PCI Express x16.
The connector has an additional metal lining to increase the mechanical strength of the connector. Additional protection can be useful when using video cards with massive cooling systems.
ASUS ROG STRIX Z390-I GAMING, by definition, is “sharpened” for game cases, because the extra equipment for working on an open stand is a minimum. It may be noted perhaps that the set of diagnostic indicators Q-LED, which can help in the express mode, find out the problem node at the start of the system.
To activate the mechanism MemOK! II now has a two-way toggle switch. The technology allows you to start the system with a new set of memory, and later to set up a suitable RAM mode.
To clear the CMOS memory, you will have to short out two pins. Moreover, the connector itself is not very convenient, but it is unlikely that you will need to use it very often. You can display a separate button for the duration of the experiments with overclocking.
Three 4-pin connectors are provided for setting the cooling system. Nominally, one is intended for a processor cooler, the second is for a case fan, and the third is for connecting the ITS. The proposed resource can be disposed of at its discretion. Of course, if you don't have a liquid cooling system, you can use a universal connector for additional fans (PWM / DC).
In the case of ASUS ROG STRIX Z390-I GAMING, the developers decided to place all three connectors at the top board edges. Convenience connection here will already depend on the design of the case. Well, at least you do not have to look for connectors in the bowels of the board, making your way through the radiator blocks.
The board has a two-pin connector for connecting an external thermocouple. If you need to control the heating of any external surface in the system unit, you will have to additionally buy an additional thermal sensor.
If the term GAMING is used in the name of the motherboard, nothing can be done without additional lighting.
The compact new ASUS received a set of 12 RGB-LEDs installed along the right edge on the reverse side of the PCB.
A similar arrangement of "fireflies" was used for the previous model of the manufacturer based on Intel Z370, because here neither it is fundamentally new. The whole array is divided into six groups of two LEDs that can be controlled independently.
If you need to add light, there are two connectors at the top edge of the board for connecting additional LED strips. You can connect a garland to one of the connectors, consisting of RGB-elements 5050 with a supply voltage of 12 V. The second connector allows you to use addressed RGB-tapes with WS2812B elements (5V power supply).
The AURA application is used to adjust the backlight. There are several modes available, as well as the ability to synchronize the backlight of devices that support the AURA Sync API.
There are 4 SATA 6 Gb / s ports for connecting drives. Two ports are located at the right edge, another pair – above the slots for memory modules. All connectors are vertically oriented relative to the PCB area. Count on the convenience of connecting interface connectors in a compact package is not necessary. In this case, it is already quite good that the cables can be connected / disconnected without first removing the video card. The chipset allows you to create, if necessary, RAID 0, 1, 5 or 10.
Despite the limited space of the printed circuit board, the Mini-ITX format models must receive connectors for connecting M.2 drives. For ASUS ROG STRIX Z390-I GAMING there are two ports for high-speed SSDs.
The first one is hidden behind the combined radiator unit used to cool the chipset chip, as well as the controller and flash memory chips of the drive. ASUS developers have already used this technique before. For Mini-ITX boards, this is a good technique, because the new model also uses a composite cooler design.
The top cover is fixed with a pair of screws. The radiator contacts the elements of the SSD via the Laird thermal pad. The first connector allows you to use drives with a length of 42 to 80 mm, and with both the PCI-E interface and SATA. In the latter case, one of the SATA ports on the board will be disabled. It would seem that the Intel Z390 chipset offers six SATA ports, so an additional link could be obtained from the backup, but this is a feature of the board.
Note that the PCB has mounting racks for 2260 and 2280 devices, but But for fixing the most compact SSD you will need to use the special brackets supplied in the kit. There is a very limited number of 2242 drives on the market. These are often SATA SSD versions up to 512 GB.
In order not to limit the functionality of the motherboard with the top chipset, the manufacturer placed another port M.2 on the reverse side circuit board. It is intended only for high-speed drives M.2 PCI-E, while the chipset resources allow you to simultaneously use a pair of maximum-speed SSDs, while using PCI-E x4 for both drives, no additional accessories of the board will suffer. Of course, the ASUS ROG STRIX Z390-I GAMING also supports Intel Optane Memory Accelerators, but it’s rather interesting for hard disk configurations.
Again, the compact board allows you to organize a hybrid bundle when the speed SSD M.2 is used for the system partition NVMe and Intel Optane will cache access to a large hard disk.
ASUS ROG STRIX Z390-I GAMING received an internal connector for outputting a USB Type-C port to the wall of the case. And for these needs, a maximum USB 3.1 Gen2 speed channel with a bandwidth of up to 10 Gb / s is used. Developers use the new features of the new chipset and do it absolutely for good reason. When connecting to the same external SSD, the high-speed port can really speed up data transfer.
The gigabit Intel i219-V controller is responsible for connecting to the wired network, actually revealing the capabilities of the chipset.
But for wireless communication, an additional Intel Wireless-AC 9560 module is used. This module also allows you to use the new features of the Intel Z390 chipset, in particular, providing support for working with Wi-Fi 802.11ac wireless networks at speeds up to 1.73 Gb / s (2 × 2, MU-MIMO, 160 MHz) and Bluetooth 5.0.
Will complement flax emphasis on sound subsystem, it seems natural for the motherboard is positioned as a game. It uses the 8-channel Realtek S1220A codec — a modified version of the top-end ALC1220, Nichicon capacitance, and a pair of operational amplifiers — the OPA1688 and RC4580.
. array PCB.
The final sound quality at the expected level. Experienced music lovers will initially focus on discrete solutions, but the integrated subsystem will probably suit many less demanding users.
You can spice up the final sound using the Sonic Studio III software package. Here it is possible to place accents and select applications for which custom profiles will be used. It is quite possible to experiment, especially for games of various genres.
For ASUS ROG STRIX Z390-I GAMING, a fixed plug of the interface panel is used. For top-end motherboards, the manufacturer began to actively use this technique, which allows not to forget an important element during system assembly
As for the panel composition, here you can immediately identify two USB 2.0 ports, three USB 3.0, one of which is offered in the Type- format C. A pair of the fastest USB 3.1 Gen2 is easily recognizable by the red inner inserts. The panel also includes an Ethernet socket and connectors for connecting an external antenna to the Intel Wireless-AC module.
With integrated graphics of the processor, display devices can be connected using digital DisplayPort or HDMI. An important detail is that HDMI 2.0 output is used here, because the maximum graphics mode of this port is 4096 × 2160 @ 60Hz.
To get a full-fledged port with high resolution support, the board uses an additional DP-HDMI 2.0 bridge – PS175HDM. In general, the manufacturer here is additionally “confused” to offer two outputs with the ability to simultaneously use a pair of 4K screens.
Five 3.5 mm connectors and an S / PDIF optical output are provided on the interface panel to connect acoustics.
There are a lot of additional elements on the reverse side of the printed circuit board. As we have already noted, here is one of the ports for installing drives in M.2 format. You can see that all elements of the cooling system are fastened with screws, and in the sound system area an insulating track is viewed.
For motherboards based on the Intel Z390, the manufacturer retained the UEFI graphic shell structure.
Everything is convenient and on its own places. The available parameters are more than enough to fine-tune the system.
The voltage on the CPU is regulated within 0.6–1.7 V in steps of 0.005 V; from 1.0 to 2.0 V can be applied to memory modules with a resolution of 0 , 00625 V.
For ASUS motherboards based on the Intel Z390, a new automatic overclocking mechanism is proposed. In this case, the manufacturer departs from the practice of pre-prepared profiles for certain CPU models. The AI Overclocking technology implies an increase in the operating frequency of the processor, taking into account the efficiency of the cooling system used.
Complete with the Arctic Freezer 33 eSports ONE, a chip i7-9700K processor was proposed to accelerate the chip to 4900 MHz with increasing voltage under load to 1.34 V. Of course, the final result requires a comprehensive check of stability. In this case, the developers also pay attention to the fact that the auto overclocking system does not reduce the frequency when executing very demanding AVX instructions. Here, the owner will have to determine the reduction factor himself. The board allows you to configure this parameter.
RAM can also be significantly accelerated. Of course, much will depend on the specific modules and the potential of the chips used. For the experiments, we used the G.Skill Sniper X DDR4-3400 dual-channel set.
Using the selection method, we were able to start the memory in DDR4-4500 mode with timings 19-20-20-43 at a supply voltage of 1.4 V Although the stress tests of the AIDA64 kit kept in DDR4-4400 mode.
The temperature conditions of the power components will depend on the processor and the configuration of its cooling system. When using the 8-core Core i7-9700K with an Arctic Freezer 33 eSport ONE air cooler, the overall cooler of the DrMOS assemblies heated up to 38C under load, and the heatsink temperature on the elements at the top edge of the board increased to 48 degrees.
Under load after the processor accelerates (AI) the temperature of the main radiator unit increased to 42C, while the element cooler at the upper edge warmed to 57 degrees. The board copes with overclocking 8-core processors, although for experiments at 5+ GHz frequencies in a closed case there will be no additional airflow.
ASUS ROG STRIX Z390-I GAMING motherboards will soon be available in Ukraine. The compact model will cost a bit more than its predecessor based on the Intel Z370. The expected starting price of the novelty in our market is about 8000 UAH. (~ $ 290).
If we talk briefly about the advantages of the model on the Intel Z390, then it is worth noting the enhanced VRM unit with better cooling, working with higher speed memory modules , there appeared native USB 3.1 Gen2 ports on the interface panel, a connector appeared for connecting RGB tapes with 5050 elements. For ASUS ROG STRIX Z390-I GAMING, a faster Intel Wireless-AC 9560 module is also used, there is an HDMI 2.0 port with high resolutions, appeared mechanism AI Overclocking. That is, there are a lot of improvements in the details, the only question is, are they willing to pay extra for it.