Best Intel Motherboards: May 2021by Gavin Bonshor on May 10, 2021 10:10 AM EST
Here is the latest update to our list of recommended Intel motherboards in our series of motherboards buyers guides. All numbers in the text are updated to reflect pricing at the time of writing.
Best Intel Motherboards: May 2021
For users looking for a new Intel motherboard, we have good news! Moving into the middle of Spring we seem to be experiencing wider positive availability of Intel's 500 series motherboards in retail channels. Despite some criticism from media and users, Intel's Rocket Lake processors still provide decent levels of performance, with plenty of features for gamers, content creators, and enthusiasts. There are a wide variety of options for users to select from, not just on current 500 series chipsets, but also in 400-series chipsets. There are also other variables to consider, such as the segment of processor selected by users, which makes all the aforementioned chipsets suitable for both 11th generation and 10th generation processors, and it's time to give our picks for May in our latest Intel motherboard buyers guide.
Here are our choices in the motherboard market for Intel. For AMD recommendations, head on over to our AMD guide. This is usually updated monthly.
|Intel Motherboards Recommendations
|Price vs Features||ASUS TUF Gaming Z590-Plus WIFI||$260||$251||$260|
|Value||MSI Z490-A Pro||$149||$130||$160|
|Micro-ATX||ASRock B560M Steel Legend||-||$135||$120|
|Mini-ITX||ASRock Z490 Phantom Gaming-ITX/TB3||$280||$280||$280|
|Money No Object||MSI MEG Z590 Godlike||$1000||$1000||$1019|
Our recommendations for motherboards are based entirely on personal and professional opinion. There are notably many different motherboards across the Intel chipsets including B460, Z490, the latest Z590/B560 chipsets, and the workstation-focused W480 chipset. Some of our choices and options here are also limited by what stock is available.
Best Intel Motherboard For Gaming/Performance
ASUS TUF Gaming Z590-Plus WIFI ($260 at Amazon/$251 at Newegg)
Looking for a model that combines performance with functionality and a solid feature set, there are plenty of Z590 and Z490 models to choose from. Adding price to the equation and it becomes a lot more select, with the ASUS TUF Gaming Z590-Plus WIFI offering plenty of good quality features, but for a reasonable price. It offers users a solid entry point onto Intel's 11th generation processors including features specific to the Z590 chipset.
Included in the feature set is a decent networking array with an Intel I225-V 2.5 GbE controller and Intel AX200 Wi-Fi 6 CNVi, as well as one USB 3.2 G2x2 Type-C, two USB 3.2 G2 Type-A, two USB 3.2 G1 Type-A, and two USB 2.0 ports on the rear panel. For storage, the Z590-Plus WIFI has three M.2 slots including one PCIe 4.0 x4 and two PCIe 3.0 x4/SATA M.2, as well as six SATA ports with RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 arrays. There is also enough PCIe slot support to make it usable including one full-length PCIe 4.0 x16 slot, one full-length PCIe 3.0 x4 slot, and two PCIe 3.0 x1 slots. Memory support consists of four memory slots, with official support for up to DDR4-5133 and a total combined capacity of 128 GB.
The ASUS TUF Z590-Plus WIFI represents its entry-level gaming range, but there's enough in the specifications and feature set to make this a solid mid-level solution for gamers and content creators. It is currently available for $260 at Amazon, and at the slightly cheaper price of $251 at Newegg. There's plenty of options at this price point, but perhaps not as many as well-equipped with such a reasonable price tag, and this alone makes the TUF Gaming Z590-PLUS WIFI our pick for gamers.
Best Intel Motherboard: The Value Option
MSI Z490-A Pro ($149 at Amazon/$130 at Newegg)
The term 'value' can be taken any different ways, as it can be related to budget but with plenty of quality, or it can be relative to how much money is available. Prices of high-end motherboards have increased over the years - I remember when a high-end board would cost $175! But today the top chipsets are only near that price at the bottom of the stack.
With lots of Intel LGA1200 chipsets available with the H410, B460, H470, and Z490, there are a lot of solid contenders in this particular area. My pick for value is the MSI Z490-A Pro. This isn't on a budget-based Intel chipset such as H410, but it allows users to overclock and squeeze out more performance from the 10th generation Comet Lake processors. The MSI Z490-A Pro is one of the cheapest Z490 models available on the market and has a solid feature set for the price. This includes a 12-phase power delivery, a Realtek ALC1200 HD audio codec, two PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 slots, a Realtek 2.5 GbE Ethernet controller, and a single USB 3.2 G2 Type-C port on the rear panel.
The biggest feature of note on the MSI Z490-A Pro is the power delivery, with a 12-phase design as well as the inclusion of a Realtek RTL8125B 2.5 gigabit Ethernet controller. It also includes a solid budget storage configuration with six SATA slots and two PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 slots, with one slot coming with a heatsink, and the other reliant on the user installing one, or going for passive cooling. The rear panel is pretty standard for a board of this caliber, with a single USB 3.2 G2 Type-A, five USB 3.2 G1 Type-A, and two USB 2.0 ports. It includes an HDMI and DisplayPort video output pairing for users looking to leverage Intel's UHD integrated graphics, as well as six 3.5 mm audio jacks powered by a Realtek ALC1200 HD audio codec.
Despite the existence of the budget-focused H410, H470, and B460 chipsets, and more recently B560 and Z590, none of the H and B series models officially support CPU overclocking. When combining a Comet Lake desktop processor or Rocket Lake with adequate cooling, it can offer excellent performance. The MSI Z490-A Pro isn't just one of the cheapest Z490 models with an MSRP of $160, but it's actually solid on paper too, for both overclocking and with a host of value-orientated features, but still more than capable controller set for a board at this price point. The Z490-A Pro is currently available for $149 at Amazon and even cheaper at Newegg for $130, so we recommend buying it from Newegg. Its biggest competition comes via the equally impressive GIGABYTE Z490 Gaming X model at $160, but it lacks the 2.5 GbE Ethernet controller and instead opts for an Intel Gigabit controller, and uses a USB 3.2 G2 Type-A instead of the Type-C on the MSI.
Best Intel Motherboard: The Best Micro-ATX Motherboard
ASRock B560M Steel Legend ($135 at Newegg)
In previous guides, we've had many requests to include a category for micro-ATX size models, so we've decided to include one for April and going forward. The Micro-ATX form factor has trade-offs with its larger ATX sized options, albeit with less PCIe slot real estate due to the size limitations, but it does offer extra room for features compared to the small form factor mini-ITX models. Given that the vast majority of micro-ATX models look to cut back on certain features, our pick is based on a balance of price versus features, and we feel there's no better model to fit these criteria than the ASRock B560M Steel Legend.
The ASRock B560M Steel Legend is the smaller variant of the ATX sized B560 Steel Legend and offers users a mixture of unique urban camouflage-style aesthetics, silver heatsinks, and includes some RGB LEDs. Based on Intel's B560 chipset, there's no official CPU overclocking support, but Intel does allow for memory overclocking, with the B560M Steel Legend supporting up to 128 GB of DDR4-4800 memory across four memory slots. Storage options include dual M.2 slots, with one of these allowing for up to PCIe 4.0 x4 fast NVMe drives, and the other limited to PCIe 3.0 x4 and SATA drives. For SATA devices, there are six SATA ports, including four with right-angled connectors and two with straight-angled ports.
The board also includes one full-length PCIe 4.0 x16 slot, with two PCIe 3.0 x1 slots for devices such as additional networking, audio, and storage controllers. On the rear is a Realtek RTL8125BG 2.5 GbE controller, HDMI, and DisplayPort video output pairing, with a Realtek ALC807 HD audio codec powering five 3.5 mm audio jacks and S/PDIF optical output.
For the price, and taking out the lack of CPU overclocking support which is a limitation of the B560 chipset, the ASRock B560M Steel Legend is a solid offering at the price. Taking other B560 micro-ATX sized models into consideration, there's plenty available including the ASUS Prime B560M-A ($110), the MSI MAG B560M Bazooka ($139), or even on Z590, there's the ASUS Prime Z590M-Plus ($229). Not only is the ASRock B560M Steel Legend cheaper than the majority of the models above, but there isn't much difference to signify the price increase with the more expensive boards and with the Steel Legend, it does come with a unique aesthetic, which is of course down to personal preference. The ASRock B560M Steel Legend is currently available to buy at Newegg for $135, which is slightly higher than MSRP but still represents good value for money at its current price.
Best Intel Motherboard: The Best Mini-ITX Motherboard
ASRock Z490 Phantom Gaming-ITX/TB3 ($280 at Amazon/$280 at Newegg)
There are just six Z490 mini-ITX models to select from for small form factor enthusiasts and gamers, and just six for Intel's Z590 chipset, but one of our favorites is from ASRock. These models are generally popular with enthusiasts looking for a solid balance of features, good quality componentry, and pricing. The ASRock Z490 Phantom Gaming-ITX/TB3 is an update over the previous Z390 model, with a similar feature set, but designed for Intel's LGA1200 socket.
Out of the small handful of available mini-ITX Z490 motherboards, only two include Thunderbolt 3 connectivity on the rear panel: the ASRock Z490 Phantom Gaming-ITX/TB3 and the MSI MEG Z490I Unify. The reason for selecting the similarly priced ASRock over the MSI, having seen numerous ASRock mini-ITX models over the years, including the Z390 Phantom Gaming-ITX/ac before, we know what to expect from ASRock and it's a feature-packed model for its size. Aside from the single Thunderbolt 3 Type-C connector on the rear panel, it includes a Realtek RTL8125BG 2.5 GbE Ethernet controller and Intel AX201 Wi-Fi 6 interface pairing for the networking, as well as supporting up to two PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 drives, one on the front and another slot on the rear.
Also on the rear panel are five 3.5 mm audio jacks and S/PDIF optical output powered by a premium Realtek ALC1220 HD audio codec and three USB 3.2 G2 Type-A and two USB 3.2 G1 Type-A ports. A handily located clear CMOS button is featured in the middle of the rear panel, with a PS/2 keyboard and mouse combo port, and two video outputs including a DisplayPort and HDMI pairing, although the Thunderbolt 3 Type-C port can also output video. The ASRock also supports up to DDR4-4666 officially, with a maximum capacity of up to 64 GB across two memory slots. In addition to the two PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 slots are four SATA ports with support for RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 arrays.
The ASRock Z490 Phantom Gaming-ITX/TB3 is a solid motherboard for enthusiasts to overclock on with its 8+2 phase power delivery, as well as the potential foundation for a monstrous single graphics card gaming system. The Z490 Phantom Gaming-ITX/TB3 has an MSRP of $280 and is currently available at Amazon with a very attractive price tag of $200, and $269 at Newegg. In regards to the competition, we reviewed the MSI Z490I Unify ($270) with a similar feature set and a 10-layer PCB, as well as the GIGABYTE Z490I Aorus Ultra ($270). The ASUS ROG Strix Z490-I Gaming is slightly more expensive with an MSRP of $300, and we've yet to review any mini-ITX Z590 models as of yet.
One important thing to consider is boards such as the ASRock Z490 Phantom Gaming-ITX/TB3 make solid options for Rocket Lake, as it includes the capability for PCIe 4.0 with one of the M.2 slots, and the full-length PCIe x16 slot. It is currently available at both Amazon and Newegg for MSRP at $280, although we've seen this price lowered over recent months, so pricing is fluctuating regularly. Regarding LGA1200 mini-ITX, it's very difficult to find a small board that's as feature-packed. If you need a small LGA1200 board with support for both Comet Lake and Rocket Lake, this is what we recommend while stocks last.
Best Intel Motherboard: Money Is No Object
MSI MEG Z590 Godlike ($1000 at Amazon/$1000 at Newegg)
Our previous pick for our 'money is no object' was the MSI MEG Z490 Godlike which sat at the top of MSI's desktop offerings as a worthy flagship. With Intel's new Rocket Lake processors coming at the end of this month, stock of Z590 is thin on the ground, to say the least. We expect this to pick up going into May, but one model which is currently available at Newegg is MSI's new flagship model, the MEG Z590 Godlike.
The MSI MEG Z590 Godlike is a fantastic example of a premium flagship model with plenty of aesthetic upgrades over the previous Z490 version. This includes MSI's improved Dynamic Dashboard II which blends in seamlessly with the black and silver design. Users looking for plenty of RGB LED will appreciate a large customizable RGB MSI Dragon logo on the rear panel cover, with a funky new triangular shaped set of LEDs built into the chipset heatsink.
MSI has opted for a very overkill power delivery which consists of a direct 20-phase design just for the CPU, with premium 90 A power stages and a pair of 8-pin 12 V ATX CPU power inputs. Other features include a pair of full-length PCIe 4.0 slots operating at x16 and x8/x8, with another full-length PCIe 3.0 x4 slot located along the bottom of the board. For storage, there are four PCIe M.2 slots, including one operating at PCIe 4.0 x4 and three with support for PCIe 3.0 x4 and SATA drives. MSI also includes six SATA ports with support for RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 arrays.
The MSI MEG Z590 Godlike has official support for DDR4-5333 memory with Rocket Lake which is an improvement over the last generation, with a total capacity of up to 128 GB available across four memory slots. Rear panel connectivity is also impressive with Intel's latest Thunderbolt 4 controller providing two Type-C and two mini-DisplayPort inputs, as well as two USB 3.2 G2 Type-A, and six USB 3.2 G1 Type-A ports. The Z590 Godlike also offers dual Ethernet with one Aquantia AQC107 10 Gb and an Intel I225-V 2.5 Gb controller pairing, as well as Intel's newest AX210 Wi-Fi 6E CNVi for access to the 6 GHz Wi-Fi band and BT 5.2 connectivity. It is also using Realtek's ALC1220 HD audio codec which adds support for 7.1 surround sound via five 3.5 mm audio jacks and one S/PDIF optical output.
The MSI MEG Z590 Godlike has an MSRP of $1019 and at present, it's available at both Amazon and Newegg for $1000. Stock worldwide for components is sketchy, to say the least. We do expect stock of the Z590 Godlike along with other Z590 models to filter into retail channels quicker as Rocket Lake's processor launch looms at the end of the month. As it stands, the MSI MEG Z590 Godlike is the only flagship model even listed on Newegg currently, with Amazon's listings also being slim pickings too. That being said, MSI has increased the price of its flagship model for Intel's latest desktop model from $750 to $1000-$1017, and judging by what's on offer, it's easy to see where the money has been spent.
Intel Rocket Lake and Z590
For those looking for Z590 models, we've compiled details on over 50 of them in our Z590 motherboard overview. We've also taken a look at over 30 budget-focused B560 models too:
- The Intel Z590 Motherboard Overview: 50+ Motherboards Detailed
- The Intel B560 Motherboard Overview: 30+ Budget Models Starting from $75
Our review of Intel's latest 11th generation Rocket Lake processors is also available to read:
For users looking for other options, we've also gone over multiple chipset families as well in the links below.
- The AMD B550 Motherboard Overview: ASUS, GIGABYTE, MSI, ASRock, and Others
- The Intel W480 Motherboard Overview: LGA1200 For Xeon W-1200
- The AMD TRX40 Motherboard Overview: 12 New Motherboards Analyzed
- The AMD X570 Motherboard Overview: Over 35+ Motherboards Analyzed
- Intel Z390 Motherboard Overview: 50+ Motherboards Analyzed
- Analyzing B450 for AMD Ryzen: A Quick Look at 25+ Motherboards
- Analyzing Z370 for Intel's 8th Generation Coffee Lake: A Quick Look at 50+ Motherboards
- An AMD Threadripper X399 Motherboard Overview: A Quick Look at Seven Products
Z590: Reviews (More Coming Soon)
We've covered as much as we can in our Z590 and B560 overview prior to getting our hands on Rocket Lake, and at the time of writing, we've tested four Z590 motherboards and reviewed one, the ASRock Z590 Taichi. As we get through our stack of Z590 models and the reviews, we'll learn more about Rocket Lake behavior, and as firmware matures, we might see some bumps in performance. Below is a list of Intel 500 series chipset reviews completed so far:
Is there a particular Z590 or B560 model that you think we should review? Please let us know in the comments below.