ASRock Z390 Taichi ATX Motherboard Review: i9 With More Power

Placing itself halfway between the feature sets and the prices of our two previously-reviewed Z390 boards, the $239 Z390 Taichi currently lives in a zone where its combination of dual Gigabit Ethernet and Wi-Fi could make it the value choice. Unfortunately, the early firmware holds it back just enough that we’re not ready to give it an award. Future buyers interested in this board's features and price should check user reviews to determine if ASRock fixed its early firmware flaws.

Specifications

SocketLGA 1151
ChipsetIntel Z390
Form FactorATX
Voltage Regulator12 Phases
Video PortsDisplayPort 1.2, HDMI 1.4
USB Ports10Gbps: (1) Type-C, (3) Type A
5Gb/s: (4) Type A
Network Jacks(2) Gigabit Ethernet, (2) Wi-Fi Antenna
Audio Jacks(5) Analog, (1) Digital Out
Legacy Ports/Jacks(1) PS/2
Other Ports/JackCLR_CMOS Button
PCIe x16(3) v3.0 (x16/x0/x0, x8/x8/x0, x8/x4/x4)
PCIe x8
PCIe x4
PCIe x1(2) v3.0
CrossFire/SLI2x / 3x
DIMM slots(4) DDR4
M.2 slots(1) PCIe 3.0 x4^, (2) PCIe 3.0 x4^ / SATA*
(*Consumes SATA Port 3, ^0/1, 4/5)
U.2 Ports
SATA Ports(8) 6Gb/s (Ports 0/1, 3, 4/5 shared w/M.2)
USB Headers(1) 10Gb/s Type-C, (2) v3.0, (1.5) v2.0
Fan Headers(8) 4-Pin
Legacy Interfaces
Other InterfacesFP-Audio, D-LED, (2) RGB-LED, Thunderbolt AIC, TPM
Diagnostics PanelNumeric
Internal Button/Switch✗ / ✗
SATA ControllersIntegrated (0/1/5/10), ASM1061 PCIe
Ethernet ControllersWGI211AT PCIe, WGI219V PHY
Wi-Fi / BluetoothIntel 3168 802.11ac (433mb/s) / BT 4.2 Combo
USB ControllersASM1074 Hub
HD Audio CodecALC1220
DDL/DTS ConnectDTS Connect
Warranty3 Years

Features & Layout

The Z390 Taichi might be a new board, but to call it a new design would be a stretch. ASRock revised a few pathway routes to enable chipset-based USB 3.1 Gen2 (and eliminate the previous-generation Z370 Taichi’s third-party USB controllers). But the slots follow the same arrangement as the previous-gen model, as do most of the connectors. Both boards even had so-called “12-phase” voltage regulators, though the Z390 version uses TI 40-amp MOSFETs rather than the former board’s 30-amp parts. The heat sink covering those beefier transistors is also bigger, and the plastic shroud behind it gets its own RGB lighting this time around.

Our tests have shown that the fully-loaded Core i9-9900K pulls 50 percent more power than the Core i7-8700K, but it’s important to remember that much of that extra power comes from the CPU’s higher clock speed, and the higher voltage levels needed to support it.  When we overclock both processors to their stability limits using the same core voltage, the 9900K pulls only 33 percent more power than the 8700K. That makes sense because it has 33 percent more cores, and fortunately aligns with the new board’s 33 percent increase in amp capacity. The good news is that we’re reaching higher frequencies despite the extra cores, thanks to improvements built into Intel’s latest 14nm+++ lithography process.

We still see the same combination of three metal-reinforced x16-length and two open-ended PCIe x1 slots on this board. As with the Z370 Taichi, the top x1 slot remains shoved up against an M.2 storage slot, where the physical edge of any longer card inserted there will rest atop any drive mounted there. New for the Z390 Taichi, though, is that the second x1 slot’s opening points directly toward the battery, as if the firm doesn’t want anything longer than an x4 card inserted there.

But the reason ASRock moved the battery is a good one: Where the Z370 version had the second and third M.2 slots shoved end-to-end between the second and third x16 card slots, the Z390 model moves one of those M.2 storage slots up to where the battery used to be. The result is a board that holds up to two 120mm and one 80mm SSD, where the previous version was limited to 80mm drives on all three slots.

The CLR_CMOS button, dual Gigabit Ethernet jacks, digital optical and five analog audio jacks remain, and are all driven by the same controllers as found on the previous Z370 Taichi. We still get DisplayPort 1.2 and HDMI 1.4b to tap into CPU-integrated graphics. We still get four Gen1 USB 3.1 ports. We still get the legacy 433Mb/s Wi-Fi standard, but it’s on a newer module on this board. The Z390 Taichi has two more USB 3.1 Gen2 ports on its I/O panel (totaling four, including one Type-C), and the Key-E Wi-Fi module now resides above the single PS/2 port. Small but noticeable changes blur the lines between whether the Z390 Taichi should be considered a new design or an alteration of its predecessor.

Looking for additional noteworthy changes from the Z370 Taichi, we found an extra 4-pin CPU power header next to the eight-pin version, one fan power connector has been moved from behind to below the rear voltage regulator heat sink. The Z390 Taichi has eight (rather than five) 4-pin fan headers, and that Z390 buyers get two RGB and one Addressable LED strip connector, compared to the old board’s single RGB header. ASRock also added a heat spreader to the Z390 Taichi’s third M.2 slot and rearranged its front-panel USB 3.0/3.1 header positions slightly. And the older model’s XMP-enable switch has been ditched here.

The eight forward-facing SATA ports remain and the ASM1061 controller that connects two of those ports persists. The sharing of HSIO pathways between ports and M.2 slots is unchanged: HSIO for SATA ports 0 and 3 are converted to PCIe for the upper M.2 slot, SATA ports 4 and 5 are treated the same way by the lower M.2 slot, and the middle M.2 slot only disable the SATA port 3 if using a SATA M.2 drive.

Where the former Z370 Taichi had a set of solder pads for a missing second connector, the Z390 Taichi placed its solo front-panel audio header. That moves it forward a little for easier cable management. Next to it are headers for an Addressable LED 3-pin cable, two standard RGB strips, a Thunderbolt add-in card, a fan, TPM, a four-pin (single-port) USB 2.0 half-header, a nine-pin (standard dual port) USB 2.0, beep-code speaker, an Intel-standard LED/button group, and another fan.  As before, a Port 80 status code display resides slightly above the bottom row of front-panel headers.

The Z390 Taichi includes hardware and software manuals, a driver and application disc, an I/O shield, four SATA cables, Wi-Fi antennas, a high-bandwidth SLI bridge, and a foil-backed case badge.

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