Hot on the heels of our i9-9900K review and the ASUS Z390-E ROG Strix yesterday, we’re back again with one of the coolest motherboards on sale today. On the test bench we have the ASRock Z390 Taichi Ultimate. ASRock has made their name on delivering exceptional value per dollar. At $299, does it live up to that reputation? Join us as we find out.
As always with motherboard reviews, these specifications are long. Please click to enlarge the image.
Right away, the Taichi Ultimate makes an incredible first impression. It’s one of the first motherboards I’ve ever used that features a fold out front and viewing window to show off its frankly awesome design. Gaming designs often go for sharp edges but this is the first time I’ve seen a company literally strap a fake blade onto their circuit board and, honestly, it looks darn cool sitting atop the gear-themed heatsink.
Like our review yesterday, ASRock’s latest features Intel’s new Z390 chipset. As we said then, the differences between Z370 and Z390 are overall fairly minor. The biggest upgrades come in the form of built-in Wireless A/C connectivity and USB 3.1 Gen 2. These are good features that this board takes advantage of but it’s clear that manufacturers are feeling some pressure to justify these purchases with extra features of their own. While those two upgrades might not warrant a bump from Z370 all on their own, ASRock has really gone all out to make this one of the best Z390 motherboards in its class and a solid upgrade from many Z370 offerings.
Starting with the physical design, I admit to loving the look of this board even without the bladed PCH cover. The black and grey colorway is stylish without being overstated and the gear imagery really works well on this kind of product. The IO covers, heatsinks, and shielding all have the same industrial feel to them, lending the Taichi Ultimate an Eastern steampunk vibe that’s quite unique.
One of the real standout features here - and there’s a few - is the inclusion of triple M.2 slots for your NVME SSDs. Pricing on high end solid state drives is falling fast and this is the kind of expandability new builders should and will be looking for. There’s also a nice heatsink on the bottom, so I would suggest installing your most used SSD there to prevent thermal throttling. To that end, it would have been nice to see heatsinks across the board like ASUS has begun offering but it’s not an ubiquitous feature quite yet.
In the heatsink department, there are also very healthy heatsinks all along the MOSFETs, which is great to see for thermal stability when overclcoking. The Taichi Ultimate uses a 12-phase VRM solution and heat issues can and do hold other motherboards back when they begin to thermal throttle. Not so here, even as you push higher voltage overclocks.
If you are an overclocker, you’ll be happy to find that ASRock has really spared no expense in the componentry here. They refer to this class of board as a “Super Alloy” motherboard, which regards the higher-end materials built into its power delivery system. The Ultimate features 60A chokes and premium capacitors for smooth, efficient power delivery with a 12,000 plus lifespan. You also have a number of headers to support advanced 2A water cooling solutions and thermal probe monitoring. There’s also support for an additional 6 chassis fans with PWM airflow control.
Other features include an excellent 7.1 channel sound system. It utilizes the RealTek ALC1220 codec and Purity Sound 4. The Purity Sound 4 system is really something special featuring separate shielding for left and right audio channels, a high-powered amp to drive headsets up to 600 ohms, and signals up to 32-bit/192kHz. The delivery here is outstanding and makes even some of my audiophile headphones come alive while also supporting DTS surround sound.
Along the back in the rear IO we find another unique feature. On top of 8 USB ports, you’ll also find three separate RJ-45 connections. One of these, colored red, is an incredibly fast 10 Gb/s Aquantia Base-T ethernet port. The other two RJ-45s are each independent gigabit LAN connections that support teaming. When paired, this system can literally double your connection speed by bridging each network. This does require that you have two internet connections, which makes it unlikely for most home users, but it’s a neat function nonetheless. Other connections back here include your 7.1 channel audio and optical connections, 7 USB 3.1 ports (x3 Gen 2, x4 Gen 1), and a single USB Type-C port.
Also, a feature I've grown to love: the debug error code display. Readable error codes can save so much time when something isn't working right. This should be standard on every motherboard.
All in all, the Z390 Taichi Ultimate is stacked. Let’s see how it performed.
Click through to page two to see how it did in our suite of tests!