So, you’ve decided to pick up a new Intel 10th generation processor. What do you do about a motherboard? If you’re a gamer, the Gigabyte Z490 AORUS ULTRA presents a compelling package. It’s feature-packed, under $300, and is ready for 10th and 11th generation processors. But as we all know, on paper specs don’t always translate to real-world performance. How does the Z490 AORUS ULTRA stack up? Let’s take a closer look and find out.
If you’ve seen an AORUS gaming motherboard over the last several years, then the Z490 Aorus Ultra (I’m going to drop the caps for simplicity’s sake) will look very familiar. The design language, something Gigabyte refers to as “punk gaming” is very similar to previous generations, regardless of whether you’ve signed on for Intel or AMD. The design language here is very industrial, with a lot of brushed aluminum, black, and, of course, RGB accents. It’s easy to see the cyberpunk inspiration in its design.Click to Enlarge
Gigabyte has always been generous when it comes to the pack-ins for their Aorus motherboards and that’s certainly the case here. Included in the box are four SATA cables, including right-angle heads, a set of thermal probes, the G Connector for easily connecting case headers, a tall WiFi antenna, two RGB extension cables for your case bling, a sticker sheet, and a driver CD.
With a price point of $299, the Aorus Ultra is a premium motherboard (though still falls in the middle of Gigabyte’s Z490 line-up), and as such packs a suite of premium features to match. Let’s go through the highlights that stand out most to me:
PCIe 4.0 Support: Like many Z490 motherboards, the Aorus Ultra features hardware level PCIe 4.0 support. You won’t be able to use it on Intel’s 10th Generation, but when Rocket Lake releases (maybe within a year if rumors are to be believed) you’ll be able to take advantage of the improved bandwidth without upgrading your motherboard.
Triple M.2 PCIe x4 Support and Plentiful Storage Options Overall: Triple M.2 is a “must have” feature for me. As the price of PCIe SSDs goes down, the Aorus Ultra has enough ports to support future expansion. These ports are all shielded by the large falcon heatsink and have thermal pads for heat dissipation. The third M.2 slot shares lanes with SATA3_4 and SATA3_5, but if you’re already running three PCIe SSDs, the chances are good that you won’t be using all six SATA ports anyways. Altogether the Z490 Aorus Ultra offers enough storage capability even for a high-end editing PC.
Dual Channel Memory Support Up To 5000+ MHz: With every generation, supported memory speeds get a little faster. This board will support up to 128GB of DDR4 up to “5000+” The Ultra isn’t alone in this level of support, but that it offers it is a definite high point. At over $900 for a 16GB of DDR4-5000 as of this writing, that’s not a speed I can see myself buying into anytime soon. But consider: DDR4-4400 can be had for only $119 right now. In a year, who knows where 5000 MHz kits will be?
12-Phase “Direct Connect” VRM with Impressive Cooling: If you’re into overclocking, this is an important feature. This board doesn’t make use of doublers, so these are 12 real phases connected direct to the CPU for clean, stable power. Each phase is specced for 55 amps and 660 amps total. The cooling is also a cut above, featuring direct-touch heatpipe and fin array they call Fins-Array II. This new design triples the surface area and has been redesigned for improved airflow.
Excellent Wireless Connectivity and Networking: Gigabyte has gone the extra mile when it comes to both wireless and wired connectivity. It sports WiFi 802.11ax (WiFi 6) support, which is timely if you’re also looking at a new gaming router (hint: WiFi 6 is the wave of the future). It also features Bluetooth 5.0 for easily pairing your wireless headphones — something I appreciate with my newfound love of true wireless earbuds. I’ve been impressed with how easily and reliably my headphones connect. I can even leave my office and walk between rooms while keeping a stable connection.
For wired networking, it’s also outfitted with Intel’s 2.5G LAN for potential 2500 Mbps downloads and cFosSpeed traffic shaping.
High-End Audio: Over the years, I’ve become a bit of an audiophile, so having excellent sound matters to me. I had a DAC/amp stack on my desk but there are times when I just want to turn on my PC and go. The Z490 Aorus Ultra features a quality audio setup utilizing RealTek’s new ALC1220-VB and premium WIMA capacitors found in some premium amps beloved by the headphone community. I do wish they’d gone with an ESS solution here like on some of their upper-end models, but they’ve done a good job of shielding the audio components from interference for a remarkably noise-free signal. It also supports DTS-X Ultra.
Thunderbolt Support: While there’s no built-in Thunderbolt port (boo), there are two Thunderbolt headers for add-in cards.
Lots of Fan Headers: Until fan hubs become standard, I will continue to love plentiful fan headers. The board features a total of six fan headers, two of which can be used for water pumps for custom loops, and two for the CPU fan/water cooling CPU fan.
Plentiful USB Connectivity: I have a lot of USB devices and I was able to connect them all. There are a total of 10 ports, including four USB 3.2 Gen 2 (one Type-C), two USB 3.2 Gen 1, and four USB 2.0. While that’s quite a few, I wish two of those USB 2.0 ports had been swapped out with 3.2 ports instead.
Easy Debugging and BIOS Flashing: If your computer has ever experienced a mystery crash or hang-on-load, I don’t need to tell you how frustrating that can be. The Aorus Ultra features the godsend feature of a debug LED that will display codes to indicate its current state. That means, so long as your motherboard can receive power, that little LED will tell you what your problem is. This has saved me so much stress in the past and is a must-have feature.
Likewise, it also supports Q-Flash for easy BIOS flashing. If your computer ever fails and you need to restore the BIOS, or have to flash for any reason, the board is able to read and apply a BIOS update from a USB drive without any other hardware (except power) connected to the board. Again, if you’re troubleshooting, this is a very useful feature.
The Sum Total? The Z490 Aorus Ultra is a very forward looking board. It has all of the features I would expect for the price and then some. This is a board clearly intended to remain useful for at least several years, which is exactly as it should be on a $300 motherboard.
There is one aspect of the board I wasn’t a fan of and that’s Gigabyte’s software. Even on cutting edge hardware, it felt perpetually laggy: slow to start and would sometimes hang. It also lacks refinement in its RGB controls. This has long been an issue for Gigabyte hardware — which remains surprising, because their tech looks great. It’s just customizing it that’s the problem.
Intel Test System: Intel Core i9-10900K, NZXT Kraken X72, G.Skill TridentZ Royal DDR4-3600MHz 16GB DRAM Kit (CL16), Samsung 970 Pro NVMe 1TB, Corsair HX-1050 1050 Watt Power Supply.
Apart from discussing key features, I put the Z490 Aorus Ultra through a battery of tests. At the time of this writing, we only had one comparison board available, the ASUS ROG Maximus XII Extreme. That data appears in the graphs below. Future reviews will expand the Z490 data set.
As I discussed in my review of the Core i9-10900K, my sample was rather finicky for overclocking — at least on the ROG board that I conducted my review tests on. On that board, I was able to achieve a stable all-core overclock of 5.2GHz at 1.38V and a peak temperature of 82C using the NZXT Kraken X72 360mm liquid cooler. Bear in mind, that board retails for $749, two and half times the price of the Aorus Ultra. To be frank, I expected worse results.
In fact, the Aorus Ultra performed better than that more expensive board. I was still locked to 5.2GHz on all cores, but I was able to achieve it at 1.36V! I used AIDA64 to stability test three separate times for an 45 minutes each. My peak temperature was slightly lower at 80C, which is still quite warm, but in normal gaming scenarios the CPU hovered in the mid-70s. With a TJ Max of 100C, this offers plenty of headroom to game safely for years to come.
Unexpected, but quite a pleasant surprise nonetheless.
The Gigabyte Z490 Aorus Ultra is a premium motherboard and the performance lives up to that reputation. I’ve been pleased with Gigabyte boards in the past (and still use one on my Ryzen machine every day), so was happy to find that trend continuing here. The absence of ESS audio and too many USB 2.0 ports aside, I found it to be a very forward looking board, which is exactly as it should be when you’re spending $299 on a new motherboard. Plus, though I didn’t remark on it extensively in this review, it looks darn good. The RGB is bright but not overstated, which means it can easily be tailored for many different lighting tastes.
Overall, the Aorus Ultra is a real winner and an easy recommendation for anyone looking to buy into the Z490 ecosystem.
The product discussed in this review was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes.