Well well well…….if you are anything like me, the first question on your mind would be, do I need the new Z390 chipset? What if you already have a Z370 chipset? Is it backwards compatible with older Coffee Lake CPUs such as a delidded, liquid metaled, 8700K? Let’s find out what’s so special with Z390 chipset with the AsRock Z390 Phantom Gaming 9.
Intel has been doing CPUs for a very long time. They should know what they are doing by now. As should AMD. Motherboard manufacturers like ASUS, MSI, Gigabyte, and AsRock have been present in there respected arenas as well. Intel like AMD as well as Nvidia are all guilty of one thing, making small minor improvements to already existing chipsets to make them further compatible with upcoming CPUs, memory, or even system stability. These improvements can come at a software level such as BIOS revisions, or at a hardware level like the Z370 to Z390 jump we are going to discuss here. Historically this isn’t the first time Intel has improved an already great chipset, they did it with Z77 to Z87. They did it with Z170 to Z270, noting that this practice of refinement is a common thing for the rest of the industry. AMD did the B350 to B450 as well as X370 to X470, on the AM4 socket. All minor improvements. AMD also does it with their GPUs, namely the Pitcairn and Polaris GPU cores. Nvidia practices a similar methodology, however their “tweaks” are bit more on the hardware level instead of being clock speed improvements.
Generational gaps are always a stop gap for upgraders and gamers alike. We all want to stay with the most current technology, but most of the time, it’s not really warranted. So on paper the Z370 and the Z390 seem identical, noted in this graph from Puget System, William George.
Upon closer inspection, USB 3.1 support has been added as well as integrated WiFi 802.11ac into the the Z390 chipset. However a lot of motherboard manufacturers already include a WiFi variant model as well as adding in USB 3.1 support. So what’s the pull? Intel 9th Gen CPUs still work in the older Z370 platform, provided that the is BIOS updated with Intel 9th Gen CPU support. Also in case you didn’t hear this already, Intel’s 8th Gen Coffee Lake CPUs also work with the new Z390 platform as well.
So the AsRock Z390 Phantom Gaming 9, which carries the Phantom Gaming naming, is also present on the company’s AMD GPU lineup. Sleek lines, black PCB, grey and black heatsinks cover the Phantom Gaming 9’s layout. Hints of red is also present on the chipset heatsink, but is very minimal and shouldn’t imped on aesthetics of any build. RGB is also very subtle, having a small strip on the back I/O shield, as well as near the audio section and around the Z390 chipset heatsink. The layout, which is important to any system builder, is also very good. Setup like a traditional ATX motherboard, the Phantom Gaming 9 offers 8 SATA6 connections, 8 PWM 4 pin fan connectors, power and reset buttons, Dr. Debug LED readout, 2 USB 3.0 headers - one of which is at 90 degrees to offer better cable management if your case allows. All RGB headers, 1 5v addressable and 2 12V non-addressable are located neatly tucked away in the lower right corner. The 4 DDR4 DIMM slots all blacked out with support for DDR4 4266 and beyond if overclocked. Up to 64GB of DDR4 is supported as well.
The 3 PCIe 3.0 slots are reinforced with steel to help manage GPU sag and or droop, also supporting 2-way SLI and 3-Way Crossfirex. Slipped in between the PCIe slots is the inclusion of three Ultra M.2 PCIe NVME slots, also supporting the M.2 SATA6 standard as well as Intel Optane Technology. Keep in mind the bottom Ultra M.2 PCIe NVME slot is the only one slot to have a passive cooling heatsink leaving the other two without cooling.
Besides support for the new Intel 9th Gen CPUs, the power delivery is backed by IR Digital PWM with a twelve power phase design. Of which are premium 60 amp power chokes alongside dual-stack MOSFET combo caps. Cooling off the VRMs are two pretty beefy heatsinks with a decent sized heat pipe connecting the two together providing good cooling to the VRMs. The rear I/O rounds out the layout composed of antenna connections for the dual band 802.11ac WiFi with speeds up to 1733 Mbps, a PS/2 mouse/keyboard port, an HDMI 1.4 and Displayport 1.2, Optical SPDIF out, 3 USB 3.1 Gen2 Type A ports as well as 1 Type C port all rated at 10GB/s. Three LAN ports are present, 2 with Intel Gigabit and one with AsRock’s Phantom Gaming 2.5Gb/s LAN port. Lastly is the audio inputs which is using the Realtek ALC1220 Audio Codec, of which has gold input jacks, 7.1 channels, with a built in 120db SNR DAC with a differential amplifier with support for Creative Sound Blaster Cinema 5.
Overall, the Phantom Gaming 9 is a very aesthetically pleasing motherboard as well as being feature packed. But how does it perform? Well I hate to break it to you, it performs just like every other Z390 and Z370 motherboard. Coming in at a hefty $280 US dollars, is quite a bit to spend on a motherboard these days. Even AsRock’s Phantom Gaming 6 is almost $100 cheaper, and I am hard pressed to find a difference other than the relocated power and reset buttons. Being a top tier motherboard is great, but with Intel 9th gen CPUs costing more than ever before, saving a cool $100 is almost a no brainer. With that, 4 out of 5 flames.