Intel Z690 vs Z590 Motherboards: Which is the Better System Investment?

The revival of Intel’s competitiveness over the processor industry is once again upon us with the official launch of 12th Gen Alder Lake and its compatible Z690 motherboards. Indeed, after finishing the “tock” phase of Comet/Rocket Lake, we once again find ourselves with a new socket and a new platform. But is that the only difference? And should we ditch Z590 now that Z690 is here? It is time once again to compare Intel’s high-end motherboards.

Z690 vs Z590 Motherboard Specs & Comparison

Chipset Z690 Z590
Socket LGA1700 LGA1200
Supported CPUs*
  • 12th Gen Intel Core (Alder Lake)
  • 13th Gen Intel Core (Raptor Lake)
  • 10th Gen Intel Core (Comet Lake)
  • 11th Gen Intel Core (Rocket Lake)
Chipset Link DMI 4.0 x8 DMI 3.0 x8 (x4 if using 10th Gen)
PCIe 5.0 lanes 0 (all directly to CPU) 0 (not supported)
PCIe 4.0 lanes 12 0 (all directly to CPU)
PCIe 3.0 lanes 16 24
SATA 6Gbps ports 8 6
USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 (20Gbps) ports 4 3
USB 3.2 Gen 2×1 (10Gbps) ports 10 10
USB 3.2 Gen 1×1 (5Gbps) ports 10 10
USB 2.0 Ports 14 14
*13th Gen not yet available

Major Differences Between Z690 and Z590 Motherboards

LGA 1700 Socket

Unlike the incremental updates of the old, Alder Lake CPUs are significantly more different, looking like a rectangle now than square (7.5 mm difference). As suggested by its number, it has 500 more pins than the earlier LGA 1200, pushing even more computing power to the new 10nm SuperFin architecture of the newest desktop CPUs.

PCIe 5.0 Support

AMD’s reveal of early-ish support for PCIe 4.0 with its B550 and X570 chipsets seems to have forced Intel to follow suit in order to stay competitive. This is evidently seen with the sudden jump to PCIe 4.0 right as Rocket Lake came into play. Not wanting to be left behind, Intel then pushed immediately for PCIe 5.0 support for 12th Gen Alder Lake.

Would this sudden massive increase in data bandwidth be relevant for the casual user? Nope. In fact, it’s only been barely two years since the arrival of graphics cards and NVMe SSDs with native PCIe 4.0 support. So just think of it as extra traffic space for all the lossless media saved on your Samsung 970 Evos and Sabrent Rockets.

DDR5 Memory Support

Intel once again paves the way for the first motherboards updated with the new DDR RAM version. Technical details about DDR5 are discussed in its own article. But in a nutshell, the threshold for capacity and frequency is once again increased significantly. Oh and, also power delivery is now directly managed on the module itself, with the default operating voltage lowered to 1.1V, and it also brought with it XMP 3.0 (two extra user-customizable profiles!).

While promising, DDR5 Ram at the moment is still suffering from early adopter tax and high CAS latency values, so it is usually more recommended to stick to Z690 mobos configured for DDR4.

General Connectivity

Nothing much has changed with the connectivity features when jumping from Z590 to Z690. There is an additional USB 3.0 20Gbps port for a total of four, and strangely enough, two more additional SATA 6Gbps ports totaling eight. And you thought force-promoting PCIe 5.0 on a system that barely even needs PCIe 4.0 in a statistical sense is overkill enough.

Chipset Uplink

Z690 still has the same number of DMI lanes as Z590 motherboards, but it is updated to version 4.0, which will now provide 16 GT/s (Giga transfers per second) for each lane, technically twice as fast as DMI 3.0. Another caveat of the Z590 is again, the configuration switches back to DMI 3.0 x4 if it is installed with a 10th gen CPU.

Supported CPUs for Z690 and Z590

Z590 Chipset

  • 10th Generation (Comet Lake) Core i3, i5, i7, and i9 processors
  • 11th Generation (Rocket Lake) Core i5, i7, and i9 processors (11th Gen has noi3 SKUs)

Z690 Chipset

  • 12th Generation (Alder Lake) Core i3, i5, i7, and i9 processors

Who is the Z690 chipset for and why you should buy a Z690 motherboard?

Alder Lake brings back to form the competition level that Intel needs to fight toe-to-toe on an architectural level once again with AMD. As such, those looking forward to testing a brand new platform with all sorts of new technological goodies inside should find choosing a Z690 motherboard quite exciting. With the rumors of 13th Gen Raptor Lake pushing even more innovative improvements like how AMD’s Zen 2 did for the B550 and X570 three years prior, the Z690 just seems like the most sensible investment.

Fresh New Architecture

The LGA1700 is the gateway to Z690’s support of Alder Lake processors, which support a mobile-CPU-inspired BIG.little design architecture (P-cores plus E-cores) along with other main improvements to the die design itself. You get a first-hand taste of the most cutting-edge in multi-tasking and multi-core applications that is… arguably not as available in the same efficiency as with Z590 or Z490.

DDR5 Early Adoption

If you got the dough, you can play around with the new modules by purchasing a Z690 specifically built for DDR5. Because it is the first iteration for such a technology, we can’t really expect much, and indeed, that seems to be the consensus for many reviewers unless high memory bandwidth is a must. But hey, the upgrade path is open. If these early uber-expensive DDR5 modules can achieve what they can achieve now, think of the future (cheaper) ones you can just slot directly on your Z690 motherboard in a couple of years.

PCIe 5.0 Early Adoption?

True, the CPU-chipset link configuration for the Z690 does allow free reign of all the data bandwidth PCIe 5.0 has to offer. Certainly not something that can make or break a Z690 build, but the option to expand without worrying about overall bandwidth usage is kind of nice… maybe.

Who is the Z590 chipset for and why should you still buy a Z590 motherboard?

Having been released more than eight months before Z690, the Z590 has already expanded its availability, as well as stabilized its price across most tech markets. Because of this, it may be the more economical choice if you want something cheaper but don’t want to sacrifice updated chipset features, regardless if you are using a 10th Gen or 11th Gen processor.

11th Gen now the price-to-performance choice?!

We have been preaching the cost-effectiveness of Z490 motherboards versus the bleeding-edge performance margins of the Z590 before. But this time, the players are switched. With the sheer efficiency of Z690 and its Alder Lake CPUs, there just isn’t any performance edge for Rocket Lake anymore. Thus, the comparison only tips in favor of these CPUs when it comes to cost.

10th Gen on Z590 is also another option, especially if you can get a good deal out from those phasing out their previous systems. Chipset bandwidth limitations notwithstanding, you at least still have more connectivity and updated VRMs to power your much-lesser-a-furnace10600k, 10700K, or 10900K.

Final Thoughts: Stick to 11th Gen for cost, Move to 12th Gen for performance

As AMD fanboys like to point out really hard, the investment difference of using a Z690 motherboard often negates the initial cost advantages offered by the MSRP of Intel 12th Gen CPUs. This is the biggest Achilles heel of the Z690 chipset, and the greatest (and only) counter of the Z590 chipset at the moment.

Because of this, the choice of going for either motherboard largely depends on whether you simply want to save a lot of money or push with the more “frontier” investment. If you can get a very good discount deal out of a Z590 motherboard and a partner 11th or 10th Gen CPU, then go for it.

If not, just embrace the brand new platform and go for the much more expensive (at the moment) Z690.

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