Table of Contents
Over the last few iterations of their mainstream Core processors, Intel has offered many different chipsets with varying features. However, within each generation one stands at the top of the product stack, usually with naming using the "Z#90" convention. Today we are taking a look at the last three such chipsets: Z490, Z590, and the latest Z690 to see what has changed over the years.
But what is a chipset, you might ask? For those who are new to this term, it refers to the hardware on a motherboard that facilitates communication between the processor (CPU), memory (RAM), video card (GPU), expansion cards, storage (SSDs / HDDs), other onboard controllers (audio/networking), and peripherals (USB and Thunderbolt devices, for example). Different chipsets are built to support different generations of CPUs and provide varying amounts of PCI-Express lanes, SATA ports, USB ports, etc.
Most users won't need to concern themselves with the details of what these chipsets offer, since what really matters, in the end, is the functionality that the motherboard as a whole provides, but for those who enjoy digging into details we've put together this comparison.
Here is a chart showing the specifications of these three chipsets, with major improvements on Z690 in bold:
|Intel CPU Compatibility||12th Gen Core||10th & 11th Gen Core||10th & 11th Gen Core|
|PCI Express Version (CPU)||4.0 & 5.0||3.0 (10th Gen) or 4.0 (11th Gen)||3.0 (10th Gen) or 4.0 (11th Gen)|
|Max # PCI Express Lanes (CPU)||20||16 (10th Gen) or 20 (11th Gen)||16|
|PCI Express Version (chipset)||3.0 & 4.0||3.0||3.0|
|Max # PCI Express Lanes (chipset)||28 (12 x 4.0 & 16 x 3.0)||24||24|
|Memory Generation||DDR4 & DDR5||DDR4||DDR4|
|Max Memory Slots||4||4||4|
|Max Memory Capacity||128GB||128GB||128GB|
|Max # of SATA 6.0 Gb/s||8||6||6|
|Max USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 Ports (20Gbps)||4||3||0|
|Max USB 3.2 Gen 2×1 Ports (10Gbps)||10||10||6|
|Max USB 3.2 Gen 1×1 Ports (5Gbps)||10||10||10|
|Max USB 2.0 Ports||14||14||14|
|Integrated Wi-Fi||Wi-Fi 6E||Wi-Fi 6||Wi-Fi 6|
For those who are more visual, we also found diagrams from Intel showing an overview of each chipset:
What do all of these chipsets have in common?
Before getting into what makes these chipsets different, let's briefly cover the similarities they share. All three chipsets are built for Intel's mainstream Core processors and are the top-end option in their respective generations. They all offer the same memory capacity, 128GB at maximum, and all of them support overclocking with compatible processors (though we generally advise against that here at Puget).
What are the differences between Intel’s Z690, Z590, and Z490 chipsets?
Intel's Z490 and Z590 chipsets are quite similar, and even share CPU compatibility with both supporting the Core 10th and 11th Gen processors. The main differences are that the later Z590 has better support for the PCI-Express 4.0 lanes from 11th Gen Core models, along with the addition of support for USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 ports.
The new Z690 chipset, on the other hand, has several advantages over the older models:
- The chipset itself has PCI Express 4.0 built-in, while the 12th Gen CPUs it supports feature PCI Express 5.0
- The Direct Media Interface (DMI) 4.0 link between the Z690 chipset and the processor is twice as fast as the 3.0 version used in Z590 and Z490
- Z690, along with the 12th Gen Core processors, is the first consumer platform to support DDR5 memory – though DDR4 is also supported, and will be common in early motherboards since DDR5 is not yet widely available
In addition to those bigger features, the Z690 chipset also supports more PCI Express lanes, SATA ports, and USB 3.2 2×2 ports than Z590 or Z490. The integrated wireless capabilities in Z690 are also improved, with Wi-Fi 6E being utilized instead of Wi-Fi 6.
Intel has steadily upgraded the chipsets that go along with their CPUs over the years, but Z690 represents a bigger than normal jump in features and technology. Combined with the impressive performance of Intel's 12th Gen Core processors, this is a solid platform for a wide range of applications!
Please also remember that this is simply a comparison of these chipsets, and a motherboard is made up of more than just the chipset. Additional controllers will likely be present to provide things audio, networking, and potentially even more USB ports. Other factors like the VRM design and quality will impact overclocking capability. The board size and slot layout will impact whether dual video cards are feasible. Manufacturing quality affects long-term reliability. And more! So when pondering the chipset for a new PC, keep in mind that in the end, you will be picking a motherboard – not just a chipset – and that there are more things to consider when making that selection.