Asus ROG Strix Z590-I Gaming Wi-Fi Review

While the PC sector is characterized by rapid innovation, other aspects of the industry have remained untouched for decades. One of them is motherboard form factors. Mini-ITX board manufacturers have always had to work with the design’s limited real estate. Asus provides a novel solution with the $369.99 ROG Strix Z590-I Gaming Wi-Fi, which includes a secondary PCB that adds more physical capacity for components. Despite the arrival of 12th Gen “Alder Lake” chips and the new Z690 chipset, the Z590-I still holds its own against competing boards in its price range.

Asus ROG Strix Z590-I Gaming Wi-Fi Review

Asus ROG Strix Z590-I Gaming Wi-Fi

A unique Mini-ITX platform for "Rocket Lake" builders
PROS
Secondary circuit board design
Features that are well-balanced
Easy-to-use BIOS at a reasonable price

CONS
The secondary PCB might house more hardware, which makes M.2 drive installation a little more difficult.

ASUS ROG STRIX Z590-I GAMING WI-FI SPECS

Form FactorMini-ITX
CPU SocketIntel LGA 1200
ChipsetIntel Z590
Maximum Supported Memory64 GB
No. of DIMM Slots2
Memory TypeDDR4
Maximum Memory Speed5133 MHz
SATA Connectors4
M.2 Slots2
PCI Express x16 Slots1
PCI Express x4 Slots0
PCI Express x1 Slots0
PCI Slots0
Onboard Video Out for IGP (Rear Panel)HDMI
USB 3.0, 3.1, or 3.2 Ports Onboard (Rear Panel)3
USB 3.0, 3.1, or 3.2 Ports Supported Via Header3
USB 2.0 Ports Onboard (Rear Panel)4
USB 2.0 Ports Supported Via Header2
USB Type-C HeaderYes
Thunderbolt 3 or 4 Ports (Rear Panel)1
Ethernet Jacks1
Onboard Wireless802.11ax
aRGB Headers2
S/PDIF PortYes
Onboard Audio ChipsetRealtek ALC4080 + Savitech SV3H712 AMP
No. of Audio Channels3.1

ITX, but with a twist

Motherboard Due to the restricted area on the PCB, OEMs are frequently forced to make difficult decisions when designing their devices. The more compact the platform, the more acute the problem, and Mini-ITX board designers often have to make compromises to make things work. Some less significant components are deleted entirely, and the audio controller and network interface controller receive less capacitors.

To get around this, Asus came up with the ROG Strix Z590-I Gaming Wi-Fi. The business added a second PCB that plugs into the main board, providing several inches of additional area for components—in this example, two M.2 slots and probably all of the audio circuitry—after it was unable to fit everything it wanted on the Mini-ITX PCB. (I’ll explain what “maybe” means in a moment.)

The primary PCB is no less crowded as a result of the secondary board’s addition, with multiple components crammed firmly together. The typical CPU power connector and a pair of fan headers are located on the top. The 24-pin motherboard connector, a USB Type-C header, a USB 3.0 header, and four SATA 3.0 ports are all located on the right side of the board.

Asus ROG Strix Z590-I Gaming Wi-Fi Review

The positioning of headers between the PCI Express x16 slot and the heat spreader on the smaller PCB is the worst element of this design. The HD audio jack, a fan header, a USB header, and an LED header are all crammed between these two gadgets. After you install a graphics card, they become difficult to access, though this isn’t a shortcoming unique to this board—most recent Mini-ITX motherboards with M.2 slots and heat spreaders suffer from the same problem, and I can’t blame Asus for not finding a solution.

The ROG Strix Z590-I Gaming Wi-Fi has a look that you’ll either like or dislike. The board is almost entirely black, with only a few silver components and inscriptions for contrast. The secondary PCB has an aRGB-backlit ROG logo, but the main PCB does not. You won’t find much in the way of flair here, but there are plenty of other, more bling-worthy boards to select from. If you want something a little more conservative, like me, you’ll love this Strix’s minimalist look.

Because of the restricted space on the board, Asus chose an 8+2 power phase architecture for the ROG Strix Z590-I Gaming Wi-Fi. Two heatsinks cover them, and a heatpipe connects them. Although one heatsink incorporated with the rear I/O shroud is actively cooled by a small fan also included into the rear shroud, the heatpipe linking the two heatsinks should benefit from the fan.

A Quick Look at the Audio and Networking

The networking gear of the ROG Strix Z590-I Gaming Wi-Fi is adequate but unremarkable. The inbuilt Wi-Fi 6 AX201 networking controller on Intel’s Z590 chipset delivers relatively fast 802.11ax wireless network access with a peak speed of 2.4Gbps. However, because most Z590 boards have these features, none of them can outperform the competition.

The wired network controller on this board again fails to impress Asus. The board has a single 2.5Gbps Intel Ethernet NIC, which would have been sufficient a few years ago but is disappointing for a high-end motherboard since that identical controllers are available on multiple midrange boards. A few boards in this price bracket come with a 5Gbps NIC, making them more appealing from a networking perspective.

As previously stated, the majority, if not all, of the audio circuitry is located on the secondary PCB, which also houses two M.2 ports. The majority of the audio components, including the Realtek audio codec and many capacitors, are clearly visible on this PCB, although it’s probable that a few ceramic capacitors are hidden beneath the rear I/O shroud near the audio jacks. In any case, Asus clearly tried to cram as much as possible onto this PCB.

Asus ROG Strix Z590-I Gaming Wi-Fi Review

A portion of board with no traces going through it separates the audio components from the M.2 circuitry, which should help reduce electromagnetic interference from contributing static to the audio transmission. Asus has included a connector that looks like a PCIe x1 slot and allows audio lines to travel through to the main PCB near the audio jacks, preventing audio signals from being intercepted by other components en route to the speakers.

Assuming that this design did not dramatically increase the cost of the motherboard, I believe it was a sensible decision. It may not necessarily result in superior audio performance, but it does allow for more components than a regular Mini-ITX board can accommodate.

The audio system is made up of a Realtek ALC4080 audio codec and a Savitech SV3H712 amplifier. This codec is quite new, and I’ve only seen it on a few motherboards so far; it has somewhat better specs than the long-running Realtek ALC1220, which is found on most half-decent boards nowadays. Although it’s unclear how much of a difference you’ll notice while listening to music, OEMs are once again attempting to innovate in the audio department.

The Rear I/O Ports’ Connectivity

When we come to the back I/O panel, we see a few potential drawbacks to the dual-PCB design. Although the audio chipset in the ROG Strix Z590-I Gaming Wi-Fi can support a 7.1-channel audio system and optical S/PDIF, Asus’ I/O panel only contains three 3.5mm audio jacks for a 3.1-channel sound system and a microphone.

Additional audio ports are available on the rear I/O panel, however Asus chose not to install them. I’m guessing it’s because the audio chipset is on the secondary PCB, but that’s the only reasonable explanation I can come up with for why the firm left out the two more audio connectors and the optical S/PDIF port.

Asus ROG Strix Z590-I Gaming Wi-Fi Review

If not overloaded, the rest of the rear I/O panel is suitable for a Mini-ITX loadout. There’s one RJ-45 jack and two antenna connections, as well as an HDMI port and eight USB ports. Two of the latter are Type-C ports, one of which is configured for Thunderbolt 4 and the other for USB-C 3.2 Gen 2×2. There are also four USB 2.0 ports, one 10Gbps USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A port, and one 5Gbps USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A port. Although the board could use a few more USB ports, particularly those that support USB 3.x, I don’t think this is a serious flaw.

That Strange Secondary PCB…

Although having two M.2 slots on a secondary PCB saves space, it makes adding M.2 storage devices a little more challenging. The secondary PCB isn’t difficult to remove, although it does take longer than removing a heat spreader. To remove the second PCB, you must remove screws from both sides of the motherboard, as well as a ribbon wire.

After that, remounting the PCB is a greater gyration. The card is bolted to the rear I/O shroud with a fragile plastic component that is difficult to replace correctly. I spent more time battling it than I did mounting the motherboard, removing the PCB, and installing an M.2 drive all together.

A Quick Exam of the BIOS

The Republic of Gamers BIOS is used on the ROG Strix Z590-I Gaming Wi-Fi. It’s yet another board that boots right into advanced mode BIOS, which you might see as a plus if you’re a pro who usually goes to that menu, but which I think is a design flaw: It can cause problems for inexperienced users who aren’t sure what they’re doing, and it reduces the EZMode BIOS to a waste of ROM space.

That’s a shame, because the EZMode BIOS contains all of the features that the majority of users will require. You may change the memory profile, enable Intel RST, choose a boot device, and verify the fundamental system parameters, such as the CPU and RAM, from here. MemTest86 is also included and may be launched from the EZMode BIOS. MemTest86 is the greatest tool for testing RAM for faults and stability issues, for those of you who don’t know.

Asus ROG Strix Z590-I Gaming Wi-Fi Review

The advanced BIOS has a ton of more options and a lot more information on the screen. The major reason you’d want to jump in here is for overclocking, and the board, appropriately, has a plethora of options to make that simple. There’s really too much to go into in depth, but all of the essentials are present, including base clock and multiplier controls, as well as voltage controls for crucial components.

In the advanced BIOS, you’ll find a few useful programs like MemTest86. The most helpful one is a utility to clean-wipe solid-state drives for disposal or resale, which isn’t included in the EZMode BIOS.

Conclusion: A Revved-Up ‘Rocket Lake,’ With a Special Extension

Even if it wasn’t used to its full capacity, we admire the Asus ROG Strix Z590-I Gaming Wi-Fi motherboard’s novel dual-PCB approach. Apart from the audio isolation, Asus increased board real estate without adding much new or more to the works. For a long time, we’ve seen firms add M.2 slots to the undersides of motherboards, but Asus hasn’t done so here, leaving you with only two M.2 Key-M slots, albeit in a considerably more accessible area than the bottom of a board. We’d like to see more of this daughterboard technique in future Mini-ITX boards; this, in our opinion, only scratches the surface. Unfortunately, the design does not include a second LAN controller or additional power circuitry, but Mini-ITX has its restrictions.

That said, this board performed admirably in our test build and offers competitive features for the price; after all, Mini-ITX is never cheap and can be difficult to work with at times. Even as LGA 1700 and Intel’s Alder Lake loom, it’s worth a look if you’re looking for a Mini-ITX LGA 1200 platform.

Asus ROG Strix Z590-I Gaming Wi-Fi Review

Asus ROG Strix Z590-I Gaming Wi-Fi

A unique Mini-ITX platform for "Rocket Lake" builders
PROS
Secondary circuit board design
Features that are well-balanced
Easy-to-use BIOS at a reasonable price

CONS
The secondary PCB might house more hardware, which makes M.2 drive installation a little more difficult.

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