Flagship motherboards are always interesting to examine: You never know what mix of features you’ll see once the cuffs of, ahem, affordability have been removed. Gigabyte has chosen to go in a different path than some of its competitors with its cutting-edge Intel Z590 board, the Aorus Xtreme ($849.99), by giving a board with less flair but a rock-solid collection of features. This Extended-ATX (EATX) board lacks a dancing OLED display panel and integrated liquid-cooling gear. There are also no distracting blinking or fading lights. The Z590 Aorus Xtreme, on the other hand, may be your best and only option if you want a top-of-the-line board for serious customizing that doesn’t also glow like the sun. Just keep in mind that “Rocket Lake” 11th Generation CPUs were always going to be a dead end, and this is a lot of money to invest in a one-time board, especially one with some initial installation issues on our end.
GIGABYTE Z590 AORUS XTREME SPECS
|CPU Socket||Intel LGA 1200|
|Maximum Supported Memory||128 GB|
|No. of DIMM Slots||4|
|Maximum Memory Speed||5400 MHz|
|PCI Express x16 Slots||3|
|PCI Express x4 Slots||0|
|PCI Express x1 Slots||0|
|Onboard Video Out for IGP (Rear Panel)||HDMI|
|USB 3.0, 3.1, or 3.2 Ports Onboard (Rear Panel)||10|
|USB 3.0, 3.1, or 3.2 Ports Supported Via Header||3|
|USB 2.0 Ports Onboard (Rear Panel)||0|
|USB 2.0 Ports Supported Via Header||4|
|USB Type-C Header||Yes|
|Thunderbolt 3 or 4 Ports (Rear Panel)||2|
|Onboard Audio Chipset||Realtek ALC1220 + ESS Sabre9018Q2C|
|No. of Audio Channels||7.1|
The Look: Sedate, Understated Power
The Gigabyte Z590 Aorus Xtreme is almost entirely black, with only a few accents of silver and steel for contrast. A few RGB LEDs located over the chipset heatsink and the back I/O shroud glow when the board is powered on, although they are relatively quiet compared to many other boards I’ve evaluated. The board’s overall appearance is a breath of fresh air for someone who dislikes the overuse of RGB lights.
One of the important design elements: the PCB is barely visible. Gigabyte seemed to have tried to hide or touch nearly every part of the PCB it could. A bit of it can still be seen around the CPU socket and at the top of the board, but it’s all hidden behind heatsinks and heat spreaders. Several of the headers and switches are even wrapped in plastic, which is a good touch because it not only keeps the board appearing clean but also keeps dust out of unused pins.
An examination of the audio, networking, and I/O systems
A Realtek ALC1220 audio codec is attached to the audio jacks on the rear I/O panel. Anyone who has purchased a midrange or high-end motherboard in the previous several years should be familiar with this chip, as it has been widely employed by motherboard manufacturers. On paper, the chip offers high-end characteristics, including a 120dB SNR rating, so there’s nothing to complain about. It would simply be wonderful to see some action in this area once more.
Gigabyte fitted an ESS ES9018K2M dedicated audio chip for the front panel, which has superior specs than the ALC1220. This ESS chip, in instance, supports 32-bit 384KHz audio, whereas the Realtek ALC1220 only supports 32-bit 192KHz. The front audio system also has a TI OPA 1622 operational amplifier (OP-AMP) to aid increase signal output performance.
As the Z590 Aorus Xtreme‘s primary Ethernet adapter, Gigabyte incorporated a 10Gbit Aquantia NIC. This is one of the fastest wired Internet controllers on the market today, and it’s only found on the most expensive boards. A supplementary 2.5Gbps Ethernet chip and a Wi-Fi 6E AX210 wireless controller are also included. The Wi-Fi chip, which is included into the Z590 chipset, comes as no surprise.
With eight USB 3.2 Type-A ports, two USB Type-C Thunderbolt 4 ports, five audio connectors, S/PDIF and HDMI outputs, and two Wi-Fi antenna hookups, the Z590 Aorus Xtreme‘s back I/O panel is a busy area. That’s not even taking into account the two RJ-45 Ethernet ports. Two pushbuttons are located at the top of the panel, one to clear the BIOS and the other to flash the BIOS with a new image.
Extras onboard and onboard features
Gigabyte definitely prioritized overclocking while creating the Z590 Aorus Xtreme. The board features 20+1 power phases, each with 100-amp DrMOS circuits cooled by two heatsinks and a heatpipe. The board has two separate BIOS chips, with switches to swap between them and CMOS clear buttons.
A MultiKey is also included on the board, according to Gigabyte. This component can be set to do a variety of tasks, such as ordering the board to boot directly to the BIOS or to boot into the BIOS using safe mode settings. Using a multimeter and a series of specific measuring contact points above the RAM slots, you may check the voltage of various components on the board directly and safely.
No high-end board would be complete without a few odd extras, and the Z590 Aorus Xtreme doesn’t disappoint in this department. The board includes a PCI Express M.2 card adapter that can accommodate two M.2 drives, essentially increasing the number of M.2 slots on the board from three to five.
There’s also an audio device called the “ESSential USB DAC” by Gigabyte. This device is a replacement audio device that is advertised to perform better than either of the onboard audio chips. It has a 3.5mm audio jack on the other end and plugs into a USB Type-C connector. An ESS Sabre ES9280CPRO DAC with two WIMA caps is housed inside. The SNR of the gadget is rated as 131dB.
A Quick Exam of the BIOS
Before I dive into the BIOS, I should say that I had some trouble getting the board up and running at first. When I first tried to boot the system with the Core i9-11900K installed, the board would turn on for a few minutes before restarting and never showing anything on the screen. During this process, the onboard “88”-style LED debug panel displayed multiple codes, although this is routine procedure for any board as it boots, and it never seemed to stop on any particular fault code.
I tried every possible method to diagnose the board. I tried flashing the BIOS, booting to both BIOS chips in turn (using the switches to move between them), and reseated the CPU and RAM, among other things. Nothing else worked, so I tried flashing the BIOS again, this time using multiple flash disks, and eventually got the board to boot. To be honest, I’m still baffled as to why it started working at all. After many fruitless tries to get the board to operate, I had given up hope and was ready to write it off as a DOA sample that needed to be replaced.
Everything functioned fine after that, thus this could have been a one-time occurrence caused by an early BIOS. However, if you have similar problems, you should be aware of this. Before you initiate an RMA, you may need to be persistent in getting things underway.
The board starts up in an easy-mode BIOS that displays basic system information and operating conditions. This page contains a few controls, but it has everything it requires in my opinion. Without going anywhere else, you can set an XMP memory profile or change the boot sequence from here, and that’s really all you need to get the system up and running.
You can enter a menu to flash the BIOS with Q-Flash on the left side of the screen, and another button will load you into the board’s native fan controller software to alter how fans regulate their speed.
The Z590 Aorus Xtreme‘s advanced-mode BIOS contains a design aspect that I haven’t seen on any other motherboard I’ve used before. The removal of the meaningless “primary” tab isn’t a distinctive feature, but rather an anti-feature.
To clarify: The first page of most motherboards’ sophisticated BIOS layout has a tab labeled “main.” I’ve been baffled by this for years, as the page is completely useless, resembling a cut-down, text-based version of the easy-mode BIOS with no meaningful options. I realize I’m making a big deal out of something minor, but I’ve been waiting for this page to vanish from motherboards for a long time, and I’m glad it’s not on this one. Pay more and receive less!
The advanced-mode BIOS, which lacks a main tab, begins with the Tweaker tab, which displays overclocking possibilities. The BIOS is a little clumsy here, as you can’t click to browse down listings and it slows occasionally. It also appears that the layout may be improved. Line gaps separate elements like CPU and RAM OC choices, which are almost all white lettering on a black background. It’s a little difficult to look at.
Everything is well-organized, and the BIOS is one of the most user-friendly I’ve ever encountered in terms of finding the choices I need. However, there is still potential for development. At the very least, more should have been done to distinguish folders from menu items. The only thing that distinguishes a folder from a changeable setting is an orange square next to the folder name. This works, however it would be easier to use the BIOS if folders were highlighted with a different background color.
A few built-in tools could also be useful in the BIOS. I’ve had a couple motherboards ship with Memtest86+ put into the BIOS, and I’ve tested a lot of motherboards with built-in utilities for clearing data from SSDs for resale. These aren’t necessary items, but for $849.99, I’d expect a few more BIOS bones to be tossed in the buyer’s direction.
The Software That Helps
With the Z590 Aorus Xtreme, Gigabyte included a lot of software applications, but not all of them worked for me. Easytune, which appears to be some type of overclocking utility, was one of the programs I couldn’t get to work. System Information Viewer is another program that just refused to work. Even after repeated downloads and updating Windows to obtain the most recent upgrades available, neither application will start.
The remaining programs all opened and functioned as expected. I won’t go over each one in detail because some are standard applications and others are self-explanatory. Fast Boot from Intel requires no explanation, and App Center is exactly what it sounds like: an app shop. There’s also an OEM copy of Norton Internet Security, as well as the RGB Fusion program for controlling RGB LEDs that comply with the protocol, cFosSpeed Internet Accelerator Software for network management, and the RGB Fusion application for managing RGB LEDs that comply with the protocol.
Game Boost is one of the more prominent apps, as it helps to terminate background operations in order to free up CPU clock cycles. Consider it a Task Manager with the added capability of monitoring tasks to prevent them from restarting. The @Bios program can also be used to update the BIOS of the board. It also allows you to create a custom splash screen that will appear every time the machine starts up. Finally, the Smart Backup software can be used to back up and create recovery images for your machine.
Compare with similar items
|GIGABYTE Z590 AORUS Xtreme||ROG Maximus XIII Hero||ROG Strix Z590-E||GIGABYTE Z590 AORUS ELITE AX|
|Customer Rating||5.0 out of 5||4.6 out of 5||4.7 out of 5||4.5 out of 5|
|Chipset Type||IntelZ590||IntelZ590||Intel Z590||—|
|CPU Socket||LGA 1200||LGA 1200||LGA 1200||LGA 1200|
|Item Dimensions||14.96 x 12.36 x 5.12 inches||14.57 x 12.28 x 4.25 inches||13.5 x 10.75 x 3.03 inches||13.18 x 10.62 x 3.14 inches|
|Item Weight||4.76 lbs||6.50 lbs||1.76 lbs||4.00 lbs|
|Memory Slots Available||4||4||4||4|
|RAM Memory Technology||DDR4||DDR4||DDR4||DDR4|
Final Conclusion: A One-Way Rocket (Lake) Flight
If you overlook the price, there’s little to complain about on Gigabyte’s Z590 Aorus Xtreme…if you ignore the early troubles we encountered getting this board to boot. It’s packed with features and well-built, but at $849.99, it’s one of the most costly current-generation motherboards available. (If you just must spend more money on a Z590, the $1,599 Z590 Aorus Xtreme Waterforce, with its integrated liquid cooling gear and channels, is available.)
Our liquid-free Xtreme, on the other hand, doesn’t appear to provide a significant advantage above boards that are $100 or less. If you buy, be sure you’ll use all of the wonderful extras in the package, such as the external audio DAC and M.2 PCIe card, because they’re all included in the high price. Other Z590 alternatives will be a much better value unless money is no object or you plan to perform any extreme overclocking that would benefit from the 100-amp power phases.