If you’re anything like me, you spend way more time building wishlists and fantasy rigs than you might like to admit. I think I have a dozen at any time that I update, replace, and tweak as the newest hardware comes out. With Intel’s new 10th gen chips and their Z490 motherboards coming out, my wishlist building has gone into overdrive. Unfortunately, when I look around at my apartment I realize that all the spaces I’d want my monster EATX battle station are taken up by things like people, furniture, and a stove. Not great. Luckily, there’s an amazing array of feature-rich, powerful mini ITX Z490 boards hitting the streets that are perfect to build a small form-factor gaming monster capable of running whatever I throw at it without replacing my coffee table.
The Z490I Unify from MSI starts us off strong with a great mix of speedy networking, with Wifi 6 and 2.5 gb lan onboard, and cooling solutions spread across the board to give you stability and great thermal performance. The I/O and VRM are actively cooled, and the M.2 slots have a substantial heatsink to improve your memory’s performance. Rounding it all off, there’s a larger linked set of heat pipes for the processor, helping you push the limits of the latest chipset without sacrificing longevity or stability.
The Phantom Gaming is one of ASRock’s most beloved returning champs and the ITX/TB3 version looks like it will uphold that tradition. Built and optimized for overclocking with water cooling in mind, ASRock has packed in a bunch of clever features to help you boost clock speeds while staying cool. A 2 oz copper PCB core adds more thermal mass to dissipate any heat generated, while the coating specifically holds up better to humidity. With features like Wifi 6, 2.5 gb lan, onboard Thunderbolt 3, and gold audio jacks, this is shaping up to be a Cadillac board.
Gigabyte has really been knocking it out of the park with their full-size Z490 boards, and it seems like they’re doing the same with their compact offerings as well. With a 90 amp power stage, you can count on enough juice reaching your processor under extreme loads, with plenty to spare. Improved thermal backplates and heat pipes for the CPU ensure that your rig will run cooler even when you’re leaning hard on it. One of my favorite features, as someone who has adopted the USB-C everything lifestyle, is that the board has the capability for USB-C Gen 2 ports on both the front and back of your case.
The STRIX name is well known for killer gaming hardware, and this new board is no exception. It’s built like a tank with an eye on stable power and cooling, with an 8+2 power stage, superior power delivery with alloy capacitors, and active cooling for the VRM. All of this means that the STRIX Gaming will handle even Intel’s toughest 10th gen processor. Toss in RGB, support for 64 GB of 4800 MHz DDR4 RAM, Wifi 6, and dual M.2 slots, and you have an excellent board for almost any use.
The small form factor is what initially drew me to these incredible new motherboards, but I’ll admit that I was worried before checking them out. Those worries sure do feel unfounded, and I can’t wait to pick up one for a livingroom VR PC build that won’t annoy any roommate or significant other that might not want a gaming monolith taking up valuable floor space. Stay tuned for more potential coverage as they are released.