In our first close look at Z590 motherboards for Intel's upcoming Rocket Lake-S processors, we start with the mid-level ASRock Z590 Steel Legend. The Steel Legend SKUs have been around for a couple of generations now and are typically a lower-priced product stack option. But just because the price is lower doesn’t mean the board includes few features. The new Z590 Steel Legend WiFi 6E brings the latest in Intel Wi-Fi, solid power delivery, 2.5 GbE, and more, all for around $210. It looks to be a well-rounded board for the price, though we'd like to see more USB ports, and the audio codec isn't the best.
ASRock’s Z590 lineup is similar to the previous-gen Z490. At the time we wrote this, the ASRock website has 12 Z590 motherboards listed. At the top is Z590 Taichi, followed by the PG Velocita and three Phantom Gaming boards, including a Micro-ATX option. Additionally, there are two professional boards in the Z590 Pro4 and Z590M Pro4, two Steel Legend boards, two Extreme boards (also more on the budget end), and a Mini-ITX board round out the product stack. Between price, size, looks, and features, ASRock should have a board that works for everyone looking to dive into Rocket Lake-S.
We can’t talk performance metrics for Rocket Lake yet (not that we have a CPU yet anyway), but be sure to stay tuned for a full review once Intel’s latest CPUs officially blast off. All we’ve seen at this point are rumors and official claims of a significant increase to IPC, but the core count was lowered from 10 cores/20 threads on the Core i9-10900K to 8 cores/16 threads in the yet-to-be-released i9-11900K. Here we’ll stick with board specifications and features, with a full review that includes benchmarking, overclocking and power consumption after launch.
The budget-friendly Steel Legend comes in two flavors, the base Steel Legend and the Steel Legend WiFi 6E that includes the latest Wi-Fi. The 6E version includes WiFi that uses the new 6 GHz band (as well as the existing 2.4 and 5 GHz bands) for faster performance on an uncluttered wavelength. Note you’ll need a 6E-capable router to utilize the additional bandwidth. The board also comes with 2.5 GbE, a 14-phase VRM, a USB 3.2 Gen2x2 Type-C port, reinforced slots, an ASRock graphics card holder (for propping up bulky GPUs) and more.
Specifications - ASRock Z590 Steel Legend Wi-Fi
|Voltage Regulator||14 Phase (12+2, 50A MOSFETs)|
|Video Ports||(1) HDMI 2.0|
|(1) DisplayPort 1.4|
|USB Ports||(2) USB 3.2 Gen 2, Type-A and Type-C (10 Gbps)|
|(2) USB 3.2 Gen 1, Type-A (5 Gbps)|
|(2) USB 2.0|
|Network Jacks||(1) 2.5 GbE|
|Audio Jacks||(5) Analog + SPDIF|
|PCIe x16||(2) v4.0 x16, (x16/x0 or x16/PCIe 3.0 x4)|
|PCIe x1||(2) v.4.0 (x1)|
|DIMM slots||(4) DDR4 4800+(OC), 128GB Capacity|
|M.2 slots||(1) PCIe 4.0 x4 / PCIe (up to 80mm)|
|(1) PCIe 3.0 x4 / PCIe + SATA (up to 80mm)|
|(1) PCIe 3.0 x4 / PCIe + SATA (up to 80mm)|
|SATA Ports||(6) SATA3 6 Gbps (RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10)|
|USB Headers||(1) USB v3.2 Gen 2x2 (Type-C)|
|(2) USB v3.2 Gen 1|
|(2) USB v2.0|
|Fan/Pump Headers||(7) 4-Pin|
|RGB Headers||(2) aRGB (3-pin)|
|(2) RGB (4-pin)|
|Other Interfaces||FP-Audio, TPM|
|Diagnostics Panel||Yes (4-LED Q-LED display)|
|Ethernet Controller(s)||(1) Realtek Drason RTL8125BG (2.5 GbE)|
|Wi-Fi / Bluetooth||Intel WiFi-6E AX210 (802.11ax, 2x2, MU-MIMO, OFDMA, BT 5.2)|
|USB Controllers||ASMedia 1074|
|HD Audio Codec||Realtek ALC897|
|DDL/DTS Connect||✗ / ✗+|
Opening up the retail packaging, we find the typical array of SATA cables, support DVD, screws and more. ASRock also includes an adjustable graphics card holder that connects to the motherboard and chassis. This is a sight for sore eyes as some of the latest generation video cards are bigger and heavier than previous versions and could use a little support. Below is a complete list of all extras inside the box.
- Quick Installation Guide
- Support CD
- (2) SATA cables
- (4) Screws for M.2 sockets
- (2) Standoffs for M.2 sockets
- Graphics card holder
When removing the ASRock Z590 Steel Legend WiFi 6E for the box, we’re greeted by a black PCB with grey and white patterns stenciled on its entirety. The heatsinks and shrouds are all grey/silver, providing a stark contrast against the dark board. I’m personally not a fan of all the patterns, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That said, the Steel Legend will fit into most build themes without issue.
No board is complete these days without RGB lighting and the Steel Legend continues this trend. You’ll find an “S” lit up on the IO shroud, while the chipset heatsink lights up the words “Steel Legend.” From below, the right-hand edge (along with “Steel Legend” again on that same edge) is lit up by several RGB LEDs, which gives it a nice glow from underneath. The integrated RGB lighting was saturated and bright, with control handled through ASRock's Polychrome RGB software.
Focusing on the top half of the board, you get a better look at the large silver heatsinks, along with a shroud that covers the rear I/O bits. In the upper-left corner are two 8-pin EPS connectors (one required) that send power to the CPU. The socket area is relatively busy, with many caps dotting the space around the socket. To the right are four DRAM slots capable of supporting up to 128GB of DDR4 RAM at speeds listed up to DDR4 4800+(OC).
The first of seven 4-pin fan/pump headers is located just above the DRAM slots. You can find the rest scattered around the bottom half of the board. As far as power goes, The CPU fan connector supports up to 1A/12W, while the CPU/Water Pump and Chassis/Water Pump support a maximum of 2A/24W. All headers except for the CPU header auto-detect if a 3-pin or 4-pin spinner is connected.
We find the first two (of four) RGB headers in the same area. On top in grey is the 3-pin ARGB, and the 4-pin in white below it is for RGB. The 4-pin headers support 12V/3A, 36W strips, while the ARGB is 5V/3A and 15W. Both values are standard. Also located in this area is an RGB feature where the LEDs below shine through the 6-layer PCB, showing off the Steel Legend branding. Continuing down the right edge is the 24-pin ATX feeding power to the motherboard, a front panel USB 3.2 Gen2x2 (20 Gbps) Type-C header, and finally a front panel USB 3.2 Gen1 front panel header.
ASRock lists the Steel Legend as a 14-phase Dr.MOS VRM, which breaks down to a 12+2 configuration for the Vcore and SOC. A Richtek RT3609BE 6-channel controller handles the CPU while a Renesas RAA229001 controls the SOC. The six-channel controller feeds 12 MOSFETs for CPU Vcore in a teamed/parallel configuration. In other words, ASRock does not use phase doublers on this board. While we do not have a Rocket Lake CPU to test, this configuration should be plenty for stock and overclocked operations of both 10th and 11th generation CPUs intended for this platform.
Moving down to the bottom half of the motherboard, we’ll start on the left side with the audio. Here we see a fully exposed Realtek ALC897 codec and four Nichicon audio caps. The ALC897 codec is from the budget side of things, though most should still find it sufficient.
In the middle of the board are five PCIe slots and three M.2 sockets. On the PCIe front, we welcome native support for PCIe 4.0 when using a Rocket Lake processor. The primary PCIe slot and an M.2 socket receive the extra bandwidth. The Z590 Steel Legend includes two full-length slots, with the top one reinforced to prevent shearing and reduce EMI (ASRock calls this Steel Slot). The top full-length slot is PCIe 4.0 x16, sourcing its lanes from the CPU, while the other is PCIe 3.0 x4 and from the chipset. This configuration supports AMD CrossfireX, but not Nvidia SLI (which requires an x8 slot). The three small x1 slots support PCIe 3.0 x1 and are fed from the chipset.
Around and between the PCIe slots are three M.2 sockets, the top and bottom with heatsinks. There is technically a fourth M.2 socket, but it’s Key-E and already populated with the Intel Wi-Fi 6E adapter. The 6E portion brings users up to 14 additional 80 MHz channels or seven 160 MHz channels in the 6 GHz space and increased bandwidth. In essence, you can maintain faster high-speed connections, and more of them, without having to scan for the least-congested channels.
On the storage side, the top socket, M2_1, is dubbed Hyper M.2 and runs at PCIe 4.0 x4 (64 Gbps) speeds. It supports PCIe-based modules only, up to 80mm in length. The second slot down, M2_2, is PCIe 3.0 x4 (32 Gbps) and supports both PCIe and SATA modules up to 80mm. This slot shares lanes with SATA port 1. When using a SATA-based module, SATA 1 is disabled. The bottom socket, M2_3, is also PCIe 3.0 x4 and supports both PCIe and SATA drives, but this one holds up to 110mm modules. With M2_3. SATA port 5 will be disabled when using a SATA drive in this socket.
To the right of the PCIe area, we see the large chipset heatsink, and to the right of that are four of the six SATA ports. This board supports RAID0, 1, 5 and 10. Below is the POST status checker. The four LEDs, labeled CPU, Boot, RAM, and VGA, correspond to POST activities. If something goes wrong at any of those points, the LED where the POST stopped stays lit, showing you where the problem is.
Across the board’s bottom are several headers and even a few SATA ports. You won’t find any buttons here. Below is the full list, from left to right:
- Front panel audio
- ARGB header
- RGB header
- USB 3.2 Gen1 header
- Clear CMOS jumper
- (2) USB 2.0 headers
- (2) Chassis/Water Pump fan header
- System panel header
- (2) SATA ports
- Chassis/Water Pump fan header
- TPM header
The Z590 Steel Legend’s rear ports use a preinstalled and adjustable IO plate that matches the board’s white/grey pattern. There are a total of six USB ports out back: two USB 3.2 Gen2 ports (one Type-A and Type-C), two USB 3.2 Gen1 ports and two USB 2.0 ports, all of which support ESD protection. I would like to see more than six USB ports here as they can all get used up quickly. Video outputs consist of an HDMI (v2.0) port and a DisplayPort (v1.4). The Realtek Dragon 2.5 GbE port sits above the USB 3.2 Gen1 ports, just to the right is the 5-plug plus SPDIF audio stack. Outside of that is a legacy PS/2 port for a keyboard/mouse, and the Wi-Fi antenna.
This being our first Z590 based motherboard, we didn’t run into any notable changes from generation to generation overall appearance. The Steel Series BIOS theme is different from the Taichi or PG series, using a black/blue/white theme instead of the black/red. Per usual, we capture a majority of the BIOS screens to share with you. ASRock includes an Easy Mode for high-level monitoring and adjustments, along with an Advanced section. The BIOS is organized well, with many of the more commonly used functions accessible without drilling down multiple levels to find them. In the end, the BIOS worked well and was easy to navigate and read.
On the software side, ASRock includes a few utilities that cover overclocking and monitoring (A-Tuning), audio (Nahimic 3), software for updating drivers and downloading applications (App Shop), and of course, RGB control (Polychrome RGB). We did not run into any issues in our limited use of the applications.
Future Tests and Final Thoughts
With the release of Z590, we’re in a bit of a pickle in that we have boards in our hands, but not the Rocket Lake CPU designed for it. We know most of these boards should perform similarly from our previous Z490 motherboard reviews. And while there are exceptions, they are mostly at the bottom of the product stack in Micro ATX form. To that end, we’re posting detailed previews until we get data using the Rocket Lake processor.
Once we receive a Rocket Lake CPU our review goes live, we’ll fill in the data points, including the benchmarking/performance results, as well as overclocking/power and VRM temperatures.
We’ll also be updating our test system hardware to include a PCIe 4.0 video card and storage. This way, we can utilize the platform to its fullest using the fastest protocols it supports. We will also update to the latest Windows 10 64-bit OS (20H2) with all threat mitigations applied, as well as updating the video card driver and use the newest release when we start this testing. We use the latest non-beta motherboard BIOS available to the public unless otherwise noted.
While we do not have performance results from the yet-to-be-released Rocket Lake CPU, we’re confident the VRMs should handle the i9-11900K processor without issue. We quickly tested the i9-10900K and found the board capable with that CPU. For now, we’ll focus on features, price, and appearance until we gather performance data from the new CPU.
Outside of capable power delivery, ASRock’s Z590 Steel Legend includes the latest Wi-Fi 6E capabilities using an Intel Wi-Fi 6E AX210 card. Just note that to utilize the 6E portion, you will need a 6E-capable router such as the Asus ROG Rapture GT-AXE11000 or the Netgear Nighthawk RAXE500. The motherboard includes 2.5 GbE on the wired side, a theme you’ll see often on the Z590 platform.
On the storage front, with the addition of more and faster PCIe lanes, we’ll see more boards with up to three M.2 sockets, and the Z590 Steel Legend is no different. There are three M.2 sockets for storage, with one PCIe 4.0 x4 (64 Gbps) slot and two PCIe 3.0 x3 (32 Gbps). Add that to the six SATA ports and your storage needs should be covered. The rear IO has six USB ports, but users could be left wanting more. I’d like to see eight back here. That said, there are additional headers to provide more, including a front-panel USB 3.2 Gen2x2 Type-C port (another feature you’ll see on most Z590-based boards).
On the style/appearance front, the Z590 Steel Legend makes iterative improvements, hanging on to the same general patterns and color schemes. The black/white/grey with RGB accents should fit in with most build themes but still looks the part of a budget board. As a value-add, ASRock includes a GPU card holder that attaches to the motherboard and chassis to support heavy graphics cards. Typically you find something like this included with cases or high-end video cards, but it’s nice to see with a motherboard.
The biggest drawback with the Z590 Steel Legend is the mediocre audio codec. While this solution will be sufficient for most users, it isn’t a premium codec that some boards at this price range implement. I would like to have seen a Realtek ALC1200 codec or greater here, even if it costs a few dollars more.
We went to Newegg when writing the article and find the Z590 Steel Legend is the least-expensive Z590 motherboard listed. But that said, there are only seven boards in total available currently. By price, somewhere around the $200-$250 range, MSI’s Z590 Pro WiFI, Gigabyte’s Aorus Elite Gaming X, Asus’ Prime TUF Gaming Z590-Plus, and Biostar’s Racing Z590GTA are all direct competitors at the budget end of Z590 realm.
The difference between these motherboards will be price, style, and included features. For the most part, all of these boards have up to three M.2 sockets and six SATA ports, so the difference is found within the price point and appearance. ASRock’s Steel Legend is priced well for Z590, just barely breaking the $200 mark. It comes with enough basics and features that it is one of the better options for getting into the Z590 platform without spending a lot. Stay tuned for benchmarking, overclocking and power results using the new Rocket Lake CPU.
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