Small form-factor gaming systems are quite popular these days, and motherboard manufacturers are trying to blur the line between capabilities of Mini-ITX and ATX motherboards. With its upcoming ROG Strix Z690-I Gaming Wi-Fi platform, Asus has opted for a sandwich-like design.
Installing advanced controllers for Wi-Fi or audio on a Mini-ITX motherboard is relatively easy. Installing additional slots for add-in cards or modules is not. In a bid to install two M.2-2280 slots for high-performance SSDs and ensure their proper cooling to avoid throttling under high loads, Asus has opted for a multi-layer sandwich-like construction located near the backside of a graphics card, pictures published by VideoCardz reveal.
While the setup does't look elegant, it ensures proper cooling for high-performance M.2-2280 SSDs that need a radiator and allows to replace SSDs easily. Some Mini-ITX motherboards feature M.2 slots on the backside, which makes it hard to replace a drive if it fails. Furthermore, it is not always possible to cool it down properly. Asustek's 'sandwich' solves the problem. Meanwhile, the construction of the 'new' multi-layer PCB assembly on the ROG Strix Z690-I Gaming Wi-Fi seems to be a bit taller, so perhaps Asus intends to offer something more with the new one, or just ensure better cooling.
Two M.2-2280 SSDs with proper cooling bring Asus' Mini-ITX motherboards closer to desktops in terms of performance and expandability. Yet, based on the photos published by VideoCardz, the company reduced the number of SATA ports on its Z690 Mini-ITX mainboard from four to two, which reduces maximum bulk storage capacity of the platform from 54 TB in RAID 5 mode or 72 TB in JBOD mode on the previous generation to 36 TB in RAID 0 mode on the new generation (when using 18TB HDDs). Furthermore, it is no longer possible to use four SATA drives in RAID 5 mode for performance and reliability.
Asustek's ROG-branded Mini-ITX motherboards have been among the most feature rich SFF platforms on the market for years, so it is not surprising that the company is preparing a high-end ROG Strix-branded mainboard for Intel's 12th Generation Core 'Alder Lake' processors in LGA1700 packaging. The motherboard will feature a sophisticated voltage regulating module (VRM) to feed the CPU, two slots for DDR5 memory, a PCIe 5.0 x16 slot for graphics cards, a Wi-Fi 6E module, a sophisticated audio subsystem (for motherboards) and everything else that you come to expect from a high-end 2021 platform.
Asus is expected to start sales of its Intel Z690-based motherboards for Intel's Alder Lake processors in early November, when the new CPUs are set to hit the market.