After our first Z690 reviews from Asus, Gigabyte, MSI, and ASRock, Biostar gets a seat on the Alder Lake test bench. The Z690 Valkyrie is Biostar’s flagship motherboard, in a small product stack. The Valkyrie’s styling remains essentially unchanged, but it does increase M.2 socket count, upgrades the power delivery to 105A SPS MOSFETs, and includes DDR5 and PCIe 5.0 support. The other significant difference is in the price. The Z590 Valkryie was $400-450 at launch (then seemed to drop precipitously), while the MSRP on the Z690 version jumps to $599.
As this is our first Biostar Z690 review, we’ll cover the product stack before jumping into details about the new Valkyrie. For Intel’s latest chipset, Biostar has a total of three motherboards. First, the flagship Valkyrie with DDR5 ($599), the Z690A Valkyrie (DDR4, $579), and the ‘budget’ Z690GTA (DDR4, $399). There aren’t many options to choose from and the pricing is notably higher compared to previous generations. You won’t find a mATX or MiniITX board in the lineup, but there are certainly opportunities to expand for the company to expand.
Moving back to the Valkyrie, Biostar’s changes focus mainly on power delivery more than anything. It kept the same phase count and stepped up to 105A MOSFETs to support the power-hungry Alder Lake CPUs like the flagship Intel Core i9-12900K we test with. The appearance has also changed slightly, in the IO cover area and the bottom half of the board, losing some of the polarizing pink accents. Overall I think it’s an improvement, but still lagging behind other comparably priced boards.
USB count on the rear IO remains unchanged, but there are now four video outputs (two HDMI, two DisplayPort), an odd addition for a flagship board. Curiously, Biostar includes Wi-Fi antenna connections but no actual Wi-Fi adapter, which feels misleading. Either a board has integrated Wi-Fi, or it doesn’t. So including antenna mounts doesn’t offer much except for extra confusion.
Performance on the Valkyrie was average to slightly above average, depending on the test. It was on the faster side of average for games, Cinebench R23 single thread and POVRay single thread, and the x265 decoding in Handbrake. The other benchmarks were right around the average. Where the Valkyrie stood out, and not positively, was power consumption under load. Our test system pulled nearly 400W from the wall.
The high power use is caused by the higher Vcore used in the current BIOS during stock operation. In fact, the board throttled a bit in the Cinebench multi-threaded test and thermally throttled during the AIDA stress test. We’ll cover that behavior, go over features, overclocking, and see what we end up with from our time with the board. But it’s safe to say this isn’t one of the best motherboards you can buy.
Before we start, here’s a complete list of the Z690 Valkyrie specifications from the Biostar website.
Specifications - Biostar Z690 Valkyrie
|Voltage Regulator||20 Phase (19+1 105A MOSFETs for Vcore)|
|Video Ports||(2) HDMI (v1.4)|
|(2) DisplayPort (v1.4)|
|USB Ports||(1) USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 Type-C pors (40 Gbps)|
|(7) USB 3.2 Gen 2 (10 Gbps)|
|Network Jacks||(1) 2.5 GbE|
|Audio Jacks||(5) Analog + SPDIF|
|PCIe x16||(2) v5.0 (x16, x8/x8)|
|(1) v4.0 (x4)|
|DIMM slots||(4) DDR5 6000+(OC), 128GB Capacity|
|M.2 slots||(1) PCIe 4.0 x4 (64 Gbps) / PCIe (up to 80mm)|
|(2) PCIe 4.0 x4 (64 Gbps) / PCIe (up to 110mm)|
|(1) PCIe 3.0 x4 (32 Gbps) / PCIe + SATA (up to 110mm)|
|SATA Ports||(8) SATA3 6 Gbps (Supports RAID 0/1/5/10)|
|USB Headers||(1) USB v3.2 Gen 2x2, Type-C (20 Gbps)|
|(1) USB v3.2 Gen 2 (10 Gbps)|
|(2) USB v2.0 (480 Mbps)|
|Fan/Pump Headers||(5) 4-Pin (CPU, CPU water cooling, System Fans)|
|RGB Headers||(2) aRGB (3-pin)|
|(1) RGB (4-pin)|
|Diagnostics Panel||2-character debug LED|
|Internal Button/Switch||Power, Reset and Clear CMOS buttons, BIOS and LN2 switches|
|Ethernet Controller(s)||(1) Realtek RTL8125B (2.5 Gbps)|
|Wi-Fi / Bluetooth||✗|
|HD Audio Codec||Realtek ALC1220|
|DDL/DTS Connect||✗ / ✗|
Inside the box, along with the board, are a set of accessories whose aim is to get you up and running without a trip to the store. Although the Valkyrie comes with the basics, it’s a thin accessory stack, especially compared to other $600 motherboards. Below is a complete list of the included parts.
- User Manual
- DVD Driver
- (4) SATA Data Cables
- Smart Connector
At first glance, we get a better look at the subtle changes from the last generation. The upper-left corner still has a louvered look to it, with RGB lighting from underneath. The VRM heatsinks are the same as the previous-gen model, with just design differences on top. There are two tiny fans on each VRM heatsink tasked with keeping the VRMs cool. They do a good job overall, but the fans spin up and get loud under heavy loads by default. That said, all you need to do is adjust the fan speed in the BIOS to mitigate the issue.
The bottom part of the board uses the same heatsink and shrouds from the Z590 model. The only difference here are the design elements. The Z690 version has grey stenciling over the PCIe area and minimizes the polarizing pink highlight color. The second RGB element is in the chipset heatsink and lights up the Valkyrie symbol from below. The RGB implementation is minimal, but the colors are saturated and bright. Overall, the Z690 Valkyrie does look better than the previous-gen model, but it doesn’t give off that premium aesthetic other boards have around this price point.
Shifting to the top half of the board, we get a closer look at the rear IO cover, VRM heatsinks, and more. The only thing that changed in this area is the design above the left VRM heatsink. Power goes to the CPU via two 8pin EPS connectors (one required, the other optional) located to the left of the top VRM bank.
To the right of the socket, you run into the first two (of five) 4-pin fan headers. The headers support both PWM (4-pin) and DC (3-pin) devices. Annoyingly, Biostar doesn’t appear to list the output of these ports. For safety, assume each header outputs a maximum of 1A/12W until the company updates the available information.
Next are four single-side locking DRAM slots capable of supporting up to 128GB of RAM at speeds listed to DDR5 6000+(OC). This is one of the lower overclock values we’ve seen so far, but still is a lot of headroom over the platform’s maximum rated speed (DDR4 4800). As always, reaching these speeds is dependent on the CPU and memory kit. Your mileage may vary. Our DDR5 5600 kit ran without issue.
In the upper-right corner, we run into the three onboard RGB headers. There’s a single 4-pin RGB header and two 3-pin ARGB headers. If the integrated lighting isn’t enough, simply plug in your compatible RGB strips and control them through the Valkyrie Aurora utility or the Vivid DJ software.
On the right edge of the board, there are handy Power and Reset buttons (labeled P and R, respectively), the 24-pin ATX connector for powering the board, a front-panel USB 3.2 Gen 2 header and a front-panel USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 Type-C header.
The Z690 Valkyrie rides on a 20-phase VRM with 19 phases for Vcore. Power flows through the 8-pin EPS connectors to a Renesas RAA229131 20-channel controller, then to the 105A Renesas RAA22010540 Smart Power Stage (SPS) MOSFETs yielding 1,995A available for the processor. This is plenty of support for stock and overclocked operation of the Intel Core i9-12900K (including sub-ambient cooling - though this board isn’t a weapon of choice for that activity). Like the ASRock Z690 Taichi, the matching VRM’s on the Valkyrie don’t get in the way of the processor. From a VRM standpoint, there’s a lot of overclocking potential.
On the bottom half of the board, shrouds cover the majority of the PCB. Hiding the last-generation Realtek ALC1220 audio section on the left side is a plastic heatsink. Poking up through the shroud are a few audio caps, while next to them is the line that separates the audio bits from the rest of the motherboard. Although most users should find this solution acceptable, I expected to see the latest audio codec on a flagship board at this price.
In the middle of the board, we’ll start with the PCIe slots. The Valkyrie has three reinforced full-length slots to prevent shearing from heavy graphics cards. The top two slots run at PCIe 5.0 speeds, with the primary (top) slot capable of x16 speeds and the middle x8. When both are in use, the primary GPU slot runs at x8 speeds. The bottom full-length slot is connected via the chipset and runs at PCIe 4.0 x4.
On the M.2 storage front, the Valkyrie sports four total sockets, all of which have some form of heatsink to help keep things cool. The top three of the M.2 sockets run PCIe 4.0 x4 (64 Gbps) speeds, with the first slot supporting up to 80mm modules and the lower two supporting up to 110mm devices. The bottom socket runs at PCIe 3.0 x4 and supports both SATA- and NVMe-based storage modules. If you’re looking to add Wi-Fi to the board, the M.2 Key-E socket shares space with the top M.2 socket.
Continuing right, we move over the chipset heatsink and the second RGB lighting area to the right edge. Here we spy the eight SATA ports that support RAID0/1/5/10 modes. There is some lane sharing going on between the SATA ports and M.2 sockets on the Valkyrie. In short, you can run up to four M.2 NVMe modules and all eight SATA ports. If one of the M.2 modules is SATA-based, SATA port 4 is disabled. The manual has pictures of all the possible configurations, but just know that SATA port 4 gets disabled when a SATA-based M.2 device is used.
Across the bottom are several headers, including USB ports and RGB. Here’s the complete list, from left to right:
- Front panel audio
- (3) 4-pin system fan headers
- Thunderbolt header
- COM header
- (2) USB 2.0 headers
- Front panel header
- Debug LED
- LN2 and BIOS switches
- TPM header
- Speaker header
Moving around back to the all-important rear IO area, the Valkyrie comes with a pre-installed IO plate matching the Valkyrie aesthetic. It sports a black background with gold writing to identify each port. From the left side, we see two of each DisplayPorts and HDMI ports for use with onboard video. Curiously, the versions for each port are different in that there is a DP v1.2 port and v1.4, along with HDMI v1.4 and v2.0. Just be sure to use the correct port for your needs, although we have to think the vast majority of users buying a $600 motherboard are going to pair it with a dedicated graphics card.
Continuing right, we run into a legacy PS2/Mouse/Keyboard port, seven USB 3.2 Gen 2 (10 Gbps) ports and the USB 3.2 Gen2x2 (20 Gbps) Type-C port. With only seven USB Type-A ports on the rear IO, be sure there are enough for you here before buying. Just above the right USB Type-A stack is the Realtek 2.5 GbE port. Last but not least is the 5-plug plus SPDIF audio stack.
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