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Gigabyte Z390 Gaming X Review: Budget Board Bliss?

Editor's Choice

Benchmark Results and Final Thoughts

Since we started this review before our new test suite was finalized, today’s review brings back all the classic charts of previous Z390 reviews. We’re also testing the motherboard’s stock performance and power levels in the classic way, with the memory at SPD defaults and the CPU’s power-saving features enabled.

Synthetic Benchmarks

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ASRock’s sample had the greatest deviation from average performance in 3DMark Firestrike and PCMark, but that’s because it was first to throttle our Core i9-9900K when heavily loaded. Both Gigabyte boards come up a little short in Sandra’s Memory Bandwidth test, when compared to ASRock and MSI samples.

3D Games

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The Z390 Gaming X came up a couple FPS below average in F1 2015, but that’s hardly an issue when average FPS is this high. Its overall average gaming performance is 0.7% above that of all previously-tested boards, compared to the Gaming SLI’s 1.1% above average. While that average was pulled down by some boards that aren’t in today’s charts, the ASRock and MSI boards’ averages trail the Gaming X by 0.6 and 0.3 percent, respectively.

Timed Applications

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The Z390 Gaming X was slowest to complete our lengthy 7.Zip compression test by a mere second, and quickest to complete PC Mark’s “Photoshop Heavy” workload by a tenth of a second. That tenth is slightly more significant in a test this short.

Power, Heat And Efficiency

Even though it has a slightly reduced feature set compared to the Z390 Gaming SLI, the Z390 Gaming X consumed slightly more power under load. This might have been due to other factors since the Gaming X used less energy at idle compared to its sibling. The two Gigabyte boards finish with the same average power score, undercutting MSI and ASRock.

Both the MAG Z390 Tomahawk and Z390 Extreme4 required an extra fan over the voltage regulator simply to run Prime95 small-FFTs at stock CPU settings, and that change in test method invalidated any voltage regulator thermal readings. The Z390 Gaming X’s highest thermal reading came from its monitoring software, and we had to lower our ambient temperature to 16° just to make it run long enough to get its highest reading. We tried even lower temperatures for the MSI and ASRock boards, but still needed to add a fan.

Performance and power percentages are based on all eighteen tested Z390 motherboards, including some heavily-loaded high-end models and a few Mini ITX boards. The Z390 Extreme4’s excessive power consumption hits it even harder than its below-average performance in our efficiency score, and the Gaming X takes second place to the Gaming SLI.

Overclocking

The Z390 Gaming X pushed our Core i9-9900K to the same 4.90 GHz a the Z390 Gaming SLI, and even reached the same DRAM overclocks. The MAG Z390 Tomahawk required a voltage reduction simply to run our CPU at its stock 4.70 GHz all-core-boost ratio, as stock settings caused it to throttle back after a few minutes. The Z390 Extreme4 couldn’t even run our CPU at its specified 4.70 GHz, no matter what settings we tried.

Four ranks outperform two on Intel’s platforms, so that four single-rank DIMMs also outperform too. ASRock’s tiny lead in DRAM overclocking helps it hit the highest bandwidth with four ranks installed, despite the frequency advantage available after dropping to two modules. The Z390 Gaming X takes second place, followed by the Z390 Gaming SLI.

Final Thoughts

Even though it appears similar to the Z390 Gaming SLI, the Z390 Gaming X also appears to have far lower manufacturing cost. It’s not just that Gigabyte subbed a pair of USB 2.0 ports where the more-expensive board had USB3, and it’s not just that the firm left out the group of PCIe switches that made x8/x8 mode possible on the pricier version either. The Z390 Gaming X ran hotter, so hot that we wouldn’t recommend anyone run Prime95 small FFTs on a bone-stock Core i9-9900K using nothing more than the fans of a front-mounted radiator to cool its voltage regulator. Not that an average user would, but testing in that manner proved that the Z390 Gaming X really needs a fan to be very close to its CPU socket just to keep the voltage regulator from throttling back the CPU under heavy loads.

Given that our testing is an extreme example for a sub-$150 board, most buyers in the budget-overclocking segment will be thrilled by its low price. It did, after all, push our Core i9-9900K to the same 4.90 GHz as some of the best boards we’ve tested -- but that was only after we added a fan over the voltage regulator.

Yet even at its lower price, the Z390 Gaming X isn’t the bargain that the Z390 Gaming SLI once was -- back when Gigabyte was distributing that board in USA. But, the Z390 Gaming X is cheaper, not all buyers want x8/x8 capability, and most budget-minded overclockers would probably be willing to sacrifice a couple USB 3.1 ports to save money.

And so the Z390 Gaming X becomes our latest pick as the best cheap Z390 board, not because it’s as good as our previous choice, but simply because it’s still available, and it’s even cheaper than our previous choice.

Image Credits: Tom's Hardware

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Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.