Articles

ASUS PRIME Z390-A LGA 1151 Motherboard Review

Author:Daniel Dobrowolski

Editor:Kyle Bennett

Date: Saturday , March 02, 2019

Sometimes less is more. We typically work with a lot of motherboards that fall into the more is more category and some that have a high price that can’t easily be justified by most people. The ASUS PRIME Z390-A seems to lean towards less is more. On paper the Z390-A seems to have a lot going for it and is light on fluff. How does it stack up?

Introduction

ASUS is one of the most well known and influential motherboard manufacturers on the planet today. If you claimed to be a PC enthusiast and said you hadn’t ever owned an ASUS product or heard of the company, I’d suspect you of either joking or lying about being an enthusiast. However, if you are new to the hobby, ASUS is a one of the largest motherboard manufacturers on the planet. It is a world-renowned brand that’s based in Taipei and has offices and employees around the world.

ASUS is one of the biggest innovators in the DIY PC market. Many of its innovations have been cloned throughout the industry. ASUS has often set the bar with its Republic of Gamers brand as well as its standard retail channel offerings. The PRIME series is fairly new. This offers delineation from the motherboards targeting gamers specifically with something that’s still very much for enthusiasts, but, lacks some gaming specific features or that gaming aesthetic quality that frankly isn’t for everyone.

The ASUS PRIME Z390-A] is based on Intel’s Z390 Express chipset and takes what one might call a "less is more" approach. This motherboard has a minimalist feature set. Essentially, you get very little beyond what the chipset supports natively. The motherboard supports PCI-Express 3.0, multi-GPU technologies from NVIDIA and AMD, SATA 6Gb/s, M.2 with PCIe/NVMe support, USB 3.1 Gen 2, Intel Optane technology, IRST, high definition audio and more. Naturally, there are some additional features that are specific to ASUS’ design such as their Fan Extension header, overvoltage and overcurrent protection. There are also ESD guards and built in surge protection for the network port.

Main Specifications Overview:

Detailed Specifications Overview:

Packaging

The packaging for the ASUS PRIME Z390-A is what I’d consider relatively basic, but it gets the job done. The motherboard sits in an anti-static bag as well as a cardboard protector. Nothing remarkable here as this type of packaging is more than adequate for a motherboard regardless of price point. Some motherboards provide a plethora of accessories, both necessary and what I’d consider fluff. More expensive motherboards tend to do this as the goal is to provide value adds when your customers spend a ton of money on the product. The PRIME Z390-A is quite the opposite with one of the most spartan accessory bundles I’ve ever seen. The Inside the package you will find the following accessories: User's manual, ASUS Q-Shield, 3x SATA 6Gb/s cable(s), 1x M.2 Screw Package, 1x SLI HB BRIDGE(2-WAY-M), 1x Q-Connector, 1x SCD, and 1x CPU Fan Holder.

Board Layout

ASUS’ PRIME Z390-A has an excellent layout. I can find very little fault with it outside of the CMOS battery location. This is something I dislike and mention often, but honestly it isn’t a big deal outside of very specific circumstances. ASUS provides 6 onboard temperature sensors and dedicated water pump and AIO pump headers. There are an additional five 4-pin fan headers all supporting DC and PWM control modes. A fan extension header allows for the connection of ASUS’ Fan Extension board. This component is sold separately, but, adds additional three fan connections and three thermal probe headers. These fan headers support the same level of control as those mounted on the PCB. ASUS also uses steel reinforcement for the expansion and memory slots.

Port layout is well thought out and all ports are clearly marked. Markings on the PCB indicate proper installation of certain hardware such as memory modules or M.2 devices. Markings for controls are also clearly visible and easy to understand. I like the location of the onboard power button and MemOK switch. There are three fan headers right next to each other on the PCB’s outer edge, just under the chipset and secondary M.2 slot. I’ve never seen these oriented this way, but I like these being clustered together so you don’t have to route chassis fan wires across the PCB.

The motherboard’s aesthetics are relatively simple but don’t come across as elegantly as some other motherboards in this price point. Aesthetics are naturally subjective, and unfortunately, I don’t really care for the way this motherboard looks. The real problem is with the RGB lighting. On the I/O shroud there is an upside-down Superman crest that contains RGB LEDs. There is similar lighting on the chipset cooler, which is obscured by the video card. The RGB lighting is kept to somewhat of a minimum, but where its used comes across as tacky in my opinion. The lighting reminds me of something out of the 1980’s. The repetitive diamond pattern on the PCB, heatsink and I/O shroud scream 1990’s which is a fair bit better than the grid patterns placed on everything in the 1980’s.

The CPU socket is clear of any major obstructions. You should be able to mount virtually any cooler without experiencing clearance issues with the MOSFET coolers, which are relatively low profile. Speaking of which, the MOSFET coolers are made of aluminum and are screwed into place. Contact to the components seems to be good with no gaps being visible underneath the heat sinks. ASUS provides no real information about the VRM’s but these appear to be another "Twin 8-phase" solution that uses two sets of inductors per phase. The only thing that ASUS says on its product page is that the PRIME Z390-A uses DR. MOS MOSFETs which combine the high and low sides into a more efficient package.

The location of the M.2 slot above the PCI-Express x16 slot and next to the CPU socket is an excellent place as it helps to avoid having the GPU sit right on top of the slot. This slot only supports PCIe / NVMe modes and type 2280 devices. It has no added heat sink, but frankly doesn’t need one.

There are four 288-pin DDR4 memory slots which utilize single sided locking tabs for memory retention. The slots are color coded to denote proper dual channel memory mode operation. The color coding is subtle enough to still look good while still providing enough contrast to be useful. The single sided locking tabs aren’t required for clearance reasons. ASUS simply choses to use these in place of the standard dual-locking tab arrangement most manufacturers use on most models.

The chipset is cooled by a passive heat sink. It features embedded RGB LED lighting which is embedded in a triangular pattern near the ASUS logo. The chipset is flat enough to avoid issues with installing expansion cards. In front of the chipset you’ll find 5x SATA 6Gb/s ports. These are right angled and support locking cables. To the left of the chipset you’ll find the secondary M.2 slot. This slot supports PCIe and SATA type devices. This slot appears to use the PCH for its PCIe lanes.

The expansion slot area is configured perfectly for a dual-slot multi-GPU setup. There are no slots in between the primary and secondary PCI-Express slots which would end up covered up by most graphics cards anyway. There are 3x PCIe x16 slots supporting the following lane configurations: x16/x0, x8/x8 or x8/x8/x4. The first two PCIe x16 slots have steel brackets that reinforce them preventing PCB warping during installation and help to avoid sheering damage when the system is moved. ASUS uses the wide paddle style retention tabs on its PCIe x16 slots. There are an additional 3x PCIe x1 slots. These are spaced out well enough to be useful. A single slot sits above the first PCIe x16 slot, which is perfect for smaller add-in cards such a wireless controller or additional wired network card.

The M.2 slot has four lanes allocated to it and supports PCI/NVMe and SATA type devices upwards of 110mm in length. There is a heat sink with thermal pad that covers this slot. The screws hold it securely, but the lack of beveling makes it so they don’t sit flush. I’d also prefer it if the screws were captive, but I’ve only seen that on really high-end GIGABYTE motherboards. It’s one thing I wish ASUS would copy from them.

Sadly, ASUS doesn’t use its integrated / built-in I/O shield. This isn’t terribly surprising at lower and even mid-range price points. I can’t fault ASUS on this outside of wishing the feature was included as I’m a huge fan of it. Aside from that, the I/O panel is precisely what you would expect. On the I/O panel, you will find 2x USB 2.0 ports, 4x USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports (1x Type-C, 3x Type-A), 2x USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports, 1x PS/2 mouse or keyboard port, 1x RJ-45 port, 1x DisplayPort, 1x HDMI port, 1x optical output and 5x mini-stereo jacks. These are color coded with plastic rings to denote each jack’s purpose.