Note: This review was first published on 23 December 2021.
Everything you want and more
Now that Intel's 12th Gen Core Alder Lake desktop chips are out of the gate, it's time to look at a new crop of motherboards that will house Intel's latest and greatest. The Gigabyte Z690 Aorus Xtreme is the first to reach our testing lab, boasting nearly every feature you can think of. Intel's 12th Gen chips are kind of a big deal, and it makes sense that motherboard makers are pulling out all the stops to appeal to the enthusiast crowd.
At long last, processors from the blue camp are finally interesting again– on top of putting behind them the geriatric14nm process–wresting back the gaming crown from AMD's Ryzen5000 series chips. After the lacklustre 11th Gen chips, redemption is at hand with a series of chips that gives expression to the full potential of the new Intel 7 process.
The Gigabyte Z690 Aorus Xtrememakes the most of what Z690 has to offer, including PCIe Gen 4.0, support for DDR5 memory and Dynamic Memory Boost Technology, Intel Volume Management Device, and more. This is a board made for those who want intend to house top-end 12th Gen chips like the Core i9-12900K, and everything about it oozes premium.
For starters, you get a stark gunmetal grey look where most of the PCB is shielded and visually stunning RGB LEDs. Gigabyte calls all this protection its thermal reactive armour, and there's a hefty backplate at the rear too that helps reinforce the entire board. There's even a large M.2heatsink for the main NVMe slot to keep your SSD running cool.
Unsurprisingly, Gigabyte has placed considerable emphasis on overclocking, with an upgraded power solution and compatibility with aggressive memory overclocking profiles. It uses a 20+1+2-phase digital VRM design for smoother and cleaner power delivery, and is also claiming support for DDR5 overclocks up to 6,600MHz and beyond. All the memory routing under the PCB inner layer is also shielded by a large ground layer to protect from external interference.
Elsewhere, the memory and PCIe slots have been bolstered by stainless steel for greater durability. This helps reduce bending and may come in useful for enthusiasts who find themselves constantly swapping out hardware. There are a total of three PCIe slots, but only the top two conform to the PCIe 5.0 standard.
The 24-pin and dual 8-pin headers sport a little something extra too. They use what Gigabyte refers to as solid pin connectors, which the company claims are able to sustain higher power, heat, and offer improved durability.
All the ports are located on the right side of the board, including the front panel connectors, SATA ports, and a USB 2.0 header. This makes for a total of four SATA 6 Gbps, four M.2 Socket 3 connectors, one USB 3.2 (Gen 2×2) Type-C header, two USB 3.2 (Gen 1) header, one USB 2.0 header. The good thing about the right-angled orientation of these ports is that it helps make cable management slightly easier and neater. The power and reset buttons are tucked away on the right.
There's also a nifty little button on board called MultiKey. This is a multi-function reset button that can be programed in the BIOS to do different things, including acting as an RGB on/off switch, a Direct-to-BIOS button, or to enter Safe Mode directly.
On the rear I/O panel, you'll find even more ports and buttons:
1 x Q-Flash Plus button1 x OC Ignition button1 x Clear CMOS button2 x SMA antenna connectors (2T2R)2 x Thunderbolt 4 connectors (USB Type-C®port, with USB 3.2 Gen 2 support)10 x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A ports (red)2 x RJ-45 ports1 x optical S/PDIF Out connector2 x audio jacks
In terms of fan connectors, the board hosts a total of 10 PWM/DC fan headers, in addition to two temperature sensor headers. This means there's plenty to go round when hooking up water cooling pumps and more.
Gigabyte hasn't skimped in other areas either. There's support for 10Gbps Ethernet with the Aquantia10GbE Base-T LAN, an Intel WiFi 6E 802.11ax 2T2R chip, and support for Bluetooth 5.0. This gives support for the latest connectivity standards and the fastest speeds, should you need them.
The onboard audio solution is an ESSential HEX USB DAC, which is supposedly able to deliver a wider and deeper sound stage and improved positional accuracy. There's even a dedicated USB DAC that plugs into your front USB-C port to eliminate any interference or distortions that can arise from front panel connections. This DAC can also be plugged into your laptop or Android device.
One final thing to note– the motherboard ships with a USB drive that holds all the drivers you need. It's nice to see that we've finally bid goodbye to discs that you can't use.