What’s the foundation of a good gaming PC? Is it the CPU? The graphics card? RAM, maybe?
All those things are very important, but at the base of it all is the motherboard – the literal foundation upon which the rest of a PC is built.
I’ve recently embarked on an overhaul of my gaming PC, with support from Asus, Intel and Nvidia, which involves replacing the motherboard, CPU and GPU with current-generation gear, and since the motherboard is the base of any gaming rig, it makes sense to start the reviews from there.
The Asus TUF Gaming Z790-Plus Wifi D4 motherboard is part of Asus’ TUF brand, which is (in this case) described as being “Engineered with military-grade components, an upgraded power solution and a comprehensive cooling system” – and it’s certainly well-made.
The TUF Z790-Plus is designed for the LGA1700 CPU socket – in other words, Intel 12th and 13th Gen CPUs – and has four DDR4 RAM slots along with four (yes, four) M.2 slots and two 6Gb SATA connection slots for plugging in SSDs or hard drives.
There are five PCIe slots on the motherboard, but depending on which GPU you install, you probably won’t have access to all of them.
The main PCIe slot where your GPU will go is a PCIe 5.0 x16 SafeSlot, while the secondary PCIe slot (where I’ve installed a WD Black AN1500 NVME SSD) is a PCIe 4.0 x16 which maxes out at 4 lanes. The other three slots are a PCIe 4.0 x4 and two PCIe 3.0 x1 slots.
From an external connection perspective, the Z790-Plus has an HDMI and Display Port connector, along with two USB-C ports and six USB-A ports, as well as an Ethernet port and five 3.5mm audio sockets (includine one for a mic), and an optical audio connection too. This is all complemented by the on-motherboard connector options for front-mounted USB ports, as well as an on-motherboard header for an optional Thunderbolt connection to a Thunderbolt card mounted in the bottom PCIe 4.0 slot.
The Wi-Fi element supports both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz, while Bluetooth 5.2 rounds out the wireless connection element.
In English, there’s plenty of places to connect and/or plug your accessories and peripherals in, whether it’s mice and keyboards or webcams or printers or something else entirely.
The overall feel of the motherboard is sturdy, which is particularly reassuring when installing it into the case – there was no fear I might inadvertently bend or break something, and it fit well into my ATX case, with all the mounting holes and the like lining up properly.
Mounting the CPU (an Intel i9-13900KS; a review is in the works) was as straightforward as CPU installation gets – it’s a pretty standard process across modern motherboards, but that doesn’t make it any less nerve-wracking when you’re wanting to make sure all the connectors line up and you haven’t inadvertently bent one of the pins or anything.
SSD and hard drive installation was also uncomplicated; I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the very useful “quicklock” system Asus use on some of the M.2 slots whereby instead of needing a tiny, fiddly screw to ensure your SSD stays in place, there’s a rotating collar of sorts that you just move anti-clockwise and it clicks the M.2 SSD into place and keeps it there.
The mounting brackets for the All-In-One watercooling system fit as they were supposed to and the power connectors on the board for the pump and fans were well placed and labelled.
For a GPU, Nvidia kindly provided a GeForce RTX4080 (which is on the review list, so stay tuned!) and they are quite a substantial card. I was concerned that it might not fit in the case, or that there’d be no room left on the motherboard after installing it, but it fit without any issues besides taking up the equivalent of two PCIe slots, thus taking one of the smaller PCIe slots out of play.
The biggest challenge I had was connecting all the power connectors up – the connectors on the motherboard can be quite small (even if they are the standard sizes) and as the build progressed I found some of the final connections being done with the aid of a pair of tweezers and a forehead-worn lamp.
Despite being a long-time PC gamer I don’t consider myself an expert system builder by any stretch of the imagination, so I really appreciated the clear and well-laid out manual included with the motherboard. Being able to have it open next to me on the bench made a it a lot easier to double check what I was plugging a particular cable into, or whether I was going to be using the right M.2 slot for an SSD.
There are colour-coded LEDs on the motherboard to highlight which phase of start-up the system is going through, and if one of them stays lit it means there’s a problem with that element and you should attend to it. It’s surprisingly useful, because as everyone who’s built a PC knows, it’s frustrating when it won’t complete POST (Power On Startup Test) and you’ve got no idea which component is causing the issue.
Asus’s BIOS comes in two flavours – the basic one (“EZ”) and a more advanced version for people who are far more comfortable messing around with those settings than I am. Configuring the board for use during the first-time boot posed no issues via the EZ BIOS, which also has options for automatic performance tuning as well to make things even simpler.
The AI fan controls have been working surprisingly well too – in my previous build, all the fans were basically running at full tilt whenever the system was on, but here they only kick into full speed when really needed and it’s been a bit disconcerting getting used to the fact my PC is a lot quieter now.
Overall, I have no significant complaints at all about the Asus TUF Z790-Plus Wifi D4 motherboard. It is affordable (Around AUD$350-$400, depending who you get it from) well made, and more than capable of handling the very latest 13th generation Intel CPUs and 40-series Nvidia RTX GPU cards too.
If you’re looking for a solid, well-made, well-priced Intel 12th or 13th-gen CPU compatible motherboard that still has plenty of features, this offers plenty of bang for your buck and should be very high on your consideration list as a result.