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Asrock Z490 Taichi Review 2021

Has this age of hard-to-get Ryzen processors got you looking to upgrade or build around a 10th Generation Intel CPU? Asrock’s $369.99 Z490 Taichi is a winning high-end motherboard that keeps with the company’s long-running gear motif. The Taichis are always interesting boards to look at, and Asrock mixes up the designs from platform to platform while keeping with the general theme. The series always delivers a rich set of features and an appearance that’s aesthetically pleasing without being overly flashy. 

This specific Taichi board is special, though. It looks and feels well made, and while small subsets of buyers might gripe about a few minor aspects, it nonetheless offers excellent value—it may not quite topple our Editors’ Choice pick for best overall Z490 motherboard on sheer audacity, the Asus Z490 ROG Maximus XII Extreme, but the Z490 Taichi costs only about half as much. If you’re looking for a motherboard for extreme gaming and overclocking, and don’t want to pay flagship-class prices, this Asrock platform is a perfect choice for upper-end 10th Generation Core CPUs.


The Design: All Geared Up Again

The Z490 Taichi is an ATX motherboard with prominent heatspreaders that cover the bulk of its surface. More of the board is exposed around the CPU socket and RAM slots, but large sections nearby are covered by a pair of large heatsinks and the cooling and component bulk around the board’s rear I/O shroud.

These bits of metal help with cooling the board’s vital power-regulation hardware, which consists of 15 power phases with DR.MOS 50-amp circuits. Keeping thermals in check is also aided by a pair of small fans attached to the topmost heatsink and a metal heatpipe that runs between the two.

Asrock Z490 Taichi VRM cooling

Although this board may not be a true flagship model (that’s reserved for Asrock’s Aqua series or feature monsters like the aforementioned Asus and the MSI MEG Z490 Godlike), its cooling hardware should enable it to give pricier Z490 platforms a run for their money when it comes to overclocking.

Asrock Z490 Taichi rear

The back of the board is also reinforced by a large heatspreader of its own. It helps to cool the underside of the board while also giving the PCB some extra structural integrity.

Asrock Z490 Taichi diagonal 2

Underneath the heatspreaders that cover the bottom half of the board sit three M.2 Key M slots for ultrafast PCI Express NVMe solid-state drives. This being an Intel Z490 motherboard, these slots top out at PCIe 3.0 x4 speeds, so they aren’t quite up to pace with the PCIe 4.0 M.2 slots on the latest high-end AMD motherboards. But they still offer fast data speeds of up to 3,500MBps.

Asrock Z490 Taichi with heatspreaders removed 1

As with most motherboards, these thermal components also play a key role in the board’s aesthetic makeup. The heatsink over the primary chipset is fitted with metal gears just like other boards in the Taichi product line. This array is accented by a silver frame, and a larger two-tone black gear emblem over the nearby M.2 heatspreaders helps to stretch the industrial motif over the whole board.


A Look at the Networking and Audio

For a high-end motherboard, the Z490 Taichi’s networking features come off as a little underwhelming. Asrock opted to equip this board with Realtek’s Dragon RTL8125BG, which is now being widely used on midrange and high-end boards alike. There’s also a secondary RJ-45 jack connected to an Intel i219V gigabit controller, but neither chip offers truly premium performance. It would have made sense for the company to squeeze a 5Gbps controller onto this board to give it a leg up on some of the lower-priced competition, but Asrock opted to go in a different direction.

The wireless networking capabilities, by contrast, are up to par with an Intel 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6) module that’s able to transfer data at a rate of up to 2.4Gbps. This silicon too is commonly seen on both midrange and deluxe motherboards, and I’ve yet to find a better wireless solution on any board at any price.

The Z490 Taichi’s audio subsystem choice is potentially a bittersweet one. The company tried to go the extra mile with the front I/O audio by utilizing a high-end ESS Sabre9218 DAC that reportedly has a 130dB signal-to-noise (SNR) ratio. This solution also features a built-in amplifier, and to help reduce noise, Asrock gold-plated the front I/O header and installed Wima caps on the traces between the header and the codec.

Asrock Z490 Taichi audio

This is arguably the best front I/O configuration I’ve seen, but it comes at a cost. The audio jacks on the rear of the board connect to a Realtek ALC1220 audio codec that has a slightly lower SNR of 120dB. This in and of itself isn’t a problem—it was necessary as the ESS codec only supports two audio channels whereas the Realtek ALC1220 supports full 7.1 surround sound—but it means that the rear audio system has a less premium design, with electrolytic capacitors instead of Wima caps and a smaller number of capacitors too.

Ultimately, the impact and importance of this setup will vary greatly from buyer to buyer. I know there are many people who rely on HDMI audio or USB-connected headsets, and these users won’t notice the difference one way or the other, as the motherboard’s audio codecs are bypassed. If you have a premium set of headphones, then you’ll likely be pleased with this board. 

As for me personally, I have a 5.1-channel surround sound system connected to my desktop, so I am more concerned about the rear audio hardware. That’s not to say that this board wouldn’t work for me—it certainly would—but when comparing two boards with similar price points it might be enough to tilt me toward the competition.


A Look at the Rear I/O

The rear I/O shroud is fitted with a few gear images, as well, though these are colored in gold. Also on this shroud are two sections of RGB LEDs that illuminate a logo and the board’s name, helpful for plugging in cables in the dark or in the recesses of a desk niche. There are a few more RGB LEDs located beside the chipset and down the right side of the board, but overall, the volume of lighting feels well-balanced rather than overpowering.

Asrock Z490 Taichi rear I/O

Asrock designed the rear I/O panel itself with a rather unusual configuration that further hurts the audio from the Realtek ALC1220 codec. I’ve been taking apart and building computers for 20 years, and with few exceptions, the rear I/O panel has its audio jacks at the bottom or far right, with everything else above or to the left of them. On the Z490 Taichi, Asrock opted to place the audio jacks in the middle of the panel.

The reason OEMs usually place the audio jacks at the bottom of the rear I/O panel is to keep the audio PCB traces away from the PCB traces of other components and high-power circuits like the VRMs. These devices can generate feedback or noise on the audio lines, which can be heard when listening to music or watching videos.

Asrock Z490 Taichi rear I/O closeup

Recently, motherboard makers have taken this a step further by separating the audio hardware on its own segment of PCB to further reduce the chance of noise getting in the lines. Asrock’s audio configuration here is best viewed as taking a few steps back from this approach, as it makes segmenting the audio hardware around the audio jacks impossible. Further, the layout causes the audio traces and the traces going to the USB and Ethernet jacks to criss-cross over each other, which I fear may lead to feedback and noise.

Now, while this seems unquestionably an inferior design, how much real-world impact it will have is debatable. I tested the board’s rear audio ports with my 2.1 channel speaker system and didn’t notice any more noise than I usually do, but my speakers are at best midrange ones. If you use a high-end speaker system you may hear more noise, but again the degree of the problem will be difficult to determine.

The rest of the rear I/O area is trouble-free. There are a total of eight USB ports, with one being an ultrafast USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 (20Gbps) Type-C port, a rare find on current boards. The other seven are all Type-A, divided between USB 3.2 Gen 1 (5Gbps) and USB 3.2 Gen 2 (10Gbps) flavors. Set beside these are two RJ-45 Ethernet jacks, a legacy PS/2 connector, a set of antenna connections for the built-in Wi-Fi, and a button to flash the BIOS.

At the bottom of the board, Asrock situates an “88”-style debug LED, next to manual power and reset buttons on the PCB. This is helpful for troubleshooting the board and identifying potential problems.


The Building Experience

The Z490 Taichi fit into our test ATX case without issue. Heatsinks and port placement can cause difficulties when getting cables plugged in, which is why we detail the process in every motherboard review, but this Taichi proved not problematic at all.

Asrock Z490 Taichi vertical

Space at upper left around the CPU power connectors is a little tight, but getting these plugged in was still quite easy (and a one-time-only chore for most PC upgraders or builders). The two CPU fan headers at the far top left of the PCB are also a little close together, but they are remote enough, to the right of the topmost heatsink, that plugging in fans is also painless. The RAM slots, which will take four modules up to 32GB each for an 128GB effective maximum total, supports stock speeds up to 2,933MHz with Core i9 or i7 CPUs installed, or 2,666MHz with lower-end 10th Generation CPUs. The board supports memory overclocking (and XMP profiles) at speeds up to 4,666MHz.

Asrock Z490 Taichi with heatspreaders removed 2

Down the right side of the board, Asrock placed two USB 3.0 headers as well as a USB 3.1 Type-C header. The Type-C header and one of the USB 3.0 headers stick straight up from the board, but the second USB 3.0 header is placed at a right angle, which gives you easy access to at least one of these bulky connectors depending on how your case is designed.

Further down the board are eight SATA 3.0 internal data-cable connectors, all set at a right angle. With the rise of M.2 storage devices, it’s doubtful you really need this many SATA outlets in 2021, but I’m not going to complain about having extra. You never know when they will come in handy, and sometimes, using an upper versus a lower connector is better for cable routing.

Asrock Z490 Taichi with heatspreaders removed 3

Getting to the M.2 slots takes a little more effort, but no more or less than on any other board of this grade I’ve tried. Each M.2 heatspreader is held on by two screws, and the bottom of the three heatspreaders is the easiest to access as it’s the least likely to be blocked by other devices (especially a graphics card).

Asrock Z490 Taichi with heatspreaders removed 4

If you’re building a new system with an M.2 SSD, however, I’d recommend placing it in either the middle or topmost slot. That way, you’ll have the bottom slot free for adding another SSD down the road without taking too much of the PC apart for access.


A Look at the BIOS and Software

When initially booting into the Z490 Taichi’s BIOS, you will be greeted by the board’s EZ Mode, which is one of the best I’ve seen on any motherboard…

Asrock Z490 Taichi EZ Mode BIOS

From here, you can see a few basic specs for the system and enable a memory profile for the RAM. You can also adjust the boot priority and flash the BIOS. Realistically, this is everything I want to see in an EZ Mode BIOS. You get a few other controls here, such as the option to turn the RGB LEDs on and off, as well as an automatic CPU overclocking tool.

Asrock Z490 Taichi BIOS RGB controls

The Advanced Mode BIOS starts off on the Main tab, which is rather basic and realistically not necessary, as there aren’t actually any controls there. All of the information shown on the Main page is also displayed in the EZ Mode BIOS, which renders the Main tab mostly redundant.

Asrock Z490 Taichi advanced BIOS OC Tweaker

The OC Tweaker section of the BIOS makes up for the stripped-down Main section by being packed with features to help you get the most out of your hardware if overclocking is your thing. These options are well organized into three folders (CPU, DRAM, and voltage). Inside, you’ll find all the usual options for voltage offset, BCLK, and CPU multiplier, as well as a bushel of options too numerous to list here.

Beyond the BIOS, Asrock ships this board with its usual set of software utilities. These range from useful programs such as the company’s A-Tuning software (it shows system specs and overclocking options) to less necessary items like a free Norton Security trial. There’s also an app store that falls somewhere in between, as it can be used to check for driver updates but isn’t particularly useful otherwise.


Verdict: Geared for 10th Generation War

During our time testing the Z490 Taichi, we didn’t encounter any operational or stability problems. Everything worked without issue, and with the exception of the questionably placed audio-subsystem components, we don’t have any major marks to strike against this motherboard, unless you have a high-grade Ethernet connection that could use a 5Gbps or 10Gbps direct conduit.

Asrock Z490 Taichi diagonal 3

As these issues will only affect a relatively small number of users, this board earns an Editors’ Choice award as a more realistically priced alternative to the deluxe Asus, MSI, and Gigabyte flagships. At this writing, it’s sold out online at many of the major sellers, but is worth holding out for. If you can get your hands on a $369.99 motherboard this good, it’s hard to justify spending $600-plus for the Z490 upper crust.

Pros

  • Low price for near-flagship features

  • Usual attractive Taichi-family aesthetics

  • Stable operation

  • Easy-to-navigate, feature-rich BIOS

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The Bottom Line

Asrock’s stable, solidly built Z490 Taichi is an excellent Intel ATX motherboard that delivers a lusty, premium feature set for hundreds less than the established flagships.

Asrock Z490 Taichi Specs

Form Factor ATX
CPU Socket Intel LGA 1200
Chipset Intel Z490
Maximum Supported Memory 128 GB
No. of DIMM Slots 4
Memory Type DDR4
Maximum Memory Speed 4666 MHz
SATA Connectors 8
M.2 Slots 3
PCI Express x16 Slots 3
PCI Express x4 Slots 0
PCI Express x1 Slots 2
PCI Slots 0
Onboard Video Out for IGP (Rear Panel) DisplayPort, HDMI
USB 3.0 or 3.1 Ports Onboard (Rear Panel) 8
USB 3.0 or 3.1 Ports Supported Via Header 3
USB 2.0 Ports Onboard (Rear Panel) 0
USB 2.0 Ports Supported Via Header 4
USB Type-C Header Yes
Thunderbolt 3 Ports (Rear Panel) 0
Ethernet Jacks 2
Onboard Wireless 802.11ax
aRGB Headers 2
S/PDIF Port Yes
Onboard Audio Chipset Realtek ALC1220 + ESS Sabre9218
No. of Audio Channels 7.1

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