Intel’s 10th Gen CPUs are here and with them the new Z490 chipset and LGA1200 socket which means a new set of motherboards. ASRock sent us the Z490 Steel Legend to check out and we found it to be a well-balanced mid-range board that’s worth a look.
The target market for the ASRock Z490 Steel Legend is enthusiast builders seeking reliability and longevity. Given the price point of ~$370AUD, this is most likely to appeal to enthusiast gamers who will pair it with a mid-rage CPU like 10th Generation i5. This type of buyer is likely to be looking for gaming-grade audio, overclocking capability, an edgy aesthetic and decent LAN as a bare minimum. The Steel Legend has all of this with an extra focus on longevity and the expansion options of both WiFi via an M.2 Key slot and PCIe Gen4 (CPU dependent) in the future.
Key Technical Features
- Front USB 3.2 Gen1 Type-C header and rear USB 3.2 Gen2 Type-A and Type-C ports for high-speed (10Gbps)external storage or other devices.
- Onboard (External) base clock generator for PCI Express Gen4 that will support future processors which may provide a cheaper or at least less involved upgrade path for 11th Generation CPUs. PCIe Gen4 support will be possible on the Hyper M.2 and the PCIe x16 slot for storage and graphics depending on the CPU capabilities.
- ASRock Super Alloy and Steel Slot durability for greater longevity – more on this later.
- ASRock Full Coverage M.2 Heatsink for two of the three M.2 slots. Heat is a big risk for M.2 storage and as someone who has inadvertently cooked an M.2 SSD a few years ago by placing it under a graphics card, I’m happy to see this. There are two Ultra M.2 slots under the heat sinks. These slots will support either SATA or PCIe Gen3x4 SSDs.
- ASRock Live Update & APP Shop make it easier to install the available utilities and updates without needing to use the CD. I’ve used this function regularly on all previous ASRock motherboards and found it to be handy. For some reason, not all applications are on the installation CD and it’s easier to use the ASRock APP Shop to make sure you have the latest versions anyway.
Overall the appearance of the Z490 Steel Legend is great, the urban black/white/grey urban camouflage
The aesthetic has clearly been a focus and the LED branding is very effective – it was nice to see the ‘Steel Legend’ wording lower on the chipset heat sink so that it can still be seen with a graphics card installed. The logo on the I/O shield and top right edge of the board are also visually appealing.
Aside from the right hand side mounting screws that I’ll cover in the layout section the Z490 Steel Legend is rigid and feels stable, all heat sinks are well attached without any movement.
The PCIe slot has a solid metal surround with extra mounting points than traditional PCIe slots and a stronger latch. AS graphics cards get heavier, it makes sense to reinforce the PCIe slots and we are seeing this as a standard offering across enthusiast level cards.
The ASRock Super Alloy package also features here which includes:
- XXL Aluminum Alloy Heatsink
- Premium 60A Power Choke
- 50A Dr.MOS
- Nichicon 12K Black Caps (100% Japan made high quality conductive polymer capacitors) rated for 12,000 hours lifespan
- I/O Armor for ESD, thermal and physical protection
- High Density Glass Fabric PCB
- 2oz Copper PCB
The attention to longevity and durability is important and if I look at the track record of recent ASRock motherboards we’ve seen going back 4 years, we haven’t had a single reliability issue in any of our review samples that have (in most cases) been used in ongoing roles.
ASRock RGB LED Software
Cosmetic RGB and Addressable RGB lighting is controlled via ASRock Polychrome SYNC which is easy to use and recognised our HyperX Predator RGB memory modules without any issues. The Addressable header was connected to the ASUS THOR 1200W PSU and easily ran the RGB effects on the PSU.
The Dragon LAN software was also very easy to use and there are presets to assist with prioritisation. I tested predominantly with the Gaming preset. The software was more mature than I was expecting so this was a pleasant surprise.
The APP Shop is a basic but effective way to download the latest version of ASRock utilities for your motherboard. You can also use it to keep everything up to date.
Restart to UEFI
The ASRock RESTART to UEFI software is a simple application that you can use to restart the system straight into BIOS either immediately or after the next reboot. This is handy if you don’t want to hit the ‘DEL’ key at the right time. It’s nothing ground-breaking and it’s been around for a while but this function is handy and I wanted to give it a mention because I used it more than once in testing.
In the interests of keeping this review more reader-friendly and save your scroll-wheel from screens of tables, the specs can be seen in the images below. The product page can be found here.
Overall – pretty good and easy to use when building. There are 8-pin and a 4-pin CPU power connections on the top edge of the motherboard towards the left corner which are easy to access and not obstructed by the heat sink. The rear chassis fan header sits just above the PCIe x16 slot, directly under where that fan is likely to sit in 99% of builds.
The Steel Legend branding on the upper right side of the board takes up about a 20x150mm strip of real-estate that can’t be used for anything else.
It looks good but has probably meant that some components and headers needed to be condensed in other areas. Other fan headers are consolidated into two areas – the CPU and Optional CPU headers are along the top edge near where we would expect to need them and the case/chassis fans are located along the bottom edge of the motherboard which will also keep things neat as they can all be routed together behind the motherboard tray.
Some interesting design choices…
I only had two areas of minor concern with the layout. The WiFi M.2 sits directly under the graphics card and may be at risk of heat-related issues. In all fairness, I haven’t come across cases where M.2 WiFi modules have been ‘cooked’ so this might not be an issue and it will also depend on the GPU cooler.
The attractive aesthetic comes at the cost of all three right-hand side stand-off screws. This means that you need to be more careful than typical when mounting the board or connecting the 24-pin power plug or right edge USB-3 header as there is nothing along the edge holding the motherboard down.
The important elements are well placed.
M.2 placements are all out of harm’s way with two of the M.2 slots covered with thermal protection.
The CPU area is clear enough that our Thermaltake RIING water block/pump could be fitted without any issues at all.
The audio is very clear and uses the ALC1200 Chipset and ASRock has used gold plated audio jacks on the rear panel for a better connection. I listened to this through a typical gaming headset (HyperX Cloud), ‘typical’ desktop speakers (Logitech Z533) and also a set of higher-end monitors (Edifier S2000Pro). I can’t fault the sound on this motherboard at all. Games, music and movies all sounded the way they should and I’d be happy with this as my daily driver for entertainment.
ASRock has used the Realtek RTL8125BG chipset for networking. You can find more information about it here: https://www.realtek.com/en/products/communications-network-ics/item/rtl8125bg-s-cg. The LAN connectivity supports up to 2.5Gb/s Ethernet and has power spike protection for durability.
I managed to max out the 1Gb network capacity of my source devices when transferring from SSD to SSD across the network. In terms of online gaming whilst downloading, the Dragon Software did its job and appeared to be prioritising the traffic adequately. The method wasn’t overly scientific in that I kept an eye on the latency in-game and had the Dragon LAN software window open on a second monitor. I also disabled any QoS on the router during these tests.
As good as it was, I always recommend that people disable all other downloads/uploads when playing competitive online games – especially in Australia where our Internet can be umm… ‘variable’.
The M.2 Key slot is ready for an Intel WiFi device and the rear I/O shield has two mounting points for antennae. This is good if your needs change but if you currently need WiFi then I’d be looking at the next tier up and buy something that already has WiFi included to avoid the job of retrofitting it.
Test Platform and Supporting Components
The test bench configuration for this review was:
- Intel i5-10600K
- ASRock Z490 Steel Legend (BIOS 1.1)
- ASUS ROG THOR 1200W Platinum PSU
- HyperX Predator RGB DDR4-2933 (2x8GB)
- ASUS ROG STRIX 1080 Ti OC
- Noctua NT-H1 thermal compound
- Thermaltake Core P3 Curved Chassis
- Thermaltake Floe 360mm AIO water cooler
- Samsung EVO 970- M.2 SSD
- ADATA SX900 256GB 2.5” SATA SSD
- Western Digital 6TB Red HDD
- BenQ EL2870U 4K monitor
- GeCHIC on-lap 1305 portable monitor
- ASUS TUF K5 Keyboard
- Razer Deathadder Chroma RGB Mouse
- ASRock Steel Legend Desk pad
- Logitech Z533 speakers
- Windows Professional build 1909
Given the price point of the Z490 Steel Legend, I chose the i5-10600K as the test CPU. I’d consider the 10600K to be the best ‘Gaming’ CPU of Intel’s 10th Gen and I wanted to see how well it overclocked.
ASRock have an application called A-Tuning (check) but I used BIOS and Intel’s Extreme Tuning Utility (XTU) to get a rock-solid all-core overclock of 4.9GHz. I knew our i5 106600K had a little headroom and the 4.9GHz all-core overclock delivers that little bit extra value from the CPU. I expected the ASRock Z490 Steel Legend to find the extra performance with a manual overclock and would have been disappointed had it fallen short. The results in the Performance Tuning graphs are from the 4.9GHZ all-core OC but I should note that I had a ‘game-stable’ 5GHz OC as well but it wasn’t universally stable for rendering and transcoding.
This result was a solid pass for the Z490 Steel Legend.
I’ve listed the performance of the Intel stock, ASRock Turbo and a manual overclock below. The difference between Intel stock with all limits enforced and The Turbo mode (BIOS 1.1) was very similar but the overclock showed what you can expect with a small investment of time to read an Intel 10th Gen overclocking guide, install XTU, and then tweak the power levels/multipliers.
Our i5 106600K has a little headroom and the 4.9GHz all-core overclock delivers that little bit extra value from the CPU. I expected the ASRock Z490 Steel Legend to find the extra performance with a manual overclock and it did.
Thermals and Fan Control
Thermals and fan control were also well in check. There are different fan presets and you can manually create your own but I was more than satisfied with the default ‘auto’. The settings can be adjusted in BIOS or via the A-Tuning utility. Whilst it was good to have the option to tune further, the noise/thermal balance with ‘auto’ was spot on in my experience so ASRock got the default fan curve right for my test scenario. It’s also worth noting that there is a water pump PWM header that is rated at 2A if you plan to go with custom water cooling.
The ASRock BIOS isn’t the most visually appealing on the market but I didn’t have any issues with it. There are several tools and it feels like both the feature set and user interface are improving with every new motherboard that ASRock release.
At the end of the day, the target market for the Z490 Steel Legend shouldn’t be held back by the BIOS and will be able to explore/tinker quite a bit if they get the itch to tweak things a little.
A street price of $370AUD is comparable to the Gigabyte Z490 Gaming X Motherboard in price and features so the price is reasonable and market rate.
I liked the ASRock Z490 Steel Legend and couldn’t fault the experience after 3 weeks of daily use. It’s a good looking board and on a personal note, I prefer it to their Phantom Gaming aesthetic. This board has everything a gamer needs with 2.5Gb Ethernet, ALC1200 gaming audio including optical output, two Ultra NVMe M.2 slots for fast SSD storage and the ability to achieve a decent overclock on the CPU.
Having passed muster as a gaming board, it also has a separate PCIe Gen4 clock generator for future Intel LGA1200 CPUs that may include PCIe Gen4 capability. Whilst it is possible to add WiFi to the Z490 Steel Legend, I’d suggest looking at a higher tier offering with it already fitted if you need it now. The Phantom Gaming or Taichi range have WiFi already included and are likely to be better options.
The aesthetic is appealing and colour agnostic. The pattern means that it will complement any RGB colour you want to use because the lighting tends to show well on the white flecks. The different profile of the right edge comes at the expense of mounting points but I didn’t feel that this materially weakened the board – you should always be careful when unplugging stiff cables from headers anyway.
There are many options in this price range for Z490. The ASRock Steel Legend option has PCIe Gen 4 and M.2 WiFi capabilities to add value later and the gaming-grade essentials for enjoying your 10th generation Intel CPU now. This motherboard is certainly worth considering in your next build.
|ASRock Z490 Steel Legend|
|Solid ALC1200 Audio
Colour Agnostic Design
Dual M.2 SSD heat sinks
M.2 WIFI slot and PCIE Gen4 for potential upgrades
Integrated Rear I/O Shield
|– Location of the optional WIFI module is under the GPU|