The Asus Prime Z690-A hails from the budget side of the pricey Z690 platform, offering up space shuttle looks alongside adequate power delivery and cooling. On their Z690 SKUs, Asus tweaked the appearance of the previous generation Z590 Prime boards, updated connectivity and improved power delivery. The result with the Prime Z690-A specifically is a well-equipped and fairly priced ATX motherboard for your Alder Lake processor.
Performance on the Prime Z690-A was average to slightly above across most tests. Our benchmarking results for gaming were also average, as was memory testing with AIDA. Power use was also lower than most Z690 boards we’ve tested, though it’s not like you’ll notice it on your electric bill. In short, performance was not an issue on the Prime during our testing. Along those lines, with a few BIOS tweaks, overclocking went perfectly with this inexpensive board running our flagship Core i9-12900K processor well outside of specifications. Read on as we delve deep into the board’s features, our opinion from testing and use, and see how it stacks up to the best motherboards. But first, here’s a complete list of the Asus Prime Z690-A specifications from Asus’ website.
The motherboard’s white/silver/black color scheme is a nice alternative to the usual blacked-out boards. Anyone who’s built a system with a black motherboard inside a black case can tell you the dark interior seems to gobble up loose screws faster than a Dyson vacuum. The Asus’ black PCB, white silk screening, and matte blasted aluminum heatsinks contrast nicely against one another (though they make photography metering a nightmare). For a little extra flash, a single RGB strip runs down the top VRM heatsink, just over the rear I/O cover.
Altogether, the Prime Z690-A has a nicely balanced look—nothing that screams “Look at me!” or nothing that’s trying to hide. Like a well-cut suit, it’s a board that can look at home in almost any build.
The large heatsink around the CPU isn’t just for show, as it hides a sizeable 16+1 VRM while two eight-pin power inputs peek out the top. The setup can stably feed even the most power-hungry processors, which is good news for overclockers. Like its ROG Maximus Z690 Hero sibling, the Prime has mounting holes for both LGA1700 and LGA1200 coolers for extra compatibility, though if using an LGA1200 mount, you should check that your cooler has the right standoff height for proper mounting pressure before installing. To go along with its 12th Gen CPU socket, the Prime uses DDR5 memory. Officially it supports modules up to 6,000MHz, though it had no problem with the 6,200MHz XMP memory I used for this review.
To deal with the heat and power draw, Asus has equipped the Prime with eight four-pin fan headers, all of which support both voltage and PWM speed control. The two just above the VRM heatsink are labeled for CPU cooler use and share the same speed control, but the rest can be configured independently. All headers can supply at least 1 amp of current (12 watts of power), good news for anyone using splitter cables to run multiple fans from a single header. For the liquid cooling crowd, one header is designated specifically for water pumps and can provide a whopping 3 amps of current (36 watts of power).
Expansion and Rear I/O
Not content to let the CPU capabilities do all the talking, the Prime Z690-A boasts good storage options with four M.2 slots, all capable of running at PCI Express 4.0 x4 bandwidth. The primary M.2 slot, just below the CPU socket, is under an aluminum heatsink cover and has thermal pads on top and bottom. This slot connects to the CPU’s lanes and supports 42mm, 60mm, 80mm, and 110mm drives.
The second M.2 slot is further down, just left of the chipset heatsink, and has no cover or thermal sinks. The third and fourth are under the heatsink strip across the bottom of the board and equipped with top thermal pads. The three latter M.2 slots are controlled by the Z690 chipset and can accommodate 80mm and shorter drives. (Slot three can fit a 110mm stick.) The fourth slot can operate in either PCI Express or SATA mode; all others are PCIe only. Rounding out the storage interfaces are four forward-facing 6Gbps SATA ports on the lower front edge. All eight drive connectors can operate simultaneously, since none of them shares connectivity lanes.
The Prime Z690-A offers five expansion-card slots. The top slot, reinforced to help support heavy GPUs, connects directly to the CPU at PCIe 5.0 x16 rates. The other four are controlled by the chipset at PCIe 3.0 speeds; there’s one four-lane slot, two single-lane slots, and a second 16-lane slot. The bottom 16-lane slot is wired for x8 connectivity only, and the manual states it can only run at x4 bandwidth.
Moving around to the rear reveals an I/O panel with an integrated shield. Eight USB 3.2 ports—two Type-C and six Type-A—offer plenty of peripheral connectivity. The top four blue ports are USB 3.2 Gen 1 connections with 5Gbps bandwidth. The lighter cyan USB-A ports and one USB-C port are 10Gbps USB 3.2 Gen 2, while the last Type-C port is a doubled-up 2×2 Gen 2 port with up to 20Gbps bandwidth. The bandwidth capabilities are clearly labeled on the back cover, so you don’t have to memorize a manual diagram to make sure you’re using the right port for a given peripheral or external drive.
Two video outputs, one DisplayPort 1.4 and one HDMI 2.1, handle the CPU’s integrated graphics. The typical audio connector array of five 3.5mm jacks and a single S/PDIF socket are powered by a Realtek S1220A chip. The Realtek uses isolated traces on dedicated PCB layers to reduce noise and interference. Asus claims playback has a 120dB signal-to-noise ratio, while the line-in jack can record audio at 113dB SNR. Networking duties are handled by an Intel I225-V controller with single 2.5Gbps jack. Despite the wireless network controller built into the Z690 chipset, the Prime has no Wi-Fi support.
Internal Connectors and Layout
Across the top edge of the board from left to right are the aforementioned eight-pin CPU power inputs and the two shared fan headers. Near the corner is a CPU overvoltage jumper, letting you bypass CPU voltage limits in the UEFI for overclocking purposes. Next to that jumper are two RGB headers, one WS2812B-compatible addressable header and one Asus Aura connector. You’ll find two more fan headers below the CPU socket, tucked in the corner between the VRM heatsink and primary M.2 slot.
Below the upper right corner’s mounting hole are four LEDs representing the CPU, memory, video, and boot portions of the startup process. If an error occurs when powering on, the corresponding LED will stay lit, helping you find where the problem is. Continuing down the forward edge of the board are the 24-pin ATX power connector and headers for both USB 3.2 Gen 2 and Gen 1. The lower half of the motherboard’s forward edge contains the four SATA ports, a power button, and two fan headers (one of which is the 36-watt header).
As usual, you’ll find the bulk of the internal connectors along the bottom edge of the board. Starting at left, there’s the front audio header, a fan header, two more addressable Gen 2 RGB headers, and a Thunderbolt connector. Note that to use the last you’ll need a separate Thunderbolt breakout card—there isn’t one included with the Prime.
Next to the Thunderbolt header are a lone serial port, two USB 2.0 connectors, a clear CMOS button, a thermal sensor header, another fan header, and finally the front panel control connectors. Users of Trusted Platform Modules will find the TPM header just to the left of the CMOS battery. As with most motherboards, putting a double-slot card in the bottom PCIe slot can make it difficult if not impossible to actually use TPMs.
The Build Experience
The Prime Z690-A offers a few extra creature comforts that make installing it easier than many other motherboards, particularly when it comes to preventing the loss of important mounting hardware. The M.2 heat shrouds use screws with undercut threads, making them somewhat captive, though fully retaining screws with C-clips would be even better. The Prime’s M.2 slots also use the same quick-release Q-Latch clips found on the Z690 Hero, instead of those tiny, annoying screws that always seem to get lost. Cheers to Asus for that! Included in the box are two SATA cables and a few rubber riser pads for single-sided M.2 drives.
Though the VRM heatsink is quite large, the two eight-pin connectors have plenty of clearance for power cables. The two CPU fan headers are not so fortunate, as they straddle and are quite close to a stack of fins protruding from the VRM heatsink. It’s not really difficult to connect a fan cable to them, but it can be tricky in some cases. The heatsink creates a large basin around the CPU socket, leaving ample room for beefy air coolers like the Noctua D15 used for this review. Note that most air coolers will likely cover the two fan headers just below the CPU socket. If you plan to use one of them for a rear exhaust fan, be sure to connect it before mounting the CPU cooler.
On the minus side, the only fan headers on the leading edge of the board are near the bottom corner. That’s a long reach for top-mount and some front-mount case fans without an extension cable or a separate fan controller. You can use the two top headers for chassis fans, but remember they share the same speed controller. I’d prefer having a fan header or two up near the 24-pin power connector, perhaps moving the two headers from the bottom of the board.
The onboard power and clear CMOS buttons are helpful for users building on an open test bench. The power button is just below the SATA ports, so double-slot graphics cards won’t cover it up (though 2.5-slot and triple-slot cards will). Unfortunately for testbed tinkerers, the Prime doesn’t have an advanced error readout display, just the color-coded status LEDs in the upper right corner.
Asus UEFI interfaces have stayed much the same for several generations now, so anyone who has worked with one in the past decade will be immediately familiar with the layout. Entering the UEFI defaults to the EZ Mode page, which gives you all the basic info you need such as BIOS version, CPU clock frequency,temperatures, and fan status.
Within EZ Mode, you can also configure fan profile curves, boot drive order, and memory XMP profiles and toggle the automated AI Overclocking feature. Across the top of the screen are links for Aura RGB settings, a memory stability test, and a search feature to find a specific setting. Unfortunately, what you won’t find anywhere is a setting to enable full HD resolution in the UEFI. (It’s still restricted to 1,024 by 768.)
Switching over to Advanced Mode unlocks the, well, advanced features. Most notable are the overclocking settings found under the AI Tweaker tab, which has more layers than Shrek’s favorite onion.
The Advanced tab also contains settings for the onboard devices such as storage controllers, audio, and networking. Under the Monitor tab, you’ll find more detailed data about CPU and motherboard temperatures, voltage and current draw, and controls for all the fan headers. You can also run an automatic Q-Fan Tuning utility, which finds the minimum and maximum speed ranges of all connected fans and sets custom control curves for each. Each fan curve is limited to only three points, however.
To make it easier to sort through the near-endless options and settings, Asus provides a My Favorites section. Here you can pin and organize individual settings from various tabs into your own custom list.
The Tools tab offers miscellaneous features such as selecting the default UEFI mode (EZ or Advanced) and eight memory slots for you to store and recall preferred system settings. These profiles can be exported to a USB flash drive for backup and recovery. A nifty feature called Flexkey allows you to remap the front-panel reset button to boot directly to the UEFI—no more incessantly tapping F2 as your computer boots. You can also download Asus’ Armoury Crate utility directly from the UEFI, making it easier to get current drivers for the motherboard and its integrated devices when installing a fresh OS.
The Armoury Crate suite is the big focus of the in-Windows utilities. Asus’ newest version of the suite largely replaces the company’s old AI3 software on 6-series motherboards. It acts as a driver and software update hub and provides access to many settings found in the UEFI.
For people who want to tweak their systems but aren’t comfortable poking around in the BIOS, it’s a nice option. The controls aren’t nearly as detailed as those in the UEFI, but you can still set different overclock profiles.
The fan controls in Armoury Crate are nearly identical to the UEFI’s, including the Q-Fan auto tuning. Customizing RGB lighting schemes and patterns is no problem, either.