Editor’s Note: A version of this article appeared in preview before we had a Rocket Lake CPU to test with Z590 motherboards. Now that we’ve done that (and Intel’s performance embargo has passed), we’ve completed the tests (presented on page 3) with a Core i9-11900K and added a score and other elements (as well as removing some now redundant sentences and paragraphs). ) to make it a full review.
In our first look at Z590 motherboards, ASRock’s Z590 Steel Legend leads the way. The Steel Legend SKUs have been around for a few generations now and are typically a cheaper option in ASRock’s product stack. But just because the price is lower doesn’t mean the features are scarce. The new Z590 Steel Legend WiFi 6E brings the latest in Intel Wi-Fi, solid power, 2.5Gb Ethernet, and more, all for around $210. If you’re looking for a fairly affordable Z590 option, the this might be one of the best motherboards for your next build.
ASRock’s Z590 series is similar to the previous generation Z490 stack. At the time of writing this article, the ASRock site has listed 12 Z590 motherboards. At the top is Z590 Taichi, followed by the PG Velocita and three Phantom Gaming boards, including a Micro-ATX option. In addition, two professional boards in the Z590 Pro4 and Z590M Pro4, two Steel Legend boards, two Extreme boards (also more on the budget side) and a Mini-ITX board complete the product stack. Between price, size, looks and features, ASRock should have a board that works for anyone looking to dive into Rocket Lake.
Now that we can talk about performance with Rocket Lake based CPUs (in this case i9-11900K, the Steel Legend held up in most of our tests. Where it lagged is in the long-running tests. By default, the Steel Legend follows Intel specifications, so you’ll see the board scaling back the clock speed as the time limits of PL1 and PL2 expire, by simply increasing the power limits it can compete with other boards that exceed Intel specs out of the box.
As for overclocking, after disabling AVX-512 (as we do with all other overclocking test boards) and increasing all power limits, the Z590 Steel Legend was able to run our i9-11900K at 5.1GHz without any problem. VRM temperatures were the highest we’ve seen to date. However, they work well within the operating parameters of the MOSFETs.
The budget-friendly Steel Legend comes in two flavors: the basic Steel Legend and the Steel Legend WiFi 6E with the latest WiFi. The 6E version includes Wi-Fi that uses the new 6 GHz band (as well as the existing 2.4 and 5 GHz bands) for faster performance at a manageable wavelength. Keep in mind that you need a 6E compatible router to use the extra bandwidth. The board also comes with 2.5 GbE, a 14-phase VRM, a USB 3.2 Gen2x2 Type-C port, boosted slots, the ASRock graphics card tray, and more. We will discuss these features in detail below.
ASRock Z590 Steel Legend WiFi 6E Specifications
|Wall outlet||LGA 1200|
|Voltage regulator||14 phases (12+2, 50A MOSFETs)|
|Video ports||(1) HDMI 2.0|
|(1) DisplayPort 1.4|
|USB ports||(2) USB 3.2 Gen 2, Type-A and Type-C (10 Gbps)|
|(2) USB 3.2 Gen 1, Type-A (5Gbps)|
|(2) USB 2.0|
|Network connections||(1) 2.5 GbE|
|Audio connections||(5) Analog + SPDIF|
|PCIe x16||(2) v4.0 x16, (x16/x0 or x16/PCIe 3.0 x4)|
|PCIe x1||(2) v.4.0 (x1)|
|DIMM slots||(4) DDR4 4800+(OC), 128GB capacity|
|M.2 slots||(1) PCIe 4.0 x4 / PCIe (up to 80mm)|
|(1) PCIe 3.0 x4 / PCIe + SATA (up to 80mm)|
|(1) PCIe 3.0 x4 / PCIe + SATA (up to 80mm)|
|SATA ports||(6) SATA3 6Gbps (RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10)|
|USB headers||(1) USB v3.2 Gen 2×2 (Type-C)|
|(2) USB v3.2 Gen 1|
|(2) USB v2.0|
|Fan/Pump Heads||(7) 4-pin|
|RGB headers||(2) aRGB (3-pin)|
|(2) RGB (4 pin)|
|Other interfaces||FP-Audio, TPM|
|Diagnostic panel||Yes (4-LED Q-LED display)|
|Ethernet controller(s)||(1) Realtek Drason RTL8125BG (2.5GbE)|
|Wi-Fi / Bluetooth||Intel WiFi-6E AX210 (802.11ax, 2×2, MU-MIMO, OFDMA, BT 5.2)|
|USB controllers||ASMedia 1074|
|HD audio codec||Realtek ALC897|
Opening the store packaging, we find the typical array of SATA cables, support for DVDs, screws and more. ASRock also includes an adjustable graphics card tray that connects to the motherboard and chassis. This is pleasing to the eye as some of the latest generation graphics cards are larger and heavier than previous versions and could use some support. Below is a full list of all the extras in the box.
- Quick Installation Guide
- Support CD:
- (2) SATA cables
- (4) Screws for M.2 bushings
- (2) Spacers for M.2 connections
- Graphics Card Holder
When we take the ASRock Z590 Steel Legend WiFi 6E out of the box, we are greeted by a black PCB with gray and white patterns all over. The heatsinks and shrouds are all gray/silver, which is a stark contrast to the dark board. Personally, I’m not a fan of all patterns, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That said, the Steel Legend fits most build themes without any problem.
No board today is complete without RGB lighting and the Steel Legend continues this trend. You’ll see an “S” illuminate on the IO shroud, while the chipset heatsink illuminates the words “Steel Legend”. From below, the right edge (along with “Steel Legend” again on that same edge) is illuminated by multiple RGB LEDs, giving it a nice glow from below. The integrated RGB lighting was saturated and bright, with control via ASRock’s Polychrome RGB software.
Focusing on the top half of the board will give you a better view of the large silver heatsinks, along with a shroud covering the rear I/O bits. In the top left corner are two 8-pin EPS connectors (one required) that send power to the CPU. The outlet area is relatively busy, with lots of caps on the space around the outlet. On the right side are four DRAM slots that can support up to 128 GB of DDR4 RAM at speeds up to DDR4 4800+(OC).
The first of seven 4-pin fan/pump headers is located just above the DRAM slots. You’ll find the rest scattered around the bottom half of the board. As for power, the CPU fan connector supports up to 1A/12W, while the CPU/water pump and chassis/water pump support up to 2A/24W. All headers except the CPU header automatically detect whether a 3-pin or 4-pin spinner is connected.
We find the first two (of the four) RGB headers in the same area. At the top in gray is the 3-pin ARGB and the 4-pin in white below is for RGB. The 4-pin headers support 12V/3A, 36W strips, while the ARGB is 5V/3A and 15W. Both values are default. Also in this area is an RGB feature where the LEDs below shine through the 6-layer PCB, showing off the Steel Legend branding. On the right, the 24-pin ATX power runs to the motherboard, a USB 3.2 Gen2x2 (20 Gbps) Type-C header on the front panel, and finally a USB 3.2 Gen1 header on the front panel.
ASRock renders the Steel Legend as a 14-phase Dr.MOS VRM, which corresponds to a 12+2 configuration for the Vcore and SOC. A Richtek RT3609BE 6-channel controller handles the CPU while a Renesas RAA229001 controls the SOC. The six-channel controller powers 12 Vishay Sic654 50A MOSFETs for CPU Vcore in a teamed/parallel configuration. In other words, ASRock does not use phase doublers on this board. This configuration is sufficient for both the 10th and 11th generation CPUs intended for this platform.
We go to the bottom half of the motherboard and start on the left with the audio. Here we see a fully visible Realtek ALC897 codec and four Nichicon audio caps. The ALC897 codec is on the budget side, although most should still find it sufficient.
In the center of the board are five PCIe slots and three M.2 sockets. On the PCIe front, we welcome native support for PCIe 4.0 when using a Rocket Lake processor. The primary PCIe slot and an M.2 socket get the extra bandwidth. The Z590 Steel Legend has two full-length slots, the tops of which are reinforced to prevent shearing and reduce EMI (ASRock calls this Steel Slot). The top full-length slot is PCIe 4.0 x16, which takes its lanes from the CPU, while the other is PCIe 3.0 x4 and from the chipset. This configuration supports AMD CrossfireX, but not Nvidia SLI (which requires an x8 slot). The three small x1 slots support PCIe 3.0 x1 and are powered from the chipset.
Around and between the PCIe slots are three M.2 sockets, on the top and bottom with heat sinks. There’s technically a fourth M.2 socket, but it’s Key-E and already stocked with the Intel Wi-Fi 6E adapter. The 6E portion brings users up to 14 additional 80MHz channels or seven 160MHz channels in the 6GHz space and increased bandwidth. Essentially, you can maintain ever-faster connections without having to search for the least congested channels.
On the storage side, the top socket, M2_1, is called Hyper M.2 and runs at PCIe 4.0 x4 (64 Gbps) speeds. It only supports PCIe-based modules, up to 80mm in length. The second slot, M2_2, is PCIe 3.0 x4 (32 Gbps) and supports both PCIe and SATA modules up to 80mm. This slot shares lanes with SATA port 1. When using a SATA-based module, SATA 1 is disabled. The bottom socket, M2_3, is also PCIe 3.0 x4 and supports both PCIe and SATA drives, but can hold up to 110mm modules. With M2_3. SATA port 5 is disabled when using a SATA drive in this socket.
To the right of the PCIe area we see the large chipset heatsink and to the right of it are four of the six SATA ports. This board supports RAID0, 1, 5 and 10. Below is the POST status checker. The four LEDs, labeled CPU, Boot, RAM, and VGA, correspond to POST activity. If something goes wrong at any of those points, the LED where the POST stopped will stay lit to indicate where the problem is.
At the bottom of the board are several headers and even a few SATA ports. You will not find any buttons here. Below is the full list, from left to right:
- Front panel audio
- ARGB header
- RGB header
- USB 3.2 Gen1 header
- Clear CMOS jumper
- (2) USB 2.0 headers
- (2) Chassis Fan Head/Water Pump
- System panel header
- (2) SATA ports
- Chassis Fan Head/Water Pump
- TPM header
The rear ports of the Z590 Steel Legend use a pre-installed and adjustable IO board that matches the white/grey pattern of the board. There are a total of six USB ports on the back: two USB 3.2 Gen2 ports (one Type-A and Type-C), two USB 3.2 Gen1 ports, and two USB 2.0 ports, all of which support ESD protection. I’d like to see more than six USB ports here as they can all run out quickly. Video outputs consist of an HDMI (v2.0) port and a DisplayPort (v1.4). The Realtek Dragon 2.5 GbE port is above the USB 3.2 Gen1 ports, just to the right is the 5 plug plus SPDIF audio stack. There is also a legacy PS/2 port for a keyboard/mouse and the WiFi antenna.