EVGA Z390 Dark
Breaking the mold.
THERE’S SOMETHING SPECIAL about reviewing an EVGA motherboard. The reason is straightforward enough— these boards are always unique in their approach to how they do things. If you take a look at any other manufacturer, every motherboard layout and design follows an almost formulaic pattern. There’s not a whole lot of variance between any of them. We used to muse over how all hardware followed a very similar development pattern. No manufacturer was willing to break the mold in an attempt to make something different—they were all effectively just minor tweaks to a variant that sells, regardless of what the marketing bods try to pitch to you. With motherboards, yeah the heatsinks change, and some connectivity differs here and there, but on the whole, year in year out, the only noticeable difference is the not-so-subtle increase in price. It’s actually why we look for a lack of variance in our testing, rather than better performance, and consider that a good thing, not a negative, in the majority of our mobo reviews.
EVGA seems to have not got the same memo as the rest, because this board is something else. From the outset, you can tell it isn’t exactly your standard layout. It’s an E-ATX board, there are only two DIMMs, and both those memory slots and the CPU socket are rotated by a full 90 degrees counter-clockwise, as is the power phase design. The VRMs and MOSfets are situated under that massive rear I/O heatsink, and EVGA has decided to move the twin eight-pin EPS power connectors to just below the 24-pin, with both sets of power being right-angled to provide a cleaner look when installing your cables. On top of that you get a 17-phase power design, meaning there’s more than enough headroom to overclock even the very best of Intel’s Coffee Lake processors, and then there’s the LN2 modes as well (with a myriad options buried in the BIOS to help overvolt the board and your chip). Plus, there’s the dual BIOS debug displays, voltage reading pinouts, on-board BIOS update USB slot, hardware power buttons, and a multitude of fan headers, with the ones on the edge right-angled, and the ones on the board firing straight up. All coupled, of course, with the additional six-pin PCIe power on the bottom-left, and a rather radical cut-out 10-layer PCB holding the whole thing together. What we’re getting at is that there’s a lot on this thing that makes it different.
It’s a quirky board, that’s for sure, but we can see why EVGA has made these changes. It’s definitely expensive, but it does make sense when you think about who this is for. It’s designed to hit a very niche audience—well, two audiences really. The first being those who want to overclock like world record breakers (if they aren’t already), and the second for those looking for something with a little more flair in the aesthetics department. The latter of which is kinda ironic, given there’s zero RGB on this board (thankfully!). But it truly is a remarkable design, and one for which we can only commend EVGA. If only they’d bring this same flair to X299 and AMD (never going to happen, but a boy can dream).
Performance at stock is very much in line with what we’ve seen in the post- Spectre world; everything falls into position, with a few notable performance figures in Fry Render, and power draw being significantly lower than the competition. In our overclocking tests, there’s a ton of room to really work a solid OC on your chip. We couldn’t quite match the frequencies and voltages we’ve achieved on some Asus motherboards in the past, but it’s not a BIOS we’re particularly familiar with. Given time (we’re talking months here), there’s plenty in it, so we’re sure we could coax out better voltages and a higher clock.
Speaking of BIOS, the Z390 Dark’s version is nothing but stunning. It looks incredibly clean, especially for baselevel baselevel software, and even comes with an AI overclocking feature on the main home screen after you mash Delete. It overclocked our chip to 4.9GHz on auto, with 1.25V, and maintained a 70 C figure on it, too—more than comfortable for everyday work on a Core i7-8700K.
Ultimately, the Z390 Dark is a truly impressive motherboard, and an incredible departure from what we’ve come to expect from that almost-carvedin- stone formula we’ve seen from every other manufacturer. Its BIOS is impeccable, and on the whole, its feature set is rich enough for those willing to lay down the cash for it. It’s expensive, and we get that it’s not for everyone, but if you need the absolute best that Z390 can offer, we’d argue there’s little out there that competes with the EVGA Z390 Dark right now.
Form Factor E-ATX;
Memory Support 32GB (2x 16GB) @ 4,600MHz;
M.2/U.2 Support 2x M.2, 1x U.2;
SATA Support 8x SATA 6Gb/s;
Max PCIe Support 3x 16 (x8x4x4);
Rear I/O 7x USB 3.1 Type A, 1x USB 3.1 Type C, Mini DisplayPort, 2x Intel Gigabit Ethernet, wireless A/C, PS/2 combi port, 5.1 audio out, optical audio outPlus
: Impressive design; overclocking heaven; industry best BIOS; looks incredible; no RGB.Minus
: Price. $500.