Conclusion - Alder Lake Is So Good, I Almost Forgot About The Motherboards
The title says it all, the CPUs are the main attraction after such a long while. Over the last few gens, we have been focusing more on the motherboards since they offered more technical innovations than Intel's core lineup but this generation, it's the opposite. With that said, both MSI and Gigabyte have some fantastic boards to talk about so let's start with Gigabyte's high-end offering and move over to the more mainstream option from MSI.
The Gigabyte Z690 AORUS Master is a high-end all-rounder which packs a new and refreshed design on the Z690 chipset. AORUS has decided to upgrade the motherboard to E-ATX status to accommodate more features and an impressive power delivery solution that comprises 22 VRM phases and 105A MOSFETs to hit that 5.2 GHz all-core OC sweet spot. Some stand-out features of the motherboard include the 10 GbE LAN port, the new Fins Array III heatsink solution for the VRM, and the Thermal Guard III heatsink for the primary M.2 slot. Overall, the motherboard is well-built and a top-tier choice for Intel's 12th Gen Alder Lake Unlocked CPUs. The only thing that is concerning is the price at $469.99 US but you won't regret paying top dollar for this product.
The MSI MPG Z690 CARBON WIFI is the standard ATX option for $300 US and also rocks a great aesthetic choice. It has a 20 Phase VRM design and can also hold that sweet 5.2 GHz spot on the i9-12900K with ease. The VRMs do get slightly warm due to a standard aluminum solution instead of the fin-based design that AORUS Master rocks but MSI has to cut-down costs somewhere to keep the prices in the mainstream segment.
Other than that, you get 2.5G LAN, WiFI, lots of USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports, and a stellar quintuple M.2 slot configuration which will give you lots of room for Gen 4 SSD expansion. A standout feature on MSI boards is the use of two Gen 5.0 slots instead of just one. You can use the second slot for a PCIe Gen 5.0 AIC card to get those PCIe 5.0 lanes fed to a next-gen SSD. Overall, the MSI MPG Z690 CARBON WIFI is a really great option in the $300 US segment and we will be looking at other boards in this price category to compare how well they stack up against MSI's offering.