ASUS PRIME Z390-A LGA 1151 Motherboard Review

Sometimes less is more. We typically work with a lot of motherboards that fall into the more is more category and some that have a high price that can’t easily be justified by most people. The ASUS PRIME Z390-A seems to lean towards less is more. On paper the Z390-A seems to have a lot going for it and is light on fluff. How does it stack up?


Motherboard Overclocking Software

ASUS AI Suite III software is included with the PRIME Z390-A. This software hasn’t changed much over the last few years. While there are a handful of things I would like to change in the software, ASUS gets more right than wrong with it and long-time fans of ASUS’ AI Suite III won’t experience much of a learning curve as what generally changes with each release is normally specific options for a given model or series. For example, you will see different voltage options for Intel systems than you would for AMD based systems. While existing users won’t have any trouble learning any changes to AI Suite III, it isn’t the most user-friendly application for new users.

There are two reasons for this. Primarily, is that there isn’t a back function in the menus. This issue is further compounded by the navigation bar for switching to different menus not being the most obvious aspect of the interface. The second issue has to do with the fact that there are some inconsistencies in the apps design. The navigation menu for going forward is one such an issue, but larger issues are there being back buttons for some menus and other menus being accessed in weird ways. Warning thresholds are accessed via a gear icon on the far right that’s tiny and gets lost in the busy interface.

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When you first look at the application window, it can be a bit daunting. AI Suite III offers a lot in the way of functionality and its easy to get overwhelmed by all that the application can do. Predominantly, the application is used for health monitoring and overclocking of the CPU. It offers next to nothing in the way of memory tuning. In contrast, the CPU tuning capabilities aren’t too far off what can be done in the UEFI BIOS. Additionally, the application offers two methods of overclocking the CPU. This is where ASUS really sets itself apart from the competition. The first method has always been the 5-Way optimization menu which is a guided automated overclocking feature. You can set parameters for maximum TDP, specific clock ranges, and control the criteria by which the overclock is considered successful.

A new mode added recently is called AI Overclocking. This method is quite different. It looks at the system’s cooling, power draw, and fan speeds to determine what the CPU can be taken to while still cooling it effectively. It evaluates the CPU and tells you what its maximum AVX and non-AVX frequencies are and what settings are required to achieve those speeds safely. This feature exists in the UEFI as well, and essentially this is what AI Suite III interfaces with on the back end.

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ASUS’ AI Suite III also offers a manual tuning mode for CPU overclocking. This is done from the TPU insight menu. This isn’t clearly labeled in the traditional sense, but one can see the readouts next to the icon for it showing that it is a CPU / performance related menu. Inside it, you will find base clock (BCLK) adjustment and of course, settings such as the CPU ratio and AVX offset values. However, there are also settings that pertain to AI Overclocking added into the mix. The optimism scale seems odd. As I mentioned earlier, the AI Overclocking menu evaluates variables such as your cooling to determine what clocks the CPU is likely to achieve under current conditions. AI Overclocking constantly re-evaluates this information, but one of the things you can do is set the optimism for these variables. The default is 100%, but you can increase it to push it further or make it more conservative rather than pushing it to the bleeding edge, or even the default outer range of what the algorithm suggests is possible.

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The data it comes up with is visible here, so you can see it within Windows. When you scroll down you will find all the relevant CPU voltage values for tuning as well. There is also a "load profile" and "save profile" button. These are used to save or create performance profiles based on your settings, or the current default values. You can also load previously stored settings. These buttons are present in many menus rather than having a profile menu of its own.

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Fan control is something ASUS excels at. All fans onboard allow for DC or PWM based control. You can make use of the auto-tuning feature or set fan speeds based on performance presets, or, define your own. ASUS supports a feature known sometimes as "fan smoothing". Sometimes this is only adjustable as a single value. In this case it’s presented as two separate values which control the fan speed changes either up or down. You can adjust these to create a smoother or rougher fan speed changing behavior. One might wish to make the changes more gradual, so they are less jarring and far less noticeable. You can also simply use a fixed RPM mode if your fans support it.

There is a DIGI+ Power control menu which is used for adjusting CPU power phases and power related options such as CPU Load-Line calibration and current capability. What I like most about this menu is that there is a window pane to the right which explains in a fair amount of detail how these settings are used and what they are used for. This attention to detail elevates the application to another level and makes it easier for the novice to grasp its many complexities. The application also has a Turbo App function which allows performance profiles to be loaded on the fly based on running applications. Thus, you can associate and run more aggressive performance profiles for something like a game while running something that saves power when doing work in Microsoft Office. The EPU Guidance menu is available for creating specific power savings or performance-oriented profiles. These are separate from overclocking profiles, which should be kept in mind.

The last thing I want to cover is the PC health monitoring features. This mainly consists of temperature, fan speed and clock speed readouts at the bottom 1/4 of the application window. These are ever present regardless of what you do with AI Suite III. These can also be expanded to show more information if desired. There is a gear icon to the far right that’


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ASUS’ Aura is used for RGB LED lighting control. This motherboard does support the features of the more advanced and higher end motherboards as far as the lighting goes, but it lacks the feature set of the higher end offerings. You don’t have the RGB strip control and calibration menus offered on those models. Essentially, the utility is almost self-explanatory. You simply select the RGB LED lighting effect you wish to use and then configure its color, brightness and any speed or other related settings on a per effect basis. Specific values can be entered for red, green and blue channels making it easy to dial in specific color values. The most unique thing about this application however is that you can configure lighting effects and colors independently for the system in a powered-on state as well as a state where its powered off.