UK price (as reviewed): £166.99 (inc. VAT)
US price (as reviewed): $159.99 (exc. tax)
There's usually a lot of variation in terms of features as you dip down below £200 for an Intel Z-series motherboard, with manufacturers taking quite different approaches to cost cutting. MSI managed a fairly balanced approach with the MAG Z390 Tomahawk, downgrading the audio codec and dropping Wi-Fi in favour of a fancy integrated I/O shield, USB 3.1 Type-C ports, plus the full complement of audio outputs. Today we're looking at Asus' similarly-priced TUF Z390-Plus Gaming (Wi-Fi), which takes another very different approach.
Here, there's none of the Wi-Fi shenanigans we found with the MSI board, with Asus offering Intel's 9560 802.11ac card along with a bundled desktop aerial, at least on this version of the board. Asus has sensibly only used one LAN port too and also hasn't had to cut back as far with the onboard audio, although it still uses the slightly cheaper ALC1200 codec as opposed to ALC1220, which is what you expect to see on anything costing more than this.
Asus also includes a heatsink for the lower M.2 slot - a sensible location, as it's more likely to be able to benefit from your case's airflow here than if it was trapped in the slot under your graphics card. Like the MSI board, the heatsink can only be fitted to this lower slot, but both M.2 ports offer support for either SATA or PCIe M.2 SSDs, and with the latter both slots are full fat PCIe 3.0 x4.
There are four SATA 6Gbps ports in the bottom-right corner and another two mounted at right angles to the PCB beneath the 24-pin ATX connector for neater cable tidying, but the MSI board went further here with even more angled connectors.
You get a couple of four-pin RGB LED headers along with associated lighting in the PCH heatsink and underside of the board adjacent to the 24-pin ATX connector, but you'll need to buy your own RGB LED extension cables, as none are included in the box. The power delivery is actually a four-phase design, so it will be interesting to see how the board handles our Core i9-9900K, especially as its heatsinks appear to be just as average.
The rear panel reveals a very different array of ports to the MSI board, with a disappointing lack of anything by way of USB Type-C (no internal header, either), although two of the six Type-A ports are USB 3.1, plus you get a couple of display outputs as well. Bizarrely, Asus also includes what can only be described as a half-sized USB 2.0 header, thus enabling one port only instead of two and bringing the total supported to three. While many accessories or coolers do indeed only have the connectors for one side of a USB header, it seems very strange not to just build a full-size header in, if only to make connecting everything that little bit easier.
While you do have a large shroud to hide those ugly ports, there's no integrated I/O shield, and the limited array of audio outputs lacks optical as well as eight-channel support. 7.1 surround users will thus need to make use of the onboard front panel audio header, which is far from ideal - this is something that you won't need to do on the MSI board, but the trade-off is a slightly inferior audio codec. Horses for courses and all that.
September 18 2020 | 18:30