Review by Chris aka Revenant
Gigabyte. What happened? You could have had the best board of the Alder Lake launch…
There is a difference between a bad motherboard, and one that has merely got quirks. Too few USB ports? It’s annoying but I can deal with it. VRM that can’t handle a CPU causing a performance hit? Bad. A BIOS layout I personally find obnoxious? Meh, I can learn it. A BIOS that doesn’t even support half the advertised features? Bad.
So where does the Gigabyte Z690I DDR4 rank? Well…
The Gigabyte Z690I DDR4 is by far one of the worst motherboards I’ve ever used in my 40+ years on this planet. It’s so bad that I can’t even give it a full performance review because I can’t get benchmarks to remain stable long enough to run on it. Different RAM, CPUs, GPUs, and SSDs don’t make a difference. There is a fundamental flaw somewhere in the board’s design that keeps causing crashes, and I’m not the only one experiencing it.
Let’s rewind the clock for a minute.
When Intel’s Alder Lake platform launched, consumers were excited about the incredible performance. What they weren’t excited about was the incredible cost of DDR5 memory. To make matters more difficult for SFF enthusiasts, there was only one ITX option with DDR4 support; The Gigabyte Z690I.
On the surface, it looked like a home run for Gigabyte. The VRM spec was solid 10+2+1 phase with an actual finned heatsink. It had the latest Realtek 4080 sound chip, and supported dual PCIE 4.0 NVME drives. Connectivity was good with 8 USB ports of varying speed, 2.5Gbe networking, and Wi-Fi 6 support. Most importantly, it supported DDR4 memory up to DDR4-5333. All of this looked great, and I joined several members of SFFN in actually purchasing this board for use in my own personal system.
Then things went downhill fast.
Photo Credit – Gigabyte / To Gigabyte’s credit, it’s a really nice looking design with true VRM heatsink.
As with any brand new platform, there are going to be teething issues. It’s a fact of life, and I won’t punish Gigabyte for having to do rapid BIOS revisions. What I will say is that if your marketing team has time to design a box labeling all of these features, they better damn well have some kind of support out of the box. Let’s start with the first problem: Memory.
A month after Alder Lake’s official launch I was struggling to get RAM that would work in this board. Gigabyte did address this with a BIOS update (eventually), but regardless it delayed my build until I found some sort of RAM that worked. Eventually, the CAS 14 DDR4-3600 GSKILL Trident Z I purchased did end up working, but not for a substantial time after launch.
Next there is the PCIE issue. This board cannot run the primary PCIE slot at PCIE 4.0. This also means you can’t run the primary M.2 slot at PCIE 4.0. This cut the performance of my Samsung 980PRO test drive in half, and potentially gimped my graphics cards in the future. Why it can’t do this is unknown, but what is known is that attempting to do so generates hundreds of thousands of WHEA errors, and grinds the computer to a slow lockup. This happened with three different test GPUS, two different PCIE 4.0 riser cables, and the card in the slot itself.
Getting support for this issue, which has been widely reported by other users of the board, has been an absolute nightmare. Gigabyte has basically ignored the issue with no official account on forums and Reddit admitting to the issue, and contacting them directly only yields what amounts to a non-response. I contacted Gigabyte support on 1-14-2022, and the last I’ve heard from them is on 3-23-2022 with them saying they will update me when their team gets back to them.
I’m going to include the chain of e-mails.
At this point there is a delay in my communication due to my second child being born, having a post birth illness, and having to spend time in the intensive care unit at our local children’s hospital.
And here is the video I sent to Gigabyte…
I still haven’t heard back from them after sending the video. Nothing. Dead silence.
Regardless, the system was at least usable at PCIE 3.0. However, that wouldn’t last for long. On 3-28-2022 Gigabyte released the F8c BIOS. I downloaded and successfully updated the board. However, the system was now so unstable I couldn’t even get Windows to boot for more than a few seconds. So any usability was out the window.
My solution at this point was simple; I bought a different board, and paid the DDR5 tax. Allegedly, in the main Reddit thread about this motherboard, Gigabyte is going to allow people to RMA them. However, their official support hasn’t said anything regarding this to me in my support ticket. I don’t have time to wait for months for Gigabyte to fix this, so I’ve moved on.
Bottom line: Do not buy the Gigabyte Z690I.
- Real VRM heatsink.
- Decent BIOS layout.
- Can’t use PCIE 4.0.
- Getting support is difficult.