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NZXT N5 Z690 review: A solid Intel Alder Lake motherboard with NZXT CAM support

Get a smarter motherboard at a reasonable price.

NZXT N5 Z690
(Image: © Rich Edmonds / Windows Central)

Our Verdict

The NZXT N5 Z690 is a more affordable version of the N7 Z690 with fewer power phases for the processor, fewer USB ports, a slower M.2 slot, and no metal shrouding. It's still a solid choice for a more affordable gaming PC.

For

  • Good VRM cooling
  • Supports 12th Gen Intel CPUs
  • Integrated with NZXT CAM
  • Good port and header layout
  • Good value

Against

  • No DDR5 support
  • Just four SATA ports
  • No Thunderbolt 4
  • 9 power phase design (vs. 12 with N7 Z690)

Intel released Alder Lake processors with a new hybrid architecture, using both efficient and performance cores for each 12th Gen Core CPU. The Z690 chipset is Intel's flagship that works with these processors, and you can find it on everything from affordable motherboards to enthusiast-grade hardware.

NZXT had an existing N7 Z590 motherboard for 10th and 11th Gen processors, and the company has just given it a refresh. As well as this minor refresh, NZXT also launched a new NZXT N5 Z690 motherboard, which offers similar functionality and performance at a lower price.

A highlight feature of the NZXT N7 range of motherboards is the metal shrouding that covers the PCB to create a unique, clean finish. The N5 Z690 doesn't have this shroud, but still sports a rather understated minimalist design with a use of blacks and whites. This review will run you through the NZXT N5 Z690 to see whether it's set to become one of the best motherboards.

Price, specs, and availability

NZXT N5 Z690

NZXT N5 Z690 motherboard. (Image credit: Rich Edmonds / Windows Central)

NZXT launched two motherboards with the Intel Z690 chipset. The first is the N7 Z690, which is a high-end board priced at $299.99. The NZXT N5 Z690 that we're looking at here costs $239.99 and is largely identical to the N7 board, but has a few omitted features.

CategoryNZXT N5 Z690
SizeATX
PCB layers6
CPU12th Gen Intel
SocketLGA1700
RAM4x DDR4 DIMM (up to DDR4-5000)
ChipsetIntel Z690
Expansion3x PCIe 5.0 x16 slot (dual at x16/x4)
2x PCIe 4.0 x1 slot
Storage4x SATA (6Gbps)
3x PCIe 4.0 M.2 (x4/x2 SSD support, 1x SATA)
1x PCIe 3.0 M.2 (x4/x2 SSD support)
AudioRealtek ALC1220
Rear ports1x HDMI
2x SMA antenna connectors (2T2R)
2x USB 2.0
4x USB-A 3.2 Gen 1 ports
1x USB-C 3.2x2 Gen 2 port
1x USB-A 3.2 Gen 2 ports
1x 2.5Gb
1x S/PDIF 5x audio jacks
NetworkingWi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.2
NVIDIA SLI
AMD CrossFire

The NZXT N5 Z690 is priced at $239.99 and comes rocking a high-end chipset. While this board, like the N7 Z690, only supports DDR4 and not DDR5, this does mean you can use existing memory modules and save a little on a newer PC build. The board itself has three PCIe x16 slots for the best graphics card, as well as two PCIe x1 slots.

There are only four SATA ports, but this is offset by the three M.2 slots. In 2022, it's recommended to use faster NVMe SSDs for operating systems and frequent apps that populate these slots. Audio is handled by the Realtek ALC1220 and the RTL8125BG controller allows for a speedy 2.5Gb LAN port. 

The NZXT N7 Z690 is available now from NZXT directly and retail partners. Windows Central was provided a review sample in black and white.

NZXT N5 Z690 vs. N7 Z690

NZXT N5 Z690

The rear I/O of the NZXT N5 Z690 has plenty of USB ports. (Image credit: Rich Edmonds / Windows Central)

There are a few notable differences between the NZXT N5 Z690 and N7 Z690 with the most prominent variance being the metal shroud that covers the PCB. It's not present on the N5 Z690, which helps reduce cost. Most of the specifications between the two motherboards are largely the same, thanks to the use of the Z690 chipset.

CategoryNZXT N5 Z690NZXT N7 Z690
SizeATXATX
PCB layers66
CPU12th Gen Intel12th Gen Intel
SocketLGA1700LGA1700
RAM4x DDR4 DIMM (up to DDR4-5000)4x DDR4 DIMM (up to DDR4-5000)
ChipsetIntel Z690Intel Z690
Expansion3x PCIe 5.0 x16 slot (dual at x16/x4)3x PCIe 5.0 x16 slot (dual at x16/x4)
2x PCIe 4.0 x1 slot2x PCIe 4.0 x1 slot
Storage4x SATA (6Gbps)4x SATA (6Gbps)
3x PCIe 4.0 M.2 (x4/x2 SSD support, 1x SATA)3x PCIe 4.0 M.2 (x4/x2 SSD support, 1x SATA)
1x PCIe 3.0 M.2 (x4/x2 SSD support)
AudioRealtek ALC1220Realtek ALC1220
Rear ports1x HDMI1x HDMI
2x SMA antenna connectors (2T2R)2x SMA antenna connectors (2T2R)
2x USB 2.02x USB 2.0
4x USB-A 3.2 Gen 1 ports3x USB-A 3.2 Gen 1 ports
1x USB-C 3.2x2 Gen 2 port1x USB-C 3.2x2 Gen 2 port
1x USB-A 3.2 Gen 2 ports2x USB-A 3.2 Gen 2 ports
1x 2.5Gb1x 2.5Gb
1x S/PDIF 5x audio jacks1x S/PDIF 5x audio jacks
NetworkingWi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.2Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.2
NVIDIA SLI
AMD CrossFire

The PCB has six layers but it's not quite as thick as the N7 Z690. The same expansion slots are present with all three of the x16 slots being PCIe 5.0. Interestingly, the N5 Z690 has an additional M.2 slot (four in total versus three with the N7 Z690), though it's limited to PCIe 3.0 speeds.

Finally, we've got the difference in rear I/O. The N5 Z690 has an additional USB-A 3.2 Gen 1 port replacing one of the two USB-A 3.2 Gen 2 ports found on the N7 Z690. 

NZXT N5 Z690: What I like

NZXT N5 Z690

Multiple PCIe 5.0 x16 and PCIe 4.0 M.2 slots.  (Image credit: Rich Edmonds / Windows Central)

The NZXT N7 series launched with a unique design thanks in part to the metal shroud that covers the PCB. The N5 series is a little more budget-friendly and ditches this shroud, which makes the N5 Z690 look more like your average motherboard. One thing neither of these motherboards has is RGB lighting.

Regardless of what PC case you use the NZXT N5 Z690 with, it's going to look the part. Using Intel's Z690 chipset, this motherboard supports 12th Gen Alder Lake processors like the Intel Core i9-12900K. As well as 12th Gen CPU support, the Z690 chipset provides PCIe 5.0 and DDR5 RAM, but NZXT opted to stick with DDR4.

To provide stable and reliable power to the processor, NZXT uses an 8+1 DrMos power phase design. Usually, the more phases the better here, but we're seeing a 3 phase reduction compared to the N7 Z690, which again speaks to the difference in overclocking capabilities. Thankfully, NZXT uses the same high-quality voltage regulator modules (VRM) on both motherboards.

For internal ports and headers, there are the usual 24-pin and 8+4 12V headers for power from the PSU. Then you've got three full-size PCIe 5.0 slots for expansion cards like GPUs. RAM speeds cap out at DDR4-5000, and NZXT made available four M.2 slots (three PCIe 4.0 and one PCIe 3.0) for speedy SSDs.

NZXT N5 Z690

Showcasing the fantastic connectivity and header placement. (Image credit: Rich Edmonds / Windows Central)

Other headers include USB-C, USB 3, and other auxiliary points. For the rear panel, you'll find a single HDMI port, followed by two USB 2.0 ports, a single USB-C 3.2 Gen 2x2 port, one USB-A 3.2 Gen 2 port, and four USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports. This is enough to connect all your favorite accessories, but some may find the single USB-A 3.2 Gen 2 port a little limiting, so too the lack of Thunderbolt.

To test the NZXT N5 Z690, I used an Intel Core i5-12600K processor with 32GB of DDR4-3200 RAM, and a PCIe 4.0 SSD. The VRMs are adequately cooled on NZXT boards, and I didn't encounter any issue with temperatures, even after overclocking the Core i5-12600K. While it's not quite as powerful (and power-hungry) as a Core i9-12900K, it's still good to pull upwards of 200W.

Numbers recorded through testing for temperatures, core clock speeds, voltages, and benchmark results were roughly the same as those found with the NZXT N7 Z690 and MSI MPG Z690 Carbon WiFi. This is good news for the N5 Z690, meaning you don't really sacrifice any performance to save money, so long as you don't mind the few missing features.

The BIOS running on the NZXT N7 Z690 was stable enough for use and testing. ASRock makes some pretty good software for its motherboards, the manufacturer NZXT teamed up with for its N5 and N7 boards. NZXT CAM is also very good when used alongside an NZXT Kraken AIO liquid cooler and other accessories. 

NZXT N5 Z690: What I don't like

NZXT N5 Z690

The LGA1200 socket for Alder Lake processors. (Image credit: Rich Edmonds / Windows Central)

The NZXT N5 Z690 is a strange motherboard since it has a lot going for it, but I feel like we could have had a little bit more. Obviously, the lack of choice for DDR5 really stops anyone who wants to take advantage of the newer generation of RAM. The four SATA ports may be lacking for those who have more than four 2.5-inch/3.5-inch drives to connect.

The N5 does have a slight advantage in this regard over the N7, and that's with the inclusion of an additional M.2 slot for a total of three. This would allow for three NVMe drives to be installed before a PCI expansion card may be required. Also, like the N7 Z690, there's no Thunderbolt 4, which is a shame.

NZXT N5 Z690: Competition

Msi Mpg Z690 Carbon Wifi

MSI's MGP Carbon WIFI is a good competitor to the N5 Z690. (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

The NZXT N5 Z690 has similar competition to the N7 Z690 since they're both using the same chipset. The N5 has a slightly weaker power delivery design for the processor, but it's still capable of handling even an Intel Core i9-12900K so long as you don't plan to overclock it to enthusiast levels and attempt a world record.

There are numerous Z690 motherboards available, including the excellent (but incredibly expensive) ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 Hero, which would set you back $600. This board has a substantially better power design and feature set, but you're paying for the luxuries. 

For performance, you likely won't notice a difference in real world scenarios, especially with a 12th Gen Intel Core i5 or Core i7. For something a little less feature-rich and expensive, we get to the MSI MPG Z690 Carbon WiFi. If you're wanting to use DDR5 RAM (12th Gen Intel supports either, depending on the motherboard), these two motherboards would be a good pick.

The N5 Z690 and N7 Z690 support DDR4 RAM, which means you'll be limited to that generation of system memory and won't be able to upgrade to DDR5 at a later point without replacing the motherboard. The N7 Z690 should be picked if you want the more advanced functionality and metal shrouding.

Should you buy the NZXT N5 Z690?

NZXT N5 Z690

NZXT utilizes good VRM passive cooling for better stability. (Image credit: Rich Edmonds / Windows Central)

You should buy if

  • You use NZXT CAM with other devices
  • You want a good mid-range Z690 motherboard
  • You have either an AIO liquid cooler or a custom water-cooling loop
  • You have existing DDR4 RAM modules

You shouldn't buy if

  • You do not have a 12th Gen Intel CPU
  • You do not want to use NZXT CAM
  • You want to overclock an Intel Core i7 or Core i9 CPU
  • You want to use DDR5 RAM

I would recommend you purchase the NZXT N5 Z690 motherboard if you're seeking a solid foundation for a capable Intel Alder Lake PC built on a tighter budget. It's not cheap by any means, but NZXT did remove some of the more form features like the metal shroud to bring down the price.

With the N-series of motherboards, NZXT wants to keep you within its ecosystem. All NZXT motherboards support the company's CAM software, allowing one to manage different aspects of not only the mainboard but all other connected smart NZXT devices.

The performance of the N5 Z690 is very good and isn't different from the more expensive N7 Z690. If you don't care for the metal shroud and don't require the additional features the N7 boards have, the NZXT N5 Z690 will be a great choice for most 12th Gen Intel processors.

Rich Edmonds
Rich Edmonds

Rich Edmonds is Senior Editor of PC hardware at Windows Central, covering everything related to PC components and NAS. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a PC chassis. You can follow him over on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.