NZXT N7 Z490 review: By far the best-looking Intel motherboard

NZXT N7 Z490
NZXT N7 Z490 (Image credit: Rich Edmonds / Windows Central)

Motherboard reviews are interesting since most of the options available for PC building today are good enough for most people. They're also largely the same, aside from a few ports here and there, which can make reviewing a motherboard tough to make a compelling read. Luckily for me, NZXT decided to make quite the compelling motherboard, which made my job a whole lot easier.

The N7 is a series of Intel motherboards from the U.S.-based PC hardware maker and pre-build supplier. The latest iteration is version 3, rocking Intel's latest Z490 chipset. Unfortunately, for NZXT, breaking into the motherboard market isn't easy, and the first two boards (Z370 and Z390 chipsets) weren't received well. So, how does the Z490 hold up? Is it one of the best motherboards?

This review will run you through the design of the motherboard, what features NZXT has implemented, and all the improvements (if any) since the N7 Z390. If you're looking for a unique motherboard to act as the foundation for your next PC build and have your sights on an N7, read on to find out whether it's worth your money.

NZXT N7 Z490 Specs

NZXT N7 Z490

Source: Rich Edmonds / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Rich Edmonds / Windows Central)

NZXT's latest motherboard comes rocking the Z490 chipset from Intel, allowing it to be used with either 10th Gen or 11th Gen processors. There's plenty to like here with the specifications sheet, including four DDR4 DIMM slots that can hold up to 128GB RAM with speeds of up to 4266MHz.

There are two M.2 slots, four SATA ports, two full-size PCIe x16 expansion slots, and a further three PCIe x1 slots. Whether you have the latest RTX 30 series GPU or a few older models in a multi-GPU configuration, you'll be able to install everything on the N7 Z490. There's even a pre-installed Wi-Fi M.2 card, which can later be upgraded if you want faster wireless.

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CategoryNZXT N7 Z490
CPU10th and 11th Gen Intel
RAM4x DDR4 DIMM (up to DDR4 4266)
ChipsetIntel Z490
Expansion2x PCIe x16 slot (dual at x16/x4)
3x PCIe x1 slot
Storage4x SATA (6Gbps)
2x M.2 (x4/x2 SSD support)
AudioRealtek ALC1220
Rear ports1x HDMI
2x SMA antenna connectors (2T2R)
2x USB 2.0
1x USB 3.2 Gen 2 port
1x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C port
2x USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports
1x 2.5Gb
5x audio jacks
AMD CrossFire
Launch price$230 (opens in new tab)

There's a host of ports for hooking up all your accessories on the rear of the motherboard, including USB 3.2 Gen 2, USB 3.2 Gen 1, and even USB 2.0. The 2.5Gb LAN port is ideal if you're not a fan of wireless connectivity for your gaming rig, offering support for up to 250MB/s.

Packaging-wise, NZXT does a solid job with its hardware range, and this motherboard is no different. It's tightly packed with plenty of padding around the board itself to make sure it arrives in one piece. Bundled with the motherboard is the necessary Wi-Fi antennas, SATA cabling, and a manual to get you started.

NZXT N7 Z490 Features and design

Usually, a motherboard's appearance isn't the most critical factor in choosing one to purchase, but one has to take a step back and applaud NZXT for its design with the N7 series. These motherboards look incredible. I'm not talking RGB lighting either, since there are none on the board itself (strange for NZXT, right?).

The NZXT N7 Z490 is one of the best-looking Intel motherboards around.

The highlight of the design is the metal shrouding that covers large portions of the board. Instead of being able to see the PCB — which is a more appealing black— you'll see a white metal shroud that covers all the capacitors and other electrical components. The best part is this shroud can be removed with but a few screws on the board's underside.

It can be painted any color you like, allowing the motherboard to match the PC build's color scheme as a whole. And while I'm on the topic of removing metal from the mainboard, the massive VRM cooling solution can also be extracted and painted. This massive heatsink has contact with the hot power delivery system with heat transfer padding and plenty of surface area.

Back to the removable shroud quickly. The best part is you can use custom designs NZXT releases like the excellent Fallout edition. You will need to make sure it's compatible with the newer N7 Z490, however, since this motherboard uses the new screws, instead of (awful) plastic caps.

The M.2 slots are located above the GPU and below the secondary x16 PCIe slot. They're both covered by removable metal plates held on by plastic clips, though you won't find any heat padding underneath, which is a shame. Even if you have M.2 slots populated, RAM installed, as well as a GPU and beefy CPU cooler, it's easy to create a clean look with the N7.

Referring to the specification sheet, we're looking at just four SATA III ports to join the two M.2 slots for storage. Most motherboards come with at least six SATA ports, which pouts the N7 at a slight disadvantage if you have more than four SATA drives. There are positives, however, including the Intel Wi-Fi adapter in the form of the AX200NGW with support for Wi-Fi 6.

For the Z490, NZXT teamed up with ASRock as the vendor for the motherboard. This provides owners of the motherboard with a far better BIOS experience than the Z390 and prior. I'll go over some of the overclocking capabilities and other features of the board shortly, but it's clear the board's performance was a priority in its development.

Compared to the Z390, there are a handful of other improvements. While there's one fewer header for case fans, the CPU, AIO, and fan headers have been bumped to 2A each. There's also better support for RGB products, and not just those made and sold by NZXT, which should please anyone with an existing lighting setup.

Then you have the newer Z490 chipset and LGA1200 socket for Intel 10th and 11th Gen CPU support.

NZXT N7 Z490 Performance

To test the N7 Z490, I put together a test rig using an NZXT H710i case, Intel Core i7-10700K CPU, 16GB of speedy RAM, RTX 2060 SUPER from ZOTAC, and an M.2 SSD. The Core i7-10700K should provide enough headroom for overclocking, so we can see just how far it's possible to push the motherboard without affecting system stability.

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