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If you want to build a small mini-ITX gaming PC using Intel’s 12th Gen processors, then you have a handful of motherboards to chose from. Gigabyte has been a long time support of the tiny mini-ITX form factor and here we’ll be looking at its latest model – the Z690I Aorus Ultra Plus, which is compatible with Intel’s 12th Gen Alder Lake processors.

Replacing the original Z690I Aorus Ultra, which was recalled, if you’re getting a replacement or buying new, the Z690I Aorus Ultra Plus is the board you will receive. There’s no that much that differs between them apart from the original issues being fixed. The new board offers WiFi6E, which can operate at 6GHz in addition to the usual 5GHz and 2.4GHz. The new model also supports memory XMP profiles up to 8,000MHz instead of just 6,200MHz.

Pricing

In the US the board will set you back $310 while in the UK and elsewhere, it should retail for similar prices to the previous model, which is £280 in the UK and roughly $300 euros.This is around $100 cheaper than the Asus ROG Strix Z690-I Gaming, which is it’s main competitor, with the most obvious advantage being its inclusion of Thunderbolt 4.

You get the option of using DDR4 memory or DDR5, but not on the same board – you’ll need to pick one option or the other, but it’s a useful option depending whether you want to jump on the DDR5 bandwagon or transplant your existing DDR4 memory to save cash.

M.2, storage and VRMs

The most interesting part of the board is the stacked M.2 and audio circuits and heatsinks below the CPU socket. The The large heatsink on top makes direct contact with the first of two M.2 ports, which is cooled from the underside too, with the lower port actually facing downwards and the SSD cooled by a thermal pad and heatsink at the bottom.

The top slot kept a speedy PCI-E 4.0 SSD at 51°C under a 10 minute load test so is plenty cool enough. The 13 power phase VRMs are cooled by dual heatpipe-linked heatsinks and hit a peak also of 51°C with a Core i7-12700K under full load drawing 339W for the system as a whole, so there’s plenty of thermal headroom there if you’re running at stock speed and being a Z690 board you can easily overclock K-series processors too.

Interestingly, Gigabyte has cut the number of SATA ports from the usual four to just two, but seeing as most mini-ITX cases can only house a couple of storage devices anyway, this likely won’t be a deal breaker for many potential owners.

Features

Gigabyte triumphs in the fan header department, including four in total, while most other mini-ITX boards have three or two. You get a USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C header if your case supports that, plus the Type-C port on the rear panel offers full USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 support. There are seven Type-A USB ports on the rear panel too, which should be enough for most people.

If you prefer wired Internet connections the’re a 2.5 Gigabit Ethernet port and if you won’t be using a separate graphics card and want to use Intel’s on-board graphics, then there are both HDMI and DisplayPort outputs too. The only niggle with the I/O panel is that there are just single speaker and microphone ports so you’re essentially stuck with stereo speakers unless you use an external sound card.

Audio

The audio stands at Realtek ALC4080 and offered a noise level of -99dBA and dynamic range of 100dBA using Rightmark Audio Analyzer – enough for casual listening and gaming, although the Asus board managed -118dBA and 118 dBA respectively, so was a fair bit better.

Cooler compatibility

Always an issue with mini-ITX motherboards, cooler compatibility isn’t great, largely thanks to that huge M.2 heatsink stack. This prevents lower profile air coolers such as Noctua’s NH-L12S from fitting, as well as large AIO liquid coolers such as ARCTIC’s Liquid Freezer II. However, NZXT’s coolers fit, which isn’t often the case, but only with low-profile memory. EK’s AIO coolers also fitted as did Corsair’s.

Conclusions

You have the option of cheaper B660 chipsets below the Gigabyte Z690I Aorus Ultra Plus, but ultimately you won’t get as many features. Here you get USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C on the PCB for the latest case front panels as well as the rear I/O panel, you get four fan headers, dual M.2 ports that are both cooled with heatsinks, decent VRMs and the latest WiFi.

It looks pretty good and is $100 cheaper than the Asus board too, albeit without Thunderbolt 4, which is arguably something most Z690 motherboards should include and can be useful, and lacking two SATA ports. If you can stomach those, the Gigabyte Z690I Aorus Ultra Plus is a great buy for a mini gaming rig if $300 is your limit.

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