The quake struck the Dara-e-soof and Dowaab districts of Samangan province just before 1 a.m. local time from an epicenter 120 miles northwest of the capital, Kabul.
The shallow depth of only 6 miles was responsible for the high number of fatalities and extent of the damage near the epicenter, according to seismologists.
The shaking destroyed more than 200 homes, blocked a road with landslide debris and killed dozens of head of livestock, provincial officials told reporters.
The blocked roads made it difficult for relief supplies and rescue teams to reach the affected area.
The quake was also felt in Kabul, as well as in the neighboring countries of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
A magnitude 5.3 quake that struck neighboring Baghlan province in 2002 killed about 1,000 people.
Two quakes in 1998 killed more than 6,000 people along the Afghanistan-Tajikistan border.