Intel’s Coffee Lake will launch without its top-end motherboard chipset

Intel Kaby Lake motherboard platform

Intel are dethroning the Z370, before it’s even been released, and replacing it with the Z390 as the top enthusiast chipset for the Intel Coffee Lake processors… although not for some time. Thanks to a leaked Intel chipset roadmap, we have an idea of where Intel plan to go with their unprecedented multi-microarchitecture 8th Gen processors.  

Whatever your CPU and chipset are, you’re going to need one of the best graphics cards around to get the most out of your games.

Intel are gearing up to launch their 8th Gen Coffee Lake processors and the usual handful of motherboard chipsets to accompany them. Usual for the most part, at least. A leaked Intel chipset roadmap, which appeared over at the Anandtech forums, lists Intel’s chipset plans into the second half of 2018. Only Intel’s high-performance Z370 chipset will be launched in 2017, with budget builders needing to wait till early next year.

intel 300-series chipset roadmap

The first Coffee Lake processors are expected to launch early October, but we may only see unlocked K-series processors at that time. Keeping the mainstream H370 and value H310 chipsets until January, as this roadmap suggests, wouldn’t be a very smart move for Intel if consumers were able to buy mid- and low-end chips months beforehand. A customer considering a value-minded i3 would likely be put off by the price premium of an overkill Z370 motherboard. From a budget-consumer standpoint, the timing for the chipset launches doesn’t quite add up.

As is the schoolyard style of rivalry between AMD and Intel, AMD quickly swooped in on some of the platform naming schemes used by Intel up until this point. AMD launched their Threadripper platform on the X399 chipset, and it’s no accident that this happens to be the next step for Intel when they continue their HEDT X299 chipset. The same goes for AMD’s Ryzen B350 chipset, which coincidentally precludes Intel’s B250 chipset from the expected moniker within the 300-series platform. According to the leaked roadmap, Intel have now named their business essential chipset as B360. Problem solved… or at least until AMD decide another name change is in order.

AMD AM4 chipset comparison

By far the largest change in Intel’s chipset lineup in recent years is the addition of a new chipset to the enthusiast platform. The new chipset, Z390, was let slip by an ASUS employee at Computex earlier this year. Z390 is the last 300-series chipset to launch on Intel’s leaked roadmap and is only expected to make an appearance in the second half of 2018.

Since the launch of AMD64 and subsequent Intel Sandy Bridge microarchitectures, the importance of choosing a high-end motherboard has been largely down to connectivity and secondary features. Most of the important hubs and controllers, previously motherboard dependant, have since been integrated onto the processor itself – removing the variance in features and performance per board. There is very little performance delta between high-end motherboards and their budget counterparts, at least when running at stock clockspeeds. What could Intel possibly put onto a board that is, assumedly, higher performing or offering more features than the top-end Z370 platform?

Gigabyte Z270X-Ultra Gaming performance

Due to Intel’s mixed-microarchitecture 8th Gen range, we now have three different architectures occupying the same generation. Kaby Lake refresh, Coffee Lake, and Cannonlake. Cannonlake is set to occupy the ultra-low power processor market due to its 10nm process. This new process should allow Intel to reduce power consumption and retain similar levels of performance when compared to 14nm.

It’s still too early to say what Intel has in store for their new 10nm process. It’s proven to be a difficult task to move to the smaller process for Intel, and yields are expected to currently be quite low. Due to this restraint, mainstream desktop 10nm processors were off the books for at least another generation.

A possible reason for the Z390 chipset could potentially be to accommodate a Cannonlake-based desktop processor, although 10nm Ice Lake would be just on the horizon and could feature a new socket design. It’s also a possibility that Intel will launch refreshed 14nm++ processors alongside the Z390 chipset, offering expanded features with the top-end chipset. Otherwise, without stepping down the Z370 motherboard platform from the top-end feature set, or cannibalising their HEDT X299 platform, it’s not yet obvious as to why Intel require another high-end chipset.