Intel have given motherboard manufacturers the option to spec-out budget-oriented X299 X-series boards without top-end features like quad-channel memory. That means you could get cut-price X299 motherboards specifically designed for the lower-spec Core i5 and i7 X-series CPUs.
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The two Kaby Lake-X chips propping up the incoming X-series CPU range aren’t able to access the platform’s quad-channel memory and only support 16 PCIe lanes. A fully specced X299 motherboard would then have a host of inaccessible features when using those new processors.
Intel’s Frank Soqui explained to me at E3 that they've been working with the board manufacturers to give them a way to differentiate their X299 options from each other.
“We give guidance about how to do the PCI bus lanes," Soqui says, "how much memory to put in and how to configure them. Different motherboard manufacturers will have a different density of memory support. They all change a little bit, I mean you can build a common board to scale across processors, but the different motherboard manufacturers can decide how much of those X-series features they want to take care of when they’re serving the market.”
I asked if that meant we could expect to see more price-conscious X299 boards designed to cater for the Kaby Lake-X gang which eschew the expense of using quad-channel memory and operate with dual-channel memory support alone?
“Yes," Soqui says, "because those manufacturers know their customers better than we do. That lets the motherboard manufacturers differentiate.”
It will be interesting to see whether any manufacturers actually take the plunge creating cut-down X299 boards down the line. While it might remove the price premium over the Z270 boards, it also limits the upgrading potential. But it would just need one to take the risk and for it to be a success to make the X299 the only Intel platform gamers need consider.
It also kinda looks like a move from Intel to create a single, unified platform.
“You know, it’d be nice to say that," Soqui says when I put it to him, "but there’s an overhead associated with that. When you’re on the performance side maybe you can sustain the overhead a little bit, I don’t think you ever get that ‘one ring to rule them all’ kinda thing. It’s nice to think that we could do that because what we want to do is lower the cost for motherboard manufacturers.”
He also made the point that there are still people who actually want, and use, the integrated graphics of the standard Kaby Lake range. You know, the weirdos without proper graphics cards, or corporate folk who like to do a business with their PCs instead of enjoying them.
“What you’ve seen us do is expand our X-series," Soqui says. "So consider that a family now and then consider the non-X-series as another family of products.”