Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/7972/upcoming-intel-based-motherboards-from-gigabyte-asus-msi-and-asrock

Intel has recently been awash with news about upcoming processors. In March, Intel released information on an upcoming unlocked Haswell Pentium processor, an upcoming Haswell-K processor with overclocking enhancements, an unlocked Iris Pro processor coming to Broadwell, and some details regarding an 8-core Haswell-E processor due later this year. This is a bit of an odd article – various motherboard manufacturers have posted new product images online for an upcoming platform, with all the juicy bits redacted. Here is our analysis of some of those products.

So What Are We Looking At?

The motherboards we are detailing today come from multiple sources.  In the case of GIGABYTE and MSI, both of these companies released edited images on their social media pages and gave copies to the press. In the case of ASUS, a leak from an ASUS APAC event provided small blurry images. ASRock provided some media with its image deck, only to have them leaked – we subsequently got the go ahead to publish them today. We should see a full range of images and motherboard specifications at launch.

The motherboards all use the 1150 pin socket designation, which suggests they are for Haswell processors. However the images have the chipset blurred out, but ‘Z_7’ is clearly visible giving us an overclocking chipset. On several of the motherboards we have M.2 slots as well as SATA Express, although without looking closer it is hard to see how these are configured (either via the chipset or a controller). Kristian looked at SATA Express earlier this year with a beta motherboard supplied by ASUS. mSATA seems to have disappeared almost entirely.

A lot of the motherboards adorn their name with some form of WiFi or AC, with text on the PCB all pointing towards 802.11ac 2T2R solutions. Given our past experiences, these are either Broadcom or Intel modules, with the Intel side of the equation being more expensive. Audio seems to get a revision change from Z87 across most of the manufacturers as well.

Technically the launch date of these products is under NDA. The NDA is such that we can't even mention the chipset by name, even if it is visible on some of the images we are sharing today. MSRP is still being decided on most fronts. Haswell processors were launched in June 2013, and all expectations for Broadwell are putting it at the end of the year, perhaps Q4 or later. Thus it should be straightforward to expect that this is a refresh, updating the mainstream platform to newer technology like M.2 and SATA Express. It also gives the motherboard manufacturers and system integrators a chance to upgrade their lines and offer the potential for new sales. Given that Intel has already announced an upcoming Haswell-K processor for ‘mid 2014’ and prices for Haswell refresh processors have already been leaked, it is not hard to put two and two together.

GIGABYTE’s New Products

Pictures launched of GIGABYTE’s Facebook pages this week point to at least four new models covering gaming, overclocking and connectivity. Part of GIGABYTE’s new range is its Black Editions (BK), reducing the color of the heatsinks and components to as black as possible. It is unclear if some models will solely be in BK mode or both will be offered.

First up is the next Gaming motherboard, called the G1 WIFI-BK:

At first glance users should notice the integrated air and water cooling power delivery heatsink, designed for system builders to use their own fittings. The extended heatsink seems to be masking a PLX8747 chip, which would explain the four PCIe slots and suggest x8/x8/x8/x8 operation for GPUs. Voltage check points are in the top right, along with a SATA power connector for PCIe power. The SATA ports are split with SATA Express ports, and the audio subsystem uses GIGABYTE’s OP-AMP, AMP-UP and gain switches, paired with a Creative audio codec.

For overclocking, the SOC Force:

No PLX chip this time, giving the four PCIe layout an x8/x4/x4 + x4 similar to the GIGABYTE Z87X-OC motherboard we reviewed last year. The overclocking buttons and switches at the top right are back, along with the USB ports next to the SATA ports. For PCIe power there is a 6-pin PCIe connector above the PCIe slots. For Z87 this level of motherboard was in the $200 range, forgoing some of the exotic features (particularly on audio) to provide a less expensive overclocking oriented platform.

For connectivity, the UD7 TH:

We did not get a chance to review the Z87 version of the UD7, but judging by the markings on the PCB here it is safe to say that it is being updated for Thunderbolt 2. While we cannot see the rear IO panel, it should be safe to assume that the TB2 ports are on the rear IO rather than an add-in card due to the lack of a TB header. The UD7 TH seems a bit toned down this time, with fewer SATA ports (making room for the SATA Express) and no obvious IR355x ICs. This might potentially leave room for a UD9 in the product stack for the future.

For the mainstream, the UD5H-BK:

The Black Edition version for the UD5H lives up to its name, with a few streaks of yellow on the heatsinks showing. Rather than equipping TB2 like the UD7 TH, the UD5H-BK uses more substantial power delivery and offers a similar SATA port/PCIe arrangement. In fact these two motherboards look rather alike, but with money being spent in different places. I would not be surprised if they end up in the same price bracket.

Additional: We have just been given the go-ahead to post these un-doctored images from a GIGABYTE media event, showing most of the motherboards off in more detail including the name of the chipset.

The newer one from this list is the UD3H:

This looks a lot like the UD5H and UD7 in terms of color scheme, and offers M.2 with an Intel NIC.  This board seems to be equipped with SATA Express (as some of the images show, four SATA ports with two being modified for SATA Express) and one USB 3.0 header.  This motherboard looks a lot less busy around the socket area as well, in terms of extra resistors.

ASUS’ New Products

The ASUS set of images came about via a leak at an APAC event. Apparently one media representative invited to that event (and should have been under NDA) took pictures and then distributed them via Weibo in spite of the NDA. At this present time ASUS has not officially released any other pictures of its range, so we are left to decipher these blurry photographs.

The whole range seems to have removed the mustard color and gone for a more subtle dull metallic gold. The iconography is around the livery and a chipset heatsink with a circular image.

First up is the mini-ITX model:

Here ASUS have put the 24-pin ATX power connector outside the DRAM slots and the CPU power connector is in an easy to reach place on the top. The socket area is more central, meaning the chipset is squashed down towards the PCIe slot. The SATA ports are spread out such that two are near the 24-pin ATX (along with a USB 3.0 header) and two are inside the DRAM slots at the bottom.

On the high end of the market is the Deluxe:

The styling is easier to see here, especially with the power delivery heatsink reaching around three sides of the CPU socket. On the right there are some SATA Express ports, with an M.2 just between the chipset heatsink and what looks like the TPU switch. As the Deluxe is high up the scale of the board list, we see two USB 3.0 headers near the 24-pin ATX connector as well as an 802.11ac WiFi module on the rear IO. It looks like the audio also has had an update, and we move to Dual Intelligent Processors V (five).

The workstation model was also on display:

Despite the small grainy picture, we see four PCIe slots and a heatsink exactly where a PLX8747 would be, suggesting an x8/x8/x8/x8 PCIe layout for four-way SLI. It is perhaps interesting that we see this on the WS and not on the Deluxe. Like the Deluxe we have dual USB 3.0 headers, SATA Express ports and an M.2 slot. There are dual two-digit debugs at the bottom for enhanced error reporting, and the chipset heatsink is larger than the others, perhaps to accommodate a controller or two.

There is also an image of three ROG motherboards being released, including the Hero, Gene, and the Ranger which is new to the brand.

TUF gets some love as well with the Sabertooth:

MSI’s New Products

The news from MSI’s range comes by virtue of some initial leaked images that were retracted. In response to the knowledge reaching the zeitgeist of the cutting edge technology followers, MSI offered these images direct from source but with the Intel-specific details missing. We saw a small amount of these upcoming products by virtue of MSI’s presence at CeBIT, where MSI was asking media for their thoughts.

The images provided by MSI cover a large user base from SFF to extreme high end. They all bare the Gaming moniker so far, although MSI does have three distinct ranges including its OC range (MPower, XPower) and channel range which we should see more of at a later date.

First one on the list is a mini-ITX motherboard, the I-Gaming:

For a start the rear IO looks almost backwards. The audio jacks are at the top of the board, and the Clear_CMOS switch is at the bottom. It looks like MSI have moved towards a WiFi card on the rear as well, a change much welcomed. The socket area sits low giving some space for coolers, and at the top is the 24-pin ATX power connector alongside four SATA ports. There is a USB 3.0 header, and we can see an EM shield for the audio codec at the top. The CPU power connector is an odd place near the rear IO, meaning cables will have to reach over the motherboard to get to it.

At the top of the line, MSI has on show the Gaming 9 AC:

The rear IO and audio sections of the PCB are covered in what looks like a shield, either for aesthetics or technical reasons perhaps. The sticking out bit on the rear IO looks like a WiFi module, similar to that on the mini-ITX model. There are some overclocking features, such as OC Genie and voltage read points, but for SATA ports we have at least 8 on the motherboard as well as an M.2 between the PCIe slots. The PCIe slots are separated for close-proximity three-way GPU configurations, whereas normally we see the final PCIe slot another section down the motherboard.

We also get the Gaming 7:

The Gaming 5:

And at the low end, the Gaming 3:

The Gaming 3 looks like a stripped down version of the Gaming 9, with less phases in the power delivery, no shield, fewer SATA ports and PCI slots. Audio Boost is still present, as well as the heatsink design.

ASRock’s New Products

The upcoming range from ASRock uses a striking blend of stand-out colors. Whereas other manufacturers are often seen mixing their colors with black, ASRock is adding an element of vibrancy. Based on the images that we have at our disposal, the mainstream line will start at the Extreme range, move through the Fatal1ty, ITX, and end with the OC Formula at the top.

First up, the Extreme4:

The Extreme4 comes in blue with what looks like 9 SATA ports and an M.2 slot. We see a USB 3.0 header, two removable BIOS chips, a TPM header, ‘Purity Sound 2’ (looks like an upgraded audio package) and Intel Ethernet. I am a little disappointed to see a 4-pin Molex connector in the middle of the board for additional PCIe power though.

Then the Extreme6:

Here are dual Intel NICs, along with what looks like 11 SATA ports, a mini-PCIe slot and two M.2 slots. One of these slots is called ‘Ultra M.2’, with the words ‘PCIe Gen3 x4’ next to it, suggesting that they are implementing an x4 M.2 slot for the faster devices. None of them are actually on the market yet. The Extreme6 has a slightly better positioning for the PCIe power 4-pin molex connector, but I would still prefer a SATA power or 6-pin PCIe.

Moving onto mini-ITX, the ITX/ac:

So while the box says M.2, there is no visible M.2 on the top of the motherboard. Given past experience with ASRock motherboards, they have probably relocated it to the bottom. However on the top they do have a SATA Express port and a mini-PCIe. These are unfortunately just inside the DRAM slots, meaning cables will have to go over large GPUs or memory to be equipped. The WiFi module is a 2T2R 802.11ac solution, and is combined with an Intel NIC. The 8-pin CPU power connector is in the middle of the motherboard, making cable routing a little frustrating.

For gamers, ASRock has the Fatal1ty Killer:

ASRock leaves its Fatal1ty range for features like the Atheros Killer E2200 NIC. The motherboard has four SATA ports, a SATA Express port and an M.2 port. We also get Purity Sound 2 here, which I would guess remains an ALC1150 codec underneath with improved filtering. The motherboard offers a single USB 3.0 header, and the rear IO has the USB gaming port from the previous Fatal1ty motherboard iterations.

Finally at the high end is the OC Formula:

The yellow for the OC Formula has changed slightly, especially on the heatsinks where it is a little more yellow. On the OC Formula ASRock has equipped it with on-the-fly adjustment buttons and voltage check points, along with more power phases. The quad PCIe layout seems devoid of a PLX chip, suggesting an x8/x4/x4 + x4 layout similar to the old Z87 OC Formula. Interesting enough there is a header onboard labeled ‘TB1’ suggesting Thunderbolt support. The motherboard also seems to have Purity Sound 2, a Killer E2200 NIC, an M.2 slot, nine SATA ports, a USB 3.0 header and a 4-pin molex for PCIe power. 

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