The launch of Intel’s new 8th Generation ‘Coffee Lake’ processors for desktops is going to be an interesting one. On one side it redefines Intel’s main product stack and its terminology (in a good way), but the motherboard side is going to get somewhat confusing. The new CPUs are using the LGA1151 socket, as found on the previous generation, but it uses the socket differently, making the motherboards and CPUs incompatible with each other. To get around this issue previously, Intel introduces a new name to help with the separation, but no such luck here. The new platform and socket will be supported by the 300-series chipset, with Z370 being the first member of that product family. In this overview, we perform a visual inspection and analysis on 50+ motherboards from the main motherboards manufacturers.

The Z370 Motherboard Spectrum

As part of this piece, we typically reach out to all the motherboard manufacturers and ask for high-quality images and specifications in advance of a launch. But as the official announcement date was moved up due to members of the press leaking the official slide decks in advance, motherboard manufacturers followed suit and have put their entire Z370 motherboard ranges online. This piece goes through all the ones we could find and gives them a thorough inspection, and at the time of writing, we are over 50+ different motherboards.

  • ASUS ROG Maximus X Hero
  • ASUS ROG Maximus X Hero (with WiFi)
  • ASUS ROG Maximus X Apex
  • ASUS Strix Z370-E Gaming
  • ASUS Strix Z370-F Gaming
  • ASUS Strix Z370-G Gaming
  • *ASUS Strix Z370-H Gaming
  • ASUS Strix Z370-I Gaming
  • ASUS TUF Z370-Pro Gaming
  • ASUS TUF Z370-Plus Gaming
  • ASUS Prime Z370-A
  • ASUS Prime Z370-P
     
  • GIGABYTE Z370 Gaming 7
  • GIGABYTE Z370 Gaming 5
  • GIGABYTE Z370 Gaming 3
  • GIGABYTE Z370 Gaming K3
  • GIGABYTE Z370 Gaming WiFi
  • GIGABYTE Z370 Ultra Gaming
  • GIGABYTE Z370XP SLI
  • GIGABYTE Z370 HD3P
  • GIGABYTE Z370 HD3
  • *GIGABYTE Z370N WiFi
     
  • ECS Z370 Lightsaber
     
  • MSI Z370 Godlike Gaming
  • MSI Z370 Gaming Pro Carbon
  • MSI Z370 Gaming Pro Carbon AC
  • *MSI Z370I Gaming Pro Carbon AC
  • MSI Z370 Gaming M5
  • MSI Z370 Gaming Plus
  • MSI Z370 Krait Gaming
  • MSI Z370 Tomahawk
  • MSI Z370M Mortar
  • MSI Z370 SLI Plus
  • MSI Z370 PC Pro
  • MSI Z370 A Pro
     
  • ASRock Z370 Professional Gaming i7
  • ASRock Z370 Gaming K6
  • ASRock Z370 Extreme 4
  • ASRock Z370 Killer SLI
  • ASRock Z370 Killer SLI AC
  • ASRock Z370 Pro4
  • ASRock Z370 Taichi
  • ASRock Z370M Pro4
  • ASRock Z370M-ITX/ac
  • ASRock Z370 Gaming-ITX/ac
  • EVGA Z370 Classified
  • EVGA Z370 FTW
  • EVGA Z370 Micro
     
  • BIOSTAR Z370GT7
  • BIOSTAR Z370GT6
     
  • *Colorful iGame Vulkan X

The list of motherboards is mostly ATX sized products, with a few smaller microATX and mini-ITX in the mix. These motherboards range from $110 all the way up to $500, depending on the features.

*Some new boards still to add to our overview over the next week, stay tuned...

Intel Z370 Chipset

From a high level, the Z370 chipset is identical to the Z270 chipset. The connectivity is the same, the number of supported PCIe 3.0 lanes is the same, the available bifurcation is the same, the controller support is the same: it is the same chipset under a new name, to help identify the new motherboards that support Intel’s 8th Generation processors compared to the previous chipset for the previous generation of processors.

From the chipset directly we get 20-24 PCIe 3.0 lanes, six SATA 6 Gbps ports with support for RAID 0/1/5/10, a total of 14 USB ports (either 2.0 or 3.0, up to a maximum of ten USB 3.0), and support for network controllers, support for Thunderbolt 3, and support for Intel’s Optane memory as a boot drive. It’s critical that we say ‘support’ here, because the diagram above from Intel is misleading: Intel is not supporting Thunderbolt directly from the chipset, and motherboard manufacturers will have to include a Thunderbolt 3 controller in order to do so.

So on the face of it, the chipset is not too different. What will be different is on the motherboard-as-a-whole side.

Intel’s 8th Generation Coffee Lake Platform: CPU

The platform for the new Coffee Lake systems is going to look and feel very similar to the 7th Generation platform, with some minor differences, but this could lead to a lot of confusion.

Intel has made it very clear that the processors for the new generation will work only in Z370 motherboards, and not in the previous generation Z270 motherboards due to how the pins are arranged. In Intel’s 8th Gen datasheet posted online, a full pin-out is provided, showing the difference between the new Coffee Lake processors and the older Kaby Lake processors:

 
Coffee Lake (left), Kaby Lake (right)
Images from David Schor, Wikichip

With the new CPUs, more pins are converted from RSVD (reserved) to VCC (power) and VSS (ground), specifically, there are 18 more power pins and 14 more ground pins, with a slight rearrangement in how the pins are provided.

So the chips are different, especially with the support for hex-core processors, but that is not a big story. What is a big story is as mentioned at the top of the page - the physical socket is identical to the last platform: both use LGA1151, with processors that have equal notches in the packages, making it very easy to place the wrong CPU in the wrong motherboard.

Whoever thought this was a good idea at Intel needs to be fired. If the new CPU was labeled as LGA1153, still had 1151 pins but slightly different notches, this wouldn’t be an issue because users would not be able to misplace (and potentially damage) their new CPUs by placing them in the wrong motherboards.

Video and HDCP2.2 Support

Blowing up specialized sand aside, there is going to be a few differences in the capabilities of each platform. The new processors will support HDCP2.2 on both DP and HDMI, although an LSPCon is still needed for HDMI 2.0.

The video outputs for Coffee Lake will be similar to that on Kaby Lake, with three display pipes supported for motherboard manufacturers to configure as needed.

Memory Support

For the new processors, Intel is increasing memory support for any chip with a base design of at least six cores. In both single DIMM per channel (1DPC) and dual DIMMs per channel (2DPC), Intel will support up to DDR4-2666. For the quad-core parts, Intel will only support up to DDR4-2400 in both 2DPC and 1DPC mode. This is for both single and dual rank memory, which compared to AMD who has different support for each DPC and DRAM rank, Intel’s solution is a bit simpler.

It gets simple until we talk about AIO designs using the processors, which typically require SODIMM memory. For these parts, for both quad-core and hex-core, Intel is supporting DDR4-2400 at 1DPC and DDR4-2133 at 1DPC. LPDDR3 support is dropped entirely. The reason for supporting a reduced memory frequency in an AIO environment under SODIMMs is because these motherboards typically run their traces as chained between the memory slots, rather than a T-Topology which ensures helps with timing synchronization. Intel has made T-Topology part of the specification for desktop motherboards, but not for AIO or integrated ones, which explains the difference in DRAM speed support.

These supported frequencies follow JEDEC official sub-timings. Familiar system builders will be used to DDR4-2133 at a CAS Latency of 15, but as we increase the speed of the modules, the latency increases to compensate:

Intel’s official sub-timing support at DDR4-2666 is 19-19-19. Outside of enterprise modules, that memory does not really exist, because memory manufacturers can seem to create DDR4-2666 16-17-17 modules fairly easily, and these processors are typically fine with those sub-timings. CPU manufacturers typically only state ‘supported frequency at JEDEC sub-timings’ and do not go into sub-timing discussions, because most users care more about the memory frequency. If time permits, it would be interesting to see just how much of a performance deficit the official JEDEC sub-timings provide compared to what memory is actually on sale.

This Overview, and Why It Took Four Editors

Much like our previous motherboard overviews, the goal here is to go through each motherboard that we know about and do a visual inspection: tell you what goes where, if there's something new, or if there's an odd layout that doesn't make sense.

I (Ian) have to give big thanks to our motherboard review team who worked on this project, especially to Joe Shields who wrote up most of them, and to Gavin Bonshor for taking a day out to travel to ASUS UK and get some hands-on before the launch. Anton applied his usual excellence in his Price Overview.

Introduction and editing by Ian Cutress
GIGABYTE, ECS, MSI, ASRock, EVGA and BIOSTAR by Joe Shields

ASUS by Gavin Bonshor
Pricing by Anton Shilov

With any luck, we will be firing up our full Z370 motherboard review engine over the next few weeks. If you see a motherboard in this list that tickles your fancy, let us know in the comments. 

ASUS ROG Z370 Maximus X Hero and Hero AC
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  • Xpl1c1t - Sunday, October 22, 2017 - link

    The mITX board looks incredible.

    + Low ESR Tantalum capacitors! (first time seeing them on VRM duty on a mainboard)
    + HDMI 2.0
    + 2x M.2 Slots
    + USB 3.1 Type C
    + Optical SPDIF

    - RGB.......
    Reply
  • MadAd - Saturday, October 21, 2017 - link

    Great write up but for me its just another depressing generation of oversized, overpriced ATX form factor offerings on which the vast majority of users wont even plug a second gpu into, with the smaller and more size appropriate FF represented as a minority afterthought.

    With all the progress of PCs since the 90s whod have thought that I could still use the same ATX case today while every single other component (from floppy drives to 2d Mattrox cards) have long gone to the recyclers. I find it so annoying how manufacturers have stuck on this prehistoric gargantuan case size with the other sizes being an afterthought. It feels like like stifled innovation while everything else is moving on.
    Reply
  • rocky12345 - Saturday, October 21, 2017 - link

    Great article and a lot of work put in to get it out for us to read thank you.

    My only issue is and it is nit your fault is why these companies feel the need to totally blanket the market with basically the same boards just a different model number and basically a few tiny changes and spray paint it a different color and use the word gaming and put something x or x1 or k,k3 etc etc. For crap sakes just release three models not 7-10 models of the same crap it is pretty much just greed I guess.

    The whole market is like this now with anything computer related of and if it has the words GAMING or RGB in it's got to be good for sure. My fav is that gaming mouse pad next it will have RGB lighting in it...lol
    Reply
  • CitizenZer0 - Wednesday, October 25, 2017 - link

    Agreed Reply
  • carldon - Saturday, October 21, 2017 - link

    Excellent summary and table in the last page. Good work!!! Reply
  • imaheadcase - Saturday, October 21, 2017 - link

    I got a few questions:
    1. Why do they put USB 2.0 ports if USB 3.0 is backward compatible anyways? Why not just all USB 3.0 ports..it can't be price.
    2. Why do they have such a vary in memory timings? For %99 of people memory timings are not really a big deal right? Maybe in old PC days it was.
    3. Mini-ITX vs Micro-ITX..isn't it silly both exist in first place? Any reason for this..the diminsions are really close to the same. In fact, most Micro-ITX is simply removing lots of stuff from mobo that you really want to begin with.
    Reply
  • lordsutch - Saturday, October 21, 2017 - link

    I'd imagine they want to offer as many ports as they can without taking away too many PCIe lanes. The other option would be to embed a USB 3.x switch (or a PCIe switch) but of course now each port wouldn't simultaneously be able to operate at peak speed and 3.x switches are probably more expensive than USB 2 controllers. Reply
  • imaheadcase - Sunday, October 22, 2017 - link

    Ahh didn't think about that aspect. Reply
  • DanNeely - Saturday, October 21, 2017 - link

    Some USB audio and 2.4ghz wifi/bluetooth devices have had interference problems in 3.0 sockets. Dunno if they're fixed on new hardware (supposedly onboard hubs were a lot worse than chipset ports in this regard so room for QC to make it better); but even if they are there's going to be problems with once burned customers not trusting them.

    As pointed out elsewhere USB3 competes with PCIe lanes/SATA ports on the southbridge. Especially on full ATX boards if you go to max out the number of PCIe lanes to expansion slots and m.2 ports in addition to the lanes used on board for networking and audio you can get down to only a half dozen or so 3.0 lanes left from the chipset; but still able to hit 14 USB ports total by going USB2 with the rest.

    People using older OSes (Windows 7 says hi) can't use USB3 ports to install the OS without jumping through a lot of hoops (the OS sees them as not USB2 and can't talk to them).

    If any board size is at risk of going away it's probably full ATX; although for enthusiast sales I suspect it'll hold on better than mini ATX due to bigger is better irrationality.

    MiniITX still has a decent capability gap vs mini ATX; but it's much smaller than it was a half dozen years ago when it only made sense if you were making a tiny box and were willing to accept major performance compromises to do so. Now as Mini ITX's capability continues to goes up and the need for expansion cards other than a single GPU goes down it's eating into an increasing chunk of Mini ATX's marketshare.

    On the high side mainstream chips don't really have enough PCIe lanes to make good use of the extra 3 cards of space possible on the bigger boards/ Meanwhile multi-GPU gaming - the main reason an enthusiast would need a full size mobo is steadily going away (fewer games supporting it each year, no support for 3/4way at all in the newest cards from either company); and unless you need 2 GPUs + something else or extra space around the CPU for crazy OCing Mini ATX does almost everything that could be needed.
    Reply
  • MadAd - Sunday, October 22, 2017 - link

    > If any board size is at risk of going away it's probably full ATX; although for enthusiast sales I suspect it'll hold on better than mini ATX due to bigger is better irrationality.

    Irrationality indeed. I would have thought by now instead of a measly 5 mATX choices out of 50+ that it would be instead maybe 5 fullsize ATX with the main battleground being the two slot mATX market.

    Its just laziness on the manufacturers side, with nobody steering the market to innovate on size. Theres nobody driving form factors, the CPU companies are present on all form factors so they dont need to drive change, the board partners are all set in their ways just slapping new images on mildly reworked designs so they dont have any need to innovate, weve seen video card manufacturers can shrink designs to better fit smaller factors but we still get chunky easy to produce cards for mainstream use as retooling would be an added cost, its just rolling train of new but nothing new generation after generation.

    PC design is falling into mediocrity and I just wish the main players (intel+amd/board partners/nvidia+amd) would all get together to drive SFX/ITX and force retire ATX to the strictly enthusiast market, and maybe appeal to a more contemporary home user community (rather than just gamers which is where the marketing all seems to be these days) again too.
    Reply

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