Fresh Coffee: The New H370 and B360 Motherboard Chipsets
Today's official rollout of the Intel H370 and B360 chipsets is the starting gun for the debut of a horde of new, more affordable motherboards for 8th Generation Intel® Core™ processors. That's a desktop-hardware development long awaited by PC builders and upgraders, who have been bound, until now, to Z370-chipset-based motherboards and waiting for budget-minded boards for the "Coffee Lake" family of desktop chips. (See our coverage by Paul Alcorn of the new chipsets' launch.)
With these new-for-2018 chipsets decloaking, we got our mitts on three new enthusiast-targeted boards based on these "mainstream"-grade chipsets. Our test boards are from ASRock, MSI, and Gigabyte/Aorus, and each is a different form factor. But properly defining what makes for a “mainstream” motherboard in this new chipset reality gets a little complicated--so buckle in and let us explain.
The New "Coffee Lake" Mainstream
Let's recap where things are today. We know that CPUs based on the LGA 1151 socket continue to define Intel’s mainstream platform (as opposed to the higher-end LGA 2066 processors under the Core X-Series banner), and that chipsets beginning with "Z" are traditionally sold to performance enthusiasts as the overclockable, multi-GPU compatible version of its mainstream platform. The Z-series motherboards lead, and lower-model chipsets are later introduced with the same CPU compatibility but fewer features. For today's launch, the H370, B360, and H310 offer lower-cost compatibility for the 8th Generation Intel Core processors which had, until today, required a somewhat-expensive Z370 motherboard.
Yes, the nuances are a tangle, and we invite anyone who doesn’t care about the details to jump to Page 2 of this roundup for the start of the blow-by-blow on each board we have in hand. For the rest of us, though, the conversation starts three years ago, with Intel's premium Z170 chipset, which was rumored to have four HSIO resources that would have been available for PCIe--but were held in reserve. PC enthusiasts and other keen observers of the market guessed that those pathways might have been reserved for Thunderbolt controller integration. But when the Thunderbolt-equipped boards came out, they didn’t use those pathways.
The follow-on Z270 chipset launched with four additional pathways. So, those of us who remembered the Z170’s reserved pathways questioned whether the Z270 was new silicon, or just a new name for the old silicon. And when Z370 came out, it appeared to be little more than a name used to differentiate "Skylake" and "Kaby Lake" motherboards (that is, those supporting 6th- and 7th-generation Core processors) from Coffee Lake (8th-generation Core) ones. Regardless of whether the Z170 had persisted in its original form under new names, or had some kind of minor bugs patched along the way, that’s a lot of years to get out of a design.
What we've seen in our pre-launch analysis, though, is that the new mainstream chipsets on display here today appear to be far closer to a complete revision than to reheated designs.
Integrating USB 3.1 Gen2
The biggest advancement with these new chipsets for value-seeking desktop users is that Intel now integrates USB 3.1 Gen2, which (confusingly enough) is the original 10Gb/s generation of USB 3.1. Those familiar with recent USB gyrations may recall that "USB 3.1 Gen1" is just a rename of USB 3.0, which is meant to assure users of compatibility with Gen2 devices, but at USB 3.0's lower 5Gb/s speed. Regardless of the naming games that marketers have played, the takeaway here is that users now get their 10Gb/s USB ports without paying, roughly, an extra $10 for each two-port add-in controller.
Gigabit Wi-Fi: The New AMR?
A bit of motherboard history here: Some of us remember the concept of the Audio/Modem Riser (AMR) from the days when people didn’t want to pay for motherboards loaded with low-quality audio and networking codecs. Frustrated buyers of mainstream motherboards were offered codec-free boards that had a worthless riser slot where a PCI slot should have gone. Fortunately, Intel’s latest riser interface makes dual use of a hybrid M.2 Key-E slot, so that users can choose whether to install an industry-standard PCIe-based module, or Intel’s proprietary CNVi module, in the same space.
By integrating several of the main components within the chipset, Intel has produced a 1.73Gb/s Wi-Fi module that costs about as much as its previous 867Mb/s PCIe-based module. Attaining the new speed requires an access point with a 160MHz channel, which comes with its own set of pluses and minuses that you’re probably searching the internet for right now. But this is a neat little addition to keep an eye on in these new chipsets. Some boards will support CNVi; others not.
The New Chipsets: Core Details
Tradition holds that new mainstream Intel chipsets are based on the most recent Z-series chipset, with a few features disabled. That’s not the situation this time, as Intel wasn’t ready with a new Z-series chipset when it decided to break off the Coffee Lake processor series from prior platforms. Overclockers are instead left waiting for the next Z-series to launch while the mainstream H370 and B360 are based on the Q370. Here is a breakout of the current 300-series chipset lineup, with the new ones added...
|Intel 300 Series Chipset Features Table (April 2018 Updates)|
|On-CPU PCI Express*3.0 Configuration(s)||1x16 or 2x8or1x8+2x4||1x16 or 2x8or1x8+2x4||1x16||1x16||1x16|
|Independent DisplayPorts / Pipes Support||3/3||3/3||3/3||3/3||3/2|
|Memory Channels / DIMMs per Channel||2/2||2/2||2/2||2/2||2/1|
|Integrated Intel Wireless-ACSupport (CNVi)||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Intel Optane Memory Support||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|Maximum High Speed I/O Lanes||30||30||30||24||14|
|Maximum USB 3.1 Ports: Gen 2 / Gen 1||0/10||6/10||4/8||4/6||0/4|
|Maximum SATA 6Gb/s Ports||6||6||6||6||4|
|Maximum PCI Express* 3.0 lanes||24 (v3.0)||24 (v3.0)||20 (v3.0)||12 (v3.0)||6 (v2.0)|
|Intel Rapid Storage Technology||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|Maximum Intel RST for PCIe Storage Ports (x2 M.2 or x4 M.2)||3||3||2||1||0|
|Intel RST PCIe RAID 0, 1, 5||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Intel RST SATA RAID 0, 1, 5, 10||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Intel RST for CPU-attachedIntel PCIe Storage||Yes||Yes||No||No||No|
Q370 is the corporate-minded member of this family, with support for Intel's vPro, while H310 is the most budget-minded of the lot. (We haven't received an H310 board for review yet.) H370 makes a host of changes, apart from the big one in all of these new chipsets: no CPU overclocking. It drops the ability to split CPU-based PCI lanes across multiple devices; it reduces the number of USB 3.1/3.0 ports to four and eight; it reduces the maximum number of chipset PCIe lanes to 20; it limits Intel RST to two NVMe drives; and it removes the ability to use RST with CPU-based NVMe drives. That still leaves enough resources to fill out a basic ATX or even a somewhat-elaborate MicroATX motherboard configuration; on our next page, we’re about to show you an ASRock H370 Mini-ITX motherboard, in a form factor that could be a little cramped to use all those features.
B360, a step down from H370, makes a few more sacrifices. The key changes? This chipset drops to 24 total HSIO lanes (which includes everything from PCIe to SuperSpeed USB), reduces the maximum number of USB 3.0 ports (to six), reduces the maximum number of PCIe lanes (to 12), limits Intel RST to a single NVMe drive, and loses integrated RAID capability for SATA drives. One might think this cheaper chipset a good match for the connector limitations inherent in Mini-ITX. On page four, we'll investigate a B360 MicroATX motherboard and see how the limitations of both the chipset and form factor shape up against each other.
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