Intel Coffee Lake CPU may be a bitter upgrade to swallow

Chris Davies - Aug 3, 2017
Intel Coffee Lake CPU may be a bitter upgrade to swallow

Intel CPU fans eager to upgrade to the chip maker’s upcoming Coffee Lake silicon may find themselves with a bigger than expected hit on their wallet. The new processors are set to succeed Intel‘s Kaby Lake models, using 14nm Tri-Gate processes and offering up to 30-percent performance gains over current seventh-generation 15W mobile CPUs. However, in doing so it’s looking like they’ll break backward compatibility.

It comes down to mainboard chipset, which has become the bane of many system upgraders over the past years. The hope had been that eighth-generation Coffee Lake processors would be a simple swap-out for existing PCs, making for a relatively painless revamp of a current rig. However, according to reports from motherboard makers, that’s not going to be the case.

First signs of trouble came from a support request on Twitter to mainboard maker ASRock, asked whether its 200-series ‘boards – specifically the Z270 Supercarrier -would be compatible with Coffee Lake CPUs. Unexpectedly, ASRock said the answer to that was no, and that “Coffee Lake CPU is not compatible with 200 series motherboards.” Coffee Lake will use a Z370 chipset, compared to the Z270 chipset that is currently deployed.

Speaking to another source, PCWorld confirmed the bad news. Though the Z270 and Z370 chipsets appear to be the same, the older version simply won’t support Coffee Lake. That’s despite having been criticized from some quarters for a lackluster overall spec sheet, beyond six speedy cores.

The concern among Intel fans is that this could be the motivation many PC users need to jump ship. AMD hasn’t been slow to court Intel performance chip buyers in recent months, lately rounding out its full range of Ryzen desktop silicon. Meanwhile, rumors suggest that even Intel’s upcoming 12-core Core i9 could face unusually potent competition from its AMD Ryzen Threadripper rival, to the point where the Intel chip might be overshadowed right out of the gate.

Factor in AMD’s commitment to backward compatibility, and you start to see the beginnings of a perfect storm – and not one which Intel seems likely to weather well. While Intel has declined to comment on the Coffee Lake rumors, saying it won’t speak to future products, AMD has said it will support its existing Socket AM4 customers until 2020. We’ll know more when the first Coffee Lake chips arrive, which is expected later in 2017.

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