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You'll need a new X299 motherboard to run Intel's latest CPUs

You'll need a new X299 motherboard to run Intel's latest CPUs


But they’re very good boards, you won’t be sad

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Image: MSI

The new Core X-series chips from Intel sound very powerful and good, but there's one caveat: you'll need a new motherboard. The current standard Z270 motherboard chipset is a "consumer" product, and the new X-series processors have a different pin layout, and are designed for a slightly more demanding customer with deeper pockets.

The X299 isn't a huge upgrade over the Z270, but it's a major leap past the X99 boards, which hosted the last generation of Intel's most extreme chips. X299 chipsets support up to 24 PCIe 3.0 lanes, compared to the paltry eight PCIe 2.0 lanes on X99. Paired with the new processors, you're looking at an embarrassment of I/O — you can load a system up with multi-gigabit Ethernet, a few GPUs, and a couple of M.2 SSDs, and still have headroom to spare for your USB 3.1 daisy chain, Thunderbolt, and a handful of SATA devices.

Unfortunately, the fact that Intel is giving two fairly different CPUs (Skylake and Kaby Lake) the X-series treatment means not all X299 motherboards will be created equally. Depending on which CPU you pick, you'll have different amounts of I/O support, and different compatible RAM configurations. That means, depending on your chosen pairing, you can conceivably buy a motherboard with a lot of "features" that you can't make use of, or a CPU that's held back by the motherboard's limits.

It sounds as if the whole reason Intel is even offering the lower-end Skylake chips is to let people get a fancy new X299 motherboard now, and upgrade the CPU when budget allows. But if that's the case, anyone with a competent Z270 system on their desk right now won't probably have much of a reason to sidegrade. As Anandtech writes: "This is arguably a big mess."

Anyway, let's look at these motherboards!

Image: Gigabyte

Gigabyte's Auros Gaming series motherboards highlight something most of these systems have in common: some sort of M.2 cooling or monitoring to make sure your fastest SSD drives don't throttle down due to heat concerns. All three models in the series support up to three M.2 drives, which is a nice upgrade over the one or two slots you can expect on most Z270 boards. Because this series is all about gaming, Gigabyte also packed in a bunch of RGB fluff.

Image: Asus

Asus has an absurd seven different X299 motherboards right out of the gate. The top-end ROG Rampage VI supports four-way SLI, has a 10Gb Ethernet chipset, and 802.11ad Wi-Fi. There's also a little OLED display for peeking your stats.

Image: MSI

MSI's Gaming M7 ACK has dual Killer E2500 Ethernet controllers and Killer 1535 Wi-Fi which can all be combined into a single connection.

EVGA has an overclocking-focused board called the X299 Dark, which supports four-way SLI and also includes dedicated M.2 cooling. There's also triple BIOS support, which is amazing. EVGA also has a micro-ATX form factor board which supports two-way SLI.

ASRock managed to make a mini-ITX form factor X299 board, which still includes four memory slots and three M.2 slots, but cuts the GPU opportunities down to one. ASRock's Gaming i9 board meanwhile has 10Gb Ethernet built in.

I'm going to wait for some reviews (or at least price tags) to start rolling in before I try and choose a candidate for an X299 build. To be honest, most of the specs are probably overkill for my purposes — and I still haven't put together a Ryzen system! But it's exciting to see this much power and expandability available out of the gate for these long-awaited CPUs.