Intel Z270 Express and H270 Express Chipsets Support Kaby Lake, More PCI-E 3.0 Lanes

Subject: Motherboards | December 2, 2016 - 08:19 AM |
Tagged: Intel, z270, h270, intel z270, kaby lake, Optane, PCI-E 3.0

Details on Intel’s upcoming Z270 and H270 chipsets surfaced last month that fleshed out the new platform and its capabilities including the inclusion of additional PCI-E 3.0 lanes and out-of-the-box support for 7th Generation Intel Kaby Lake processors versus the current generation Z170 and H170 chipsets.

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An alleged Z270 motherboard from ASUS (STRIX Z270G GAMING) per Wccftech.

TechPowerUp reported that Intel’s 200-series chipsets – which would be used on motherboards with the LGA 1151 socket – would feature incremental improvements over their current generation equivalents including the upgrade to Intel Rapid Storage Technology (RST) version 15, support for Intel Optane Technology, and additional downstream PCI-E 3.0 lanes. The Z270 and H270 chipsets each have four extra lanes compared to their 100-series predecessors. These “downstream lanes” allow for additional high bandwidth connections that hang off the chipset (which does appear to still be ultimately limited by the physical four PCI-E 3.0 lanes that make up the DMI 3.0 link between the CPU and PCH). Examples include extra Thunderbolt, USB 3.1, and PCI-E slots for NICs, capture cards, storage controllers, or even graphics cards.

Intel Z270 Express will feature 14 general purpose PCI-E lanes versus 10 on Z170 Express along with a total lane budget of 30 versus 26 (16 of those lanes are reserved for CPU to one or two PCI-E 3.0 x16 slots (electrically 1x16 or 2x8) and the others come from the chipset but really connect back to the CPU over a DMI 3.0 link that is equivalent to four lanes of PCI-E 3.0. H270 also features 14 general purpose lanes versus what appears to be six on H170. H270 and H170 have 16 PCI-E 3.0 lanes coming from the CPU for graphics so it is a total lane budget of 30 versus 22 respectively.

  Z270 Z170 H270 H170
High Speed IO (HSIO) 30 26 30 22
PCI-E 3.0 Lanes 24 20 20 16
Maximum M.2 slots 3 3 2 2

H270 will see the biggest benefit from the additional PCI-E lanes which could mean systems like HTPCs and budget desktops where overclocking and multi-GPU setups are not a concern using H270 chipset motherboards could still support a full range of external IO and fast storage.

One interesting thing I noticed from the table is that Z270 and H270 do not support additional M.2 slots. The maximum number of M.2 slots remains the same as their 100-series counterparts at three and two respectively.  After talking with Allyn, this makes sense because of that limiting factor that is the four lane DMI 3.0 link to the CPU and memory. Specifically, he explained:

“Think of the chipset as a means of fanout to individual things that won't simultaneously consumer more than x4. You can use the extra lanes for other stuff, like additional USB 3.1 controllers, Ethernet, audio, etc. Heck, you can route them to the last PCIe slot if you wanted.”

Further, Intel will continue to differentiate the Z270 Express and H270 Express by supporting multiplier overclocking and multi-GPU setups solely on Z270-based motherboards. H270 will be single x16 slot boards that do not allow multiplier-based overclocking at best and more than likely any CPU overclocking. The tradeoff being that H270-based boards should be much cheaper.

Intel Optane support is compelling, but will not be a reason to upgrade quite yet as drives are still a ways off and when they do arrive are sure to be very expensive. Rumors do suggest that Intel may introduce a small 3D XPoint-based Optane SSD up to 32GB alongside the rollout of Kaby Lake and new motherboards but as that is not large enough for an OS drive it will remain more of a niche thing at first. As larger drives come out at lower price points, the support for them on Z270 and H270 would help make the case for enthusiasts running Z170 and H170 boards to make the jump.

Of course, that brings me to my main thought surrounding Z270 and H270 based motherboards which is that while someone looking to build a new PC could justify going straight to the newer chipset-based motherboards, users running existing Z170 and H170 motherboards – many of which will support Kaby Lake processors with a BIOS update – have little reason to jump at an upgrade. Budget builds might even justify going to the older and cheaper boards if they don’t need the new features and putting the saved money towards something like more memory or a better CPU cooler.

For the highest end (save HEDT) builds, Z270-based boards should offer more connectivity options for Thunderbolt and USB 3.1 ports and the ability to dive into XPoint storage when it fully rolls out is nice. There are arguments to be main on both sides.

What are your plans for Kaby Lake? Will you be upgrading to the new processor, and if so will be using a Z170/H170 or a new Z270/H270 board?

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Source: TechPowerUp