To Broadwell-E or not to Broadwell-E. That is the question!

If you're an enthusiast and that Nehalem or Sandy Bridge setup you built years ago is ready for a replacement, you might be considering an X99 motherboard build. The operative question then becomes, "should I wait for Broadwell-E or just buy Haswell-E and be done with it?" After a weekend at PAX East talking to several SIs, Intel employees, and all the other hardware vendors, we were able to get a few bits and pieces of information that may help you make your decision, but first, let's look at some numbers.

The show floor presence was much more vibrant for Intel at this year’s PAX Prime. When we visited the company at East, presentation was largely devoted to a few 700-series SSDs, some (very large) gaming notebooks, and that was about it. This event’s booth came equipped with Intel-branded lamp shades over the ceiling lights – a clear indication of the company’s technological progress.

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Impressive light diffusion aside, Intel did have fairly exciting lineup of hardware to look at: The i7-5960X had its embargo officially lifted at 9AM PST and made an appearance at the show, ASUS has its new X99-Deluxe boards powering the booth, Alienware, Falcon Northwest, Maingear, and other shops have systems present, and there’s a clear push toward the DIY PC consumer. A huge step in the direction we all want to move.

After generations of thermal issues stemming from Intel's poor TIM and IHS design, the company's "Devil's Canyon" chips have arrived in full force. We first looked at Devil's Canyon back at GDC and have since looked at Haswell Refresh, which was effectively a non-K SKU of what's being used in this build today.

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The "Gen 4.5" CPU runs on existing Haswell architecture and remains on a 22nm process, but sees the redesign of its TIM (using a polymer thermal interface) and capacitor layout. This redesign ensures cleaner power delivery to the die and allows great overhead for overclocking. Intel's Devil's Canyon chips include the i5-4690K and i7-4790K (+0020 to the SKU), each of which ships with a slightly higher BCLK and turbo-clock frequency. The quad-core, hyperthreaded 4790K runs at a native 4.0/4.4GHz over its predecessor's 3.5/3.9GHz; the quad-core, non-hyperthreaded 4690K operates at 3.5/3.9GHz over the 4670K's 3.4/3.8GHz.

TDP is roughly the same, hovering right around 88W over the previous 84W.

This high-end gaming PC build will get you started with moderate overclocking on Intel's Devil's Canyon CPU. At just under $1300, the machine will play all current games at near-max (high / ultra hybrid) settings on a 1080p screen without issue.

Z97 motherboards have been floating around for a little while now -- here's our round-up of them -- but we haven't had a chance to actually look at the Z97 chipset as a product. Z97's immediate accompanying CPU is the Devil's Canyon chip that was announced at GDC, but will later host the 5th Gen Broadwell CPUs. Devil's Canyon is due out shortly, though another Haswell Refresh (i5-4690, others) was recently posted that has seen minimal interest thus far; Broadwell is due out in 4Q14 or later and features a die-shrink to 14nm fab process.

sata-expressThis is a SATA Express connector -- effectively dual SATA ports with additional power/ground.

Thus far, we know of Intel's Z97 and H97 chipsets and have heard no news of an "H91" or "B95" equivalent from last generation. For this Intel Broadwell 9-series chipset comparison, we'll look strictly at Z97 vs. H97 for gaming and overclocking purposes; the goal of this guide is to help PC builders determine which chipset will perform best for their objectives while remaining price-scaled.

I wrote a similar chipset comparison for AMD FM2/FM2+ chipsets last week.

As the embargoes are lifted across the web for Z97-equipped motherboards, we see prices and tentative release dates emerging for new platforms. ASUS, Gigabyte, MSI, EVGA, and ASRock have all put out some sort of Z97 board teaser, but thus far ASUS is the first to supply hard pricing data.

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With the Haswell refresh CPUs (Devil’s Canyon) coming out and Broadwell planned for later this year, the latest Intel motherboards for them are slowly being leaked through official and unofficial channels. The most notable feature of the new Z97 chipset is that it supports the latest SATA express interface natively, which features transfer speeds of 10-16 Gb/s and enables much faster transfer speeds for SSDs. While motherboard manufacturers aren't releasing official specs just yet, pictures of these upcoming boards have been released and from them we can find out some details.

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MSI, ASUS, ASRock, Gigabyte, and EVGA have all posted photos and teaser specs of their Z97 motherboards. In this Z97 Broadwell / Devil’s Canyon motherboard specs round-up, we look at the next generation’s Intel board selection specs and features.

Let’s dive into this.

Intel's 4th Generation of Core processors in the i-prefixed family launched around this time last year; Haswell has been out for a while now and sees regular inclusion in our mid-range and high-end PC build lists, but wasn't initially recommended as an upgrade for owners of Ivy Bridge and Sandy Bridge CPUs. This remains true, and while awaiting the launch of 14nm Haswell Successor "Broadwell," it looks like Intel is putting out a second SKU listing of Haswell processors.

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From what a reader spotted on retailer ShopBLT, the new Intel SKUs are listed as:

Intel's desktop CPU lineup is split between its mainstream processors, mid-range i-Series units, and high-end *-E series "Extreme" microprocessors. The current relevant models are, as many of you already know, Haswell (i5-4670K, 4770K, others) on the 8-series Lynx Point chipset (1150-pin socket) and Ivy Bridge-E (i7-4930K, 4960X, others) on the X-class X79 Patsburg chipset (2011 pins).

haswell-e4Image source: VR-Zone's June, 2013 leak of HW-E's initial specs.

Rolling into 2013, Haswell was ramping up for its Performance (i-series) product launch with Ivy Bridge-E in tow; the previous generation always launches its extreme series CPU just after the mainstream launch of the impending generation, in a somewhat opposite fashion from the GPU industry. Now, with 2014 effectively here, we'll see Haswell-E launch with DDR4 support in roughly Q3 2014.

We previously published an article that gave a top-level overview of motherboard selection for new PC builds. In this year's revised edition, we'll approach the topic with a bit more depth than previously and will account for Intel's Haswell CPUs and AMD's FX line of CPUs.

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Selecting the best motherboard for your gaming PC build is important to ensure upgradability going forward, access to Haswell/AMD overclocking features, and overall system stability. Chipset selection is tied-at-the-hip with motherboard selection, but if you need help finding the right chipset, check out these previous two articles (Intel - Haswell; AMD - FX).

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