Nobody outside of Intel truly knows that is going on behind closed doors in Santa Clara. Nevertheless, the web is never short on rumors or speculation, and right now the unsubstantiated chatter is centered on Intel’s upcoming Z390 chipset for Coffee Lake. While initially intended as a new chipset with a few additional features not found on Z370, there is evidence to suggest that Intel might turn it into a rebranding effort instead.
The question is, would Intel really rebrand its Z370 as Z390? This goes back to what we just said, that nobody outside of Intel truly knows what the chip maker is thinking or planning. However, it wouldn’t be a stretch if Intel went that route, as Z390 and Z370 have more similarities than differences. The primary reason for releasing another chipset for Coffee Lake (or rebranding an existing one) is, presumably, to support upcoming 8-core/16-thread processors.
That should already be possible on Z370 with a BIOS update. Here’s where things get interesting. Around a month and a half ago, Intel posted a full product brief on its unreleased Z390 chipset. A visit to where that PDF previous sat on the company’s website now returns an error message that states, “Oops! Something went wrong.” Before the page went dark, however, we got a full outline of what to expect. Here’s a look at the Z390 diagram:
Click to Enlarge (Source: Intel)
So if Z370 should already be capable of supporting an 8-core Coffee Lake processor, why the new chipset? One reason would be the tweak the power delivery, which could come in handy for higher-end boards that allow for overclocking. At the same time, Intel planned to add some new features, and specifically improved connectivity options—Z390 was to include native 802.11ac Wi-Fi (via an integrated Intel Wireless-AC 9560 MAC) and Bluetooth 5.0. It also was to bring native USB 3.1 Gen2 support to the mix.
What’s essentially at play here is a cost-saving move by Intel, assuming the rumor turns out to be true (and we don’t know that it is). If so, it would be up to Intel’s hardware partners to source third-party controllers for wireless connectivity and USB 3.1 Gen2 support from companies like ASMedia, if they wanted those features. Either way, the Z390 chipset itself would be virtually identical to Z370, save for some minor changes to the reference design.
It seems an odd move this late in the game, though it’s equally odd that the Z390 page is no longer visible on Intel’s website. Bottom line is, we’ll have to wait and see how it all shakes out.