If you are looking to build the best, top of the line enthusiast Intel-based system out there, chances are that you have narrowed down your decision to getting a motherboard with either one of these chipsets – X299 and Z370. However, its possible at this point that some confusion has dawned upon you and you can’t decide on one or the other. Or maybe you just came here to learn about the chipset to increase your understanding.
In order to make things easier for you to consume and understand, I have divided all of the most important features in the form of a list below.
Nomenclature, generation/lithography/architecture and AMD counterparts
The simplest yet most confusing part is to distinguish between the naming schemes of these products. But fear not, with my help, you will be able to have a better understanding of Intel’s naming for their CPUs, chipsets, and architectures. X299 is the higher end platform made to cater to the needs of the most demanding content creators and enthusiasts. X299 is classified in the HEDT (High-End Desktop) while Z370 is the best chipset for the home desktop offered by Intel and its partners. The hierarchy of chipsets based on their features within the Coffee Lake line of CPUs goes about like this:
H310 < B360 < H370 < Z370/Z390 < X299 < Server grade Xeons on LGA 3647.
Coffee Lake is not, in fact, a lake made entirely of coffee, instead, it is the name of the 8th and 9th generation Core series of CPUs on the 14 nm architecture. The Core i7 8700K is the leading 8th generation CPU and the Intel Core i9 9900K is the top 9th generation CPU.
The current CPU architectures for X299 are Skylake-X, Kaby Lake-X, Skylake-W, and Cascade Lake-X and the list of CPUs is very long. The range of cores can scale from 4 (Core i5 7640X) all the way to 18 cores and 36 threads (Core i9 9980XE). Choosing the right X299 system is in itself a long procedure because of its massive scalability.
For AMD users, a point of reference would be that the X370/X470 chipset is equivalent to Intel’s Z370/Z390 chipset and the AMD Threadripper CPUs use the X399 chipset
You might need to read this portion again to grasp this properly. Sadly Intel’s naming schemes have become rather confusing and it takes a little bit of patience to understand what is what.
Major Aspects To Know Before Making A Decision
The Z370 CPUs are equipped with an LGA 1151 socket and X299 CPUs sit on an LGA 2066 socket. The LGA 1151 socket is also used by the 6th and 7th generation CPUs. A CPU socket is designed specifically to meet stable power requirements and data delivery of the CPU. A CPU socket can somewhat determine how much a CPU is capable of and how much power it can consume to operate. Since LGA 2066 is almost twice as many number of pins, the socket can provide up to a massive 200W to the CPU with the help of high quality and well cooled VRMs.
The LGA 1151 socket is capable of providing power at around 100W to 140W.
Power delivery, VRMs, and overclockability
Z370 is the only chipset in the Coffee lake LGA 1151 family of CPUs that supports overclocking. You will need a “K” (Unlocked) variant of a CPU in order for it to overclock as all the other SKUs have locked multipliers. The Core i7 8700 and 8700K are identical in every way except the fact that you can overclock the 8700K and it has both higher clock speeds and better power management.
All X299 CPUs are overclockable. It makes sense for the enthusiasts to get all the features without having to worry.
CPU power is delivered by a 4 pin CPU connector but that is just the bare minimum. Depending on the requirement, the motherboard might house more CPU connectors for the power supply to provide over the 12V rail. Some might pack 8 or even 12 connections to provide more wattage. The VRMs must be adequately cooled either passively or actively with a fan in order to maintain a steady voltage.
Older 1151 CPUs were compatible with DDR3L RAM as well but due to change in the architecture of the 8th and 9th generation CPUs, you can only use DDR4 and their compatible motherboards don’t offer previous RAM generations. Both X299 and Z370 platforms support DDR4 RAM at speeds over 3000 MHz. The advantage that the higher-end product provides is faster and higher capacity RAM. The Z370 CPUs and motherboards support up to 64 GB of RAM, whereas the X299 motherboards and CPUs can use up to 128 GB. Also, the X299 motherboards are equipped with quad channel memory compared to the dual channel memory you find on Z370. This means that the total bandwidth of data is doubled on dual channel compared to single channel memory and further doubled going from dual channel to quad channel(quadruple from single channel). This does not mean much for gamers as their data is usually loaded once on the RAM when they start a game, but if you are a content creator you must thrive on faster RAM.
PCIe lanes are the major differentiating factor between the HEDT user and the gamer. The top of the line Intel Core i9 9980XE is an 18 core monster with a pretty high 44 PCIe lanes. The Core i7 8700K maxes out at 24. PCIe lanes help in communicating the processor with the most speed dependent devices. A graphics card in a PCIe x16 slot will run at its maximum bandwidth and use around 8 to 10 PCIe lanes. Smaller devices like WiFi cards, Bluetooth modules, NVMe SSDs or USB hubs on PCIe might use about a maximum of 2 PCIe lanes .
There is no difference between what one chipset will offer over the other in terms of I/O except that there are no X299 motherboards with display outputs because their CPUs lack integrated graphics. The number of USB ports, internet/WiFi modules, audio systems are all dependent on the vendor.
In general, the X299 will have the absolute best of everything that Intel has to offer. If there is a feature missing on any of the other chipsets including the Z370, you are going to get it in the X series of CPUs. Maybe in the form of more cores, cache and PCIe lanes as well instruction sets not capable of running on lower end CPUs. However, unlike a prosumer, you are still getting integrated graphics capable of encoding and decoding 4K videos and play light games in case you don’t have a dedicated graphics card.
So if you are in the market to build a PC with either of these platforms, here are some of my suggestions for a solid motherboard and CPU combo.
Intel Core i7 9700K and Asus ROG Strix Z370-E
After some speculation and research, I came to the conclusion of pairing the best value Coffee Lake CPU and the best value motherboard to pair it with. I decided to go with the i7 9700K and Asus ROG Strix Z370-E Gaming motherboard.
The Obvious Choice
|Package||Intel Core i7 9700K|
|Package||Asus ROG Strix Z370-E|
Last Update on 2021-01-26 at 04:32 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
1. Intel Core i7 9700K
The Intel Core i7 9700K is an 8 core & 8 thread monster. Gaming? Video editing? Live streaming? It has you covered from all the grounds and breaks no sweat. All while maintaining a scorching 5.0 GHz on air.
Historically, Core i7s have always had Hyper-threading whether on desktops, laptops or HEDT but the 9700K is the first ever to ditch this feature. Even the 8th generation i7 8700K (6 cores & 12 threads) has Hyper-threading. Although that might be a bummer for some users as they have workloads that benefit from having more threads, having physical cores is going to be better in almost every other situation including gaming. Sure, 8 cores and 16 threads would have been frosting on the i7 cake, it comes with a significant cost and power increase. Also, there are availability issues with the i9 9900K. If you don’t know what Hyper-threading is, it is a feature that allows each core to handle multiple instructions better than a single core and increases overall multi-threading performance of a CPU (AMD calls it SMT – Simultaneous Multi-Threading which is exactly the same feature).
However, it is a heuristic process and having more physical cores will always be better than having less with Hyper-threading. The 9700K is also the entry of 8 cores on the LGA 1151 socket.
I also wanted to quickly mention Intel QuickSync and the integrated UHD Graphics 630 GPU. This works wonders with the Adobe suite of softwares including Premiere Pro. You can render and transcode 4K videos without the need of an external GPU. Plus you can also use the iGPU if you don’t have a powerful graphics card with you. Just don’t expect too much of it and the iGPU relies on fast RAM as well.
2. Asus ROG Strix Z370-E
The motherboard of choice is the Asus ROG Strix Z370-E Gaming. This motherboard was carefully chosen and it had to satisfy some requirements before being recommended.
The first reason why we chose this motherboard over any other Z370 or even Z390 board is that this board has the best Auto Overclocking feature of any. Asus’s AutoOC can take your CPU to a stable 4.9 GHz without you needing to meddle with the BIOS, granted that you have adequate cooling. The VRMs are also cooled semi-actively with heat sinks.
If you are wondering why not get a Z390, that is because Z390 only has 2 new features: Intel guarantees their own WiFi module and a USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C connector. Problem is that this motherboard has both of these features and is cheaper.
The Asus ROG Strix Z370-E also features a very cool M.2 SSD heat sink that reduces temperatures of the SSDs from 70C to 50C. To top it all of, it is extremely aesthetically pleasing and beautiful to look at.
All of these features make this a solid purchase.
It isn’t the best manual overclocking motherboard and cannot go much further than 5.2 GHz, but that is still a pretty good deal.
Intel Core i9 7940X and EVGA Dark X299
Let’s be honest, you’re not here to just get a replacement for a Z series board, you are looking for more of everything. More cores, more PCIe lanes, more overclockability, more RAM slots. To keep everything well balanced and give you a good value in the not so value oriented X299 platform, here are my suggestions:
|Package||Intel Core i9 7940X|
|Buy Now|| |
|Package||EVGA Dark X299|
|Buy Now|| |
Last Update on 2021-01-26 at 09:12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
1. Intel Core i9 7940X
For the CPU, I chose the Core i9 7940X. If you are looking for absolutely no compromises, then you can get the i9 7980XE or 9980XE with their 18 cores and 36 threads. On a personal level, the 14 core and 28 threaded i9 7940X makes a little bit more sense. Both these CPUs have 44 PCIe lanes, 19.25 MB cache, stable overclocks around 4.1 GHz, Quad channel DDR4 at 2666 MHz overclockable to more than 3200 MHz etc.
Photo manipulation, 3D modeling, simulation, scientific workloads, CAD, and insane multitasking will see no hiccups. You will be good to go with either CPUs.
2. EVGA Dark X299
Intel’s X299 lineup of motherboards has been disappointing. They lack some features or are not up to par with what they should be at a very high asking price. Looking deep into the ocean of X299 motherboard, only one has stood out to me: The EVGA Dark X299. Even though EVGA is a newer player in the realm of manufacturing motherboards, they nailed it with the sheer quality and feature richness of the Dark X299 motherboard. They have been mainly manufacturers of excellent power supplies and Nvidia graphics cards and now also make laptops, peripherals, cooling units, chassis and of course motherboards. The Dark X299 is one of the only motherboards that has active VRM and M.2 SSD cooling which is essential for champion levels of overclocking. Just by having beefier heat sinks, the VRMs can run cool and provide stable voltages to the CPU.
The fans on the motherboard help keep the entire unit nice and cool including the SSD. There are also 4 DIMM slots for Quad channel RAM, two U.2 and one M.2 slot for PCIe SSDs, Type-C USB 3.1 connector, even the old PS/2 connector and to top that all off, it comes in at a very attractive price as well. It is a large motherboard so a bigger case will be needed.
I hope that my article has helped to elevate your understanding of the uppermost end of Intel CPU platforms. To summarize, if you are primarily a gamer and casual content creator, then the Z370 chipset motherboards provide the best value. You can still get 8 cores and 16 threads with a core i9 9900K and overclock it comfortably to 4.7+ GHz, create content or play games at maximum quality settings with high refresh rates without the worry of bottlenecking your GPU. X299 is for the ones who demand much more from their computers. They might be hardcore gamers who live stream at the same time. Or professional video editors or filmmakers handling 8K RED RAW footage with 3D models, special effects and complex sound engineering.