Intel has discontinued its 300 series chipsets, which supported the company’s Coffee Lake microprocessors. The motherboard family first debuted in 2017 and supported Intel’s 8th Generation and 9th Generation processors. At launch, boards based on the Z370 and H370 chipsets were some of the fastest consumer silicon you could buy — the Core i7-8700K was a fabulous chip — and CPUs like the Core i9-9900K kept the platform competitive with AMD hardware until the launch of the Zen 2 / Ryzen 3000 family of processors in mid-2019.
The retirement of the 300 series is happening a few months before Intel is expected to launch Rocket Lake CPUs. Intel will presumably launch a 500 series alongside the new CPUs — the company has no reason not to — but any advances over and above the 400 series are likely to be small. Intel has already disclosed that Rocket Lake will work in 400 series motherboards, and rumors suggest that Comet Lake CPUs will similarly work in 500 series motherboards.
If you’ve already upgraded to Comet Lake, you’ll have a path forward. Those who haven’t, however, probably won’t get more than one generation of support out of the 400 or 500 series. Both of these use the LGA1200 socket, while Alder Lake (12th Gen) will use LGA1700. Some rumors have implied Alder Lake could launch on desktop as quickly as late 2021, but this seems unlikely — Intel doesn’t typically refresh a desktop platform more than once per year.
Ever since Skylake debuted in 2015, Intel has been maintaining desktop socket compatibility over two generations. While AMD is historically known for longer CPU upgrade paths than Intel, the two are running pretty even at the moment. If you bought a Zen 1 CPU (1800X) and an X370 when AMD launched Ryzen, you got two upgrade cycles worth of improvements. If you bought a Zen+ CPU (2700X) and an X470 motherboard in 2018, you’ve gotten two CPU generations worth of improvements — or at least, you’ll get them once X470 boards are updated with Zen 3 (5800X) support. X570 motherboards and Zen 2 CPUs (3800X) haven’t been out long enough to receive more than one CPU upgrade.
But looking at the situation strictly in terms of years isn’t necessarily the best way to do it. Examined in terms of overall performance gains, the X370 went from eight cores to 16, with two IPC improvements along the way. The performance gain from a Ryzen 7 1800X to a Ryzen 7 3800X is significantly larger than the jump from a Core i7-8700K to the Core i9-9900K.
Intel’s Rocket Lake is expected to be a strong chip, but the generational upgrade potential of Intel CPUs has been low because the company’s IPC gains have also been low. The Core i7-8700K — Core i9-9900K upgrade path doesn’t get you nearly as much additional performance as moving from a Ryzen 7 1800X to a Ryzen 9 3950X, for example. If Intel continues its current pattern, it will maintain cross-compatibility between Alder Lake and whatever 13th Gen CPU follows it.
If you need 300 series hardware, or CPUs to plug into it, you ought to acquire them sooner rather than later — prices on older Intel motherboards sometimes run high as residual stockpiles are depleted.
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