Intel’s latest range of processors, dubbed Coffee Lake, refine the firm’s existing technology to bring some exciting advancements to consumer computing.
Intel has used a tweaked version of its 14nm processor for these chips, which cram in a greater number of transistors that run at higher frequencies, with less wasted electricity.
The tiny architectural changes mean Intel has been able to introduce mainstream Core i7 chips with six cores for the first time. With Hyper-Threading this means chips such as the i7-8700K can support 12 concurrent threads.
That’s important, because this year has been all about multi-core chips, from AMD’s eight-core Ryzen parts to Intel’s own Skylake-X parts.
The Core i7 range isn’t the only one to receive a boost. The Core i5 range now includes six-core chips that don’t feature Hyper-threading, but this is a jump from last year’s quad-core CPUs. And Core i3 chips now have four single-threaded cores – twice as many as their Kaby Lake predecessors.
Elsewhere, Coffee Lake introduces more L3 cache, better Turbo speeds, faster integrated graphics and better native DDR4 memory support.
Related: Best CPU for gaming
What’s new in Coffee Lake motherboards
The new core counts mean improvements in multi-tasking, multi-threaded applications and gaming. The chips also require a little more power than last year’s models – and that means a new Z370 chipset and revised version of the LGA 1151 socket.
The change to power delivery is the biggest alteration for Z370 – in most other respects, it’s the same as Z270. As a result, most of the motherboards are similar too. This year’s Z370 boards incorporate the new chipset and socket, but that’s all that’s really changed.
Nevertheless, you’ll need a new board if you want the extra cores and speed provided by Coffee Lake We review five top-class boards to find out which is worth your cash.
Related: Best gaming PC
How we test motherboards
These motherboards have undergone a variety of tests to show how the choice of motherboard can influence processor and graphics card performance. Geekbench and Cinebench’s single- and multi-core benchmarks present how a board can alter the ability of a processor, and 3DMark’s tests are used to evaluate graphics performance.
Dirt Rally is used to test integrated graphics performance, while Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is deployed to evaluate discrete GPU speeds.
I’ve measured the power levels of the machine to see how motherboards influence heat and power consumption, and I’ve tested the rig’s SSD and memory bandwidth performance.
My test machine uses a Core i7-8700K processor, 16GB of 3000MHz DDR4 memory and a Samsung 850 Pro SSD.
Related: Best PC games
ASRock Z370 Taichi
1 of 5
- Packed with high-end features
- Impressive single-threaded performance
- An expensive board for high-end productivity
- Price: £207 inc VAT
The ASRock Z370 Taichi is one of the more expensive boards in this group, but it’s easy to see where the money has gone. It’s quick and packed with features.
It offers support for faster memory than any other board in this group, and it has three M.2 connectors. It’s a similar situation in SATA connectivity – few boards offer more than six ports, but the Taichi has eight.
Elsewhere, there’s support for four GPUs from AMD and Nvidia, and two Gigabit Ethernet connectors – another underused feature that can theoretically double potential wired bandwidth. These high-end features won’t be relevant to many users. However, they’ll appeal to those who want to build an expansive, versatile rig that will get the job done in all sorts of scenarios.
Elsewhere, the Taichi has a POST display, RGB LED header and steel around the PCI. It ticks many of the basic boxes, too, with four memory slots and three PCI-Express x16 sockets; it only has two PCI-Express x1 connectors, however. It also doesn’t have on-board buttons. Nevertheless, power users will want this board working hard rather than having it on a test-bench, ready for tweaking.
The Taichi looks the part, with a lower heatsink modelled on an industrial cog and more of the same design on the black PCB. We’re also pleased that the upper heatsinks are modestly sized, because it making it easier to fit CPU coolers.
The rear IO has plenty of USB 3 connectors and a USB 3.1 Type-C port, and the board itself has a connector for a front-mounted USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C socket. The latter is a rare addition on cases right now, but will become more familiar in the future.
The Taichi is built for hard work, but performance proved a little inconsistent. Its single-core Cinebench score of 203cb is one of the best here, but its multi-core result of 1405cb was only middling – although hardly slow.
Its Geekbench scores followed the same pattern: it was great in single-threaded tasks and average in multi-threaded work.
The ASRock backed up those reasonable results with table-topping pace in the memory bandwidth benchmarks, and it was solid in storage tests.
This isn’t a gaming board, however, and so it proved in those tests. It’s unlikely to slow anything down, but the Taichi isn’t the best option if you’re a keen gamer.
It’s power-hungry, too, with an idle draw of 56W – the highest in the group, and a peak requirement of 109W was one of the highest on test.
ASRock’s latest board has no big faults, but the middling multi-threaded benchmark results slightly undermine the excellent single-threaded speeds. Still, it’s never slow in applications, and it’s packed with features. It’s a great board for a versatile, high-end productivity machine.
Asus Z370-A Prime
2 of 5
- Better than any other board in applications
- Solid, mid-range features – but no high-end extras
- Not the best board for gaming or tweaking
- Price: £160 inc VAT
Asus Prime boards always promise a high-quality feature-set and solid performance, and the latest version looks good on paper. Also, its £160 price makes it one of the cheaper offerings in this test.
The specification is solid, if unspectacular. It offers conventional memory support, Intel Ethernet, a trio of PCI-Express x16 slots and four PCI-Express x1 sockets – great for small expansion cards. It can handle three AMD GPUs and two Nvidia cards, and it features the usual six SATA ports.
Like many Z370 boards, Asus has used the chipset’s extra bandwidth to provide two M.2 connectors – and it’s gone one further by fitting a chunky heatsink over the top of one slot. That’s a smart decision when some M.2 drives can find their speeds throttled due to overheating.
The Realtek audio chipset has been given a modest boost with Asus CrystalSound, and the board looks decent overall. It’s a black PCB with smart metal heatsinks, and there’s a large white shroud over the rear IO. As ever, there are a couple of RGB LEDs in the top-right corner of the board.
The layout is fine. There’s a power button and a quartet of debug LEDs, six fan connectors, and the heatsinks in the immediate vicinity of the CPU socket aren’t too big.
As ever, the board is governed by Asus’ excellent UEFI software. It’s one of the most navigable on the market, with a clear introductory screen and a wealth of options in the advanced mode. And, despite the bevy of settings available, they’re always well organised.
It’s only really missing true high-end features, such as a POST display or extras designed for overclocking. The rear IO doesn’t offer much extra, either. It only has three USB 3.1 ports alongside a USB 3.1 Type-C socket, and it doesn’t have a Clear CMOS button, dual Ethernet or wireless internet.
It might not have many high-end features, then, but the Asus has got it where it counts: in application benchmarks. Its Geekbench scores of 5925 and 24,782 are both the best in this entire group, and it topped our results table in both of Cinebench’s application tests too.
Those application results are bolstered by class-leading SATA pace and solid memory bandwidth, although its NVMe pace was a little slow. Its power consumption figures were entirely ordinary.
Clearly, this isn’t a gaming board. The Asus’ Dirt Rally scores were the worst here – and that test relies on integrated graphics. Its Deus Ex results were mediocre, and its scores become worse as the 3DMark tests increased in intensity.
That’s fine, though, because Asus Prime boards aren’t sold for gaming machines – they’re mid-range products for general-purpose computing and productivity. The solid specification, reasonable price and top-notch application performance mean the Prime is more than fit for purpose.
Gigabyte Z370 Aorus Gaming K3
3 of 5
- Reasonable gaming performance
- The cheapest board in our Z370 test
- Good basic features, but few high-end extras
- Price: £153 inc VAT
The Gigabyte Z370 Aorus Gaming K3 is the cheapest board in this group, but you wouldn’t know it from the outside. The black PCB is illuminated by RGB LEDs in the largest heatsink and there are more lights beneath the board and in the audio circuitry. The PCI-Express x16 slots, memory sockets and upper heatsinks are alternated black and red.
The Gigabyte stands out, but the specification is more modest. That second PCI-Express x16 slot is restricted to 4x speed, which means it’s no good for dual-graphics – and the board doesn’t support multiple Nvidia chipsets anyway. This is disappointing, given Nvidia’s strength in the graphics market. However, most people buying mid-range boards are unlikely to be building dual-GPU rigs anyway.
Elsewhere, the K3 has the usual allocation of six SATA ports and two M.2 connectors, and its quartet of PCI-Express x1 slots are ideal for adding wireless. This is handy, since there’s no sign of that alongside the normal Intel Gigabit Ethernet chip.
There’s no rear IO shield, and the rear IO is a mixed bag: there are five USB 3 ports and the future-proofed USB 3.1 Type-C connection, and a PS/2 port for older peripherals, but no optical S/PDIF and no DisplayPort.
Elsewhere, the top-mounted heatsinks are modest, and there are no extra on-board buttons or displays. The K3 has everything required for a mainstream rig, but the PCB does look a little bare.
Performance is mixed. Pleasingly, the Gigabyte is good in games: its Dirt Rally average of 40.66fps is the second-best here, and its Deus Ex minimum of 40.7fps placed it as runner-up in this. Its 3DMark Cloud Gate score of 11,383 was the best we recorded, although it was a poorer performer in the tougher 3DMark tests.
The Gigabyte returned those solid gaming scores while also proving frugal. Its idle power draw of 52W is great, and its peak requirement of 102W is the best here – 9W behind the hungriest board.
Those gaming scores are good, but the affordable Gigabyte was slower in other tests. Its Cinebench and Geekbench scores were underwhelming, and its Sandra Processor Arithmetic result was the poorest here. It was middling in storage, and the poorest in Sandra’s memory benchmarks.
Those latter figures aren’t a surprise, and neither are they a huge problem – the Gigabyte’s application scores may lag behind other boards, but the performance difference won’t be noticeable in mid-range gaming builds.
And that, really, is the crux of this board. It might not be the fastest in applications or tougher gaming benchmarks, but that slight sluggishness won’t be noticeable in day-to-day use. Similarly, the absence of some high-end features won’t impact the kind of single-GPU gaming machines that are likely to house this board.
If you’re after more features or speed, you’ll have to part with more cash. But if you simply want a good gaming board for reasonable money then the K3 is a solid option.
Gigabyte Z370 Aorus Gaming 7
4 of 5
- Table-topping gaming speed
- Lashings of RGB LEDs and ample features
- Expensive and overkill for many gamers
- Price: £250 inc VAT
Our first Gigabyte board was the cheapest in the Z370 group – but the second is the most expensive. The Aorus Gaming 7 costs a whopping £250 and it includes numerous high-end features alongside impressive aesthetic design.
We’ve never seen this many RGB LEDs on a motherboard. They’re installed around the PCI-Express x16 slots and the memory sockets, inside and around the top heatsinks, and inside the Aorus logo in the larger heatsink above the chipset.
There’s a clear plastic overlay on the right-hand side of the board featuring RGB LEDs that illuminate a geometric pattern, and you can even use a 3D printer to replace that panel with your own design. There are pairs of RGB LED and normal LED headers for connecting light strips plus other hardware for synchronised lighting across the whole case.
The board looks good aside from its lighting. The left-hand side is covered with a two-tone metal heatsink that protects the rear IO and the audio circuits, and the Aorus heatsink at the bottom of the board is smart. The area around the processor socket is a little cramped, but that’s a minor issue.
This expensive board has features to spare. It supports quad-GPU from both AMD and Nvidia, and its trio of large PCI slots are paired with three PCI-Express x1 sockets. It has a Realtek audio chip with Sound-Blaster X-Fi to beef up the sound, and it’s the only board here to have Killer Ethernet, which prioritises gaming traffic.
Storage is good, with six SATA ports and three M.2 connectors – one with a heatsink. It has power and reset buttons, on-board overclocking features and a POST display, all among the busy line of headers at the bottom of the board, which includes two USB 3.1 connectors. Pleasingly, some of these are colour-coded, and the wealth of on-board ports is paired with lots of USB 3.1 at the rear.
It doesn’t have wireless internet and its peak memory speed is a tad slower than some other boards, but it tops out at 4133MHz – so it’s hardly sluggish.
The Z370 Aorus Gaming 7 is designed for high-end gaming, and it scythed through the relevant benchmarks. Its minimum and average results in Dirt Rally and Deus Ex were the best here – around a full frame quicker than rivals – and its 3DMark: Fire Strike and Time Spy scores were similarly impressive.
It was the best board in Cinebench’s GPU test, too, but it faltered to a middling result in the 3DMark Cloud Gate test – but that’s hardly a demanding benchmark.
The Gigabyte returned the best NVMe results, and its peak power draw of 102W equalled the cheaper Gigabyte K3.
It was middling in memory tests and poor in application benchmarks, but that’s less of a concern on an expensive gaming product.
The high-end features and high price put the Gaming 7 out of reach for most gamers, but this is a superb product if you’d like a gaming board that doesn’t make any compromises.
MSI Z370 Gaming Pro Carbon AC
5 of 5
- A fine set of mainstream features
- Plenty of RGB LEDs
- Underwhelming benchmark performance
- Price: £180 inc VAT
The Gaming Pro Carbon AC is a high-octane board from MSI that ticks many of the key specification boxes we expect of a new Z370 product costing £180.
It offers solid memory support, three PCI-Express x16 slots and the same number of PCI-Express x1 connectors. You’ll also find the usual storage loadout: six SATA ports and two M.2 connectors, with one covered by a heatsink. The board supports three AMD graphics cards and two Nvidia chips – more than enough for most gamers.
Connectivity is good, too. The usual Intel Gigabit Ethernet is paired with dual-band wireless and Bluetooth 4.2.
It has plenty of on-board fan headers, USB 3.1 and Type-C on the backplate, and two headers for connecting strips of RGB LEDs – ideal for building a coherent computer.
That’s not the only bit of lighting on this board. RGB LEDs are installed in the flat lower heatsink and in the chunky metal that surrounds the CPU socket and protects the rear IO, plus there’s a strip of lights behind the right-hand side of the board. It’s a neat touch that provides a healthy glow to the inside of a system. The metal heatsinks look good, the black PCB is smart, and the PCI slots and memory sockets are surrounded with steel reinforcement.
The MSI includes most of the mainstream features that we expect, although we’re a little disappointed that this £180 product doesn’t include on-board power or reset buttons, or a diagnostic POST display.
The MSI proved disappointing in benchmarks, especially so in gaming tests. In Dirt Rally’s discrete GPU test it was mid-table, and in Deus Ex – and with the help of a GTX 1080 – it propped up the other four boards in our test. It was poor in the 3DMark Cloud Gate test, middling in Fire Strike, and delivered the group’s best score in the Time Spy run.
That’s a rare bit of good news, however. The MSI’s mediocre gaming results aren’t propped up by better scores in application tests. It was mid-table in Cinebench, and the worst performer here in Geekbench’s multi-tasking test.
It was middling in storage tests and memory benchmarks, and its best-in-class idle power consumption collapsed to a poor 111W peak requirement in the stress-test.
None of the MSI’s results are disastrous, but we expect better from a £200 board – especially in the gaming benchmarks. It’s a similar result when it comes to features, where the MSI delivers a solid set of hardware without anything that really grabs attention.
This is a reasonable board, but other products are better in benchmarks or have more features. We’d only buy the MSI Z370 Gaming Pro Carbon AC if it dropped in price.