Update

Intel 8th-gen motherboards explained: Z390 vs. Z370 vs. H370 vs. B360 vs. H310

Find the perfect Intel 300-series motherboard with this guide.

asus rog strix h370 2
Asus

Which Intel motherboard should you buy? Selecting the best Intel 300-series motherboard to fit your needs was straightforward when the initial wave of 8th-gen Core desktop processors launched in October 2017, because only the enthusiast-class Z370 chipset released alongside the new chips. That was enough to help the flagship Core i7-8700K CPU counter AMD’s Ryzen threat at the high end, but left PC users looking for more affordable options in a pickle. Buying a $100 Core i3 chip doesn’t make much sense when you’re forced to slap it in a $130, high-end motherboard, especially with AMD offering a full arsenal of Ryzen motherboards at all price points.

The disparity ended in April 2018, when Intel revealed the full lineup of 300-series chipsets for its 8th-gen CPUs. The lower-cost chipsets don’t offer all the bells and whistles of Z370 motherboards, but they have a few fancy features up their sleeves that the swankier boards lack. In May, Intel revealed a new high-end Z390 chipset will add in those extras.

Should you buy a H370, B360, or H310 motherboard for those added features? Does it make sense to splurge on a Z370 or Z390 chipset anyway? Let’s examine what each Intel 300-series motherboard chipset offers so you can make the right decision when you buy an Intel 8th-generation processor.

Editor’s note: Last updated May 15, 2018 to include the new Z390 chipset.

Z390 vs. Z370 vs. H370 vs. B360 vs. H310

You need a new Intel 300-series motherboard if you buy an 8th-gen “Coffee Lake” processor. Older motherboards don’t work with 8th-gen chips, and that includes the recent 100- and 200-series options for Skylake and Kaby Lake chips. While Coffee Lake chips are largely based around the same architecture as those predecessors, 8th-gen chips pack in more cores, which means they have different power requirements.

Here’s a look at raw specifications for each of the Intel 300-series motherboard chipsets available to consumers. (We’re not including the Q370, a chipset that matches Z370 but with additional business features added.) The upcoming Z390 motherboards mirrors the loadout of the Z370 chipset, but with Intel wireless networking and up to six USB 3.1 Gen. 2 ports integrated. Look for those boards to likely hit the streets sometime later this summer.

intel motherboard chart Rob Schultz/IDG

Z370 motherboards are the gold standard, built for enthusiast PCs. These are the only Intel motherboards that support CPU and memory overclocking (if you have an unlocked K-series chip), or handle gaming rigs with multiple graphics cards, at least until Z390 boards become available. They’re loaded with the most PCI-E lanes, potential USB ports (with one notable caveat—more on that after), and RAID storage options. As the flagship chipset, Z370 also offers the most high-speed I/O lanes. More HSIO lanes let board makers divvy out more features, like NVMe SSD connections and SuperSpeed USB ports, as they see fit.

Here are some of the options in Newegg’s Z370 selection. The higher you go up in price, the more extra features you receive.

evga h370 EVGA

H370 motherboards are only a notch below Z370, and perfect for people who don’t like to tinker. These boards don’t support overclocking, multiple graphics card setups, or some of the more exotic Intel Rapid Storage Technology features. Other than those niche enthusiast features, and some differences in USB 3.1 support, H370 largely mirrors Z370.

Here are some of the options in Newegg’s H370 selection:

msi motherboards MSI

B360 motherboards start shaving more off. You’ll get fewer USB ports, fewer HSIO and PCI-E lanes, and barely any RAID support via Intel’s Rapid Storage Technology. But they still pack speedy USB 3.1 Gen. 2 ports and Optane Memory support to boost hard drive speeds to near-SSD speeds. Look at these as solid-value motherboards for mainstream computers.

Here are some of the options in Newegg’s B360 selection. Once you start creeping too far north of $100, however, you might be better off opting for an H370 motherboard, unless a B360 selection includes a specific key feature that isn’t available in your budget with H370.

gigabyte h310 motherboard Gigabyte

H310 motherboards really strip things back. Far fewer USB and SATA ports are supported. It doesn’t support PCI-E 3.0, only the slower PCI-E 2.0, and you can’t use Intel’s Optane Memory technology like you can with the other options. The memory setup only supports a single DIMM per channel, reducing overall bandwidth. RAID options are nonexistent. These ultra-basic motherboards should only be considered for bargain-basement systems with simple needs. They lock you out of a lot of niftier new features that’ve blossomed in Intel’s ecosystem in recent years.

Here are some of the options in Newegg’s H310 selection. There isn’t much variety here, nor fancy gaming brands.

Intel 300-series motherboard differences explained

The Z370 chipset might have the mightiest spec set on paper, but the other options pack some features that the original 8th-gen motherboards lack, and the stripped-down H310 is the only chipset that can’t run Intel’s hard drive-boosting Optane Memory.

H370, B360, and H310 motherboards integrate support for speedy 10Gbps USB 3.1 Gen.2 ports into the chipset, which you can see listed in the comparison chart above. That should help bring the blisteringly fast tech to more affordable motherboards, as vendors will no longer need to pay for a third-party controller—this uses Intel’s own technology. Adding USB 3.1 ports eats into a motherboard’s stash of HSIO lanes, though.

asus rog motherboard Asus

All Intel 300-series motherboards except Z370 can support USB 3.1 Gen. 2 and integrated Wi-Fi.

The new boards also move a lot of the functions needed for wireless networking into the platform controller hub itself, using Intel’s CNVi wireless-AC technology. Highlights include integrated 802.11ac Wi-Fi support and up to 1733Mbps speeds with Intel’s highest-end companion RF module, which Intel says is far faster than most Wi-Fi options available.

Equipping extra hardware to fully activate the functionality can add to the cost of a motherboard, and it’s an option for motherboard vendors—not a requirement. Don’t expect to see Wi-Fi on every H370, B360, and H310 motherboard, in other words, especially as you move further down the price scale. (Gigabyte, for example, sells an optional “CNVi WiFi upgrade kit” for some of its motherboards.) If yours includes it, you’ll want an 802.11ac “Wave 2” router that can take advantage of CNVi’s full potential, like the Asus RT-AC87U.

intel desktop core platform stuff Intel

H370, B360, and H310 motherboards also include “modern standby” features that lets computers sleep to save energy, but listen for a wake word (in smart speaker-like fashion) and quickly resume. Modern standby functionality previously existed in laptops, but this is a first for desktop PCs.

Once again, motherboards based on the Z370 chipset don’t include any of this new native functionality, though hardware makers can add Wi-Fi and USB 3.1 Gen. 2 capabilities via add-in controllers. But the business-focused Q370 chipset mirrors Z370’s specifications (sans overclocking) and includes the new capabilities found in the H370, B360, and H310 motherboards.

In May, Intel published documentation that confirmed a new high-end Z390 chipset is on the way, blending Z370's base capabilities with the extra features found in the other 8th-gen motherboards. Intel didn't mention a release date for Z390 boards, but a leak by German IT distributor Bluechip said that the launch is scheduled for Computex, during the first week of June. (Bluechip also said the potential 8-core Intel Coffee Lake chip that was teased in Intel technical documents will launch towards the end of 2018.)

Little extras

aorus lit ram slots Gigabyte

The RGB LED-illuminated light strip and RAM slots on the Gigabyte H370 Aorus Gaming 3.

The final part of the equation is finding a 300-series board with finishing touches that fit your needs. While the information above describes the guts of every Z390, Z370, H370, B360, and H310 motherboard, vendors can tweak and configure their hardware in different ways, so two H370 boards (for example) might have slightly different port configurations and wildly different features, such as RGB lighting, fancy audio, one-button overclocking, et cetera.

[ Further reading: The best SSDs you can buy ]

But now that you know the basics of what each Intel 300-series chipset offers, you can quickly narrow down your search for the perfect 8th-gen motherboard for you.

This story, "Intel 8th-gen motherboards explained: Z390 vs. Z370 vs. H370 vs. B360 vs. H310" was originally published by PCWorld.

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