Partners Miffed By Reports That Intel's Upcoming Coffee Lake CPUs Are Incompatible With Current Motherboards

System builders are up in arms over reports that Intel's upcoming eighth-generation Coffee Lake CPUs will not be compatible with existing 200-series motherboards.

Several system builder partners told CRN that they have redesigned their systems in the past year to accommodate the Z270-based motherboards, which are compatible with Intel's seventh-generation Kaby Lake chips. They said if  Intel's newest chipset is incompatible with current motherboards, they will have to go back to the drawing board again.

"This means system builders will have to redesign their systems for the second time this year to accommodate a new Intel chip set," said one partner, who wished to remain anonymous. "[It] also means inventory is going to be crazy to balance between old platforms and new."

[Related: Non-Traditional Channel Partners Flock To Arrow Thanks To Highly Differentiated Cloud, IoT Practices]

Reports began surfacing about Intel's CPU socket compatibility earlier this week, after motherboard manufacturer ASRock revealed in a tweet that Coffee Lake chips won't be compatible with 200-series motherboards.

The company, which later deleted the tweet, did not respond to requests for comment. Tom's Hardware, a news site for PC enthusiasts, reported that Coffee Lake will indeed be incompatible with current motherboards.

Intel, for its part, would only say that is has "not disclosed any details on this topic, and therefore cannot comment on rumor or speculation."

For the channel, redesigning systems again will mean incurring additional costs  – but that is nothing compared to potential loss of customers from a motherboard change, said Erik Stromquist, chief operating officer of CTL, a Portland, Ore.-based system builder. 

“This is a procedural headache for the channel,” said Stromquist. “But the opportunity of losing customers and deals over this could be quite high. If you have an account that needs a stable roadmap you could lose those clients.”

Stromquist said the change definitely opens the door for customers, especially larger customers who will need to certify the new motherboards, to look at alternatives."Customers go to Intel for stability and a long-term road map, and any disruptive change opens the door to clients looking at alternatives," he said.

Little has been revealed about Intel's next-generation of chips. Intel, which displayed the chips in a laptop earlier in the year at Computex, has said that its newest processor lineup would provide a 30 percent performance advantage over its seventh-generation chips.

The potential Intel Coffee Lake motherboard  incompability comes with AMD confirming  that its AM4 sockets will be compatible not only with its current Zen CPU architecture, but also with its upcoming Zen 2 architecture.

"It’s an interesting departure for Intel – especially considering that AMD has committed to using the same socket for several years to come," said Andrew Kretzer, director of sales and marketing at Bold Data, a Fremont, Calif.-based custom system builder. "It is mostly going to be felt by the enthusiast upgrader crowd and might indeed sway some of them to reconsider moving to an AMD platform."

For Intel, offering CPU compatibility for a new motherboard would generate sales, but also improve product segmentation, and potentially lead to technical advantages for the processor, said Kent Tibbils, vice president of marketing at ASI, a Fremont, Calif.-based Intel system builder.

"How much impact a socket change [has] depends on what is changing. I’m sure AMD is going to make a point out of their socket not changing but if that limits their ability to support other technologies then it’s not going to be a real advantage," he said.

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