Intel is gearing up for the release of a refresh of the Haswell family as well as the introduction of socket LGA 2011-3 and a bunch of new chipsets. These chipsets belong to the 9-series family and will start with the Z97 high-end chipset, the H97 mid-range chipset and the holy-hell-expensive X99 platform, which will be the first ever consumer product to support DDR4 memory. Its going to be a busy year for big blue and this is only the beginning of a very rapid series of changes to the way things are currently being done. Hit the jump to find out more about the hearts of the new 9-series motherboards due out in 2H 2014.
At the core of Intel’s plans is X99 and that’s what we’re going to be looking at first. As the OEM and pre-built computer market shrinks yearly in favour of laptops and tablets for the average consumer’s use, there is still a surge in new sales every year for components and one of the markets that simply won’t die is the high-end enthusiast computer segment. X99 is to computing as what X58 was to consumers looking for something really powerful back in 2008 – mind-bogglingly fast.
X99 will only be compatible with Haswell-E, so there’s no chance of ever seeing Sandy or Ivy Bridge-E chips working in here. It’ll offer 10 SATA 6GB/s ports as standard, it’ll have Intel RST as standard and there’s integrated Gigabit ethernet, also standard. There also a raft of features that Intel usually enables on their high-end platforms including RST SRT, which allows for SSDs to be used as cache drives without third-party software.
As far as port layouts are concerned, X99 has an interesting option for PCI-Express graphics cards – there’s a native implementation for five physical slots without the use of a PLX bridging chip. That means that all five slots conform to the PCI-Express 3.0 standard and all five also are physical 16x slots with 8x lanes running to the processor. You’d need a eATX board for that kind of inasnity but the option is there – running five graphics cards at full blast is pretty easy.
The 10 SATA 6GB/s port allotment is also important because this means that no longer will you have to rely on six ports conforming to SATA and the other four being SAS, it’s now SATA all the way. Anyone building a server using a X99 board is going to be happy. There’s also native support for TRIM for SSDs in a RAID 0 configuration (YAY!).
The Z97 and H97 platforms change things around quite a bit as well. There’s now built-in support for the PCI-E M.2 standard, which is a new connector for SSDs that allows them to be absolute screamers – we’re talking gigabyte read/write speeds from a single drive here. M.2 is also a smaller connector than mSATA so more boards should be able to implement it without much hassle which means it’ll also be in ITX builds pretty soon. RST and SRT support is already there for M.2-based drives. Two PCI-Express lanes to the CPU will be reserved for M.2 drives.
There’s also a few things that change on the security front – both chipsets will support Intel’s Boot Guard technology. Boot Guard and Intel Device Protection are really add-ons to UEFI. On start, Boot Guard is up and running before the POST sequence and protects the repository of signed UEFI keys which are held in the memory of the UEFI BIOS. The way that driver makers and software vendors distribute keys is the same, but this time there’s an extra layer of certification required to get your software signed and another hoop to jump through to get your software, hardware or drivers to work on a machine with UEFI Secure Boot enabled.
You can rest easy when it comes to upgrades, though – all current Haswell processors will work in these boards and all Haswell-refresh chips will work in 8-series LGA1150 boards as well. So, there’s really nothing that requires an update to a 9-series board, but it’s a necessary update to prepare for Broadwell processors and the new security changes that some corporations and network administrators may come to appreciate.