rAge 2017: MSI talks Vega and Coffee Lake

MSI has been at several rAges now, and this was another in a long line of presentations given by the company to journalists in the media room. The company spent some time briefing everyone on their current products in the notebook and component departments, and there were some interesting things dropped during the presentation, as well as a few answers from the Q&A session that raised eyebrows.

MSI business development manager Neil Campbell had a short presentation on MSI’s motherboard and graphics cards, and he went a bit into the new Coffee Lake motherboards on the Z370 platform. MSI’s offerings are quite similar to their lineup from the Kaby Lake family (which, I remind you, was only launched nine months ago), and new features were thin on the ground.

According to the presentation, the only Coffee Lake products available now are the Core i3-K, Core i5, and Core i7 processors on socket LGA1151 v3. The only motherboards retailers will be stocking are from the Z370 family, and almost every Z370 motherboard available locally this week is also from MSI. It’s clear, though, that they put a lot of effort into it. Not only are the boards fully featured, they also launched with almost no leaks and no fanfare. I’m surprised that things happened this quickly.

In a similar vein to the Kaby Lake motherboards, MSI’s Coffee Lake Z370 family features support for things like Mystic Light and their M.2 NVMe shield, as well as the familiar PCIe guard and niceties like RGB headers. They’ve added in headers for Rainbow LED colour strips, which allows for some cool transition effects with per-diode colour options, and the X299 Godlike motherboard (pictured above, compatible with Kaby Lake-X and Skylake-X processors) can team up three Killer Ethernet controllers as well as a Killer WiFi card to increase bandwidth throughput up to 4Gb/s. Thinking about it now, I don’t know why the Godlike doesn’t just have WiFi and 10Gb Ethernet. It seems like such a normal choice that three Ethernet ports starts to look excessive.

One thing that is interesting is that MSI took the time to build in compatibility for the Coffee Lake products for Microsoft Windows XP and Vista. Campbell said that MSI’s product teams had spoken to people who needed compatibility for XP and Vista because they wanted to run custom software that wouldn’t, or couldn’t, run on Windows 8.1 or 10. Windows 7 support comes bundled in as a result, but this is a deviation from Intel’s plans. Officially, Coffee Lake’s only supported operating system is Windows 10, and anything else either should not be able to be installed or will never receive software support.


I asked Neil the following questions after the presentation was over, and the results were… interesting.

What has been the response locally from consumers for Intel’s X299 and AMD’s X399 platforms?

Neil: In terms of response, we’re getting a good one, and we’re happy with sales as well. These are niche platforms with not a lot of users, but we do well here.

Is there a 50-50 split in sales?

Neil: No, there’s still a lot of support for Intel because it’s a known brand in the space, but there is a fair amount of AMD sales. We think that will change over time as AMD’s name gets out there again, but Intel is still strong.

As a follow-up, how has the response been to Ryzen and socket AM4?

Neil: We’re getting a lot of good feedback and sales for Ryzen, and we’ve seen a lot more than we expected. It’s the first time that we’ve really had any comparable numbers between Intel and AMD, and we’re happy with its performance.

Intel only released Kaby Lake nine months ago, and already we’re into Coffee Lake, just released, which replaces it completely. What is your phase-out plan for Kaby Lake? (It should be noted that he wasn’t expecting this question at all, he was more surprised that it came up than I expected.)

Neil: Well for Kaby Lake… we really don’t know. At the moment we don’t have a phase-out plan in the works, and we will have to still come up with plans for discounts and sales to flush out the channel as we talk to our partners. Coffee Lake came up quickly, and it isn’t available in volume yet.

What’s the status on custom Radeon RX Vega GPUs releasing locally? (I had planned this question, but a similar one was asked by someone else.)

Neil: RX Vega GPUs are in low stock from AMD, and we’re still waiting for more stock to come from them so that we can have our own product rollout. You might have seen the reference cards we have available, but all of our custom designs are still in the pending or planned stages. We don’t have anything ready yet.

The impression that we’re left with, both as journalists and hardware enthusiasts, is that there’s so much going on that some companies don’t have a cohesive strategy yet. Coffee Lake isn’t a direct answer to Ryzen because Intel knew long in advance that the core race needed to be put back on, and bringing it out early is clearly a move against Ryzen, but AMD’s lack of availability for RX Vega literally kills entire product lines for all of their partners, which doesn’t help with the high prices it commands locally in reference guise. MSI promised that we’d see familiar designs for RX Vega soon, but nothing else was happening.

On a closing note, I wiggled out a launch window for the GeForce GTX 1070 Ti. The NDA might lift up sometime this month, which means that the cards will be generally available by the time December rolls around.

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