Intel is now preparing to expand their Alder Lake 12th Gen Core CPU series and is looking to release more options for their client base when it comes to desktop processors. But, how does this alter the current price of the Intel Z690 motherboards currently on the market? Will the price increase due to the demands of, not only current supply shortages but also motherboard manufacturers having to alter aspects of the motherboards to fit these new alternatives?
Intel to launch new Alder Lake CPU variants for consumers, but how does this affect overall costs of Intel Z690-based motherboards?
Let's first discuss the new chipsets in more detail.
The Intel 600-Series Chiplets: Z690, H670, B660 & H610
Intel is set to release the H670, B660, and H610 chipset variations in January 2022. Each of these is based on the Alder Lake main chipset, but each has its own set of features. For instance, the H670 packs most of the I/O features that the current Z690 chipset offers, with the downside of losing the ability to overclock the CPU. The B660 is set to be the mid-level option for consumers, offering a narrow chipset bus while retaining a rich I/O feature-set.
Finally, the H610 will be the entry-level option for shoppers, allowing for simplistic I/O, and removing the NVMe slots attached to the processor. Interestingly, Intel will allow memory overclocking on the H670 and B660 series chipsets, but only if the provided CPU supports it. Each new variation will still support the newest PCIe 5.0 x16 (PEG) directly from the processor and allow for motherboard manufacturers to decide whether to implement the technology into their designs. Currently, there is a small community of Z690 motherboards that only utilize PCIe 4.0 and not the newest technology.
The Intel CPU attached downstream for the PCIe has a lot of variation on the product lines. The Z690, for example, sets out 12 Gen 4 lanes side-by-side with 16 Gen 6 lanes. The H670 has 12 Gen 3 and 4 lanes evenly. The Intel B660 offers 6 Gen 4 lanes alongside 8 Gen 3 lanes. The H610 is the "odd man out" by lacking Gen 4 downstream and only utilizing 8 Gen 3 lanes. Furthermore, the H670 and B660 chipsets offer dual 20Gbps of USB 3.2 G 2x2 ports, and the H610 does not. All three new chipsets will showcase dual 10 Gbps Gen 2x1 ports and up to four 5 Gbps Gen 1x1 ports.
Looking at these new chipsets from Intel, and also knowing we are headed into 2022 with the continuing shortages that plague not only chips and GPUs, but even household items, what will happen to the current pricing of the current Z690 lines? What measures have already been taken to allow for cost efficiency, and what may change over the next year to year and a half (as predicted by many news sources)?
Already we have seen prices begin to spike due to key components becoming less accessible. But, there also appear to be more factors playing into this. One is that the PCB costs have risen slightly, and it is not due to the material becoming scarce having to use higher quality materials. It turns out motherboards that carry DDR5 memory options are much higher to produce than previous generations. A lot more focus has to be placed on design to make sure the newest DDR5 memory works as intended.
Another huge player in cost is the newly designed LGA-17xx socket, as well as the mechanism for retention, for the new chips. Compared to the LGA-12xx sockets of old, the LGA-17xx series is four times higher in cost than the LGA-12xx. The LGA-115x socket averages around $5 USD when accessed in low volumes. When manufacturers place large orders for motherboards with the LGA-115x socket, it is expected that they would pay less for an older technology that could easily be replaced in the near future. Intel's LGA-17xx sockets are speculated to be two to three times the cost, especially in large quantities, causing it to be the most expensive component on a wide majority of Z690 compatible motherboards (current list price is $51, a minuscule increase from the Z590 chipsets).
Power design also becomes a crucial factor since Intel ushered in IMVP9.1, an upgrade to IMVP8. This change caused the DrMOS (Driver MOSFET) to move to the SPS (Smart Power Stage) modules. Since the parts are in short supply as listed at the beginning of this analysis, we then see the Z590 motherboard be less than twice the cost of the Z690 motherboard. The benefit of the new design and technology, however, is shown in heat dissipation and efficiency that the previous DrMOS style designs. But, since the IMVP8 power design on the current Z690 motherboards is incapable of being used, it is impossible to save on costs in this department unless one were to utilize fewer phases of power.
Looking at PCIe 5.0 slot technology, there is a market for premium motherboards that are capable of having a dual-slot design. Unfortunately, to allow for this, a PCIe 5.0 retimer is required for it to run smoothly. If we compare the current price of the previous generations retimers, the cost was around the $45 USD price point in small quantities. When calculating this out to a larger scale and manufacturers of the PCIe 4.0 retimers giving mass quantity cost discounts for their partners, the cost drops to anywhere between $20-$30 USD. Again, though, Z690 boards do not require this for single PCIe 5.0 slot designs.
And then there are the PCIe 5.0 SMT physical slots. When looking at the numbers, the difference in cost is up to 20 percent, but not less than ten percent. This means each connector is only a few cents at best on a large ordering scale.
What does this mean for board makers utilizing SMD/SMT to mount PCIe 5.0 slots? The manufacturers are placed in a position where they need to decide which option to choose and how they want the PCIe 5.0 slots to be mounted to offer the best placement since through-hole slots from previous generations were added manually at the various factories. This, in turn, causes the main manufacturer to invest in new equipment to be able to manufacturer efficiently. Essentially, the company would have to take the risk in ordering new equipment with the knowledge (regardless of the risk) that the new equipment would be paid off over time with the sales of the new product.
It would be the same if a small business upgraded to a new machine or software that was more than what they could budget and take the risk knowing that the product will pay itself off in the long run.
Even though we have already discussed shortages, there is also how that truly takes an effect on the business and market. Prices, such as the cost of resistors, capacitors, and even the aluminum used have increased. These seem small to your average customer, but they are crucial to the build of the boards. When "Company A" is expected to order parts several months ahead of schedule, this has become even more strenuous to all parties due to these shortages. What was only a few months is now upwards of a year to receive components and parts for manufacturing. Having to adjust to such a larger window means product is back-ordered much longer than expected, or products continue to have to alter the dates of release in these dire situations. That larger window is losing businesses of all kinds of income that was normally coming in at a steady pace. This is another reason we see the costs raise to adjust for the income lost.
With hints of even more shortages happening in the coming months, it is possible that right now is the best time to purchase rather than wait until this all goes away. Especially since the dates that are being speculated by the larger company CEOs from AMD, NVIDIA, and Intel continue to push the dates further back in interviews over the last year.