Intel released a product brief of its premium mainstream-desktop (MSDT) chipset, the Z390 Express. Positioned above the Z370 Express, the chipset has an exhaustive feature-set. It supports current 8th generation Core “Coffee Lake” processors, and is ready for the next-generation. Like all other 300-series chipsets, the Z390 interfaces with the LGA1151 processor over a DMI 3.0 chipset-bus. Much like the Z370, it features 24 downstream PCI-Express gen 3.0 lanes. Its storage setup remains unchanged from the Z370 – six SATA 6 Gbps ports with AHCI and RAID support; and up to three 32 Gbps M.2/U.2 connectors.
The differences begin with the chipset’s integrated USB connectivity. The Z390 Express directly puts out six 10 Gbps USB 3.1 gen 2 ports, and ten 5 Gbps USB 3.1 gen 1 ports. If that’s not a lot, it also puts out fourteen USB 2.0 ports (a total of 30 USB ports). Another major feature is Intel SmartSound technology, which the document specifies as an “audio/voice offload” DSP. This should, in theory, reduce the CPU’s load in processing the audio stack. At the physical level it’s still the company’s “Azalia” HD audio bus wired to an audio CODEC with close to zero native signal processing. Perhaps some of that processing is done inside the chipset. The concept appears to be borrowed from edge-computing, and triggered by the rise in voice-command interface, so the chipset can natively process speech-to-text conversions.
With the Z390 Express, Intel is also updating the platform’s networking feature-set. The chipset supports a 1 GbE MAC interface, and recommends motherboard manufacturers to include an Intel Wireless-AC 9560 card, with 802.11ac and Bluetooth 5. Almost every Z390 motherboard will feature wireless networking, and most of them will include Intel’s recommended WLAN card pairing. No new CPU overclocking features are detailed in the document.