For the past few decades, Intel has followed the same rough update pattern. First, it launches a new CPU and chipset. At some later date, it launches another new CPU and chipset. Cross-compatibility between the two is typically limited. New motherboards may be backwards-compatible with old CPUs, but new CPUs often either require a new motherboard to function at all (as was the case with Coffee Lake and the X370 chipset family) or to enable specific functionality (as was the case with Optane). Enthusiasts have been aware of, and grumbled over, this Intel-specific trend for decades. What they haven’t typically been able to do is pull off an end run against it.
Modders in the Win-Raid forum are claiming they can modify the image of both Asrock and non-Asrock motherboards in ways that allow for the use of Coffee Lake CPUs in 100-series and 200-series motherboards. That’s a potentially huge deal if true, though we’re going to have to note that any such endeavors should be considered as both warranty voiding and very likely to brick on one’s own PC. The guide’s original author, Elisw, also notes, “A socketed BIOS chip is desirable as it could reduce the risk of bricking the board. Because of higher power limits I would not suggest this mod with i5 and i7 K series CPUs.”
This is a joint effort in between LittleHill, RootUser123, Dsanke, elisw, and Mov AX, 0xDEAD from the Win-Raid forums. Deploying the crack also means using an older and less-secure version of the Intel Management Engine (something ET can’t recommend). So far, the only verified version of the hack appears to be from a Core i3-8100, though if this proves legitimate we’re going to see people leaping ahead with various options in the coming days. It’s not clear if high-end boards for Kaby Lake or Skylake are unofficially “Coffee Lake ready” or not.
All the CPU cores, none of the motherboard upgrade requirements? Count a lot of people in — if it works.
The reason this hack works the way it does is because there’s essentially no difference between Skylake, Kaby Lake, and Coffee Lake, and apparently very little physical difference as well. Even allowing for the various restrictions on power consumption and the advice to stay away from the higher-power “K” class CPUs, the ability to drop a six-core Core i5 into a motherboard where one previously used a Core i3 dual-core from the Skylake generation is a heck of a potential upgrade. That same upgrade horsepower is, of course, why Intel wouldn’t want to push a firmware update that let owners swap CPUs without a corresponding motherboard purchase.
Be advised, however, that theoretical upgrades and practical upgrades are not the same thing. There are going to be caveats, snares, and motherboards that don’t work the way they should. Getting a six-core Coffee Lake to work in an earlier motherboard is a breakthrough. But if you choose to go this route, pay attention to all the recommended cautions, keep in mind that nobody knows all the variables yet, and treat the experiment just like gambling — don’t risk any hardware you aren’t prepared to lose.