If You Want a Mobile 10nm CPU in Your Desktop, This Might Be Your Shot

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I’ve always had a soft spot for running mobile chips in desktop boards. If you share the interest, there’s a rare opportunity to pick up mobile Intel CPUs with an integrated LGA1151 interposer. In theory, it might be possible to swap the socket on an LGA1151 motherboard for one of these CPUs, provided you match the CPU to an appropriate chipset.

The odds of plugging a mobile chip into a desktop board and having it automatically work, however, are not necessarily great.

Why Stick a Laptop Chip in a Desktop?

There are a few reasons why a desktop user might prefer a laptop CPU. Mobile CPUs tend to be binned for efficiency, and often offer better power consumption at a given frequency compared to desktop parts. If you’re trying to maximize power efficiency, a laptop chip can be a great way to reduce system power consumption.

There are a handful of boutique desktop systems, small form factor PCs, and some Intel NUCs that use mobile CPUs for this exact reason. High-end GPUs are sometimes paired with these systems to create fairly powerful gaming systems in a diminutive package.

One of my favorite PCs I ever built was a Tualatin-powered Pentium 3 system. I was living in an un-airconditioned dorm over the summer, and I needed something that drew less power than my Thunderbird Athlon overclocked to 1.4GHz. Over the years, there’ve been some great laptop CPU + desktop motherboard combos with chips like Tualatin and Dothan, but the trend eventually died off.

In this case, that’s kind of a problem. Most Intel desktop motherboards don’t claim to support mobile CPUs. Plugging an unknown CPU into a motherboard is a bit of a crap shoot. Typically, the board won’t POST. Sometimes — though I haven’t seen this happen in years — motherboards will POST, but claim the CPU is an unknown model.

Image from Aliexpress

There are a lot of these mobile chips available on Aliexpress. In addition to the question of whether the CPUs work in the normal fashion, it’s worth asking if they’d actually work in the motherboard you want to plug them into.

Obviously there are motherboards out there that can accept these CPUs — they exist, and Intel didn’t create them to wander the Earth looking for homes — but the CPU support lists for various Intel boards do not list support for their mobile parts.

There are sometimes ways to get a CPU booting on a platform that doesn’t formally support it — the Aurora 7 lapstrocity that we just covered pairs a Core i9-9900K with a Z170 motherboard, for example — but that’s still a desktop chip in a desktop board.

If you do have a motherboard that can run one of these chips, or you decide to give it a shot, keep in mind that the CPU has an exposed die and not every heatsink will work. You’ll need a flat, non-heatpiped heatsink and you’ll need to be careful when you mount it on the exposed core. Make certain that when you tighten the CPU cooler, you tighten it evenly across all four points. CPUs with headspreaders will tolerate a certain amount of abuse in this regard. CPUs with bare dies will not.

If you decide to take a shot on one of these, let us know how it turns out. Personally, as much as I like the idea in theory, I wouldn’t bet on desktop boards supporting these CPUs in general. If you know of a board that does, drop it here.

Also, despite what has been reported elsewhere, it’s not clear that any of these CPUs are 10nm chips. All of the CPUs listed on Aliexpress are 14nm CPUs from the 8th, 9th, and 10th Gen Core families.

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