Continuing its TikTok release cycle, Intel plans to unveil a new CPU microarchitecture in late April. Codenamed Ivy Bridge (tick), the update will bring 22nm die shrinkage to current 32nm Sandy Bridge technology (tock), bring greater efficiency and allow Intel to cram more in the same size die.
Intel is often criticized for introducing too many new chipsets and sockets, but this is not usually the case with “Tick” because the microarchitecture is largely the same as the preceding “Talk”. Such is the case with Ivy Bridge, which uses the LGA1155 socket introduced with Sandy Bridge earlier last year.
Those who already own Cougar Point (6-series chipset) motherboards will be able to upgrade to Ivy Bridge without buying an entirely new platform. Besides the fact that manufacturers must supply a BIOS update to add Ivy Bridge support on 6-series motherboards, compatibility is guaranteed.
Although backwards compatibility will be available with 6-series motherboards, Intel couldn’t resist the opportunity to come up with a new round of chipsets with their latest architecture. Codenamed “Panther Point,” the new 7-series chipset includes half a dozen parts, with the Z77 being Intel’s new flagship.
We expect many demonstrators to question whether upgrading to a 7-series board is worthwhile, and we wouldn’t be surprised if some budget builders are interested in discounted secondhand 6-series boards. We will provide an overview on Panther Points offers so that you can make an informed buying decision.
Intel 7-series vs. Intel 6-series
Today’s chipsets are only responsible for I/O and have little impact on performance. In fact, they’re not even really a “chipset” anymore because there isn’t a set of chips. Years ago, it was common for chipsets to have a northbridge and a southbridge. The former was a direct line of communication between the CPU, GPU, and memory, while the latter handled everything from expansion slots to storage.
Although features such as the memory controller were moved from the northbridge to the CPU itself, the chip played a lesser role. Eventually, Intel took what was left of the northbridge and added it to the southbridge, which the company calls the PCH, or Platform Controller Hub. The 6-series flagship PCH (Z68, introduced last May) is only a relatively subtle difference to the 7-series flagship (Z77).
Both chipset generations support all Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge processors, they use the same DMI 2.0 (Direct Media Interface) to connect the PCH and CPU with 20 Gbit/s bandwidth using x4 link. They’re also the same size at 27 x 27mm and they support eight PCIe 2.0 lanes as well as a single Gigabit MAC.
Those hoping for better storage capabilities will be disappointed as the 7-series brings the same six SATA ports (two 6Gb/s). Intel has been cautious about upgrading its 6Gb/s support after reliability problems with early 6-series boards. We were expecting to see wider SATA 6Gb/s support this time around.
However, Panther Point is not completely stable as Intel eventually implemented native USB 3.0 support – albeit not full USB 3.0 support as only four of the fourteen ports provide superspeed bandwidth. Nonetheless, this means that all 7-series motherboards will have at least four USB 3.0 ports.
Interestingly, one of the most significant changes to the 7-series is the removal of the feature. While the 6-series chipsets supported four PCIe slots, the 7-series almost completely eliminated native PCIe support. We say “almost” because the business and corporate Q75, Q77 and B75 chipsets still support PCI.
It’s also worth noting that all 7-series chipsets can use the GPU inside Intel’s processors, so you’ll be able to use the video output on the H77, Z75, and Z77 motherboards. Before the Z68, things were a bit confusing as the P67 was the only chipset for overclockers, but it couldn’t tap Intel’s integrated graphics.