Although Intel's Sandy Bridge shrinkage is not due until next week (rumored to be Monday), the company has long shipped the associated Ivy Bridge chipsets. It may seem strange to jump the gun on "next generation" motherboards, but 7-series platforms are backward compatible with Sandy Bridge processors, so users could actually buy a Z77 motherboard and use it for a few weeks without an Ivy Bridge.
Of course, this means that Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge processors use the same socket. In addition to the Sandy Bridge CPUs that are compatible with 7 Series motherboards, 6 Series motherboards are compatible with Ivy Bridge chips. In other words, with little more than a BIOS update, users running older cards with chipsets like H67, P67, or Z68 should be able to use one of the latest Intel processors.
Given the similarities between generations, 7-chipsets don't bring too many changes to the table. We released an overview of the update earlier this week if you're interested. However, the main difference between Cougar Point and Panther Point is native USB 3.0. Instead of relying on third-party controllers, all H77, Z75, and Z77 motherboards come with support for at least four SuperSpeed USB ports.
Intel has also made other improvements, such as: For example, broader support for overclocking and access to the company's integrated graphics and hybrid memory technology. These features are still not widely available, but you can find them in at least two chipsets. This should simplify your options. Nevertheless, we imagine that many of you, as performance junkies, have an eye on the flagship Z77.
After looking through the Panther Point datasheet, we want a little more to touch. Fortunately, we have four new Z77 motherboards in the shop and ask for attention, including the Asrock Z77 Extreme6, the ECS Z77H2-AX, the Gigabyte Z77X-UD5H-WB and the Intel DZ77GA-70K. As is common with our motherboard summaries, we'll take a closer look at each product individually before comparing its performance …