Intel Z77 ‘Panther Level’ Chipset Overview

Intel continues its tick-tock release cycle and plans to launch a new CPU microarchitecture in late April. With the code name Ivy Bridge (check mark), the update will reduce the current 32 nm Sandy Bridge technology (tock) by 22 nm, which increases efficiency and enables Intel to put more chips in the same size.

Intel is often criticized for introducing too many new chipsets and sockets. However, this is normally not the case with "ticks", since the microarchitecture is largely identical to that of the previous "tick". This is the case with Ivy Bridge, which uses the same LGA1155 socket that was introduced alongside Sandy Bridge earlier last year.

People who already own Cougar Point motherboards (6 chipset) can upgrade to Ivy Bridge without buying a completely new platform. In addition to the fact that manufacturers need to provide a BIOS update to add Ivy Bridge support for 6-series motherboards, compatibility is guaranteed.

While backward compatibility with 6-series motherboards will be available, Intel couldn't resist the opportunity to add a new round of chipsets to its latest architecture. The new 7-chipsets, code-named "Panther Point", contain half a dozen parts, with the Z77 being the new flagship from Intel.

We expect many performance fans to wonder if upgrading to a 7-board is worthwhile, and we wouldn't be surprised if some budget builders were interested in reduced used 6-board. We offer an overview of the offers from Panther Point so that you can make an informed purchase decision.

Intel 7 against Intel 6

Today's chipsets are only responsible for I / O and have little impact on performance. In fact, they are not really a "chipset" anymore because there is no set of chips. Years ago it was common for chipsets to have a northbridge and a southbridge. The former was the direct line of communication between CPU, GPU and memory, while the latter handled everything else from expansion slots to memory.

However, since functions such as the memory controller were moved from the Northbridge to the CPU itself, the chip played a minor role. Finally, Intel took the remains of the Northbridge and added them to the Southbridge in a hub that the company called PCH, or Platform Controller Hub. The flagship of the 6-series PCH (Z68, introduced last May) differs only slightly from the flagship of the 7-series (Z77).

6 series 7 series
CPU support Sandy Bridge / Ivy Bridge Sandy Bridge / Ivy Bridge
CPU I / F. DMI 2.0 DMI 2.0
package MB: 25 x 25 mm, DT: 27 x 27 mm MB: 25 x 25 mm, DT: 27 x 27 mm
USB 14 USB 2.0 14 USB ports (up to 4 USB 3.0)
PCIe 8 PCIe 2.0 8 PCIe 2.0
warehouse 2 SATA Gen 3, RAID, 4 SATA Gen 2 2 SATA Gen 3, RAID, 4 SATA Gen 2
PCI DT: 4 slots DT: PCI only for B / Q SKUs
Show I / Fs VGA, LVDS, DP, HDMI (with reduced LS), wireless display VGA, LVDS, DP, HDMI (with reduced cost .LS), wireless display
Show pipes Dual independent. Show digital I / Fs Three independent. DisplayDigital I / Fs
safety PAVP PAVP
Manageability & FW ME 7.0 ME 8.0
iRST 10.0 and 10.5 (intelligent caching and optical reading ahead) 11.0 with intelligent caching
LAN GbE MAC GbE MAC
Integ. Clock Yes Yes

Both generations of chipsets support all Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge processors. They use the same DMI 2.0 (Direct Media Interface) to connect the PCH and CPU via an x4 connection with 20 Gbit / s bandwidth. They are the same size at 27 x 27 mm and support eight PCIe 2.0 lanes and a single Gigabit MAC.

People hoping for better storage capacities will be disappointed because the 7 Series offers the same six SATA ports (two 6 Gbps). Intel has been cautious about updating its 6Gbps support after the reliability issues with the first 6-board. We were hoping to see broader support for SATA 6 Gbps this time.

Panther Point isn't stagnating, however, as Intel has finally implemented native USB 3.0 support – if not full USB 3.0 support, as only four of the fourteen ports offer SuperSpeed ​​bandwidth. However, this means that all 7 Series motherboards have at least four USB 3.0 ports.

Interestingly, one of the most important changes to the 7 Series is removing a feature. While 6-series chipsets support four PCI slots, the 7-series almost completely eliminates native PCI support. We say "almost" because the Q75, Q77 and B75 business and corporate chipsets continue to support PCI.

It's also worth noting that all 7-series chipsets can use the GPU in Intel's processors, so you can use the video outputs on H77, Z75, and Z77 motherboards. Before the Z68, things were a bit confusing since the P67 was the only chipset for overclockers but couldn't use Intel's built-in graphics.

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