There is a tick-tock rule in the CPU world: we get a new CPU microarchitecture and thinner tech process over a 2-year cycle, but not at the same moment. Intel has been following this rule, together with Moore's law, for the last few years. It’s no secret that, according to this rule, we'll get the new Ivy Bridge processor family in the near future. It will have the same microarchitecture as the previous family but implemented on 22nm production process.
The same tick-tock rule applies to computer platforms at large. With each new microarchitecture it releases, Intel has a habit of introducing a new CPU socket and revising the whole structure of platforms, both desktop and mobile. The “ticks” are usually about face-lifting improvements rather than dramatic innovations, yet a new CPU family is a good reason for updating the whole platform. That’s why the Ivy Bridge family was supposed to be accompanied by a new series of chipsets to improve the platform specs without breaking up the compatibility between different generations of chipsets and CPUs. Codenamed Panther Point, the 7 series includes the Z77 chipset for desktop PCs and its various simplified or mobile variants.
However, there were technological reasons for Intel to correct the original release schedule. The Ivy Bridge family was postponed and its companion chipset Z77 was left all alone. It is announced today but the CPUs it was designed for are only coming out in two weeks. This schedule isn't as odd as it seems, though, because the new chipset is compatible with the older Sandy Bridge CPUs as well. It's even makes things easier for hardware reviewers since we can discuss the new products individually and in more detail.
So, in this review we are going to focus on the Intel Z77 chipset. We have to test it together with a Sandy Bridge processor, keeping the Ivy Bridge series in mind.