Articles: Mainboards

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Testbed Configuration

The new Intel Z77 chipset is a very interesting product in comparison with the predecessors as well as by itself. For our today’s tests of the new Asus P8Z77-V Deluxe mainboard we also took an Intel Core i5-2500K processor, 8 GB of memory and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 580 graphics card. For comparison purposes we also included the results for Intel Z68 based Asus P8Z68-V PRO mainboard.

As a result, the complete list of hardware and software components used for this test session looked as follows:

  • Processor: Intel Core i5-2500K (Sandy Bridge, 4 cores, 3.3 GHz, 6 MB L3);
  • CPU cooler: NZXT Havik 140;
  • Mainboards:
    • ASUS P8Z68-V PRO (LGA1155, Intel Z68 Express);
    • ASUS P8Z77-V Deluxe (LGA1155, Intel Z77 Express).
  • Memory: 2 x 4 GB, DDR3-1866 SDRAM, 9-11-9-27 (Kingston KHX1866C9D3K2/8GX);
  • Graphics card: EVGA GeForce GTX 580 Classified 3 GB (03G-P3-1588-AR);
  • Hard drive: Intel SSD 520 240 GB (SSDSC2CW240A3K5);
  • Power supply unit: Tagan TG880-U33II (880 W).
  • Operating system: Microsoft Windows 7 SP1 Ultimate x64.
  • Drivers:
    • Intel Chipset Driver;
    • Intel HD Graphics Driver;
    • Intel Management Engine Driver;
    • Intel Rapid Storage Technology;
    • Intel Rapid Start;
    • Intel Smart Connect 2.1.1121.0;
    • LucidLogix Virtu MVP Software;
    • NVIDIA GeForce 301.10 Driver.

New Technologies: Rapid Start and Smart Control

The new LGA1155 chipsets from Intel can hardly impress us with their hardware capabilities. They do not bring about anything substantially new. Indeed, their new features have been already implemented in mainboards by means of additional controllers. Even though, no one promised the Z77 to be a revolution for desktop PCs, new-generation mainboards may turn out to be no better or even worse than their predecessors. Intel can't be happy about that. Mainboard makers can’t be happy either, as they surely want to use that opportunity to rake in some profit.

It is here that programmers come to help the hardware developers. The Z68 was a good example of how a chipset’s functionality could be easily enhanced by software solutions. We mean Intel’s Smart Response feature in the Rapid Storage Technology driver for using an SSD as a hard disk’s cache. It became an integral feature of the Z68 and made it more attractive. The 7 series supports Smart Response as well and adds to it some more software features that may be interesting to some users. Referred to as Platform Responsiveness Technologies, they include Rapid Start and Smart Connect.

The Rapid Start technology helps minimize the time it takes the computer to wake up from standby mode and lower the power consumption while in standby. It is a variant of the well-known hibernation technique. When it was introduced in Windows OSes, users liked it because their computer could wake up from hibernation and get ready to work sooner than if it was shut down and started up in the regular way. With hibernation, the contents of system memory are saved to the hard disk and then restored, so the computer wakes up with applications running and files already open. However, in modern versions of Windows this is replaced with a hybrid sleep mode in which the computer is not shut down completely because restoring data from the hard disk turns out to be such a long process that the benefits of hibernation as a means to quickly get the system up and running are negated. Therefore in sleep mode the contents of system memory are saved to the hard disk to prevent data loss in case of power failures, but the memory and some other components remain powered. As a result, the computer can wake up from sleep quickly but has to consume power while asleep.

Meanwhile, high-performance solid state drives are a much better choice for true hibernation since restoring data from an SSD takes much less time. So, that’s the point of the Rapid Start technology. If the computer contains an SSD (or a specialized flash memory module), Rapid Start allows to shut it down completely, after saving the memory contents to a predefined partition on the SSD. The partition is, of course, the same size as the computer’s system memory.

Thus, Rapid Start is an add-on to the operating system that saves the computer’s memory contents to an SSD when switching to sleep mode and then turns off power completely.

Most of the Rapid Start settings are meant for mobile systems,
but the technology works well on desktop PCs, too.

The user environment is restored automatically the next time the computer is turned on. Thanks to the high performance of modern SSDs, it takes a mere 5 to 7 seconds irrespective of how many running applications and open files you have. As a result, Rapid Start helps the computer to start up even faster than with the standard hybrid sleep mode of Windows 7. The technology can prove to be useful not only for mobile but also for desktop computers.

The other new feature, called Smart Connect, seems somewhat less useful to us. It’s designed for active users of social networks, email and other cloud services. The point of the technology is in receiving data updates from the internet even when the computer is asleep. The implementation is very simple: the computer just wakes up after predefined periods of time, requests and receives data from the internet and then goes to sleep again. So, when the user next uses the computer, all data are up-to-date. You just won’t have to wait for your computer to synchronize with cloud services.

There is a special tool for configuring the sleep periods:

The Advanced page lets you set up time intervals for Smart Connect not to work.

The problem with Smart Connect in its current implementation is that it requires compatible software capable of delivering data updates on demand. So far, this is only supported by Sobees and Seesmic Desktop that provide interaction with a limited number of social network and support Microsoft Outlook or Windows Live Mail.

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