Intel Z77 Express Chipset Review

New seventh series chipsets can’t boast too many innovations, however, their launch is accompanied by the introduction of a number of interesting technologies: Rapid Start, Smart Connect and Lucid Logix MVP. To get a better idea of all the features and functionality of the new platform we tested one of the first Intel Z77 based mainboards – Asus P8Z77-V Deluxe.

by Ilya Gavrichenkov
04/07/2012 | 04:16 PM

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.

Intel Z77: Specifications

Chipsets have become very simple in design after memory and PCI controllers moved into CPUs. Having previously consisted of two pieces, a North Bridge and a South Bridge, a modern chipset is a single-piece thing responsible for I/O interfaces. It doesn’t influence the performance or capabilities of a platform much, but affects the design of mainboards and the choice of their additional onboard controllers. So, we can hardly expect the new chipset to greatly improve the consumer properties of computer systems. In fact, Z77-based mainboards are very similar to those with the older Z68. When developing its new chipset, Intel just tried to meet the requests of mainboard makers who wanted to have a richer selection of I/O interface within the single basic component.

There were two main shortcomings about Intel's previous flagship chipset Z68. It didn’t have USB 3.0 and it only offered two SATA 6 Gbit/s ports. Adding more ports of these types into chipsets for the LGA 1155 platform is the obvious way to improve them. However, Intel had had some reliability issues with new interfaces in its 6 series chipsets and now takes a very conservative approach to this. On one hand, the new chipsets have finally acquired the modern USB 3.0 interface but, on the other hand, the maximum number of such ports is limited to four whereas the SATA interface hasn’t been upgraded at all. There are still only two SATA 6 Gbit/s ports available. So, it's clear that the evolution of desktop platforms for Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge processors won't be rapid until the next “tock” in the cycle.

With these things forming the background, Intel can hardly be expected to take big steps forward like introducing the high-speed Thunderbird interface in its chipsets. Being one of the key developers and supporters of that technology, Intel has left for Apple to take any real measures to promote it. The Z77 has no integrated Thunderbird controllers, yet the interface isn't altogether forgotten. It can be implemented in new mainboards via an external controller, connected through four PCI Express lanes.

There are two key facts about the new chipsets. First, Intel’s 7 series chipsets do not support the PCI bus. Although it can be implemented on a mainboard by means of additional converter chips, we’d recommend you to get used to the idea that PCI is no more. The PCI bus not provided for in the reference design, there is going to be but a limited number of new mainboards with PCI slots.

The other fact is the simplification of Intel’s nomenclature. They had as many as three product types with the 6 series chipsets for consumers (we don't count business-targeted products in here): H for basic integrated systems, P for systems with discrete graphics, and Z for the mix of both. However, users didn't seem to need so much choice. Therefore the 7 series includes only two basic variants: H for basic systems and Z for overclocker-friendly systems. There won't be chipsets that cut the CPU-integrated graphics core off, so every mainboard with a 7 series chipset will be able to utilize the graphics capabilities of LGA1155 CPUs.

By the way, Intel’s integrated graphics has been getting rid of the lackluster reputation it has earned over years. Right now, its performance and functionality is quite sufficient for a large range of applications. Financed by Intel, Lucid Logix has also contributed to this with its set of technologies for enabling the integrated graphics along with a discrete graphics card.

Moreover, the Ivy Bridge processors are going to feature a more advanced graphics core than their Sandy Bridge predecessors, both in performance and in functionality. It will support up to three display devices simultaneously when used together with a 7 series chipset.

This seems to be the biggest difference between mainboards with 6 and 7 series chipsets, actually. The rest of the differences can be made up for by additional controllers. As for CPU support, the older 6 series mainboards are fully compatible with the Ivy Bridge (after a BIOS update) whereas the new mainboards are going to work with both Ivy Bridge and Sandy Bridge CPUs. There are no significant differences even when it comes to overclocking.

Overclockers could be disappointed with the LGA1155 platform which didn't let them overclock CPUs by increasing the base clock rate. The 6 series chipsets had an integrated clock generator that was used for clocking both the CPU and chipset components. As a result, increasing the base clock by 5-7% rendered the system inoperable due to the chipset’s controllers.

Unfortunately, the 7 series doesn’t change anything in this respect. Positioning LGA2011 as the enthusiast-targeted platform, Intel doesn’t want to implement the same overclocking capabilities on the LGA1155 platform. The new 7 series chipsets let you overclock Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge CPUs in the same way as before: by increasing their frequency multiplier.

So, if the Z77 is a step forward from the Z68, that’s not a big step at all. The Z77 flowchart looks almost identical to the Z68 one:

The following table summarizes the key differences of the 7 series chipsets from their predecessors:

Besides the Z77, the 7 series includes the slightly less advanced Z75 and H77 as well as a few B and Q chipsets which are meant for corporate users and are not discussed here. The Z75 is a Z77 with limited capabilities in terms of splitting up the CPU-integrated PCI Express lanes. The H77 is an even simpler version that doesn’t support SLI/CrossFireX configurations and lacks any CPU overclocking features.

These chipset modifications are compared in the next table:

The positioning of the Z77, Z75 and H77 should be clear enough. The senior and most expensive chipset is going to be installed on mainboards for DIY systems. The Z75, which doesn't support SSD caching among other things, is only going to be used in cheap products, especially as it can help save a hefty $8 for mainboard makers. Lacking any CPU overclocking features, the H77 is likely to be found in compact mainboards for small computers where overclocking and SLI/CrossFireX support aren’t relevant.

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:

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.

Virtu MVP: Lucid Logix Takes to Graphics Acceleration

Lucid Logix has also been doing some work to make Intel’s new platforms more attractive. The previous Z68 chipset for LGA1155 processors came along with Virtu technology that allowed using both the CPU-integrated graphics core and a discrete graphics card concurrently. This technology has progressed since then and Z77-based mainboards will support its next version called Virtu MVP. The graphics virtualization from Lucid Logix can work on older systems (and even on systems with AMD processors) but the marketing efforts will be focused on promoting Virtu MVP as a key feature of Intel’s 7 series chipsets and mainboards based on them. That’s why we’re going to discuss Virtu MVP in this review.

So, let’s see what Lucid Logix offers this time around. The point of the original Virtu technology was to provide access to the Quick Sync engine, which was part of Intel’s integrated graphics, on platforms with a discrete graphics card. Quick Sync helps transcode high-definition video at a very high speed, but the CPU-integrated graphics core is normally turned off when the system uses a discrete graphics card to output video signal to the monitor. Virtu solved this problem by allowing applications to access both the discrete and integrated graphics core without rebooting the system or reconnecting the monitor.

Virtu MVP takes the concept further. Instead of using either the integrated or the discrete graphics core depending on the specific task, both cores can now be used simultaneously. And while the CPU-integrated graphics was previously limited to multimedia tasks such as HD video decoding, Lucid Logix suggests that the different graphics cores can now be used together to achieve higher performance in games.

As a matter of fact, hybrid multi-GPU subsystems of this kind are quite a viable idea as was proved by AMD with its Dual Graphics technology implemented in systems with Llano processors. It really works and improves performance. However, a hybrid graphics subsystem is only going to be effective when the integrated and discrete graphics cores are more or less similar in computing power. Otherwise, the synchronization overhead may result in a lower frame rate compared to the single discrete solution.

Therefore Lucid Logix suggests using the resources of each core at different stages of the image rendering process. With Virtu MVP, a high-performance discrete graphics card is employed at the first and most resource-consuming stages: transformations, lighting, shader computations, primitives generation, projection transformation, rasterization, texture mapping, etc. The integrated graphics core, which has fewer resources, is only used as a frame buffer and is responsible for outputting the final image to the display.

Coupled with some undisclosed algorithms, which are Lucid Logix’s know-how, it helps implement two features that make games more responsive and improve their visual quality, at least theoretically.


The left image shows an example of image tearing which can occur with Vsync turned off.

In other words, Virtual-Vsync produces the same image as with enabled Vsync but the frame rate is not fixed and can be either higher or lower than the monitor’s refresh rate.

Thus, Virtu MVP finds more applications for the combined resources of integrated and discrete graphics cores than the original Virtu technology.

That’s the theory, though. As for the real applications, we got our apprehensions as soon as we saw the official test results for Virtu MVP. Here they are:

They show us the benefits of Virtu MVP using DirectX 9 games developed 4 or 5 years ago. Lucid Logix looks efficient, but hardly useful since it’s not possible to notice any acceleration with frame rates above 100 fps.

So, we carried out our own test of Virtu MVP using today’s games. The Virtu MVP technology is implemented by means of regularly updated software available for download from mainboard makers’ websites. The installation should go smoothly. You only have to make sure your mainboard supports Virtu MVP. It won’t work on incompatible models due to software restrictions because Lucid Logix receives license fees from mainboard makers.

After the installation, you launch a special tool to enable Virtual-Vsync and HyperFormance together or separately.

The utility offers an editable list of applications with individual settings. Considering that Virtu MVP includes the original Virtu functionality, you can also choose the primary graphics core for each application. Everything is intuitive and simple here.

We carried out five tests to check out the benefits of Virtu MVP: discrete graphics card without Virtu MVP but with Vsync turned on and off; Virtual-Vsync enabled; HyperFormance enabled; Virtual-Sync and HyperFormance enabled simultaneously. Here are the results:

3DMark 11 shows how Virtu MVP is supposed to work. HyperFormance provides a 40% performance boost here, but we know well enough that developers of new technologies optimize their solutions for popular benchmarks in the first place. What about games?

Virtual-Vsync works best among the Virtu MVP features: the frame rate goes higher than 60 fps, which is the refresh rate of our monitor, but there are no image tearing artifacts. However, the frame rate is lower than what you can get from the single discrete graphics card with Vsync turned off.

HyperFormance isn’t that consistent. We don’t always see the performance benefits promised by Lucid Logix. Moreover, it produces a lot of visual artifacts in textures, lighting and the image at large, so you just can’t play the game normally. It’s only in Metro 2033 and, with some reservations, in Battlefield 3 that we had decent image quality.

The developer must have intended HyperFormance to be used together with Virtual-Vsync. There are no image artifacts when you enable both concurrently. However, the frame rate proves to be almost always lower than when we use the discrete graphics card alone, with no Virtu MVP and with disabled Vsync.

Considering these results, we are inclined to view Virtu MVP as a more advanced version of Vsync. The combination of Virtual-Vsync and HyperFormance works correctly and often helps increase the frame rate compared to the conventional Vsync. So, if you regularly turn Vsync on in your games, you may want to use Virtu MVP to make them more responsive. Otherwise, the new technology from Lucid Logix is going to be rather useless for you. Virtu MVP can only provide the promised performance benefits in old, mostly DirectX 9, games which anyway run very fast on today’s graphics hardware.

Closer Look at ASUS P8Z77-V Deluxe

We’ve already learned about the advantages of the Z77 compared to its predecessors, but none of them seems to bring us any tangible benefits. They only look like minor improvements. That’s why mainboard makers have joined the effort of making the new platform more attractive and introduced very exciting and technologically rich products. The product we used for this review is ASUS P8Z77-V Deluxe and it’s one of the most advanced LGA1155 mainboards based on the new Intel chipset.

As is typical of ASUS, the company offers a dozen Z77-based models, the P8Z77-V Deluxe being the most functional of them. Moreover, this mainboard seems to be the most advanced of all LGA1155 products currently offered by ASUS which is indicated by its exclusive 20-phase CPU voltage regulator.

Even compared to the second-generation Z68-based Deluxe mainboard from ASUS, the one with PCI Express 3.0 support, the P8Z77-V Deluxe has a number of advantages. First of all, it can clock system memory at higher frequencies. Thanks to a new wiring of DIMM slots and a digital power system, the new mainboard enables memory modes up to DDR3-2600 and also supports XMP version 1.3. Second, the Z77-based product can overclock the integrated graphics core and has two video outputs: HDMI 1.4a and DisplayPort 1.1a. Third, the new mainboard has more I/O interfaces including Wi-Fi and more USB 3.0 ports. And fourth, the P8Z77-V Deluxe supports all of the technologies associated with the new chipset, including Lucid Logix Virtu MVP.

So, even though the Z77 chipset doesn’t look much compared to its predecessor, the P8Z77-V Deluxe seems to be a highly appealing upgrade option even if you’ve got a rather modern Z68-based mainboard. The P8Z77-V Deluxe has impressive specs indeed.

We can take note that it has quite a number of PCI Express ports. Yes, PCI has been relegated to the category of legacy interfaces by Intel, so it’s no wonder that PCI Express has come to replace PCI. Still, the P8Z77-V Deluxe has a huge number of them. The 16 PCI Express lanes in the CPU and 8 such lanes in the chipset are enhanced with more lanes from a PEX8606 switch. As a result, the mainboard offers two PCIe x16 3.0 slots (which work together in x8+x8 mode), one PCIe 2.0 x16 slot (in x4 mode), and four PCIe 2.0 x1 slots.

ASUS wasn’t satisfied with the Z77’s capabilities in terms of USB and SATA. So, besides the six standard SATA ports, two of which are 6 Gbit/s, there are a couple of additional SATA 6 Gbit/s ports based on a Marvell 9128 controller. These extra ports support SSD Caching technology which is similar to Intel Smart Response but can be enabled with a couple of mouse clicks after you’ve connected an HDD and an SSD to them. The number of USB 3.0 ports is expanded, too. The four chipset-based ports are split up in two pairs. One pair is available on the mainboard’s back panel and another as an onboard header. The remaining four back-panel USB 3.0 ports are implemented via ASMedia controllers.

The P8Z77-V Deluxe’s back panel is densely populated. Besides six USB 3.0 ports, it offers four USB 2.0 connectors; six audio connectors (based on an ALC898 codec); an optical SPDIF; one HDMI and a DisplayPort; two Gigabit Ethernet connectors (based on Intel 82579V and Realtek 8111F controllers); and a couple of eSATA 6 Gbit/s ports (based on an ASMedia controller). There is also a USB BIOS Flashback button here that lets you update your mainboard BIOS even without a CPU installed. Topping all this are the antenna connectors of a Wi-Fi card which is included with the mainboard.

The mainboard’s PCB features high component density, too. Fortunately, this doesn’t make it harder for us to use it. The CPU socket is far enough from both the edge of the PCB and the first PCIe x16 slot. Cable connectors are all distributed along the edges of the mainboard, so we don’t think there can be any problems with assembling and connecting any components. ASUS has tried to simplify the process by providing a lot of diagnostic LEDs. There is a POST controller and a few buttons: Power On, Reset, MemOK!, Clear CMOS. Some BIOS features such as automatic overclocking or power-saving modes are duplicated with dual-position switches.

The chipset and CPU voltage regulator are covered by massive aluminum heatsinks which are secured with screws. There is also an additional heatsink in the middle of the mainboard. It’s connected with a heat pipe to the main heatsink but doesn’t do much cooling on its own. In fact, the elaborated cooling system of the P8Z77-V Deluxe is due to the mainboard’s premium positioning. The heatsinks do not get very hot at work.

The mainboard has as many as six 4-pin fan connectors, two of which are for the CPU cooler, so you can implement any idea about cooling your computer. To help you control and set up your fans, the P8Z77-V Deluxe offers a special feature called Fan Xpert 2.

And now we’ve reached what is perhaps the biggest point of pride of the developers of this mainboard. It is the digital power system Smart DIGI+. Including a total of 22 phases, it has 16 phases for the CPU core, 4 phases for the CPU-integrated graphics, and 2 phases for the memory slots. Besides a high load capacity, Smart DIGI+ delivers very stable voltages at any load and supports multi-level Load-Line Calibration. As for energy efficiency, the number of active power phases is dynamically adjusted to minimize power loss. Smart DIGI+ provides flexible control options which are available in a dedicated BIOS page.

Well, the BIOS of the P8Z77-V Deluxe hasn’t actually changed much compared to ASUS’s Z68-based products. It contains Rapid Start and Smart Connect settings, though.

And there are more options for controlling fans:

There’s nothing new about overclocking since the Intel Z77 provides the same overclocking options as the Intel Z68.

The Z77 using the same base clock rate for clocking both the chipset controllers and the CPU, you can only overclock you system by changing the CPU frequency multiplier. So, Z77-based mainboards can’t affect the popularity of the K series CPUs.

Overclocking

We started our tests of the Z77-based mainboard from ASUS by trying to overclock it. Although there are no real reasons for that, some users hope that the Z77 is better for overclocking than its predecessor.

Well, we have to disappoint them. Everything we wrote about overclocking Z68-based mainboards applies to the new chipset. The base clock rate of our P8Z77-V Deluxe could only be increased by 6 MHz.

If the clock rate is set higher, the mainboard refuses to start up. So, you have to tweak the CPU multiplier, just as before, to get better overclocking results.

We used our K series Core i5-2500K processor but found no differences from Z68-based mainboards in terms of overclocking. We reached the same clock rate of 4.7 GHz after increasing the CPU voltage by 0.125 volts.

Summing it up, the Z77 chipset doesn’t seem to be better for overclocking than its predecessor. Its advantages should be looked for elsewhere.

Performance

Chipsets do not affect the performance of modern computers much because a modern chipset is in fact a South Bridge containing a lot of I/O controllers. The components that have more effect on performance such as execution cores, graphics bus controller and memory controller all of them reside in the CPU. So, we can’t really expect LGA1155 platforms to get any faster after the arrival of the Intel Z77.

Anyway, we want to check this out in practice by benchmarking two similar mainboards based on the Z68 and Z77: ASUS P8Z68-V PRO and ASUS P8Z77-V Deluxe. We benchmarked them twice, with the CPU clocked at its default frequency and overclocked to 4.7 GHz. In the default operation mode the CPU frequency management technologies Turbo Boost and Enhanced SpeedStep were active. When the CPU was overclocked, Turbo Boost was turned off but Enhanced SpeedStep kept on working.

We use Futuremark PCMark 7 to find out the average performance of the platforms. This benchmark measures the execution speed of typical algorithms that are widely used on desktop PCs.

The Computation score is indicative of the performance of the system when doing some resource-consuming processing of video and images.

Futuremark 3DMark 11 is the test of the computer’s graphics subsystem in the first place.

Besides the overall graphics performance score, 3DMark 11 produces another interesting parameter which is the Physics score. It is the result of a special test that models the behavior of a complex physical system with a lot of objects.

The benchmark integrated into the WinRAR archiver will help us measure the speed of data compression.

Our Adobe Photoshop test is based on a redesigned Retouch Artists Photoshop Speed Test and involves typical processing of four 10-megapixel images captured with a digital camera.

To benchmark the speed of encoding video into the H.264 format we use the x264 HD test. It is based on measuring the speed it takes to process an original MPEG2 video recoded at 720p resolution with a bit rate of 4 Mbps. This test has a huge practical value because its x264 codec is employed in many popular transcoding tools such as HandBrake, MeGUI, VirtualDub, and others.

The speed of final rendering in Maxon Cinema 4D is benchmarked by means of Cinebench version 11.5.

We additionally benchmarked the mainboards in popular 3D games.

 

The performance tests agree in one thing: there is no difference between the two LGA1155 mainboards based on two different chipsets. The small variations in numbers are only due to some measurement inaccuracies.

Some mainboard makers promote their new products with the 7 series chipset as being faster but, unfortunately, the performance benefits they claim are produced by BIOS tweaking rather than by the chipsets proper. Some mainboards have a slightly pre-overclocked base frequency, and others disable Turbo Boost and set the CPU frequency multiplier at the maximum possible value. These tricks are in fact a kind of overclocking and can be easily performed on older mainboards. So, any claims that the Z77 chipset itself can make a mainboard perform faster are not true.

Conclusion

From a formal point of view, the Intel Z77 might be described as a new chipset that simplifies mainboard design and makes computers more responsive and functional. We won’t write this, however, because we can’t see any real benefits the new chipset brings about.

If we take two mainboards, one with the new Z77 and another with the old Z68, it is going to be very hard to tell them from each other. The only notable difference of the newer platform would be the lack of PCI slots, but some users won’t view this as an advantage even. The rest of the Z77’s innovations are far from tangible. Mainboards have long featured USB 3.0, and it doesn’t matter for end user if this interface is based on the chipset or an onboard controller.

The Rapid Start and Smart Connect technologies are software solutions that won’t be useful for all users and can even be enabled on older mainboards. The Z77’s support of up to three monitors simultaneously when using the CPU-integrated graphics core is not going to be a demanded feature, either.

Considering that the Z77 doesn’t provide any performance or overclocking benefits, we have to admit that it’s a rather dull product. Well, it could hardly be something else since the key components of modern platforms (memory controller, integrated graphics and PCI Express controller) reside in the CPU whereas the chipset is only responsible for I/O interfaces. Of course, there can be changes in terms of I/O interfaces as well, but not this time around. SAS or Thunderbolt are not yet added to the list of standard features of the LGA1155 platform.

We can find one positive thing about the Z77, though. Being a companion chipset for the new Ivy Bridge processor family, it has become a catalyst for the creative process among mainboard makers. Building on its foundation, they have prepared highly innovative and attractive products like the ASUS P8Z77-V Deluxe we’ve discussed today. The Z77 has started a new generation of LGA1155 mainboards which offer various enhancements while costing as much as their predecessors.

It doesn’t mean you have to upgrade your Z68-based system right now. The older mainboards will be compatible with the Ivy Bridge processors and, in many cases, will acquire PCI Express 3.0 support along with the new CPU. However, if you are going to build a new computer with an LGA1155 processor, you should certainly prefer a mainboard with a 7 series chipset.