About Intel Z77 Express
*Courtesy of Intel
For the ultimate PC performance and responsiveness, the Intel® Z77 Express Chipset and 3rd generation Intel® Core™ processor delivers unlocked, unleashed, and uncompromised performance experience with amazing responsiveness. Adding speed when you need it and boosting responsiveness with a SSD that delivers fast system boot time and application load, the Z77 express chipset delivers the unparalleled performance you deserve.
Given that this is the first in a set of Z77 motherboard reviews that we aim to publish, here's a quick summary of Intel's Z77 Ivy Bridge chipset (a.k.a. Panther Point) and what it has to offer. This can be considered complimentary to the Z77 motherboard in question, so feel free to skip to the specifics about the board in the next page.
Lower Power Consumption
Despite sharing the same LGA 1155 socket as last year's Sandy Bridge heavyweights, Ivy Bridge takes direct aim at lowering power consumption for single-threaded performance at out-of-the-box speeds. This can be attributed to the combination of new 22nm architecture and tri-gate 3D transistors, which offer up to 50% less power consumption as their 2D cousins at the same level of performance. A lower Thermal Design Power (TDP) requirement leads to lower power delivery demands. This means that we will see a lower pin count for power count on the motherboard power connection, ditching the previous 24-phase power in favor of 8-phase or possibly lower. This may be a point of concern for enthusiasts who want to overclock a Sandy Bridge CPU inside an Ivy Bridge board with less current available, so be wary of your performance demands before shopping around.
PCI Express 3.0
Intel's move to PCIe 3.0 means that the bandwidth of each lane is doubled from 500MB/s to 1GB/s. Thus a x16 slot will clock out at 16GB/s under PCIe 3.0 as opposed to 8GB/s under the previous PCIe 2.1. Those who might have bought a PCIe 3.0 equipped motherboard a month ago were taking a gamble by playing the waiting game with GPU manufacturers, but the arrival of a handful or fresh GPUs like the Radeon HD 7970 and members of Nvidia's Kepler family means early birds can now extract the full potential from this 3rd generation expansion bus. Keep in mind that this is the true PCI3 3.0 support everyone has been drooling over for some time. No unlocking or patchwork needed here.
Ivy Bridge comes with native USB 3.0 support for those looking to break open the hatches with some serious throughput - 4.8Gbps to be exact. Only two USB 3.0 headers will be provided natively, which should help to lower the price of low-end motherboards by eliminating the need for an onboard USB controller.
Intel Smart Response
For those with large hard disk drives who don't feel the need to invest in a solid state drive of the same capacity, Intel's Smart Response tech will give you a much needed boost. Provided that the SSD has 18.6GB of free space, the computer will treat the SSD as a cache for frequently accessed data on the HDD to reduce load times and reduce the power drawn by spinning platters.
Intel Rapid Start
Instant-on isn't just reserved for ultrabooks. Thanks to Rapid Start, computers can awake from hibernation much more quickly by accessing system memory stored on a designated SSD. It takes an advertised 5-6 seconds to resume from no power or hibernation. The time it takes to resume your work is an entirely different matter.
Intel Smart Connect
Another feature that was once reserved to mobile devices, Smart Connect allows open applications to receive updates and sync information over the cloud while the computer is asleep. Keep in mind that scheduled updates will only occur on trusted or previously accessed networks that are in range.