The Z97 Chipset and The Evolution Run down

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Instead of writing one ass long overview or understanding of the new Z97 Chipset I’ll just post here what I found from numerous places around the web. Lets start this off with the Z97 and ending with what I have now P45 Chipset codename (Eaglelake). I would also like to point out that the days of just looking at the chipset diagram are long gone, especially when your coming from P45, not only do your have to study the chipset but also the processor the same time. As most of what use to make a chipset now lays in the CPU die in some way or form, so here we go!

Intel’s Z97 Chipset code-named (Lynx Point)

By now nearly everyone is familiar with Intel’s tick-tock strategy where every die shrink of a previous microarchitecture is succeeded by a new architectural revision. Hence the recent 22nm Haswell will soon be replaced with Broadwell, a family of chips based on Haswell’s design but built using a 14nm manufacturing process. This pattern of constant updates is realistic within the CPU world but the processor’s partner chipsets have always seemed to lag behind. Many will come to this conclusion when looking at Intel’s latest chipset, the LGA1150-based Z97. Z97 actually presents an interesting case study in how certain key elements in a motherboard’s toolkit have moved forwards while others have retained the status quo since Z87 was rolled out in 2013.

In the course of a year graphics and networking interfaces just haven’t evolved while storage technology has been given a boost of adrenalin through the ratification of SATA 3.2. This means in its most basic form Z97 and its associated H97 sibling are identical to their predecessors but have some additional storage compatibility bolted on to keep pace with current trends. One interesting aspect of Z97 is its launch timeframe which was pulled forward. Instead of being introduced alongside Broadwell in Q4 of this year 2014, Z97 can be considered a mid-life refresh that preempts (and fully supports) Intel’s upcoming Devil Canyon CPUs. Broadwell compatibility is built in as well.

Intel Z97 Chipset

To many of you the block diagram above will look eerily similar since it’s nearly identical to the one posted in our Haswell / Z87 article. Every Z97 board will board full backwards compatibility with 4th generation Haswell and 5th generation Broadwell processors as well as the upcoming Haswell refresh, code named Devil’s Canyon. This grants the board access to 16 PCI-E 3.0 lanes which can be split into two x8 lanes for SLI and Crossfire support or a one x8 and two x4 setup for applications that require more accessory PCI-E lanes. There’s also the usual 1600MHz DDR3/3L compatibility alongside a display output for multi monitor support from the processor’s integrated GPU core.

The Processor Graphics communicates with and ultimately outputs its display signals to the PCH via the FDI or Flexible Display Interface. This runs in parallel with the DMI interface, a link between the CPU and the PCH that features four bi-directional PCI-E lanes that can operate at speeds of up to 2 GB/s. This results in 4 GB/s of aggregate bandwidth if both upstream and downstream lanes are used to their theoretical maximum. These features have been staples within Intel’s chipset design for years now.

Moving down to the PCH itself, we have the usual capabilities for up to six SATA 6Gbps ports, six USB 3.0 ports (or 14 USB 2.0) and up to eight PCI-E 2.0 lanes. The “up to” designation is derived from Intel’s use of a purpose-built Flexible IO interface which we’ll talk more about on the next page. In short, Flex IO allows four of the PCH’s PCI Express lanes to be used for either PCI-E or SATA / USB 3.0 functionality depending on a motherboard manufacturer’s design goals.

While the integrated 10/100/1000 MAC, its partner Ethernet connection and the Intel HD Audio controller aren’t anything new, the addition of Intel’s Rapid Storage Technology support for PCI Express storage devices is a pretty major addition. With it, PCIe-based SSDs will now have access to RST’s broad support toolkit which includes everything from RAID implementation to power management and other key features. Typically many of these were gained through ad hoc drivers from PCIe SSD manufacturers but now Intel is adding compatibility at the chipset level.

Intel H97 Chipset

The H97’s layout follows very much the same guidelines as Z97 but with features that are targeted towards system integrators and corporate clients rather than enthusiasts. The main differentiators here are a lack of dual graphics card support and no integrated backbone for the optional Extreme Tuning Utility but the addition of Intel’s Small Business Advantage Platform and Identity Protection Technology. Motherboards based around the H97 PCH will likely be seen at significantly lower price points than those using Z97.

Intel Z97-H97 Key feature differentiation

Most clients will likely look at both of these platforms’ primary capabilities and overlook a key option being added by Intel this time around: Device Protection Technology. This feature may be optional for motherboard manufacturers but we hope to see it being implemented on more systems. Device Protection and its associated Boot Guard institute a boot block at the hardware level against malware attacks. This prevents repurposing of the platform to run unauthorized software but is only available on Devil’s Canyon CPUs rather than existing Haswell processors.

SATA Express and M.2 Through Flex IO

While there may not be many additions to Z97 from a functionality standpoint, the porting of Intel’s Rapid Storage Technology into the PCIe interface has some major implications for the PCH’s storage subsystem. First and foremost, it has allowed motherboard manufacturers to incorporate M.2 and SATA Express onto their boards.

Both M.2 and SATA Express are rolled into the new SATA 3.2 specification which was ratified last year. Both use a combination of standard SATA and a PCI Express bus alongside AHCI and NVMe interface standards for an ultra fast 10 Gbps data pathway. That represents a major performance uplift in comparison to current SATA 6Gbps drives.

M2 and SATA Express Ports

The implementation of SATA Express and M.2 has been achieved through the use of Intel’s Flexible IO interface. Essentially, the PCH houses a total of 18 ports which are split into three predominant groups: four SATA, six PCIe 2.0 and four USB 3.0 which make up the main connectivity options.

The PCIe ports are typically used for connection to third party controllers or providing secondary PCI Express functionality to supplement the motherboard’s primary x16 slot(s). Flex IO steps into this equation by providing four additional ports that are configurable. #5 and #6 can be used for either a pair of PCIe 2.0 lanes or USB 3.0 while ports #13 and #14 are either PCIe 2.0 or SATA 6G. The only limitation here is the Flex ports have to be paired up and maximum number of PCI Express lanes can’t exceed eight. This means if #13 and #14 are configured for PCIe, #5 and #6 will need to use USB 3.0 and vice versa.

On some boards, these additional Flex I/O ports will be combined with the six static ports and paired up with a PLX port multiplier to deliver an additional eight PCI-E 3.0 lanes for triple GPU support. This means sacrificing dedicated bandwidth towards Thunderbolt, additional networking capabilities and other controllers.

M2 and SATA Express Bandwidth

Motherboard builders can use those configurable Flex IO ports and provide a two lane PCI Express 2.0 interface to a compatible SATA Express / M.2 controller. This grants SATA Express and M.2 a theoretical bandwidth of 10Gbps but both interfaces can’t be used at the same time; it’s either one or the other. In addition, due to PCH limitations, there is a lack RAID compatibility, though some boards will use a PCI-E multiplier chip and support up to two SATA Express ports. RAID is still possible through the use of two M.2 drives running in parallel within a secondary enclosure that’s linked to the motherboard via the SATA Express interface.

As you might expect the implementation of these high speed storage standards is completely different when moving from one board to another. For example, some motherboards will disable secondary PCI-E slots when either an M.2 or SATA-E drive is detected while others will use the aforementioned port multiplier approach so the storage interfaces remain independent of other functions.

With all of this talk of high speed interfaces, there are still some limitations here. Since Intel has limited the Z97’s PCI Express lanes’ bandwidth to the 2.0 standard, any SATA 3.2 devices will be granted only a fraction of their available bandwidth without the use of expensive bridge chips and other, more exotic solutions. While dual lane controllers are the norm now, quad lane units which double the available bandwidth will be available in the coming months. This could leave Z97’s version of SATA Express and M.2 at a distinct disadvantage against add-in-board style PCI-E drives which can use more lanes and thus provide significantly higher performance.

M2 Connector SATA Express connectors

Another bit of good news here is the backwards compatibility of SATA Express with the existing SATA 6Gbps standard. Since the SATA-E port is composed of two SATA connectors alongside a plug for the PCIe communications, its two 6Gbps connections can be used for standard drives as well.

M.2 meanwhile is essentially a small form factor version of SATA Express that is compatible with Intel’s Smart Response Technology’s caching or it can be utilized as a primary storage interface. Due to the costs involved in higher capacity M.2 SSDs, we can’t see this being used as a primary means of storage for most systems. However, it could be extremely beneficial in the mATX and mini ITX markets where space is at a premium.

Another big question lies in Z87’s lack of SATA Express and M.2 support. There isn’t anything stopping Z87 motherboards from incorporating either of these but since the SATA 3.2 standard was ratified so close to that Lynx Point’s rollout, the necessary controllers and associated SSDs weren’t available until only recently. That means most Z87 boards didn’t include M.2 ports until the architecture’s final months. SATA Express was left off the table entirely due to Intel’s lack of PCIe-based support in their Rapid Storage Technology software stack. This has all changed with Z97 so we’ll likely see M.2 and SATA Express, both cornerstones of the SATA 3.2 interface, quickly become defining features. Source: Hardware Canucks

Intel H55, H57 and Q57: New Chipsets for Clarkdale Processors

The Lynnfield architecture is quite similar to Bloomfield, after all both belong to the Nehalem family and are produced in 45 nanometers. Thus the Front Side Bus known from the Core 2 is replaced by DMI. With 2.13 GHz instead of 2.4/3.2 GHz this connection runs slower than the QPI of the Bloomfield and it can’t interact with other processors on the motherboard – so the Lynnfield is definitely not the right processor for multi socket systems. Furthermore the integrated memory controller of the Lynnfield supports Dual Channel only.

Besides that there are no significant differences. The three cache levels are as big as those of the Bloomfield (512 KiByte L2 per core and 8 MiByte L3 cache for all cores). The core frequencies of the new CPUs range from 2.67 GHz to 2.93 GHz, but as the Turbo Mode is concerned the Lynnfields have an advantage in comparison to the bigger Bloomfields: While the latter ones can increase the multiplier by two points only, the smaller Lynnfields can already go up four steps and the bigger ones even five.

Another advantage of the new processor is the official compatibility to DDR3-1333, while the i7-900 is restricted to DDR3-1066 – even if more is usually possible. The Lynnfield also has an integrated PCI Express Controller so the processor addresses the graphics card directly. Thus the P55 chip has to deal with the tasks of a classical Southbridge and thus it is a single chip solution – unlike the P55 of the Bloomfield.

Intel chipsets for CPUs with integrated graphics unit. After the introduction of the Clarkdale processors (Core i3/i5) Intel also delivers the chipsets that have been designed for the new platform. PC Games Hardware explains the different versions. With the Clarkdale (Intel Core i3 and Core i5) Intel also offers the appropriate chips for socket 1156 motherboards: H55, H57 and Q57 are, like the already available P55, single chip designs. So there is not separation into North- and Southbridge.

The new chips support the new Clarkdale processors as well as the Lynnfield CPUs. Furthermore P55 boards can work with Clarkdale processors but in that case the integrated graphics unit of Intel’s new CPUs is not used – this only works on H55, H57 and Q57 motherboards, confused yet! let’s continue shall we.

P55 Express Chipset Block Diagram

The second big difference to the P55: The PCI Express lanes of the PCI E Controller, which is integrated into the processor, cannot be split on H55, H57 and Q57 boards. So there always are 16 lanes for a single graphics card. The PCI E lanes of the processors are split up by a switch: Two graphics cards get eight lanes each and if only one card is installed it has access to all 16 lanes.

But since the new chips deliver six (H55) or eight (H57, Q57) additional PCI Express lanes, using graphics cards in SLI or Crossfire mode is, in theory, possible. Up to now no motherboards with the new chips and SLI or Crossfire support have been announced though. If the additional lanes of H55, H57 and Q57 can be used for a GeForce card as a dedicated Physx accelerator has to be checked in a separate test. Motherboard chip and CPU are linked with a comparatively slow Direct Media Interface (DMI) standard.

Thus the P55 chip is still intended for performance hungry socket 1156 buyers who don’t need the integrated graphics unit anyway. As the chart shows, the H55 on the other hand is most suitable for low-priced systems: In contrast to the other socket 1156 chipsets it only supports 12 instead of 14 USB 2.0 ports and it doesn’t support hard drive technologies like Intel Rapid Storage.

Thus most H55 motherboards are offered in the Micro ATX form factor, If you want a cheap gaming PP without RAID, SLI or Crossfire the H55 boards are a worthy option nevertheless.

H55 Express Chipset Block Diagram

In contrast to the H55 the H57 offers two additional USB ports, Rapid Storage technology and eight instead of six additional PCI Express lanes. The ‘Q’ of the Q57 indicates the version for office PCs. The chip mainly is the same as the H57 but allows a better remote maintenance: Even Blue Screens of Death can be observed via remote access. All of the new chips support only USB 2.0 and SATA II. For USB 3.0 and SATA 3 you need additional controllers.

Intel Nehalem Bloomfield and Lynnfield Architecture Quick Overview
Nehalem Architecture

Nehalem Architecture ate the memory controller along with the Front Side Bus (FSB) replacing with the much more faster QPI. The Intel Quick Path Interconnect (QuickPath, QPI) is a point-to-point processor interconnect developed by Intel which replaces the front-side bus (FSB) in Xeon, Itanium, and certain desktop platforms. It was designed to compete with HyperTransport. Intel first delivered it in November 2008 on the Intel Core i7-9xx desktop processors and X58 chipset.

In more complex instances of the architecture, separate QPI link pairs connect one or more processors and one or more IO hubs or routing hubs in a network on the motherboard, allowing all of the components to access other components via the network. As with HyperTransport, the QuickPath Architecture assumes that the processors will have integrated memory controllers, and enables a non-uniform memory access (NUMA) architecture. It was first released in Xeon processors in March 2009 and Itanium processors in February 2010.

Key changes in the Nehalem architecture:

Integrated memory controller – While AMD has been on the boat with integrated memory controllers on their Athlon line of processors (and now Phenom) for years, this was Intel’s first CPU on the desktop to move the primary memory functions from the north bridge to the processor itself. The advantage of this is drastically reduced memory latency with the drawback of a more complex CPU socket and slower memory progression times as making new chipsets was always easier than building new CPUs. The Nehalem architecture was the first to offer a triple-channel memory controller (compared to the dual-channel on AMD’s CPUs) and with it was able to push huge of amounts of raw memory bandwidth through the system.

No more front-side bus – Again, first done by AMD’s Athlon 64 line of CPUs, Nehalem was the first Intel desktop CPU to remove the words “front-side bus” from the system. Instead of having that aged, slow data and performance bottleneck, Intel developed a point-to-point interface known as QPI (Quick Path Interconnect) that is used for communications between different processors on a multi-CPU system as well as between the Nehalem CPU and motherboard chipsets.

Shared L3 cache – By introducing Intel’s first desktop shared L3 cache Nehalem was able to produce MUCH faster core-to-core communications on the same CPU. Previous dual-die quad-core processors from Intel used the front-side bus for communication, a process that was slow and prone to complication.

Re-introduction of HyperThreading – The ability for one processing core to work on more than one thread of code at the same time is called SMT (simultaneous multi-threading), but Intel’s brand for their implementation was known as HyperThreading back in the day of the Pentium 4. The technology went away when we had the Core-based architectures but found its way back with the Nehalem processors effectively allowing a quad-core CPU to run eight threads all at once.

TurboMode – This was Intel’s answers to the debate of processor choice: do you get the quad-core CPU with the lower frequency for improved multi-threaded performance at price X or do you get the higher clocked dual-core CPU for faster single-threaded performance at the same price X. Turbo Mode effectively allowed the Nehalem architecture to automatically overclock itself depending on the work load and thermal envelope available to it. If you are running just a single heavy thread then the Nehalem architecture would be able to overclock the frequency by 2 steps or so (266 MHz on average) as opposed to when the CPU was chugging on 3 or all 4 cores.

Lynnfield Architecture

Lynnfield and Nehalem are VERY similar – and in fact they are basically the exact same architecture with a few changes, removals and additions made to Lynnfield in order to differentiate the product lines. Lynnfield is still built on the Intel 45nm process that all the current Nehalem parts have been built on. Unfortunately, Lynnfield CPUs will be available under both the Core i5 and Core i7 brands.

The die size and transistor counts have changed with Lynnfield as well; all three desktop processors have a die size of 296 mm^2 and consist of 774M transistors on the Intel 45nm technology. What is interesting here is that Lynnfield is both larger and more complex than Nehalem that is 263 mm^2 and 731M transistors. Even though Lynnfield removes a memory channel from the die, the addition of PCI Express on the chip makes up the difference and then some.

And even though Lynnfield’s die size is larger than Nehalem, the actual CPUs are smaller since the packaging no longer needs pin outs for the third memory channel or a high-bandwidth QPI connection.

Here’s what has changed:

Dual-channel memory controller – Lynnfield does indeed still have an integrated DDR3 memory controller but here Intel has removed one of the channels from Nehalem to make the new core dual-channel. While this is theoretically a performance drawback, in real-world testing (as you will soon see) the third channel made very little performance difference in most consumer applications. By removing one channel Intel was able to make the CPU package smaller (less pins required), lower the cost of ownership (only two DIMMs needed now) while keeping performance very high.

No QPI interface – While Nehalem used the QPI interface to communication with the north bridge of the motherboard, Lynnfield uses a connection called DMI. DMI is much slower than QPI (2 GB/s versus 26 GB/s or so) but in nearly all cases that bandwidth will be more than adequate for the amount of data moving between the processor and chipset even in a worst case scenario. Again, with this change, Intel was able to lower the pin count for Lynnfield in relation to Nehalem.

Integrated PCI Express 2.0 – A first for a consumer processor, Lynnfield actually takes 16 lanes of PCIe 2.0 and moves them onto the die of the processor itself. That means that the graphics cards (or any other PCIe devices) now communicate directly with the processor itself rather than through a north bridge or chipset controller. The advantage here is for a lower cost chipset though I am betting that performance advantages from this are going to be minimal to non-existent. This is basically another move towards a more highly integrated platform on the Intel CPU.

Split HyperThreading integration – HyperThreading is still around on the Lynnfield processors, but it will only be enabled on SOME of the product offerings. While the die size and transistor counts will be exactly the same, Intel will basically just flip off the HyperThreading capability in order to create a market differentiation and pricing segmentation. More details on what CPUs have what on the next page.

Larger Turbo Mode differentiations – While Lynnfield was being prepared Intel’s engineers found out how to get a little more frequency out of the Nehalem architecture and you’ll notice that when you see the larger Turbo Mode improvements on Lynnfield. Essentially, the cores have been fine tuned in a way that will allow them to auto-overclock higher than even the most expensive Core i7 processors available today.

I think that most people would actually consider Lynnfield a “step back” in terms of raw technology and performance compared to the Nehalem processors released last year. And while true, the real benefit with Lynnfield is the performance and feature gains the user DOES get over the current Core 2 series of products on the market at the same price point. Full Review at PC Perspective

Connecting The Dots

As with Intel chipsets past, there’s a four-lane DMI pathway connecting the Clarkdale chips to component number two in Intel’s dual-chip platform. Capable of moving 1 GB/s in each direction for a total of 2GB/s, this should once again be plenty of bandwidth for the I/O not yet integrated onto the processor.

This time, however, there’s another interface between the CPU and Platform Controller Hub (PCH) called the Intel Flexible Display Interface (FDI). Enabled by DisplayPort, this connection carries a display output from the processor package’s core to the connectors attached to H55, H57 and Q57. The FDI consists of two separate links (one for each of the GPU’s display pipelines), and the unidirectional downstream pairs can be scaled depending on bandwidth requirements. This is why, while the core technically supports output resolutions up to 2560×1600 Quad HD.

H55 And H57: Anti-Climactic Core Logic

With all of the integration that Intel is pushing, there’s actually very little left to talk about once we get into the chipset itself. You’re already familiar with P55—Intel’s first Platform Controller Hub, necessitated by a move to a two-component platform (and away from the processor Northbridge Southbridge configuration it once employed). In time we’ll see more and more of a move to a one chip design.

Intel H57 H55 Q57 and P55 Anti-Climactic Core Logic

Q57 is more interesting to system builders working on business machines, since it enables Active Management Technology. Still, between these, you’ll find very few differences. Let’s start at the top of the chart and work downward. As with P55, H55 and H57 are designed to complement LGA 1156 processors. H55 and H57 are differentiated in that they support Intel’s HD Graphics core with a protected audio and video path—needed to support HDCP and bitstream high-def audio. This PAVP 1.5, as it’s called in the chart, is a component of the management engine built into both chipsets. P55 doesn’t have it, which makes sense since it’s a discrete graphics-only platform.

Intel's Retail Nehalem-Westmere Lineup For Q12010

Of course, you also get the I/O normally found in a Southbridge. H55 offers 12 USB 2.0 ports, six SATA 3 Gb/s ports, and six lanes of 2.5 GT/s PCI Express 2.0, while H57 serves up 14 USB 2.0 ports, six SATA 3 Gb/s ports, and eight lanes of 2.5 GT/s PCI Express 2.0 connectivity. Both offer four legacy PCI slots, too. From there, the two chipset are identical, except that H57 offers Intel Rapid Storage Technology 9.5—follow-up to what was once called Intel’s Matrix storage technology with software RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10.

Now to summarize and boggle your enthusiast minds:

There’s the Core i7 for LGA 1366. There’s the Core i7 for LGA 1156. There’s Core i5 for LGA 1156, based on Lynnfield. There’s Core i5 for LGA 1156 based on Clarkdale. There’s Core i3 based on Clarkdale. There’s Pentium based on Clarkdale. And there’s Pentium based on Wolfdale, now you can finally see the mess Intel created by launching Clarkdale Processors starting with the Core i5-670 ending with Core i3-530 and the Pentium G6950.

To make things even worst we have the Nehalem Bloomfield Core i7 975 Extreme Edition and Westmere Gulftown Core i7 980X Extreme Edition that’s supported in the 1366 socket. We have four different version of processors all under the same series, confused ant the word, it feels like a outrage fuck me right.

Somewhere, on someone’s whiteboard, this naming convention looked like a great way to simplify purchasing decisions for end-users who can’t tell a Pentium from a podium, and simply want to buy a per-configured system from a tier-one. But the power users building their own boxes are presented with a mess of names and numbers that mean absolutely nothing on their own. The best we can do is give you a nice big reference chart to check back on any time you want a little insight on the madness that is Intel’s Core ix lineup.

So the best way to remember about the mess Intel made with Nehalem’s Bloomfield and Lynnfield Plus Westmere’s Gulftown and Clarkdale naming schemes is easy when thinking about it the following way: Maximum PC made the understanding a little better in there Haswell Review. Nehalem Bloomfiled ate the Memory Controller and replaced the Front Side Bus with Quick Path Interface witch was on the X58 only at the time.

Then with Lynnfield Intel dropped the QPI on the P55 Chipset and add what’s call the Direct Media Interface that was Capable of moving 1 GB/s in each direction for a total of 2GB/s. Lynnfield also swallowed the PCIe Gen 2.0. Clarkdale inhales a 45nm Graphics and integrated memory controller under the same IHS.

The Clarkdale processors are the first in Intel’s lineup that have an integrated graphics unit, the so-called Graphics Media Accelerator or GMA. This unit is produced in a 45 nanometer process, while the processor chip itself is a 32 nanometer product. Besides the graphics chip, which requires a new chipset (Intel H55, H57 or Q57) to function, the Clarkdale also offers SMT and the Turbo Mode, two features that are supposed to increase the performance of the processor. Due to Hyper-Threading (HT), or as Intel calls it simultaneous multithreading (SMT), the Core i5-661 can virtually double its two cores and thus has four operational threads.

To benefit from this advantage a PC should have Windows 7 installed since the operating system offers the SMT Parking feature that provides a better distribution of available resources.

The Turbo Mode on the other hand can deliver minimal benefits only – but this isn’t surprising. If there are only two cores the occasion that they have no task to handle and run in idle more is a lot rarer than it is if four cores are available since almost any modern application, from the operating system to games, can use two cores. Therefore the Thermal Design Power (TDP) budget of the dual-core doesn’t offer a margin as big as a quad-core. Furthermore the maximal frequency of the Clarkdale’s Turbo Mode is lower than the one possible for the Lynnfield processors: While some Lynnfields can increase the multiplier by up to five points (Core i7-860: 2.93 GHz default and up to 3.6 GHz on Turbo Mode), the Clarkdale can get two point boost only.

Sandy Bridge die 995 million transistors

The quad-core desktop Sandy Bridge die clocks in at 995 million transistors. The transistor count on SandyBrigde are 114 million transistors dedicated to what Intel now calls Processor Graphics. Internally it’s referred to as the Gen 6.0 Processor Graphics Controller or GT for short. This is a DX10 graphics core that shares little in common with its predecessor. Like the South and North Bridge (SNB) CPU architecture, the GT core architecture has been revamped and optimized to increase IPC. As in Sandy Bridge, Intel’s new integrated graphics is enough to make $40-$50 discrete GPUs redundant. For the first time since the i740 that was designed for the AGP bus and release in 1998, Intel is taking 3D graphics performance seriously.

Note: CrossFire and SLI Support on (Z68/P67) Chipset for the very first time ever. I would also like to point out the bug that existed in the SATA 3 6Gbps port, Anandtech ask Intel how we’d know if we had a failure on our hands. The symptoms are pretty simple to check for. Intel says you’d see an increase in bit error rates on a SATA link over time. Transfers will retry if there is an error but eventually, if the error rate is high enough, you’ll see reduced performance as the controller spends more time retrying than it does sending actual data.

Ultimately you could see a full disconnect – your SATA drive(s) would not longer be visible at POST or you’d see a drive letter disappear in Windows. It’s Limited to 3Gbps Ports Only Interestingly enough the problem doesn’t affect ports 0 & 1 on the 6-series chipset. Remember that Intel has two 6Gbps ports and four 3Gbps ports on P67/H67, only the latter four are impacted by this problem. Source: Anandtech

Despite the heavy spending on an on-die GPU, the focus of Sandy Bridge is still improving CPU performance: each core requires 55 million transistors. A complete quad-core Sandy Bridge die measures 216mm2, only 2mm2 larger than the old Core 2 Quad 9000 series (but much, much faster).

As a concession to advancements in GPU computing rather than build South and North Bridge’s GPU into a general purpose compute monster Intel outfitted the chip with a small amount of fixed function hardware to enable hardware video transcoding. The marketing folks at Intel call this Quick Sync technology. And for the first time I’ll say that the marketing name doesn’t do the technology justice: Quick Sync puts all previous attempts at GPU accelerated video transcoding to shame. It’s that fast.

There’s also the overclocking controversy. Sandy Bridge is all about integration and thus the clock generator has been moved off of the motherboard and on to the chipset, where its frequency is almost completely locked. BCLK overclocking is dead. Thankfully for some of the chips we care about, Intel will offer fully unlocked versions for the enthusiast community.

Note: The Base Clock BLCK for short was reintroduced with Haswell meaning that the old school way to overclock without buying a K series has come back from the dead. With the K version for this example the 4770K could use the multiplier and base clock if preferred.

Intel has beaten AMD to be the first CPU company to integrate a GPU into the silicon die of an x86 processor – it managed to integrate a GPU into the processor packaging for its Clarksfield-based Core i3 and Core i5 CPUs. The Intel GPU in question is a significant update from previous Intel HD graphics, with enhanced gaming, video playback and GPGPU capabilities. It’s available in two flavors the Intel HD 2000 and the Intel HD 3000.

The interesting aspect regarding the graphics unit is that it shares the ‘last-level’ cache (LLC) of the entire die with the CPU execution cores. Intel’s Shared Cache technology has worked incredibly well for it over the years. With the CPU comes a new platform as well. In order to maintain its healthy profit margins Intel breaks backwards compatibility (and thus avoids validation) with existing LGA-1156 motherboards, Sandy Bridge requires a new LGA-1155 motherboard equipped with a 6-series chipset. You can re-use your old heatsinks however.

The inclusion of a GPU that’s so tightly tied into the rest of the CPU, and the ring bus controller that allows this may lead to advantages as far as GPU performance and efficiency is concerned, but it has led to one very controversial consequence: all the buses of an LGA1155 motherboard are controlled via one clock generator.

This may not sound significant, but it means that overclocking via the Base Clock is extremely limited, if not impossible, as even sensitive buses such as SATA are linked to the ring bus clock. In bit-tech’s testing, they found that increasing the Base Clock beyond 105MHz (from the default 100MHz) resulted in lock-ups and crashes no matter which other BIOS options they tried. Overclocking is possible with Sandy Bridge CPUs, however.

While manual overclocking should give you the most speed from a Sandy Bridge CPU, Intel has also updated its Turbo Boost technology to Intel Turbo Boost Technology 2.0. Previously referred to Turbo Boost (rev 2) on Lynnfield and Clarksfield, as it was so much more effective than the Turbo Boost abilities of the LGA1336 CPUs, but we’ll now refer to the Turbo Boost of Sandy Bridge CPUs as Turbo Boost 2. The reason for the updated name is the significantly updated technology.

Turbo Boost works by calculating how much heat a CPU is outputting from the amount of work it’s doing and the power that it’s consuming. Using these measurements, Turbo Boost allows some CPU cores to overclock themselves – if not all the cores are in use, they can run faster without causing the CPU as a whole to exceed its TDP or power draw limits. However, Turbo Boost 2 can push a CPU beyond the boundaries of its rated TDP and power draw by taking advantage of the ‘thermal latency’ of the cooler.

Intel Turbo Boost v2.0

Coolers don’t heat up to maximum load immediately, and good coolers never do this, so a CPU can safely exceed its rated TDP for ages (or forever) before its operating temperature becomes potentially damaging. The last upgrades to the CPU are the Advanced Vector Extensions (AVX) extensions, which are analogous to SSE instructions for video – it’s a set of hardcoded logic in the CPU that can execute common but lengthy vector-specific code very quickly.

This, plus other architectural upgrades such as the ability of Sandy Bridge CPUs to execute two load/store commands simultaneously, leads Intel to claim that the Sandy Bridge architecture is 10-15 per cent faster than any previous architecture clock for clock. Considering that the range also sports much higher frequencies, and Turbo Boost 2 boosts the frequencies more than Turbo Boost 1, the performance results are suitably impressive.

The memory controller of a Sandy Bridge CPU is a dual-channel DDR3 unit, capable of speeds of up to 1,333MHz. As with previous LGA1156 CPUs, you need memory rated up to 1.65V – this means that if you currently have an LGA1156 system, you can carry the memory across to your new LGA1155 rig.

Extensible Firmware Interface

Most LGA1155 motherboards will use a new system to allow its owner to control its hardware at a basic level. The EFI, or Extensible Firmware Interface, is an update to the BIOS technology to which we’ve become accustomed over the past 20 years or so. The new system still carries out the core functions of a BIOS, such as regulating your PC, setting frequencies and managing the pre-boot data flow between an OS and hardware, but it’s a more flexible framework than current BIOS programs.

For example, there’s support for complex graphical menus and even animations, meaning that motherboard manufactures will have a greater ability to differentiate between their motherboards. Gone are the low-resolution text menus and in their place are icons, drag and drop lists, and even mouse support. EFI also supports network connections, so in theory you should be able to update an EFI BIOS directly from the Internet. Whether or not we’d trust our motherboard to select and install the correct BIOS update all by itself over the Internet is another matter, however.

EFI technology has been around for many years but has struggled to take off due to the extra cost and time needed to develop EFIs and a lack of public demand. Intel has attempted to remedy this situation by making EFI a requirement of LGA1155 motherboards. Source: Bit-tech

Here’s what Intel calls there Tick Tock Architecture Roadmap


After Westmere Clarkdale Intel seem to just dropped the Code Names and Sticked with their Family Name for the desktop part, but there are still Codenames Intel continue to use though.

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The 7-series Chipset family includes the Z77 and Z75 Express chipsets

These new chipsets provide the companion logic to the 2nd Generation Intel Core processors (Sandy Bridge) and will support the 3rd Generation Intel Core processor family (codenamed Ivy Bridge). They also integrate USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt, enable technologies like Intel Smart Response, Intel Smart Connect, and Intel Rapid Start in desktop and mobile platforms.

The combination of the Intel Z77 and Z75 Express Chipsets and 3rd generation Intel Core processors offer smart features like Intel Turbo Boost Technology 2.0 and Intel Hyper-Threading Technology. Intel Smart Connect Technology enables instant access to data by allowing content to be refreshed in the standby power state – all while minimizing power consumption. In addition to faster boot and resume times, Intel Rapid Start Technology provides energy efficiency. The Intel Z77 Express Chipset also features Intel Smart Response Technology that delivers faster application loading.

Z77 and Z75 Express Chipset Block Diagram Edit

The Intel Z77 and Z75 Express Chipsets enable the performance tuning features of unlocked Intel Core processors, allowing the user to change the core multiplier to increase frequencies without having to run any other part of the system above specifications.

Ivy Bridge processors pack smart performance and built-in 3D visual and graphics support. Intel Quick Sync Video Technology, Intel’s built-in hardware acceleration technology in all 3rd generation Intel Core processors, promises to deliver high video transcoding performance. In addition, the InTru 3D Technology delivers smooth 3D movie playback. The Intel Z77 and Z75 Express Chipsets and 3rd generation Intel Core processors also come with built-in Intel Wireless Display (Intel WiDi), allowing users to view content from their desktop PC to an Intel WiDi-enabled TV screen. The Intel Z77 and Z75 Express Chipsets also support up to three displays.

The Intel Z77 and Z75 Express Chipsets integrate several capabilities to provide flexibility for connecting I/O devices, including integrated USB 3.0 support and the latest Intel Rapid Storage Technology, which enables the full Serial ATA (SATA) interface speed of up to 6 Gb/s to support next-generation Solid State Drives (SSDs) and traditional Hard Disk Drives (HDDs). In addition, the new chipsets drive lower power through enhanced link power management of the Advanced Host Controller Interface (AHCI), enable easier expandability with support for native hot plug, and enhance boot and multitasking performance with Native Command Queuing (NCQ). Intel Rapid Recover Technology (part of the Intel Rapid Storage Technology suite) provides a fast method for the end user to recover their data and return their system to an operational status.

Intel also announced the Intel H77 Express Chipset, which offers most of the features of the Z77 and Z75 chips (Intel Turbo Boost 2.0, Intel Hyper-Threading, Intel Smart Response, Intel Quick Sync Video, InTru 3D, Intel WiDi, Intel Rapid Storage), but it doesn’t support CPU overclocking. Source: Overclock

The biggest thing that stands out the more on 3rd Generation Intel Core processor family (codenamed Ivy Bridge) that it will be the first high-volume chip to use 3-D Tri-Gate Transistor Technology followed by the PCI-Express Gen v3.0, leaving PCI Express Gen v2.0 behind in the Platform Controller Hub. Soon or a later there will be noting left in Platform Controller Hub (PCH) to call it a Chipset.

With the Z87 Chipset PCI slots are totally gone forever, so if your have Soundcard, Wireless card, USB Controller or anything that calls for the PCI slot your better off getting 1x or 2x PCI-Express replacement for PCI. Although some venders are including support by third-party chip makers that won’t last for long.

Intel Z87 Chipset code-named (Lynx Point)

Z87 Express Chipset Block Diagram

Intel Z87 has dropped the “Express” designation Chipset, code-named Lynx Point, is the new Platform Controller Hub for the desktop Haswell CPUs using the 3-D Tri-gate FinFET Transistors that was first introduces in the Ivy Bridge. Here’s Intel’s block diagram above of a Haswell Z87 Chipset system. This diagram looks very similar to the Ivy Bridge Z77 the main differences are:

Support for PCI slots is gone, even as an option. It’s PCI-Express Gen 3.0 (8 GT/s gigatransfers) bit rate effectively delivers 985 MB/s per lane, double PCIe Gen 2.0 Bandwidth (5 GT/s gigatransfers).

Two more USB 3.0 ports and two more USB 2.0 Ports, up from four on the Intel’s Z77
Six SATA 3 6Gb/s Ports, up from two on the Intel’s Z77

None of this is earth-shaking, but represents instead a continual refinement of the capabilities we originally saw in the Z68 Sandy Bridge platform, but there’s one on An Integrated Voltage Regulator (VRM) is now located on the processor die, it will fine tune power to the processor and on that end it will help out more in terms of efficiency and power consumption.

Transactional Memory Extensions TSX essentially makes it easier for programmers to write multithreaded code by addressing the complexities of having to lock portions of an array of data. TSX lets the processor handle much of the grunt work. Bad news: TSX is apparently only available on some Haswell chips. Also Flex IO was first introduced with the Z87 Chipset, so ports got moved around as you can see when looking at the Z97 Chipset above. To follow up more on the Z87 Chipset I leave that one up to you. Z87 Chipset Rundown

Intel’s P45 Chipset code-named (Eaglelake)

P45 Express Chipset Block Diagram

The P45 Express Chipset (code-named Eaglelake) is a mainstream desktop computer chipset from Intel released in Q2 2008. The first Mainboards featuring the P45 chipset were shown in 2008.

The P45 Express Chipset supports Intel’s LGA 775 Socket and Core 2 Duo and Quad processors. It is a 65 nm chipset, compared to the earlier generation chipsets (P35, X38, X48) which were 90 nm. Intel’s P45 was also the last Chipset to employ a North and Southbridge (Memory Controller Hub – I/O Controller Hub); all current and future Intel chipsets make use of the Platform Controller Hub Architecture.

The PCH controls certain data paths and support functions used in conjunction with Intel CPUs. These include clocking (the system clock), Flexible Display Interface (FDI) and Direct Media Interface (DMI), although FDI is only used when the chipset is required to support a processor with integrated graphics.

As such, I/O Functions are reassigned between this new central hub and the CPU compared to the previous architecture: some North Bridge functions, the memory controller and PCI-E lanes, were integrated into the CPU while the PCH took over the remaining functions in addition to the traditional roles of the Southbridge.

While the North and South Bridge got replaced in Lynnfield’s Chipset, Intel’s Penryn Core 2 Duo and Quad Processors was the first to have the High-k and Metal Gate Transistor followed by Nehalem.


We have come along ways since the P45 and Duo Core E8400 wolfdale processor, but that don’t explain why Intel made such a fucking mess, yes I said that fucking mess. If it wasn’t for the X99 supporting the new DDR4 Ram I would’ve just went with that Chipset instead, why because I could’ve just skipped this headache altogether. You have processors that drop into the same socket with a catch, numbers for each series and the first series are fucked seriously. Put it this way the Sandy Bridge should’ve been under the 3000 series not the 2000 series period, plus to make thing even worst we have Ivy Bridge in the 4000 branding that drops in socket 2011 and the Haswell under the same 4000 series really! it’s like Intel didn’t have a clue when it came to labeling their processors.

When I was done with this and by that I mean I’m totally done with mainstream desktop parts altogether, noting but the Extreme from here on out. The Z97 chipset will be the last mainstream chipset I’ll ever purchase, I was in shock for about 15 minutes seriously and could not rap my head around to whole thing. It took me a day 1/2 to finally get this mockery under control, even now I still would have to read the whole fucking thing over just to see what changes were made from the P45 up to the Z87-Z97 chipset.

Like I said and can’t stress this enough I’M TOTALLY DONE WITH MAINSTREAM Desktop parts. If it wasn’t from DDR4 I would’ve easy picked X99 hardware for my future build, considering I got this far with the P45 Chipset and E8400 CPU just blows my mind away… oh that’s right all we get today are console ports that can barely push the processor, yes we got triple A titles but that didn’t happen until this year kinda.

So from here on out I’ll stick with High end systems no more Mainstream builds for me, at less I would’ve just had to look at three diagrams ranging from the X58 that has QPI but not on the X79 or X99 damn you Intel, and not have to deal with this crap ever again. You can forget me reading processors and chipsets chapters in Upgrading and Repairing PC 21th edition, not that it would’ve covered this much information.

I’m done with laptops and repairing peoples machine’s cough I mean laptops, funny there’s a laptop on the kitchen table that never got touched and probably won’t, why I sick of dealing with under powered and lack of performance from these machines same apples for Mainstream desktops. This is what happens when you buy a poor mans computer and by that shitty ass hardware good enough to run but ant worth the headache when it comes to studying such a cluster fuck. Do we really need that many chipsets on the market, no we don’t sorry keep your shit I’ll purchase something I can get 3-4 years with and never have to deal with such a mess again Thank You.