The Z97 chipset isn’t much different than its predecessor, the Z87. Most of the features remain pretty close in design with a few updates. This probably isn’t a surprise since its a “refresh.”
Taking a look at the block diagram below, you can see that the main (and most substantial) change is the added SATA Express support. This will give users additional bandwidth to 10Gb/s, up from the previous 6Gb/s with the SATA III ports. While most SSDs today can’t saturate the existing lanes just yet, it appears that Intel is just thinking ahead of the curve. Probably in the next year or so we will start to see media devices that can take advantage of the available bandwidth.
The Z97 also brings the M.2 slot over (also known as NGFF). This essentially replaces the older mSATA platform and offers the additional bandwidth. The mSATA standard wasn’t all that popular to begin with in the Z87 chipset; however, as we start to see more and more SATA drives appear in the market in M.2 form factor, it comes as no surprise that Intel and motherboard manufacturers have taken a leap into this arena.
Today, the M.2 can be supported in multiple ways. Motherboard manufacturers can omit a few SATA ports to allow for the additional bandwidth, or they can use the PCIe Lanes that are available on the board. So, while every manufacturer can play this differently, it’s really up to the consumer to choose the right platform for their needs.
On one last note: we also are seeing better memory controls as the current generation of motherboards are maturing. While DDR3 is still the memory used with the current Haswell Processor, it wouldn’t surprise us if we see another revision down the line for the up coming DDR4 memory coming later next year.
Let’s take a quick look at the Z97 vs the Z87 block diagram.
With the overview of the Z97 Chipset complete, let’s move forward and take a look at the package and contents.