Intel’s development follows their “tick-tock” strategy; that is, one swing represents a new architecture, and the next focuses on process improvements. This development cycle is about 2 years each, so here we are in 2013 with Ivy Bridge (Tick). With the launch of Socket 1155 came the H67 and P67 chipsets, H67 was geared to the budget-oriented consumer, with onboard graphics and no overclocking abilities. P67, on the other hand, employed only discrete graphics but came with high performance overclocking capabilities. Each had pros and cons, and users were essentially forced to make a choice when going with a new hotrod Sandy Bridge processor. The launch of the Z68 chipset changed that approach, as users can now benefit from the best of both worlds. The simple explanation is the Z68 is a hybrid of both H67 and P67, bringing onboard graphics and high performance overclocking in a single package. Intel launched the Z68 Gen.3 chipset and these motherboards are compatible with both Ivy Bridge and Sandy Bridge with a BIOS flash. The Z68 Gen.3 features PCIE 3.0 with one exception: Ivy Bridge operates with PCIE 3.0 but Sandy Bridge works at 2.0
Here we are today, the Z77 chipset is here. Actually, Intel has 3 chipset controller hubs, the Z77, the Z75 and the H77. The major differences between the 3 chipsets are few. The Z77 boasts more PCI slots while the Z75 sacrifices Intel Smart Response Technology (SSD Caching) and the H77 has no overclocking ability (Just as the H67). Here are the chipset features of each:
Now, as far as Z77 vs Z68 goes, let’s start with the most noticeable difference. The PCIE lanes can be split into different configurations, 16 x 1/ 2 x8 or x8/ x4, x4. This configuration is only available on the Z77 as the Z75 breaks them into 1 x 16x and 2 x 8x all with PCIE 3.0. The Z77 chipset also supports 3 independent displays along with 4 USB 3.0 ports and 10 USB 2.0 ports. The Z68 chipset had no USB 3.0 support but boasted fourteen USB 2.0 ports. Both chipsets run dual channel and another noticeable upgrade is that memory native speed increased from 1333MHz to 1600MHz.
Here is the Z77 chipset block layout:
And, here is the comparison of the Z68 chipset block layout:
Let’s take a look at Ivy Bridge next to better understand where this board is coming from, and what it means for those looking to upgrade.