With Intel's next generation processors firmly on the horizon, we should also turn to what motherboards will be on offer when we have the opportunity to root around in our pockets to invest in an next generation system.  With appropriate vendor support, 6-series motherboards will support these new processors with little more than a BIOS update, however to get the most out of the new processor, we have to look at the new range of motherboards about to hit the market.  This brief look at some of them is by no means an exhaustive list, however we would like to know what you find most interesting and would like to be reviewed over the next few months.

7-Series Chipsets

As with all of Intel’s major chipset releases, we have the opportunity to pick from a wide range of models to suit different needs, price points, or even business models.  With Sandy Bridge, we also had distinct segregation – H67 had IGP but no overclocking, P67 did not have IGP but overclocked, and Z68 had both.  Thankfully this time all the new chipsets have IGP outputs to take advantage of the IGP, and the main differences lie in PCIe configuration limitations and use of Intel’s Smart Response Technology:

Chipset Comparison
  Z77 Z75 H77 Z68 P67 H67
CPU Support IVB
LGA-1155
IVB
LGA-1155
IVB
LGA-1155
SNB/IVB
LGA-1155
SNB/IVB
LGA-1155
SNB/IVB
LGA-1155
CPU Overclocking Yes Yes No Yes Yes No
CPU PCIe Config 1 x16 or
2 x8 or
1 x8 + 2 x4
PCIe 3.0
1 x16 or
2 x8 PCIe 3.0
1 x16 PCIe 3.0 1 x16 or
2 x8 or
1 x8 + 2 x4
PCIe 3.0
1 x16 or
2 x8 PCIe 3.0
1 x16 PCIe 3.0
Processor Graphics Support Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Intel SRT (SSD caching) Yes No Yes Yes No No
RAID Support Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
USB 2.0 Ports (3.0) 14 (4) 14 (4) 14 (4) 14 14 14
SATA Total (Max Number of 6Gbps Ports) 6 (2) 6 (2) 6 (2) 6 (2) 6 (2) 6 (2)

The beauty of Ivy Bridge predominantly comes in the form of PCIe 3.0, which should alleviate many of the PCIe bus bandwidth bottlenecks in multi-GPU setups, and native USB 3.0 on board.  Some vendors may expand these features – PCIe lanes may be increased through a PCIe 3.0 PLX chip (similar to NF200 on X58), or third-party USB 3.0 controllers will be added to the boards.  In this brief look over some of the 7-series motherboards, we will see both in action.  However that PLX chip looks fairly expensive.

ASUS
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  • fatpenguin - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    I was very excited to find that Ivy Bridge is supposed to support up to 3 Display Port outputs natively, since it would eliminate any need for an external graphics card (for me personally). Have you seen any vendors offer this on any current 7-series motherboards? Reply
  • IlllI - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    you guys should do some review with m-itx motherboards. Reply
  • Knifeshade - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    I think this is one of the most interesting boards to come out of CeBIT '12. For people who don't need so much expansion slots, they're moving to smaller platforms and this mini ITX board really feels like it's got everything its older siblings have but in a much smaller package. I hope you guys can get one in to have a look over. Reply
  • James5mith - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    Why aren't more companies putting out products with displayport? It's a great interface, and both Dell and HP have adapted to it wholeheartedly. I personally can't wait until the industry gives up VGA and DVi in favor of it. Reply
  • lbeyak - Saturday, March 10, 2012 - link

    High end Z77 boards. I like the look of most of the Asus boards (especially the Sabertooth, 5 year warranty /drools).

    Reviews on boards with dual NICs would be nice as well.

    Integrated Wi-Fi / Bluetooth is interesting to me as well, and I like that they are included on some boards.
    Reply
  • Jumpman23 - Saturday, March 10, 2012 - link

    Why can't all the usb ports be of the 3.0 flavor? Is it a cost issue? I would assume that usb ports are a fairly small portion of the overall cost for these manufacturers so why not make them all 3.0? Reply
  • IanCutress - Saturday, March 10, 2012 - link

    Primarily, it is cost - Z77 gets a couple of USB 3.0 from the chipset, then the rest is controllers. Each controller comes at a cost (I don't know how much, but with markup, probably $5 a piece perhaps[?]), which then gets passed on.

    Personally, I like to have two or three USB 2.0. When I install an OS for a review, it's via a USB stick - the install package doesn't have a USB 3.0 driver installed, so it can't detect itself when it is loaded (or won't detect my mouse or keyboard). Odd I know, but it means I have to dig out an OS disk if a board goes for solely USB 3.0.
    Reply
  • repoman27 - Sunday, March 11, 2012 - link

    There are plenty of USB devices (most of the ones in currently in existence, actually) that will never benefit from USB 3.0's additional capabilities. While I agree that it would be simpler for the end user if all the ports were the same, the 7-series chipsets provide 4x USB 3.0 ports and 10x USB 2.0. Since you get the 2.0 ports for free, why not use them?

    I actually believe it's more of a bandwidth problem than a straight cost issue for Ivy Bridge. (I was under the impression that the Renesas μPD720201 4-port controllers only run about $3 these days.) However, if you were to make all 6 of the SATA ports 6 Gbps and all 14 of the USB ports SuperSpeed on a 7-series motherboard, you'd be adding an additional ~26 Gbps of potential I/O to a southbridge that's only got a 20 Gbps DMI connecting it to the CPU.
    Reply
  • Dr. Mobius - Saturday, March 10, 2012 - link

    I would really like to see EVGA's line up. Reply
  • Breach1337 - Saturday, March 10, 2012 - link

    Great, I personally would love to get the Asus Z77 Sabertooth, but I'm still confused by these PCIe specs? AFAIK, IB has only 16 PCI-E lanes (although they are 3.0 lanes). So if the boards say:

    2 x PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16 (x16 or dual x8) *2
    1 x PCIe 2.0 x16 (x4 mode, black) *3
    3 x PCIe 2.0 x1

    And I have two PCIe 3.0 cards running x8 SLI where would the extra lanes come for the rest of the stuff - all these PCIe 2.0 slots? Say, if I plug in a 3rd card - my Creative PCI-e 2.0 x1 card would that hurt the 2 x8 SLI's performance?
    Reply

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