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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  • mbf - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    Is ECC support on the P8Z77 WS confirmed? Last generation ECC for Sandy Bridge-based (Xeon) processors was only introduced with the P8B WS, which uses the C206 chipset, and not, for instance, the P8P67 WS Revolution, which uses the P67 chipset.

    ASUS itself doesn't say one way or the other (http://www.asus.com/Motherboards/Intel_Socket_1155...

    Don't get me wrong. I'd _really_ love ECC support on the P8Z77 WS, but somehow I doubt it.
    Reply
  • ven - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    at least this time intel didn't do any crazy things like limiting the IGP access to selected chipset (P67,they purposely removed that feature just because for that lucid Logix virtu thing(Z68), I think it doesn't create any difference most of them used the discrete graphics card as the primary graphics engine.completely useless feature)

    one thing i hate with 7 series is still it is supporting only 2 SATA-III port, those marvell and asmedia ports performance are no match for the intel.

    Still no hint of thunderbolt,maybe waiting for haswell.
    Reply
  • st.bone - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    Oh Thunderbolt is here.... Check this out:
    Thunderbolt Port Pictured on MSI Z77A-GD80
    http://www.techpowerup.com/161912/Thunderbolt-Port...
    Reply
  • ven - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    is it native to Z77? then why didn't all motherboards has this feature? Reply
  • mmaestro - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    Would love to see some stuff on the H77 boards. SRT on an entry-level board should give some great idiot-proof performance boosting for the folks who just need a basic system to deal with media, web browsing, email, and office apps. Reply
  • MobiusStrip - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    Wasn't Thunderbolt supposed to be on-board finally? Reply
  • mbf - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    No, USB3 is finally on-board. Thunderbolt is just no longer an "Apple Exclusive". Apart from that, the Thunderbolt chip costs a pretty penny as well. Reply
  • Arbie - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    I hope you'll review the Asus Sabertooth Z77 board, with some emphasis on its thermal armor and fan control suite.

    Reviews of the board's predecessors have either left the thermal armor with no fan, or have installed the fan backwards. Asus evidently provides no guidance on this, and may not even include the fan. As a result, there have been no good reviews of what the armor achieves.

    The design of the armor shows that an exhaust fan is expected. This will pull warm air out of the covered areas and dump it into the space above the fan port (between CPU cooler and graphics board etc). This should help the protected motherboard components run cooler. However, there remain questions of physical interference between the fan and the card slots, especially the 1x slot nearest the fan port. Also, what fan size is required, and is there a best choice for this?

    I'd also like to know what thermal sensors are supported by the mobo and its BIOS, how many PWM headers there are and what they control on, and any other details that will help plan a build.

    Asus stands out in its support for air cooling of an overclocked rig in a real-world PC case, and I think that what they offer should be evaluated for its benefits. Reviewers too often shortcut or simply ignore such provisions because they are testing on an open chassis. So most manufacturers feel free to shortcut the issues as well. But consumers buying the boards will be using them very differently, and case cooling is VERY important.

    Far less important to me are extra slots and PLX-type chips for SLI graphics boards. Given the glacial improvements in PC games, a single board is all I need or want. Given the practical drawbacks, I'd bet that only a small fraction of enthusiasts (which is already a very small group) actually run two boards.

    Thanks
    Reply
  • colonelclaw - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    It's a bit annoying that none of these chip-sets supports 8 RAM slots, but then I guess that would be cannibalising the more expensive kit. As someone who works in 3D graphics for a living it makes me slightly wince to see that Asus board labeled 'Workstation' with just 4 RAM slots. Intel sure likes to squeeze as much money out of us as they can now that they make the undisputed best processors, not that I can blame them for doing so, after all they're not a charity.
    Are there any chips that have more than 4 cores/8 threads that you can put in any of these boards? It's funny, 4 cores seemed like like so much just a few years ago, nowadays it feels like the bare minimum acceptable.
    Reply
  • coachingjoy - Sunday, March 18, 2012 - link

    Any mITX goodness available?

    Thanks.
    Reply

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