CHIPMAKER Intel's Z77 chipset is the first part of its Ivy Bridge jigsaw puzzle, but it also offers Sandy Bridge LGA1155 processors access to a slew of new motherboards, one of which is Intel's DZ77GA-70K.
Intel has made it clear that the Z77 chipset is an incremental upgrade from its popular Z68 chipset that has been supporting Sandy Bridge processors for the last year. Given that Intel's Z77 mainboard is pitched towards Ivy Bridge processors and sports the same socket, it doesn't take a genius to work out that the Ivy Bridge processors that Intel releases in the near future will use the LGA1155 socket.
Ahead of Intel's third generation Core architecture processor launch, the firm released its Z77 chipset to showcase the support infrastructure that Ivy Bridge processors can expect. By releasing the Z77 chipset, Intel has confirmed that its Ivy Bridge processors will support 16 PCI-Express 3 lanes.
While Intel's Z77 uses the same socket, the big upgrades come in its on-chip SATA3 support and four USB3 ports. Intel left the direct media interface between the CPU and the Z77 chipset at 20Gbit/s despite the increased bandwidth of the SATA3 and USB3 interfaces.
As for Intel's initial Z77 implementation on the DZ77GA-70K motherboard, which the firm has codenamed Gasper, Intel has pushed the boat out in its attempt to appear enthusiast friendly. Intel has dropped the illuminated skull that impressively distracted from an inefficient use of circuit board space on its DP67BG motherboard to produce a tightly packed unit, but retained its now familiar blue-black colour scheme.
The layout of the DZ77GA-70K motherboard is par for the course, though Intel has avoided intricate heatpipe cooling units around the pulse-width modulator (PWM) and the Z77 chipset. Instead, Intel chose rather oversized heatsinks for the PWM, hinting that the firm expects users to push the processor beyond stock speeds, while sticking with a thin heatsink covered by a skull shroud for the Z77 chipset.
Intel will debut PCI-Express 3 support with its Ivy Bridge processors and the firm has equipped the DZ77GA-70K with two eight-lane PCI-Express slots that support both Nvidia's SLI and AMD's Crossfire multi-card GPU technologies. For that reason, if you are considering buying an Nvidia Kepler-based Geforce GTX 680 or one of AMD's Pitcairn or Tahiti-based video cards, then you need a Z77 chipset.
On Intel's DZ77GA-70K there are two eight-lane PCI-Express 3 slots - that is, if the processor supports the bus. So until an Ivy Bridge processor is slotted in, the motherboard uses PCI-Express 2, which highlights the biggest problem with this motherboard today - it needs an Ivy Bridge processor chip to make the most of it.
Intel has loaded the DZ77GA-70K with connectivity, with four SATA2, four SATA3 and one eSATA3 ports. There are a total of 18 USB ports, eight of which are on the I/O backplane including two 'high powered' ports, four USB3 ports and two USB2 ports, with the rest through internal headers. There are also two Firewire ports, one of which is on the I/O backplane, and an HDMI 1.4a video output.
Intel has also slipped in a few quirks such as a legacy PS/2 socket and two Gigabit Ethernet ports. While Intel's extra connectivity options are always welcome, it is surprising given that the firm's DP67BG motherboard omitted PS/2 ports altogether, something most would say was a logical decision, and had a single Gigabit Ethernet port.
Intel's UEFI implementation is elegant and offers a surprisingly good range of overclocking options with quick and easy access to setting CPU, memory and graphics card frequencies and voltages. Although we didn't overclock our Sandy Bridge sample chip as it was a cherry picked unit from Intel, the combination of the firm's UEFI implementation and the firm's Windows-based Extreme Tuning Utility provides adequate options without having to know the ins and outs of overclocking chips based on Intel's Sandy Bridge architecture.