Intel Z77 Express Chipset
Intel's launch of their latest desktop platform in the first half of April 2012 began with board products. The Intel Z77 Express platform is an incremental upgrade from previous platforms. It adds additional features and provides a wider level of functionality with full support for the 3rd Generation Core i5/i7 family of CPUs commonly called Ivy Bridge in enthusiast circles.
Ivy Bridge CPUs are made using a new 22nm process technology that lowers power consumption and gives a bit more performance-per-clock over previous Intel 2nd Generation Core i5/i7 products. Also changed is the onboard GPU that's part of the Ivy Bridge silicon, now taking up more of that slice of silicon that sits under the integrated heatspreader.
The integrated PCIe bus on the CPU has also been upgraded. It can, compared to the two devices and PCIe 2.0 connectivity that are found inside Sandy Bridge products, be split differently from Sandy Bridge CPUs, with Ivy Bridge natively supporting three devices over a single bus with 16 lanes of PCIe 3.0 connectivity. Taking advantage of that added PCIe functionality requires a motherboard design change from previous Sandy Bridge-supporting motherboards. Backward and forward component compatibility for both Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge platform products, including CPUs and chipsets, is still possible with updated firmware for older Socket 1155 board products, but using a new Ivy Bridge CPU with an older P67 Express or Z68 Express motherboard may limit PCIe functionality. PCIe functionality would, naturally, with Sandy Bridge only supporting two devices, be limited. The tertiary slot provided on some Z77 Express boards will not work with some products when a Sandy Bridge CPU is installed.