Intel Z77 Express Chipset
Intel launched their latest desktop platform in the first half of April 2012, just a little while ago, beginning with board products. The Intel Z77 Express platform is an incremental upgrade from previous platforms, adding additional features and providing a wider level of functionality, while adding full support for the 3rd Generation Core i5/i7 family of CPUs, commonly called Ivy Bridge in enthusiast circles.
The Ivy Bridge CPUs are made using a new 28nm process technology that lowers power consumption as well as offering a bit more performance-per-clock than previous Intel 2nd Generation Core i5/i7 products. Also changed is the onboard GPU that's part of the Ivy Bridge silicon, which now takes up more of that slice of silicon that sits under the integrated heatspreader.
The integrated PCIe bus on the CPU is also upgraded, and can be split differently than with Sandy Bridge CPUs, with Ivy Bridge natively supporting three devices over a single bus with 16 lanes of PCIe 3.0 connectivity, compared to the two devices and PCIe 2.0 link that is found inside Sandy Bridge products. Taking advantage of that added PCIe functionality requires a motherboard design change from previous Sandybridge-supporting motherboards, yet backwards and forwards component compatibility for both Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge platform products including CPUs and chipsets is possible with updated firmware for older Socket 1155 board products. Using a new IvyBridge CPU with an older P67 Express or Z68 Express motherboard may limit PCIe functionality, and naturally, with SandyBridge only supporting two devices, the tertiary slot provided on some Z77 Express boards will not work on some products when a SandyBridge CPU is installed.
The ASRock Z77 Extreme9 departs from what many other boards offer, by the addition of extra PCIe functionality provided by a PLX PEX8487 PCIe bridge chip, and with that, a complete elimination of legacy PCI slots. There's also several other unique features here, but we'll get to that in a moment.