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 IvyBridge in enthusiast circles.
The IvyBridge 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 Ivybridge 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 SandyBridge CPUs, with IvyBridge 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 SandyBridge 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 SandyBridge and IvyBridge platform products including CPUs and chipsets is possible with updated firmware for older SKT 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 ECS Z77H2-AX Golden board is ECS's top-level Intel Z77 Express product, that offers many things other Intel Z77 Express products do not. First and foremost is a PCIe configuration that supports triple VGA configurations in SLI or CrossfireX, with a minimum of a PCIe 3.0 x8 link for each card, even when a SandyBridge CPU is installed. This means that the ECS Z77H2-AX offers PCIe bandwidth seen on Intel X79 Epxress products, very nearly making this the ultimate solution for Multi-GPU SKT 1155 builds. Not only that, ECS's new-found confidence is partly due to thier new "Non-Stop" technology, which provides far more rigourous quality screening and testing than ever before.