The PC industry has been waiting patiently for this day to arrive as it finally marks the transition to 22nm for desktop processors and all credit goes to Intel in being the first to make it happen. Today marks the day Intel launches their Ivy Bridge series of processors or 3rd Generation Core processor and the first bit of good news is that you don’t need a new motherboard! This is great news for DIY’ers looking for an upgrade and it’s nice to see Intel take a cue from AMD, at least as far as backwards compatibility goes. Intel will be launching CPUs and chipsets for the desktop and mobile platform and today we’ll be taking a look at their desktop platform to see how it stacks up against Sandy Bridge and Sandy Bridge-E.

The CPU and chipset
Now before we proceed, here’s a couple of things you need to know about Ivy Bridge. This step represents a ‘Tick’ in Intel ‘Tick-Tock’ cycle of upgrades. The ‘Tick’ stage is merely a die shrink of their current architecture, in this case, Sandy Bridge. Ivy Bridge is still based on the same microarchitecture as Sandy Bridge, only difference is that it’s based on the 22nm fabrication process instead of 32nm. Of course, it’s not just a die shrink as Intel has added some new features as well to Ivy Bridge which we’ll get into in a bit.

Ivy Bridge CPUs at launch

Ivy Bridge CPUs at launch

Intel will be launching a slew of new CPUs in three variants of Core i7, Core i5 and Core i3. Starting with the high-end variant, we have the Core i7-3770K (which we’ll be testing today) and Core i7-3770. The Core i5 series will feature the i5-3570K, i5-3550 and i5-3450. The Core i3 series have not been listed yet. The ‘K’  at the end of CPU models stand for an unlocked multiplier making it easier to overclock. Below is a quick comparison of the features present in the different processor families.

The various 7-series chipsets available

The various 7-series chipsets available

Complementing the new CPU is a brand new 7-series ‘Panther Point’ chipset. The most crucial bit about the new chipset is that it re-uses the LGA 1155 socket from Sandy Bridge, which makes it backwards compatible with Sandy Bridge. It now supports Intel’s Rapid Storage 11 technology, native USB 3.0 support, up to three display support via the integrated graphics card, PCIE Gen 3, UEFI BIOS and more. The chipsets are split into different categories with the Z77 sitting at the top. You can have a look at the breakdown of features between the different chipsets in the image below. The best part of this new platform is that you can mix and match components from the new series with Sandy Bridge. For instance, you can use an Ivy Bridge CPU with 6-series chipset after a BIOS flash (only H61, H67, P67 and Z68 chipsets are supported) or you could use your current Sandy Bridge CPU with a new 7-series motherboard.  

New features
Intel sent us a reviewer's kit for evaluating Ivy Bridge which consisted of the Core i7-3770K and the DZ77GA-70K motherboard. Starting with the CPU, the Core i7-3770K is the highest end Ivy Bridge CPU you can currently buy. It’s a quad-core CPU with HyperThreading giving you a total of eight threads. The base frequency is 3.5GHz and Turbo frequency is 3.9GHz. The in-built memory controller supports 1600MHz DDR3 memory and features an L3 cache of 8MB. Despite this, the TDP is just 77W. The new chip also features a new IGP, Intel HD Graphics 4000. It uses architecture similar to HD3000 graphics on Sandy Bridge, only this time, it has DX11 support and can power three displays simultaneously instead of two.

The Intel original DZ77GA-70K is a feature rich motherboard and a striking one to look at as well. The board is based on the Z77 chipset and has a full ATX form factor. There are plenty of enthusiast level features as well like physical power and reset buttons on the board, a ‘Back to BIOS’ hot-key, debug LED and plenty of status LEDs scattered all over the board. You get a total of 8 USB 3.0 ports, 10 USB 2.0 ports, two PCIE x16 Gen 3 slots with support for SLI and CrossFireX (in x8 mode), four SATA 6.0Gb/s ports and four SATA 3Gb/s ports, 10-channel HD audio and finally Virtu GPU Virtualization for making the most of your discrete and onboard graphics card.   

Close up of Ivy Bridge

Close up of Ivy Bridge

Now coming to some of the features exclusive to this platform, we have Intel Rapid Start, Intel Smart Connect and Intel Smart Response. All these features require you to have an Ivy Bridge processor, 7-series chipset and an SSD. Intel Rapid Start is designed to give you instant resume functionality by capturing a snapshot of the system including applications, open web pages, etc from DRAM on to the SSD. The system can then go into a near-zero power suspend mode. When woken up, rather than waiting for the hard drives to spin up, the snapshot is taken from the SSD and transferred to memory making it quicker. Smart Connect lets your PC continue syncing with online cloud services like WIndows Live and social media feeds like Twitter and Facebook and even email, while the PC is sleeping. Finally, Smart Response works the same as we saw on the Z68 chipset. It lets you use either your entire SSD or a portion of the SSD as a cache where frequently used applications are stored so they open a lot quicker despite you using a traditional hard drive.

Performance
Setting up the system wasn’t the easiest as the layout of the Intel board is not the most ideal. Tightening the screws of the stock Intel cooler from a 2600K proved to be a bit of a challenge since there’s very little wiggle room around the CPU area, especially near the heatsinks in the VRM area. We also found the locking mechanism of the PCIE slot to be quite stiff. However, even after setting everything up, the chipset and a couple of other peripheral drivers simply refused to install. Luckily we had the MSI Z77A-GD55 board with us which did the trick.

Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge

Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge

Testbench

  • Processor: Intel Core i7-3770K
  • Motherboard: MSI Z77A-GD55
  • Memory: G.Skill RipjawsX 8GB (4GB x 2 @1600MHz)
  • Hard drive: WD Velociraptor  300GB
  • GPU: AMD HD 6970
  • PSU: Cooler Master Silent Pro 1000W

The Core i7-3370K is some CPU. It blows past the 2600K and in PCMark 7, even manages to beat the Corei i7-3960X Sandy Bridge-E. Order is restored in the rest of the tests but Ivy Bridge chip still holds its own with its performance sitting smack between the i7-2600K  and the i7-3960X. The CPU doesn’t run too hot either. Even when stressed at the stock frequency, the temperatures hover around 45-48 degrees Celcius, which is not too bad. This is after a fresh application of CoolerMaster thermal paste.

Very good performance

Very good performance

Overclocking the CPU is as simple as choosing a number from a drop down box. MSI has a very nice utility that gives you full control over the multiplier and voltages right from the OS itself. the cooler used was the same Intel stock air cooler but with the fan set to ‘Performance’ mode, for moving more air. We first started by just increasing the multiplier and nothing else. Voltages were set to auto and all energy saving features like EIST were turned off in the BIOS. With this in place, we managed to push the multiplier till x45 (4.5GHz) and everything was stable, however Prime95 wouldn’t run for more than five minutes.

Good OC potential, even on air cooling

Good OC potential, even on air cooling

After a bit of trial and error and many crashes later, we settled at a multiplier of x44, base clock of 101MHz and vCore set to ‘Auto’. Here, the CPU was running rock stable at 4.44GHz with Prime95 running. While this is not bad for a stock air cooler, we would not recommend this for prolonged usage since the temperatures were going crazy. With water cooling, I’m sure we could have pushed it further or at the very least, get the temperatures down at these speeds.

Verdict
As far as pricing goes, it seems Ivy Bridge CPUs and motherboards are going to be priced on the same lines as Sandy Bridge, which it first launched. The Core i7-3770K, which is Intel's highest-end Ivy Bridge desktop CPU at launch, is priced at $313 (approx. Rs.15,337) and motherboards based on the Z77 chipset start at around Rs.9,000 and upwards, which is what Z68 boards cost at the moment. Of course, if you're not going to need all the features of the Z77, you can always opt for the lower-end chipsets like Z75 or H77. Ivy Bridge is a good progression of Sandy Bridge as it carries forward the same DNA as its predecessor but is now more power efficient and best of all, re-uses the same socket. If you are in the market for a new performance rig, then we highly recommend Ivy Bridge and the new 7-series motherboards. If you already have a decent Sandy Bridge setup then we wouldn't recommend upgrading your whole rig as the performance difference won't be that significant.  

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