With Ivy Bridge processors finally due to launch later this month, Intel this week teased us with details of the new 7 Series chipset – codenamed Panther Point – that will drive compatible motherboards.
The real meat of the update will be in the processors themselves, but there are a few welcome features we’re allowed to talk about now.
There will be eight Intel 7 Series chipset offerings in the first batch, and the first motherboards will be available from 8 April. The HM75 and HM76 (consumer), and HM77 and UM77 (consumer/SMB) chipsets will cover laptops, with the H77 (mainstream), Z75 and Z77 (performance), and B75 (SMB) on the desktop.
They still use the 65nm manufacturing process, and there won’t be any physical changes to the existing LGA 1155 socket – so Sandy Bridge processors will still work in Series 7 motherboards.
Along with support for Ivy Bridge processors when they arrive, some key connections are moved on-board. Four integrated USB 3 ports is now the standard on every chipset bar the mainstream HM75, and Intel has implemented support for Thunderbolt too. Note, however, that’s only support – Thunderbolt can hardly be considered mainstream yet, so it will be up to manufacturers to integrate the controller and hardware. All but the high-end desktop chipsets also do away with PCI slots.
The 7 Series ups the number of display pipes, so systems will theoretically be able to output to three displays at once. The catch is that to get three working, you need to connect two of them via DisplayPort, and very few desktop motherboards offer more than one port. For now the triple-display capability is more relevant for laptops, where the main screen commonly connects internally via DisplayPort. The two external displays can therefore use one DisplayPort and one other, a far more commonly available combination.
The remaining updates are largely in software, with Intel’s Rapid Storage Technology 11 and Active Management Technology 8, and a whole new feature called Smart Business Advantage. Businesses will be able to have a fleet of PCs set up with individual maintenance and power saving modes: a system can be set to check itself for updates and viruses, for example, or wake during the night and run a backup. Another example given was USB security: PCs could be set to accept approved USB sticks or cameras, but block access to ports for any other devices.
UltrabooksThe 7 Series will be making its way into the next crop of Ultrabooks, and they’ll benefit from some new improvements. We were told to expect Ivy Bridge Ultrabooks to resume from hibernation in five to seven seconds, and for the system to wake only the necessary components to keep applications such as email clients and cloud storage services updated, so they’ll be waiting when you power your Ultrabook on.
Ultrabook security will also be beefed up, with built-in hardware-based Intel Anti-Theft Technology. In partnership with security experts such as McAfee – and presumably for a fee – you’ll be able to remotely disable a lost or stolen Ultrabook until a reactivation code is entered.
There are several other features in the 7 Series chipset that we can’t talk about yet as they work in combination with the processors, so for now this is just a glimpse at what is to come. Intel is calling Ivy Bridge a “Tick plus” in its usual Tick-Tock cycle, meaning it’s somewhere between a major overhaul and a minor update. We already have our review kit in the Labs – based on Intel’s own hefty enthusiast DZ77GA-70K board (below) – so look out later this month for our full Ivy Bridge coverage.