Understanding Intel Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge processors and Motherboard chipsets.

Names like Nehalem, Sandy Bridge, Ivy Bridge,H61,H67,P67,Z68 can be daunting to look and understand. This article hopes to ease the confusion.


A.) The Processors:

01.) Intel First Generation Core processors (year 2008-2010):

The Intel i3/i5/i7 chips released from 2008 to 2010 using the 45-nanometer manufacturing process. Almost all of these are off the market, thus not relevant to the new buyer.

02.) Intel Second Generation Core processors – codename Sandy Bridge (year 2011)

In 2011 Intel introduced the Second Generation of core processors; codename – Sandy Bridge based upon 32 nanometer architecture. Important thing to note is that, these processors are incompatible with the motherboards of the previous generation of processors. In order to make sure that people didn’t mistakenly buy a Sandy Bridge processor and put it in a previous generation motherboard, the number of pins on the new Intel processors were changed to 1155. Just to be clear, Sandy Bridge processors have 1155 pins and thus its physically impossible to put a Sandy Bridge processor in a first generation core motherboard(which had 1366 or 1156 pin sockets).

As all old motherboards were incompatible Intel released H61,H67,P67 and later Z68 motherboards for the Sandy Bridge line up.

03.)Intel Third Generation Core processors – codename Ivy Bridge (year 2012)

Intel’s new 22 nanometer CPUs – codenamed Ivy Bridge – are finally launching. When combined with the recently released 7-series chipsets, this new CPU/Chipset combination provides support for PCIe 3.0 and USB 3.0 as well as allowing RAM up to speeds of 1600MHz to be used natively. Ivy Bridge CPUs will function in many of the previous generation of socket 1155 motherboards (although a BIOS update is generally required) and the previous generation CPUs (Sandy Bridge) are also usable in most of the new 7-series chipsets which provides plenty of upgrade routes for consumers.

While the frequency range of these CPUs is not much higher than the previous Sandy Bridge CPUs, the main improvements to this new line lie in the improved onboard graphics, smaller manufacturing technology, and reduced thermal output. With significantly reduced power consumption and thermal output, these CPUs are primarily designed for the Ultrabooks (very thin, very long battery life laptops) and x86 Tablets.

For the new CPUs to utilize the full potential of Ivy Bridge Intel released Z68, Z77, H77 based motherboards.

Comparison between Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge CPUs
  Ivy Bridge Sandy Bridge
Maximum Cores 4 4
Turbo Boost Version 2.0 2.0
L2 Cache per core 256KB 256KB
Maximum Smart Cache 8MB 8MB
Maximum TDP 77W 95W
Memory Support 2 (4 sticks) channel DDR3 1600Mhz 2 channel (4 sticks) DDR3 1333MHz
PCIe Support* 16 PCIe 3.0 lanes 16 PCIe 2.0 lanes
Onboard Graphics Intel HD 2500/4000 Intel HD 2000/3000
Process Technology 22nm 32nm
Socket 1155 1155

B.) The Motherboard chipsets:

01-02.) H67 (and H61) Chipset: (early 2011)

To understand the H67 chipset it helps to first realize that all socket 1155 Core i3, i5 and i7 processors have built-in graphics capabilities. To enable use of that functionality, though, the motherboard must have video output connections – and this is H67’s specialty. Most motherboards using this chipset will have a variety of output options (VGA, DVI, HDMI, and sometimes DisplayPort as well), with up to two connections being usable at the same time. A dedicated video card can also be used.The downside is the H67 supports NO CPU overclocking, keeping it from being a platform for enthusiasts.

This is basically the cheapest possible motherboard to support Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge processors. It can run with or without a graphics card. If you don’t plan to overclock your processor and want to spend lowest possible amount on motherboard so that you could spend more money on getting a better graphics card for your gaming rig. H61 chipset is also similar. In fact, H61 is the cheapest possible motherboard. The difference between H67 and H61 is trivial. H67 supports 6Gbps SATA and H61 supports 3Gbps.

03.) P67 Chipset: (early 2011)

This chipset variant, which was available alongside H67 at the launch of the Sandy Bridge platform, does not support the use of integrated graphics – but in trade supports the ability to run two dedicated video cards. It also is capable of being overclocked, and that combination of features have made it popular for gamers and other demanding users.

Note: This Motherboard needs a dedicated graphics card. Its ideal for overclocking. I own ASUS P8P67 Pro, being used in my Sandy Bridge build.

04.) Z68 Chipset: (late 2011)

The Z68 chipset is a late arrival, but combines the performance-oriented features of P67 with the onboard graphics options of H67. This opens up the option for enthusiasts who want to have a powerful video card while also being able to access features of the on-chip Intel HD graphics, like Quick Sync, without needing multiple monitors. However, using both of those together requires third-party software from LucidLogix – which isn’t ideal, as it means depending on yet another layer of complication in order to access all the features of the hardware. Quick Sync in particular is also only supported by a few video transcoding programs, so unless you use software that is designed to work with it then there would be no need for Z68 over P67.The fact that overclocking is available alongside the option to use Intel graphics is also potentially interesting, but the range of users who would want to overclock but don’t need a dedicated video card is likely very limited.

Lastly, Z68 supports a new feature called SSD Caching. It allows use of a solid-state drive as a cache for a larger hard drive – which can be of limited use for folks who want faster drive performance but can’t afford a full-sized SSD.

05.) Z78 Chipset: (2012)

This is the successor to Z68, with almost the exact same feature set.  It has everything Z68 does and then some.  For example, USB 3.0 has been integrated into the chipset; four USB 3.0 ports can be powered in this way, along with several of the older USB 2.0 ports.  That means an add-on controller chip is no longer required, though many motherboards will still have one so that they can sport more than four USB 3.0 ports.  SSD caching, overclocking, dual PCI-Express x8 slots, etc are all still available as well.

Another aspect of the chipset that has been improved is the support for onboard graphics.  Once the matching 3rd-generation processors are out, motherboards will be able to offer three simultaneous monitor outputs instead of just two.  Onboard graphics will also be faster, but both of those are functions of the newer processors; when paired with older Sandy Bridge CPUs, the speed will be the same as Z68 and the number of monitors supported at a time will still be two.

06.) Z77 Chipset: (2012)

This is a scaled-back chipset option, suitable when overclocking and multiple video cards are not needed.  It cannot split the main PCI-Express x16 slot into two connections, though the PCI-Express 3.0 standard is still supported (with the upcoming processors).  Support for increasing the multiplier on unlocked processor models is also missing, hence the lack of overclocking support.  Aside from those two limitations, though, it is effectively the same as Z77: the same number of SATA and USB ports are there, SSD caching, onboard Intel graphics, and more.

This situation makes Z77 ideal for most users, as it gives the largest range of performance and upgrade options, but H77 is a great fit when overclocking and more than a single video card are simply not feasible.

I hope I didn’t end up confusing you even more. Smile with tongue out

There is a simple pattern here.