Bennett Ring proves you don’t have to spend a fortune as there are budget and mid-range options available.
As with any new Intel launch, the arrival of the Ivy Bridge third-generation Core i processors comes with a confusing plethora of new motherboard chipsets, known collectively as Intel Series 7. For once this isn’t a mandatory upgrade, with Ivy Bridge surprisingly compatible with older Series 6 boards, yet this incremental platform upgrade does bring a few appealing goodies to the table.
Unfortunately, a large performance boost for CPU-centric duties isn’t one of them -- these new boards deliver comparable performance to the last generation. However, the arrival of USB 3.0 has theoretically improved external transfer speeds by 1,000% compared to USB 2.0; we just wish Intel had delivered more than the two ports that are the default. Ditto with SATA connectivity, where a total of four SATA II (3Gbps) and two SATA 6Gbps ports is fine for most users, but we would have liked to see a few more of the latter variety.
With the arrival of compatible video cards, PCIe 3.0 is also finally included in the Series 7 boards, a feature that sounds great on paper, but doesn’t actually make a lot of difference in the real world. Legacy users should be aware that PCI slots have been removed on most Series 7 parts, with the exception of business and corporate motherboards. Thankfully, motherboard makers have reintroduced them on most products.
A range of software options are also included with Series 7, including Intel Rapid Start Technology, Intel Smart Connect Technology and Intel Rapid Storage Technology. Display output options have been given a nice upgrade, now supporting up to three simultaneous displays over HDMI, DisplayPort or DVI, on the proviso that two are connected via DisplayPort. Finally, Thunderbolt connectivity is an optional extra if you’re willing to pay the ridiculous cable and device costs.
We put the call out to the major motherboard manufacturers to submit Series 7 boards in three different categories: budget, mainstream and performance. To our surprise, most of the boards provided used the premium Z77 chipset, the most potent of the (frankly staggering) 12 different Series 7 variants, with a couple of exceptions.
Check out our reviews of these motherboards from this week onwards.