Intel Core i7-3770K Review: A Small Step Up From Sandy Bridge

Platform Compatibility: Are Motherboard Vendors Ready?

All of Intel’s Ivy Bridge-based CPUs employ the existing LGA 1155 interface, setting up warranted questions about compatibility.

Naturally, the third-gen Core processors work right out of the box on 7-series platforms with Management Engine firmware version 8.x. Second-gen Core CPUs based on Sandy Bridge also drop right into motherboards with 7-series chipsets.

Support gets more conditional when you start talking about dropping third-gen Core chips on older boards with 6-series core logic. Each platform vendor is responsible for updating its H61-, H67-, P67-, and Z68-based motherboards with new Management Engine firmware, a BIOS, and graphics driver updates. Ivy Bridge CPUs are not supported on Q65-, Q67-, and B65-based boards.

Just days before the launch, the number of vendors with 22 nm-ready firmware is smaller than those without. Asus, Gigabyte, and Intel were able to get us updates for boards we have in the lab. MSI, EVGA, and Foxconn are purportedly working on updates. Biostar has firmware posted with 22 nm support, though the files are from late 2011 and we’re not sure if they accommodate retail boxed processors or not. ECS has firmware posted for a handful of its H61-based boards, but P67 and H67 support will come later. ASRock says it'll go live with its 22 nm-ready updates on launch day.

Here’s the thing to remember, though. If you plan on using an Ivy Bridge-based processor in an existing 6-series platform, be sure to update to a 22 nm-ready firmware with Sandy Bridge installed before ditching your old chip.

PCI Express 3.0 On 6-Series Boards

Ivy Bridge-based CPUs include 16 lanes of PCI Express 3.0 connectivity. You can get 8 GT/s from one PCIe 3-ready add-in card on 6- and 7-series motherboards without any intervention at all. A couple of caveats apply, though.

First, if you’re using a 6-series board with a bridge chip like Nvidia’s NF200 to enable three- and four-way SLI, the switch limits you to second-gen PCIe signaling. Such is the case with Gigabyte’s Z68X-UD7-B3 motherboard. Nothing will ever get that board working at PCIe 3.0.

Other 6-series boards employ switches that automatically reconfigure PCI Express lanes in multi-card arrays, turning one 16-lane link into a pair of eight-lane connections, for example. In order to connect Ivy Bridge to dual Radeon HD 7000 or GeForce GTX 680 graphics cards at third-gen speeds, those switches have to support PCI Express 3.0 too. Otherwise you drop back to PCI Express 2.0 signaling.

Plug a card like AMD’s Radeon HD 7850 into something like Gigabyte’s Z68-powered G1.Sniper 2 with a Core i7-3770K, though, and you won’t have any problems at all.

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  • SSri
    Thanks for the pretty quick review. The HD 4000 may be a tempting factor for many low-end desktop users. High-end users are unlikely to switch to IB. Unless extensive future reviews show a different picture, Sandy Bridge would be the CPU for my high-end new build!
  • HEXiT
    4% on average is a pretty small performance bump from a dye shrink i was hoping that ivy was gonna be in the region of 10% but i guess a small bump is better than none. still not a big enough jump for me to give up my old i7 920... ah well maybe haswell will deliver.
  • damian86
    Well I think this will be improved in no-time, the guys are doing well in their new architecture and finding new ways to make the big jump. This is like testing, their stuff is good enough to get on the market and they can earn a lot of credits that will help them to keep working hard with new stuff.I really liked their quick sync thing.
    I still don't know the negative points in including gpus in cpus.
  • mi1ez
    US comp. You would think they could put that somewhere in the article.
  • kaprikawn
    I'm personally very excited by Ivy Bridge. I'm not planning on replacing the first gen i5 in my gaming rig, I can't see the benefit. But I'm looking at replacing the Sempron 1100LE in my server with one of the low power i3 chips when they come out. For a computer that runs 24/7, power consumption and noise are fairly important to me for that machine. The Sempron and the low end i3 have similar TPD ratings, but there's a gulf of difference in performance.
  • Anonymous
    An unlocked, "K" variant of the i3, or Pentium-G? That might get people excited...
  • K3v1n
    I'm happy with my FX-6100...Even if I had the money, I wouldn't upgrade it, except for maybe a 8150. This CPU is amazing, and no review on here or anywhere really does it justice. It handles every game i throw, I can convert a 6gb HD video to MP4 in 5 mins WHILE photoshop, and a game is running
  • army_ant7
    I still do wish that Intel offered a cheaper or more powerful CPU without the built-in GPU. It seems like a big waste of time, work, and die space (and maybe even money) for, esp. now, such a big GPU portion. But maybe from the business/profit-spending point of view, it really is better for Intel as a company to have GPU's built-in irregardless.

    I'm interested in hearing from anyone else's thoughts on this.
  • AndrewdAzotus
    I see and hear about the reasons for not upgrading from Sandy-bridge to Ivy-bridge, but I would be interested in pointers for someone who has not had a desktop for about 5 years but is now looking for a new architecture which will be as long lasting as possible so I can buy a good ($200-$300) motherboard and a cheaper processor with a view to upgrading all components (memory / graphics etc) on the motherboard as time and money permits. I'm thinking either 1150 or 2011 but would appreciate some general guidance