Intel’s Sandy Bridge processor architecture is turning 6 months old in July, and has been a major seller in the PC market in these few short months. There was a slight hiccup a month after it was released, when it was found that there was a defect in the SATA controller of the chipsets designed to work with these processors, but that has long since been resolved and no further problems have arisen.
In fact, this past month of May saw the introduction of a new chipset that can work with these processors - resulting in several choices now available when selecting a motherboard. Because of those myriad of choices I wanted to clarify what the differences are between the three leading chipsets for socket 1155 CPUs, and comment a little on each:
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, and the onboard video can be used *alongside* such a card in order to provide support for several monitors for a fairly low price.
The downside is the H67 supports only very limited overclocking, keeping it from being a platform for gamers (who wouldn’t want to use the onboard graphics anyways) and some enthusiasts. It is more marketed toward home and business use, and particularly the home-theater crowd. The onboard graphics is very well suited to playing back videos, even in high definition, and being able to do that without a higher-end video card cuts down on cost, heat and noise.
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 (for Crossfire or SLI, if motherboard manufacturers license those technologies). It also is capable of being overclocked, and that combination of features have made it popular for gamers and other demanding users.
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 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. If you are already planning to get a sizable SSD then this feature is useless, though, and even if you were not I think there would be more cost-effective options. For example, you could go for a less expensive chipset / motherboard (like H67) and then spend the money saved on a larger solid-state drive: then you have control over what data is stored on the fast drive, rather than depending on software to determine what data should be cached.
Hopefully that information helps explain the differences between the current generation of Intel chipsets, but if you have any questions or need help in configuring a Puget system for your specific needs please feel free to call or email our sales consultants.