We had a look at a few of the features of the latest Z77 motherboards in our recent review of the ASUS P8-Z77V Pro. However, because we didn't have the 3rd Generation of Intel CPUs to hand it was more of a look as an upgrade. Today we're finally putting it all together in a review of the Ivy Bridge CPU on a Panther Point motherboard. As usual with new CPU releases we'll be looking at the stock performance on the Intel motherboard, and then taking our overclocking on with a third-party motherboard.
Those of you who follow the Intel release methodology will know that today's release is the Tick part of their Tick/Tock strategy, and that means the introduction of 22nm Process Technology. It was only 5 years ago that we first saw glimpses of the 45nm CPUs which were released in 2008 and only a couple of years ago we were graced with the Westmere 32nm CPUs. It's difficult to not be impressed at the amazing commitment to ensuring Moore's Law remains accurate. Although given that even Intel believe 16nm will be the limit of the possible die shrinking with current technology, this might be the penultimate Tick in the Intel release schedule. At least until we're having computers implanted in our heads.
So what's the big change between Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge?
Obviously the biggest change comes courtesy of the move from 32nm to 22nm, and that's energy efficiency and low power consumption. The major push with nearly all current hardware is more power, but in a manner than doesn't strip the planet of its resources in a heartbeat. It might seem one of those things whereby a small improvement can't really have an effect, but when you multiply the amount of CPUs currently working, if you can take away even 1 watt per hour you're saving an enormous amount.
The next big addition is the move from an HD3000 iGPU to the latest HD4000, which potentially has twice the performance of the integrated graphics currently residing on Sandy Bridge CPUs. We will be taking a look at that performance claim in another review, but for now the support for Direct X 11, an extra independent display (three instead of the two on the HD3000) and an upgrade from OpenGL 3.0 to OpenGL 3.1 should be plenty to whet the appetite of the casual gaming/on a budget crowd.
For us there is one main point of interest though, and that's the new overclocking options that we have with the 3rd Generation CPUs. Although it's only the extreme high-end that has more headroom, somewhere we'll never push to on air, the extra memory overclocking options and the theoretically lower voltage necessary for our normal "just under 5GHz" overclocking should at least bring some smiles to the party.
Remember when 1600MHz was quick and 2133MHz was blazing? Of course we'll be seeing what we can squeeze out in our overclocked tests, but for now let's move on to take a look at what is on offer in part one of our Z77/i7-3770K review.
The packaging for the DZ77GA-70K mirrors the usual Extreme motherboards from Intel, being an all black affair with just the skull on the front. When we consider the lengths many companies go to to grab the cool box art, they must be kicking themselves that Intel have claimed the skull. Round the back we have a selection of feature highlights, although the Z68 motherboards were so well honed that this is very much an evolutionary step rather than any wholesale changes.
Accessories are exactly what you'd expect, although it's a surprise to see a bluetooth adaptor built in. However this does follow the trend in modern computing for a lack of wires, and cross-platform connectivity.
The Intel Core i7-3770K comes in your standard Intel retail CPU box, and as you can see from the Quad+HT this is the follow-up to the i7-2700K, although with the inclusion of HD4000 graphics.
Up Close - The DZ77GA-70K
Considering that this is the reference board from which all others will be taken, it's actually a good looker too. The dark blue and black colour combination works well and the two big heatsinks are nicely designed with a lovely mix between the aesthetics and function.
Starting in the bottom right hand corner we have the usual array of USB headers, as well as a diagnostic 7 segment display and the Winbond W83677HG-i to handle all the hardware monitoring functions.
PCI slots are well covered with two PCI Express 3.0 16x/8x for the GPU, as well as 1 PCI-E x4, two PCI-E x1 and a couple of standard PCIs. PCI-Express 3.0 is supported by the 3rd Generation CPU, so we should finally get to see if the PCI-E 2.0 GPUs have any benefit from the extra bandwidth. Below the bottom PCI-E x1 slot is a bank of LEDs which also assist in diagnosing any errors. The far left one blinks blue when the CPU is accessed, which on our open test bench means it's annoyingly always blinking.
The layout of the DZ77GA-70K is particularly pleasing with everything being where you'd require it, and nothing is too tucked away. We've lost count of the amount of motherboards that have the 8pin ATX power socket in a finger-slicing place, so it's nice to see it right on the edge of the board here.
Round the back we have all the options you could ever wish for. 4 USB 3.0 ports, a Firewire, 4 USB 2.0, dual Gigabit LAN, BIOS recovery button, HDMI and 7.1 Audio. Storage is provided for by four SATA 6Gb/s ports (grey and blue) and four SATA 3Gb/s. These support Intel Rapid Storage Technology and RAID 0,1,5 and 10.
As you may have noticed we're not covering the BIOS of the DZ77GA-70K. This is because our pre-production sample still has a lot of rough edges to be ironed out. However it's worth noting that it is supplied with the now standard UEFI BIOS and everything is laid out in a clear manner.
Our test setup for today's review bridges the gap between our old LGA1155 arrangement, and the one we'll be using going forwards. To this end we have a set of tests done with our GTX570, and also a set with the HD7970 which we'll be using from now on. Eagle-eyed readers will notice we have a new memory kit to test with, and a review of that will be upcoming. So our setup is as follows :
Intel DZ77GA-70K Motherboard
Intel Core i7-3770K
8GB G.Skill Trident 2400 @ 10-12-12-31
EVGA GTX570 with ForceWare 301.24
HIS HD7970 with Catalyst 12.3
Cougar CM1000 PSU
Corsair F80 SSD
Thermalright Silver Arrow
Windows 7 x64
As always with our first look at a new CPU we run just at the exact stock settings. Build the rig, and whatever the motherboard sets itself to is our stock settings. So our i7-3770K is, as you'd expect, at 3.7GHz and our memory is only picked up at 1600MHz. This is what we'll be using for our GTX570 side of the testing.
The HD7970 section will be running a mild overclock of 3.9GHz on the CPU, and 2133MHz on the RAM. Despite much prodding and poking the Intel board just wouldn't POST with the memory at 2400MHz, but 2133MHz should at least give a mild lift to performance, whilst also leaving us lots of headroom for our overclocking review.
Considering that the i7-3770K has hyper-threading enabled, and our test on the P8-Z77V Pro used the non-HT i5-2500K, the results in AIDA aren't exactly mind-blowing. The CPU benchmarks don't seem to make full use of the faster HT-ness at stock. However when we compare the HD7970 result, which don't forget is 1GHz slower than the overclock on our i5-2500K, things seem to give more cause for hope. Of course this is only one result, but we expected a little more.
The Memory benchmarks are much better. Of course the 1600MHz that the DZ77GA-70K defaulted to don't really light up the graphs, but the 2133MHz variant with the HD7970 at least is starting to be in the right ballpark.
The processor tests in Sandra have always been very good at utilising all that the CPU has to offer and so it proves again here. Despite giving up a pretty big GHz handicap to the overclocked results on the ASUS Z77, the i7-3770K really makes the hyper-threading count, especially in the Whetstone test.
The Processor MultiMedia test is much closer, as we'd expect it to be. As we saw in the Xeon Insanity review, sometimes you just can't overcome a lack of threads with GHz.
PC Mark Vantage
The first of our somewhat strange results comes courtesy of PC Mark Vantage. Whilst we'd expect that the hefty overclock on the P8-Z77V Pro will lead the pack, the amount that the i7-3770K is behind at stock when using the GTX570 is pretty eye-opening. It's not until we put in the HD7970 that the Intel DZ77GA-70K edges ahead at stock, but the hyperthreading seems to be twiddling its thumbs.
PC Mark 7
The more up-to-date PC Mark 7 provides a much better fist of things, although we still have a bit of a curiosity in that the GTX570 test bench is near to the overclocked P8-Z77V Pro, which we'd expect, but the HD7970 is behind that. It's all rather odd. It's not even a case of a borked run, as many attempts lead to the same scores.
Maxon's CineBench R11.5 returns us to where we'd expect to be, with the extra performance of the Core i7-3770K pushing ahead of the i5-2500K. Far and away the most impressive result is the OpenGL test on the HD7970. Considering our Dual-Xeon setup only got 76.6 FPS this really shows how DZ77GA-70K has got things sorted. Although not shown in our graph because we're focusing upon the Z77 chipset, the i7-2600K scored 7.38 Pts compared to the 7.92 on the Core i7-3770K.
The single-core efficiency rating in POV-Ray has always been a bit of an odd one, in that the more cores you have the lower the score, which speaks more about the way the program handles a lot of threads than about the CPUs powering it. Focusing upon the actual overall score we find the stock i7-3770K capable of beating out the heavily overclocked i5-2500K. Which is what we'd hope to see, but still the results have been complex enough that it's pleasing to actually get a result that matches our preconceived ideas.
At stock the Core i7-3770K is nearly identical to a i7-2600K (7.6 and 227.5 respectively). Against the i5-2500K in our ASUS P8-Z77V Pro review it's clear that wPrime always loves as many cores and threads as it can get its teeth in to.
We usually reserve Unigine for our GPU testing, but the ability of the CPU to feed the graphics card data is a large part of the results. To this end we turned anti-aliasing off to free the GPU up a bit, and had a look at what we could achieve. As you can see the i5-2500K ended up only 0.1 FPS behind the Core i7-3700K despite both cards being at stock. The HD7970 naturally gave us a vastly improved result, and the benefits of this test will hopefully become apparent as we get a larger sample size.
3D Mark Vantage
3D Mark Vantage is very much a two headed beast here. On the one hand the P-Score indicates that the Intel motherboard is most definitely not making the most of our i7-3770K, especially when compared to the theoretically slower i5-2500K. However when we up the detail level to the Extreme preset we find that all three GTX570 results are around the same place.
This is in sharp contrast to the HD7970 result, where the P-Score from the i7-3770K is 2000 points ahead of an overclocked i7-950 and only 400 points behind our i7-3960X Extreme preset result. Good stuff.
3D Mark 11
As we move towards the much more modern 3D Mark 11 we find the differences all but evaporate. Both P and X scores are nigh-on the same regardless of the testing situation, with the HD7970 giving us scores that are really close to our i7-3960X tests.
Maybe we've got complacent. Maybe we've got greedy. Or maybe Intel knocked the Sandy Bridge range out of the park and it's a tough act to follow. However you look at it, the Intel Core i7-3770K is most definitely the Sophomore Slump. Don't get us wrong, it's by no means a bad processor at all. If the i7-2600K and i7-2700K didn't exist then we'd be flogging our granny to own one. It's just they do and this is much of the same. If I could use a metaphor at this point, and as I'm the person writing it I can, then the Z77GA-70K and i7-3770K combination is a lot like a bowl of Kellogs Frosties. You might be really excited to begin with, but it becomes clear quite soon that all you've got is tarted up Cornflakes. I happen to love Cornflakes.
Ahem. Let's start again. At its heart the i7-3770K is a i7-2600K with a reduced nm process and the upgrade of HD4000 integrated graphics rather than HD3000, coupled to the ability to run Memory at frankly insane speeds. It doesn't overclock in a particularly eye-popping manner. It hasn't got a wealth of instructions to make a mockery of its clock speed in the same way that a 2500K annihilates a Q6600. It's the same thing we're all used to, but with a bit of a spit and polish.
That's by no means a bad thing. The 2nd Generation CPUs from Intel are a near-perfect blend of performance and affordability. Even the X79 and i7-3960X didn't give us so much performance boost that we considered selling organs to pay for one, so perhaps it was ridiculous to expect the 22nm Ivy Bridge CPUs to do so.
I'm very aware this reads like quite a downbeat conclusion. It's just this is exactly as excellent as the CPUs we already have. If you're in the market for an upgrade from system that's now a couple of generations old, then you couldn't do any better. If you disbelieve the hype then prepare to eat your hat, and shoes, and anything else you can find that is nutritious because this really is as good as everyone tells you that it is. But if you already have a decent LGA1155 setup, then you're probably better off waiting for a bit. The PCI Express 3.0 benefits are negligible. The HD4000 upgrade is good, but the HD3000 was no slouch and anyone wanting serious gaming would have a discreet solution anyway.
You'll notice I haven't mentioned the motherboard yet. That reasons are three-fold. Firstly almost nobody actually buys an Intel Motherboard, so it's a limited audience. Secondly we are saving our overclocking tests for another motherboard, so there isn't a huge amount to cover, and finally the pre-release BIOS on our model was dodgy at best, and would make it an exceptionally tough recommend under even the best of circumstances.
So if you haven't yet sampled the delights of the LGA1155 range stop reading right this very moment and hasten to your local emporium and exchange money for this box of treasures. In the same way that the previous generation was unquestionably OC3D Gold worthy, so the Core i7-3770K is too. It's just not worth upgrading from if you've already got one of those self-same 2nd Generation CPUs.
Thanks to Intel for supplying the DZ77GA-70K and Core i7-3770K for review. Discuss in our forums.