Intel Core i7-3770K Review: A Small Step Up For Ivy 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. ECShas 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. To be clear, if you buy a 6-series board that doesn't have an Ivy Bridge-compatible firmware and then try to drop in a third-gen Core processor, it won't boot up.

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.

Chris Angelini
Chris Angelini is an Editor Emeritus at Tom's Hardware US. He edits hardware reviews and covers high-profile CPU and GPU launches.
  • tecmo34
    Nice Review Chris...

    Looking forward to the further information coming out this week on Ivy Bridge, as I was initially planning on buying Ivy Bridge, but now I might turn to Sandy Bridge-E
  • Maziar
    Great review as always Chris! looks like I'm staying with my 2500k for a while!
  • jaquith
    Great and long waited review - Thanks Chris!

    Temps as expected are high on the IB, but better than early ES which is very good.

    Those with their SB or SB-E (K/X) should be feeling good about now ;)
  • xtremexx
    saw this just pop up on google, posted 1 min ago, anyway im probably going to update i have a core i3 2100 so this is pretty good.
  • ojas
    it's heeearrree!!!!! lol i though intel wan't launching it, been scouring the web for an hour for some mention.

    Now, time to read the review. :D
  • zanny
    It gets higher temps at lower frequencies? What the hell did Intel break?

    I really wish they would introduce a gaming platform between their stupidly overpriced x79esque server platform and the integrated graphics chips they are pushing mainstream. 50% more transistors should be 30% or so more performance or a much smaller chip, but gamers get nothing out of Ivy Bridge.
    It makes sense Intel is making this its quickest ramp ever, as they see ARM on the horizon in today's changing market.
    They're using their process to get to places they'll need to get to in the future
  • verbalizer
    OK after reading most of the review and definitely studying the charts;
    I have a few things on my mind.

    1.) AMD - C'mon and get it together, you need to do better...2.) imagine if Intel made an i7-2660K or something like the i5-2550K they have now.
    3.) SB-E is not for gaming (too highly priced...) compared to i7 or i5 Sandy Bridge
    4.) Ivy Bridge runs hot.......
    5.) IB average 3.7% faster than i7 SB and only 16% over i5 SB = not worth it
    6.) AMD - C'mon and get it together, you need to do better...
    (moderator edit..)
  • Pezcore27
    Good review.

    To me it shows 2 main things. 1) that Ivy didn't improve on Sandy Bridge as much as Intel was hoping it would, and 2) just how far behind AMD actually is...
  • tmk221
    It's a shame that this chip is marginally faster than 2700k. I guess it's all AMD fault. there is simply no pressure on Intel. Otherwise they would already moved to 8, 6, and 4 cores processors. Especially now when they have 4 cores under 77W.

    Yea yea I know most apps won't use 8 cores, but that's only because there was no 8 cores processors in past, not the other way around