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Intel vPro In 2012, Small Business Advantage, And Anti-Theft Tech.

Upgrading Our vPro Platform: The Ivy Bridge Generation

In our last look at vPro, we used three generations of the technology to map its evolution over time. This time around, we have a Core i7-3770 processor and DQ77MK motherboard to build on that foundation and demonstrate what has changed in the last year.

The Core i7-3770 is one of Intel's highest-end Ivy Bridge-based processors based on the company's 22 nm manufacturing process. It's very similar to the enthusiast-oriented Core i7-3770K, except that its base frequency is 100 MHz lower and it doesn't have an unlocked ratio multiplier. Also, the non-K-series SKU does include vPro and VT-d support. 

Beyond specific CPU model requirements, vPro support also necessitates a compatible chipset and motherboard. On the desktop, Intel's Q77 is the only 7-series Platform Controller Hub that qualifies. In the mobile space, QM77 gets that distinction. 

Not surprisingly, then, our DQ77MK motherboard comes armed with a Q77 PCH. It lacks a lot of the features we typically look for in our motherboard round-ups, which typically emphasize the feature power users want, but instead leans on integration. Integrated graphics, native USB 3.0, one of Intel's gigabit Ethernet controllers, and PCH-based storage all work together to benefit performance, power, and interoperability.

We see a typical desktop board with a few hard-to-spot (unique) features. First, between the SATA ports and expansion slots, there's a mini-PCIe slot. You'd commonly find a wireless networking adapter or mSATA-based SSD plugged in. And, given Q77's support for Smart Response Technology (essentially, SSD caching), it's most probable that you'd drop a small solid-state repository in that slot and use a larger 3.5" disk drive for user data.

There is a single 16-lane PCI Express slot for discrete graphics upgrades. Depending on whether you use an Ivy or Sandy Bridge-based CPU, that interface runs at either 3.0 or 2.0 transfer rates.

Other expansion slots include a PCI Express x1 slot, a legacy PCI slot, and an open-ended PCI Express x4 slot. The fact that the x4 physical connector doesn't have a back means that larger, more bandwidth-intensive cards can be slid in and still operate at reduced speeds. A storage controller, for instance, might employ a x8 slot. It'll still work in an open-ended x4 interface, though.

The DQ77MK's rear I/O panel hosts a fairly standard array of USB 2.0, USB 3.0, FireWire, eSATA, Ethernet, and audio connectors. Intel exposes two DVI outputs and a DisplayPort connector, too, corresponding to the Ivy Bridge architecture's ability to drive three independent displays concurrently.

A quick look at all four of the vPro generations we've analyzed definitely reveals a handful of trends:

Four Generations of Intel vPro-Capable Motherboards
Processor InterfaceLGA 775LGA 1156LGA 1155LGA 1155
Form FactorMicro ATXMicro ATXMicro ATXMicro ATX
Graphics OutputsDVI-I, DVI-DDVI-I, DVI-D, Display PortDVI-I, DVI-D, Display PortDVI-I, DVI-D, Display Port
USB 2.0 Ports1214128
USB 3.0 Ports0024
SATA 3Gb/s6523
SATA 6Gb/s Ports0022
eSATA Ports1121
10/100/1000 NICIntel 82567LMIntel 82578DMIntel 82574LMIntel 82579LM and Intel 82574L
Intel AMT Version5.x6.x7.x8.x

The integration of USB 3.0 makes it easier for Intel to expose more of the higher-speed interface on its DQ77MK motherboard, whereas the previous generation needed an add-on controller. Also, the company is, for the first time, arming its business-class motherboard with two gigabit-class network controllers. Intel's 82574L is perhaps the most widely-supported gigabit controller out there, and if you use this platform under an operating environment other than Windows or Linux (say, VMware ESXi, FreeBSD, or even OpenSolaris), the 82574L should be immediately recognized. A second controller also allows more complex networking configurations, such as link aggregation.