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 Interface||LGA 775||LGA 1156||LGA 1155||LGA 1155|
|Form Factor||Micro ATX||Micro ATX||Micro ATX||Micro ATX|
|Graphics Outputs||DVI-I, DVI-D||DVI-I, DVI-D, Display Port||DVI-I, DVI-D, Display Port||DVI-I, DVI-D, Display Port|
|USB 2.0 Ports||12||14||12||8|
|USB 3.0 Ports||0||0||2||4|
|SATA 6Gb/s Ports||0||0||2||2|
|10/100/1000 NIC||Intel 82567LM||Intel 82578DM||Intel 82574LM||Intel 82579LM and Intel 82574L|
|Intel AMT Version||5.x||6.x||7.x||8.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.