Intel has developed a new chipset to support the advanced features in its fourth-generation Core-series CPUs. The biggest changes are related to input/output—the various pathways through which data enters and exits the PC. Intel has also jettisoned support for some old technology; namely, the PCI bus. There are several chipsets in the 8 series, but we’ll focus primarily on the high-end Z87 Express version.
A computer using the Series 7 chipset that supports third-generation Core processors can have a maximum of 14 USB ports, but only four can be fast USB 3.0 ports (USB 3.0 can deliver data-transfer speeds up to 4.8 Gbps, where USB 2.0 maxes out at just 480 Mbps). Since most PCs had a mixture of both, the older USB 2.0 ports would be identified by black collars and the newer, faster USB 3.0 ports would have blue collars.
The Series 8 chipset also supports 14 USB ports, but as many as six of them can be of the USB 3.0 variety. What’s more, all 14 ports are managed by Intel’s eXtensible Host Controller Interface (xHCI), which is considerably more power efficient than the previous solution.
The next most significant improvement is related to the number of SATA 6 Gbps interfaces that the chipset can support, so it’s arguably more important to desktop systems that have multiple hard drives. Where the Series 7 chipset could support a maximum of two SATA 6Gbps ports, the Series 8 chipset can support up to six.
In line with the significant improvements in graphics performance that Haswell brings to the table, Intel moved the digital display interfaces (DisplayPort, HDMI, and Wireless Display) from the chipset and into the CPU itself. Fourth-generation Core processors can support three independent displays. They also support DisplayPort 1.2 with multi-streaming.
Several of the new features in Intel’s Z87 chipset are optional. Intel’s Smart Connect Technology, for instance, is designed to make PCs more responsive, with speedier boot and return-from-standby times. This feature allows your computer to refresh its data—retrieve email, for instance—while in its low-power standby mode. This way, you not only get longer battery life, but you’ll be more productive because your PC will always have fresh data—you won’t have to wait for it.
Intel’s Rapid Start Technology enables a PC to return from a very deep sleep state, where it consumes almost no power at all, to a fully functional state almost instantly. This feature is a requirement for Ultrabooks, where it will conserver battery life, but it’s also useful in desktop PCs, where it can reduce energy consumption.
PC enthusiasts might want to check out Intel’s Extreme Tuning Utility, a tool that enables the end user to tweak various parameters that determine how fast the CPU will run. With an unlocked processor, such as the Core i7-4770K, you can change nearly every setting, from the base clock rate to the clock multiplier and more.
Michael is TechHive's lead editor and covers the smart home and home entertainment markets. He built his own smart home in 2007, which he uses as a real-world test lab when reviewing new products. Michael also reviews routers and networking products for TechHive and PCWorld.