Intel launches Z97, H97 chipsets for performance desktop PCs

The new chipsets allow faster transfer speeds for storage devices and support Intel's forthcoming refreshed Haswell CPUs. Unlike the H97, the Z97 allows overclocking when used with an unlocked Intel processor.
Written by Sean Portnoy, Contributor on

While the world waits for Intel's Broadwell processors, due later this year, people still need to buy (and build) desktop PCs (albeit in ever-decreasing numbers). As a stopgap measure, the tech giant is readying updated Haswell CPUs (with slightly higher clock speeds) and has just officially allowed details about the new H97 and Z97 chipsets to be revealed.

The new chipsets are designed to support performance desktops, with the key difference between the two versions being that the Z97 will support overclocking of unlocked Intel processors whereas the H97 does not. Otherwise, the so-called 9 series offers a few improvements over the 8 series.

The biggest upgrade comes in the form of increased data transfer speeds for storage drives. The new chipsets support the M.2 specification, which has been recently gaining traction with solid-state drives, by allowing them two lanes of PCI Express 2.0 to boost speeds to a theoretical 1GB/s. They also support SATA Express, the new spec that offers similar bandwidth via the same pair of PCIe 2.0 lanes.

In addition, the H97 and Z97 feature an upgraded version of Intel's Smart Response Technology (SRT), which can now handle so-called hybrid drives that combine a small amount of solid-state storage (such as 16GB) with a traditional hard drive to boost boot-up and app launching times. Previously, SRT required separate hard drives and SSDs to function. The same hybrid drive can now make use of Intel's Rapid Start Technology to wake the system up faster from hibernation.

The new chipsets also inherit Device Protection Technology with Boot Guard from Intel's latest Atom mobile processors. It protects computers from malware that attempts to interfere with boot operations by using hardware infrastructure from both the chipset and the refreshed Haswell processors.

Already motherboard makers are lining up to unleash new boards built around the 9-series chipsets, especially the enthusiast-friendly Z97. In addition, boutique PC builder Origin PC has started offering its gaming desktops with 9-series chipsets and some of the new Haswell CPUs, including the so-called Devil's Canyon unlocked Core i7 processor.

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