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Intel Z170 vs. Z97 chipset: What is the difference?

By Jos ยท 10 replies
Aug 8, 2015
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  1. [parsehtml]<p><img src="https://www.techspot.com/images2/news/bigimage/2015/08/2015-08-07-image-3.png" /></p> <p>The new Skylake-S CPUs use a new microarchitecture which means that the socket on the CPU and motherboard are physically different from the previous generation. To accomodate this change, Intel has also launched the Z170 chipset to go along with the new CPUs. In addition to the change in socket, there have also been a number of other improvements to both the CPU and Z170 chipset including DDR4 support, a faster connection between the chipset and the CPU (via DMI 3.0), and more PCI-E lanes through the chipset</p> <div style="width: 220px; margin: 5px 0 10px 15px; float: right; background-color:#eee"> <div style="padding: 15px; line-height:1.5; font-size: 12px"><strong>Editor&rsquo;s Note:</strong><br /> <span style="line-height: 1.9;">Matt Bach is the head of Puget Labs and has been part of Puget Systems, a boutique builder of gaming and workstation PCs, since the early days. This article was originally published on the <a href="https://www.pugetsystems.com/labs/articles/Z170-vs-Z97-What-is-the-Difference-636/">Puget blog</a>.</span></div> </div> <p>Unlike previous launches where Intel released a number of new chipsets and CPUs at the same time, for Skylake-S only the top chipset and unlocked (K-series) CPUs will be available at first. There is expected to be a range of Skylake-S CPUs and at least two lower-end chipsets available at some point, but Intel has not yet announced a launch date for those products.</p> <p>If you are interested in the performance of Skylake-S, we suggest viewing Puget&#39;s <a href="https://www.pugetsystems.com/labs/articles/Haswell-vs-Skylake-S-i7-4790K-vs-i7-6700K-641/">i7 4790K vs i7 6700K</a> article or <a href="https://www.techspot.com/review/1041-intel-core-i7-6700k-skylake/">TechSpot&#39;s own take here</a>.</p> <h3>Chipset Specification Comparison</h3> <table class="article-table alt"> <tbody> <tr class="title"> <th> </th> <th>Z97</th> <th>Z170</th> </tr> <tr> <td style="text-align: left;">Processor Support</td> <td><strong>Haswell/Broadwell (LGA 1150)</strong></td> <td><strong>Skylake-S (LGA 1151)</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td style="text-align: left;">Graphics Support</td> <td>1x16 or 2x8 or 1x8+2x4</td> <td>1x16 or 2x8 or 1x8+2x4</td> </tr> <tr> <td style="text-align: left;">DRAM Support</td> <td><strong>DDR3</strong></td> <td><strong>DDR3/DDR4</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td style="text-align: left;">Mem/DIMMs Per Channel</td> <td>2/2</td> <td>2/2</td> </tr> <tr> <td style="text-align: left;">DMI Version</td> <td><strong>2.0</strong></td> <td><strong>3.0</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td style="text-align: left;"><a href="http://www.intel.com/support/chipsets/imsm/sb/CS-020784.htm">Intel RST12</a></td> <td>Yes</td> <td>Yes</td> </tr> <tr> <td style="text-align: left;"><a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smart_Response_Technology">Intel Smart Response Technology</a></td> <td>Yes</td> <td>Yes</td> </tr> <tr> <td style="text-align: left;"><a href="http://www.intel.com/support/software/applications/sba/sb/CS-033348.htm">Small Business Advantage</a></td> <td>No</td> <td>No</td> </tr> <tr> <td style="text-align: left;">USB Total (USB 3.0)</td> <td><strong>14(6)</strong></td> <td><strong>14(10)</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td style="text-align: left;">Total SATA 6Gb/s</td> <td>6</td> <td>6</td> </tr> <tr> <td style="text-align: left;">Additional PCI-E lanes</td> <td><strong>8x PCI-E 2.0</strong></td> <td><strong>20x PCI-E 3.0</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td style="text-align: left;">Independent Display Support</td> <td>3</td> <td>3</td> </tr> <tr> <td style="text-align: left;">CPU Overclocking</td> <td>Yes</td> <td>Yes</td> </tr> <tr> <td style="text-align: left;">Max PCIe Storage (x4 M.2 or x2 SATA Express)</td> <td><strong>1 (x2 M.2) PCI-E 2.0</strong></td> <td><strong>3 PCI-E 3.0</strong></td> </tr> </tbody> </table> <p>From an official chipset perspective, there are a number of very important differences between the Z97 and Z170 chipsets. The first and most important change is the move to the new socket 1151 in order to support the Skylake-S CPUs. This change in socket means that you cannot use a Skylake-S CPU in a Z97 board or a Haswell/Broadwell CPU in a Z170 board. Luckily, however, the heatsink mounting is still identical so any heatsink that worked on socket 1150 (or socket 1155/1156 for that matter) will still work on socket 1151.</p> <p>Along with the change in socket is the addition of DDR4 memory support. DDR4 is still a bit more expensive than DDR3, but it is faster, allows for twice the density, and uses less power than DDR3. Z170 will continue to only allow four physical sticks of RAM to be used (in dual channel mode) but with the density of DDR4 you should be able to use up to 64GB of RAM with Z170 versus only 32GB with Z97. 16GB sticks are not available today (except in Reg. ECC which is not supported by this platform) but we expect them to be available by the end of 2015.</p> <p><img src="https://www.techspot.com/images2/news/bigimage/2015/08/2015-08-07-image.png" /></p> <p>In addition to the RAM update, the connectivity between the CPU and chipset has been upgraded to DMI 3.0. By using DMI 3.0, the chipset is now able to support 20 PCI-E 3.0 lanes versus the 8 PCI-E 2.0 lanes that is possible on the Z97 chipset. Most of these lanes will likely go towards features like USB 3.1, onboard WiFi, or Thunderbolt - but this increase in PCI-E lanes technically means a motherboard manufacturer could put up to three x4 M.2 PCI-E 3.0 ports on a Z170 motherboard. M.2 may not be incredibly popular in desktops today, but with faster and faster storage being developed (like the recent breakthrough in <a href="http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20150728005534/en/Intel-Micron-Produce-Breakthrough-Memory-Technology#.VbpqJflVhBc">memory chips by Intel and Micron</a>) we expect M.2 to increase in popularity over the next few years.</p> <p>Both chipsets support CPU overclocking and while there has not been an increase in the total number of native USB ports, ten of the fourteen USB ports on Z170 are now USB 3.0 ports (unfortunately, USB 3.1 is still too new to be a native part of the chipset). As far as their additional feature sets, both Z97 and Z170 support <a href="http://www.intel.com/support/chipsets/imsm/sb/CS-020784.htm">Rapid Storage Technology</a> and <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smart_Response_Technology">Smart Response Technology</a> (otherwise known as <a href="https://www.pugetsystems.com/labs/articles/How-it-Works-Intel-SSD-Caching-148/">SSD Caching</a>), but do not support <a href="http://www.intel.com/support/software/applications/sba/sb/CS-033348.htm">Small Business Advantage</a>.</p> <h3>Conclusion</h3> <p>Overall, there have been a number of very significant changes in the Z170 chipset. Not only does it support the new Skylake-S CPUs but it also adds DDR4 support, more USB 3.0 ports, and more PCI-E lanes on the chipset. The addition of DDR4 and more PCI-E lanes especially are great improvements that really increase the capabilities of the Z170 chipset. Add in the modest <a href="https://www.pugetsystems.com/labs/articles/Haswell-vs-Skylake-S-i7-4790K-vs-i7-6700K-641/">performance increases</a> we saw with the Skylake-S CPUs and we see very little reason to use the Z97 chipset over the Z170 chipset unless you want to use a previous gen CPU. Even if you want to save some money and use DDR3 memory, Skylake-S technically still support DDR3 so you may be able to find a Z170 motherboards that use DDR3 instead of DDR4.</p> <p>Perhaps the biggest problem with Skylake-S right now is that you are very limited in terms of choices. Only two CPUs are available at launch (the i5 6600K and the i7 6700K) alongside the Z170 chipset. We expect more CPUs and chipsets to be released relatively soon, but if you want to low to mid-range system you will simply have to wait for the rest of the product line to become available.</p><p><a rel='alternate' href='https://www.techspot.com/news/61682-intel-z170-vs-z97-chipset-difference.html' target='_blank'>Permalink to story.</a></p><p class='permalink'><a rel='alternate' href='https://www.techspot.com/news/61682-intel-z170-vs-z97-chipset-difference.html'>https://www.techspot.com/news/61682-intel-z170-vs-z97-chipset-difference.html</a></p>[/parsehtml]
  2. madboyv1

    madboyv1 TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,517   +408

    One of the things I look forward to doing is to start using M.2 SSDs on desktop builds, especially for SFF builds. Of course as of this post the only motherboard I know of that has included one is ASRock's X99 ITX board (which was reviewed here), though both EVGA and ASRock have put out a couple X99 mATX boards too. With my first impressions via the review here and other places, I'm hesitant to go to skylake for my next build, but at the same time I hope that with Skylake more (affordable) boards will come equipped is M.2.
  3. p51d007

    p51d007 TS Evangelist Posts: 1,699   +987

    Realistically? The price. You'll need to buy a new mobo, new computer.
    Most consumers, won't see a huge impact. Gamers, graphics, 3D will,
    but for your average consumer, nothing.
  4. noel24

    noel24 TS Evangelist Posts: 424   +310

    Right now those are just theoretical improvements over Z97. Prices of Z170 (in Euros) are some 25-30% higher for the same equipped s1150 motherboards. Internet portals that tested Skylake to the fullest, looking for most CPU taxing locations (in games), reported anywhere from 10-15% over Haswell Refresh, and mostly on par with Broadwell. And they tested it on better specced and more expensive DDR4. Skylake chips are priced few dollars more themselves. Add some 30% stronger US$ than last year, some shelf leftovers of older (and cheaper) hardware, and outside US You may actually consider Skylake to be a downgrade when performance/price is considered.
  5. Cycloid Torus

    Cycloid Torus Stone age computing. Posts: 3,614   +984

    I wonder if premium can be charged if improvement is as slim as this.
  6. treetops

    treetops TS Evangelist Posts: 2,256   +352

    Z97 can have x2 3.0 pci e slots, most do. Some can even ddr4 if I remember right.
  7. madboyv1

    madboyv1 TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,517   +408

    In the case of the memory comment, DMI/QPI replaced the memory controller and interconnect, and starting from the original I series processors, many if not all of the functions of a northbridge have been integrated into the processor. So to say that the motherboard can dictate the memory standard used would be false. That being said, Skylake can except both DDR3 and DDR4 so motherboard manufacturers have some leeway with what that can stuff on them.

    As for your expectation of the physical inclusion of PCE 3.0 slots vs what they are electrically capable of, you might be forgetting that the processor for Z97 and X99 has only so many lanes that they can provide, since neither chipset includes PCIe 3.0 lanes. The motherboard may allow you to put one (Z97) or two (X99) PCI 3.0 x16 cards in the system, but after that you sacrifice full bandwidth for more cards, even if every slot included is physically capable of supporting x16 cards. The best case scenario for Z97 connected processor (a max of 16 lanes) is one x8 and two x4 slots, where an X99 connected processor (a max of 40 lanes) can do FIVE x8 slots.

    I am not 100% sure but I believe this limitation regarding graphics cards is still the same (Z97 vs Z170), but the pcie 3.0 lanes now offered by the chipset means you can stuff a lot more things with more bandwidth on the motherboard without relying on additional chipsets to provide that feature/function. Kind of like how USB 3.0 used to require an additional chip on the motherboard but is now supported directly on the main chipset itself.

    Just my guess/limited understanding of the technologies discussed.
  8. dividebyzero

    dividebyzero trainee n00b Posts: 4,840   +1,267

    Largely immaterial. External bandwidth (GPU <-> CPU/RAM) is very seldom saturated, and is even more rarely so in gaming orientated machines (most scenarios are storage and/or co-processor workloads)
    The chipset bandwidth increase and the associated features ( RAID options for M.2 and SATA-Express devices for example) and options available with fewer compromises are the chief differentiator between the Z170 and Z97
  9. madboyv1

    madboyv1 TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,517   +408

    Thanks for the reply DIV/0. I already knew that the PCIe bus in reality is rarely saturated but did not mention it because I was trying (and likely failed to) differentiate the difference between what those slots were physically capable of (what the poster was likely referring to) vs what they are electrically capable of. Also, thanks for the second image and link. :)
  10. treetops

    treetops TS Evangelist Posts: 2,256   +352

    I guess it would help future proof sli. Aside from what cpu is supported on your mobo, the physical slot is different for ddr4. Newer z97 might support it.
  11. amghwk

    amghwk TS Maniac Posts: 361   +203

    The recent Techspot's own Skylake CPUs performance review was lukewarm, but this article seems to recommend them over the Haswell/Z97 setup.

    DDR4 is still much expensive, while no proportional increase in performance vs DDR3. X99 / Z170 based setups require new more expensive investments, with no significant jump in performance vs the Z97-based power builds.

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