This is Intel’s 9 Series chipset

So, this is a bit weird. Today marks the official introduction of Intel’s 9 Series chipset. Motherboards based on the chip have been selling for weeks, and we’ve even reviewed one of ’em, but the press embargo for the chipset didn’t lift until just now. Go figure.

This chipset launch is unusual in another way, too. As far as I can tell, it’s the first time Intel has introduced a new core-logic platform without an updated CPU alongside it. The recent Haswell Refresh is little more than a speed bump for last year’s silicon, so it doesn’t count.

There are more refreshed Haswell CPUs on the way, including a Devil’s Canyon variant with an improved thermal interface material optimized for overclocking. Intel tells us this K-series chip may not be compatible with some 8-series motherboards, suggesting Devil’s Canyon could include other changes under the hood. Tweaking the TIM alone seems unlikely to affect mobo compatibility, though we’re told most Z87 boards should work with the chip.

Support for Devil’s Canyon is enshrined in the 9 Series chipset. So is compatibility with Broadwell, Intel’s next-gen desktop CPU. Broadwell is a die-shrunk version of Haswell built on 14-nm fabrication technology. The first Broadwell chips for the LGA1150 desktop socket are expected late this year or early next, and they should plug into 9-series motherboards without issue. They won’t work with older 8-series products, though.

In addition to supporting current and future CPU generations, the 9 Series chipset is equipped to handle existing and next-gen storage devices. Two of the chipset’s eight PCI Express Gen2 lanes can be devoted to a PCIe SSD accessible through Intel’s Rapid Storage Technology driver. The driver allows PCIe SSDs to act as the primary boot device, to serve as a cache for Smart Response Technology, and to benefit from Dynamic Storage Accelerator. That last feature, DSA, aims to prevent CPU power-saving measures from hampering storage performance. The only catch is that PCIe SSDs are barred from participating in RAID arrays managed by the chipset.

Among the 9-series motherboards we’ve seen thus far, the chipset’s PCIe SSD connectivity manifests in two physical interfaces: M.2 and SATA Express. Mobo makers can offer both, but the interfaces are tied to the same Gen2 lanes in the chipset, so they can’t be used simultaneously. The dual-lane, Gen2 link offers 1GB/s of bandwidth in each direction, providing a nice upgrade over 6Gbps SATA. It’s not wide enough to fully exploit four-lane PCIe SSDs like Samsung’s XP941, though, and it can’t match the Gen3 speeds supported by the M.2 and SATAe standards.

PCIe SSDs are only restricted to the chipset’s dual-lane link if they want to interface with Intel’s RST software. Drives can also connect via the chipset’s remaining PCIe lanes and through the CPU’s Gen3 PCIe controller. Indeed, ASRock already has a Z97 board with an “Ultra M.2” slot attached to four Gen3 lanes in the CPU. PCIe SSDs that bypass the RST-specific chipset link will need to bring their own drivers or rely on the PCIe SSD support built into Windows 8.1.

According to all the SSD makers we’ve talked to, PCIe SSDs currently have few tangible benefits on the desktop. They’ll be faster in benchmarks, for sure, but 4K video editing seems to be the only real-world application that really benefits from the extra speed. I wouldn’t worry about the 9 Series’ dedicated Gen2 lanes hindering storage performance for desktop users.

The M.2 and SATA Express interfaces go both ways; they’re compatible with Serial ATA drives via AHCI and with PCIe drives via NVM Express, or NVMe. Intel recommends that M.2 implementations support both PCIe and SATA SSDs, but motherboard makers have some freedom on that front. We’ve already seen 9-series boards with PCIe-only M.2 slots. Board makers can also provide SATA-only M.2 slots via the chipset’s Serial ATA controller.

Combining Serial ATA and PCI Express in the same physical interface is the whole point behind SATA Express, so expect all 9-series SATAe implementations to support both kinds of drives. The connector is actually made up of dual SATA ports plus a third little plug that sits to the left. You can read more about SATA Express in this early look at a prototype SATAe drive.

Existing Serial ATA drives plug right into the SATA Express port, making backward compatibility a breeze. However, because the SATAe environment is built on PCI Express, legacy drives actually talk to the system via the chipset’s Serial ATA controller. That SATA controller appears to be pretty much unchanged from the last generation. It has six 6Gbps ports and supports RAID 0, 1, 10, and 5 arrays. SSDs configured in RAID 0 arrays will also work with the TRIM command used to clear unused flash pages.

Right now, striping a couple of SATA SSDs in RAID 0 may be the most sensible high-speed storage option for the 9 Series chipset. PCIe SSDs based on the M.2 standard are still relatively rare, and SATA Express devices are pretty much nonexistent. Asus is working on a RAID-infused SATA Express device, though, and we’ve heard that WD also has something coming on the SATAe front. More PCIe-based M.2 SSDs are on the way, too. The 9 Series chipset may not have a lot of PCIe SSD options today, but it’s at least ready for future products.

The 9 Series chipset requires the latest RST 13 driver to work with PCIe SSDs. That driver includes a couple of other enhancements, including an updated version of SRT caching that cooperates closely with hybrid SSHDs. The caching scheme now has a “Hybrid Hinting” feature that provides information on which data is best put in the SSHD’s onboard flash rather than on its mechanical platters. In another new twist, SRT caching can be combined with Rapid Start resume acceleration on SSDs as small as 16GB. I expect that means we’re going to see SRT-optimized hybrid drives with 16GB flash caches.

Although the RST 13 driver is being released with the 9 Series chipset, it will also trickle down to older Intel chipsets, complete with the caching improvements mentioned above. The driver’s support for PCIe SSDs is exclusive to the 9 Series chipset, though.

We’ve covered the big-ticket items so far, but the 9 Series chipset has one other addition worth mentioning: Device Protection Technology with Boot Guard. This optional, security-oriented feature guards against malware and viruses that target the boot block. It can be used with or without a Trusted Platform Module, and it’s likely to appeal to corporate types more than PC enthusiasts.

There are Z97 and H97 flavors of the 9 Series chipset. Overclockers will want the Z97, which unlocks the multiplier control available in K-series CPUs. The Z97 also allows the processor’s PCIe lanes to be divvied up for CrossFire and SLI configs. Those lanes are normally reserved for a single expansion slot, but with the Z97, motherboard makers have the option of supporting dual-x8 and x8/x4/x4 setups. The last of the Z97’s perks is Dynamic Storage Accelerator, which we’ve mentioned already.

While the Z97 is aimed squarely at enthusiasts, the H97 targets a wider swath of the market that includes businesses and everyday consumers. The only feature unique to this mass-market chipset is support for Intel’s Small Business Advantage platform.

Surprisingly, Intel says it has no plans for additional variations of the 9 Series chipset. Replacements for lower-end chipsets like the H81 and B85 apparently aren’t in the cards, at least right now. The company is, however, rumored to be readying an X99 chipset for its upcoming Haswell-E processor. Expect to see boards based on that chipset later this year.

In the meantime, the 9 Series chipset serves as a sort of bridge between old and new generations. It looks to the future while keeping one foot planted firmly in the past, allowing motherboard makers to offer products that support a wide range of current and future CPUs and storage devices.

Comments closed
    • farmpuma
    • 5 years ago

    Wondering if I’m the only one getting a socket 1156 vibe from this update. Guessing it’s probably due to my never used motherboard sitting in the box waiting for a decent value CPU. Yeah, probably just me, since there are quite a few socket 1150 CPUs.

    Anyone need a new in the box Gigabyte GA-P55-USB3 motherboard? Socket 1156 and SATA II goodness

    • anotherengineer
    • 5 years ago

    So what are the big changes between this and the 8 series?!?!

    • jdaven
    • 5 years ago

    “The first Broadwell chips for the LGA1150 desktop socket are expected late this year or early next…”

    The whole point of the Haswell refresh and early release of 9 series chipsets is for system integrators. They need new model numbers in order to release this years upgraded devices. This includes integrators like Apple (MBA already uses Haswell Refresh). 14 nm is late and probably won’t be seen this year. Integrators get edgy when you can’t release new products each year.

    • Buzzard44
    • 5 years ago

    Concerning the awkwardness of the official release date: My theory is that the Intel guys got so wrapped up in their job that they just assumed “Mother’s day” meant “Motherboard day.”

    • Wirko
    • 5 years ago

    Now that many mobos are out: PCI and parallel ports are still commonplace, DisplayPort not yet so.

    • cygnus1
    • 5 years ago

    This makes me feel OK to hang on to my haswell system for a good long while. The SATA express stuff isn’t going to be interesting till it’s Gen3 PCIe and maybe even not until the 4 lane PCIe. By then we’ll be on Windows 9.2 Update 3 (non-service pack mind you) and they’ll have re-architected Windows to take advantage of SSD storage better.

    • jihadjoe
    • 5 years ago

    > PCIe 2.0.

    Wat?

      • chuckula
      • 5 years ago

      [quote<]Wat?[/quote<] No, PCIe 2.0 is not an [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wat_(food)<]Ethiopean stew[/url<]. Instead, it is an interconnect standard for peripheral devices.

        • derFunkenstein
        • 5 years ago

        i think his point is “why isn’t it PCIe 3.0?”

          • jdaven
          • 5 years ago

          A lot of SoCs are placing PCIe 3.0 connectivity on the SoC itself and then lower lane count PCIe 2.0 connectivity on the companion I/O hub. The idea is only some devices like GPUs need high bandwidth while other devices don’t need as much like wireless cards, I/O for peripherals and external spinning hard drives. I think it lowers the cost as well.

            • jihadjoe
            • 5 years ago

            Thanks.

            I was confused at seeing 2.0 and mistakenly thought all connectivity would be limited to PCIe 2.0 when using the 9 series chipsets.

        • jihadjoe
        • 5 years ago

        WAT!

    • albundy
    • 5 years ago

    wow, talk about milkin’ it for what its worth! gonna skip this charade and wait for the next chipset.

      • TwoEars
      • 5 years ago

      Ya, I don’t know what they even bothered to be honest.

      Gotta keep all those board manufacturing engineers in china busy I presume.

      I wonder what they think….

    • awakeningcry
    • 5 years ago

    does anyone know if there’s going to be a 9-series version of the B85 chipset?

      • Deanjo
      • 5 years ago

      No. Z97 and H97 only.

    • jospoortvliet
    • 5 years ago

    How certain are we that Broadwell won’t run on the series 8 chipset?

      • Chrispy_
      • 5 years ago

      Well, it’s still LGA1150 and it’s still DDR3 but if they move the voltage regulators back off-die to the motherboard, you’ll need more than a BIOS flash to get it working.

      I haven’t seen if the VRs are being moved yet, and that’s the only obvious incompatibility. I guess we’ll know more once we see Devil’s Canyon.

        • chuckula
        • 5 years ago

        Devil’s Canyon is still Haswell, just tweaked for higher clocks and with better thermal packaging.

          • Chrispy_
          • 5 years ago

          There was some hint here earlier that Devil’s Canyon may be more than just a TIM change, that’s why I mentioned it. If they change other stuff you can assume they’ll include those changes in Broadwell too.

            • derFunkenstein
            • 5 years ago

            The motherboard in the Haswell system I built for my wife just got updated with support for new 4th gen Core processors (Haswell refresh) but the CPU compatibility chart doesn’t actually list any of them yet.

            [url<]http://www.gigabyte.us/products/product-page.aspx?pid=4492&dl=1#bios[/url<] [url<]http://www.gigabyte.us/support-downloads/cpu-support-popup.aspx?pid=4492[/url<] Weirdly enough they seem to have yanked all previous EFI updates, and the old Haswell CPUs all are only supported by the current version. They probably don't want old versions out there so people with new Haswell CPUs don't try to go backwards, or something.

      • Ninjitsu
      • 5 years ago

      Pretty certain. Will run on 9-series though.

    • Chrispy_
    • 5 years ago

    So I’m seeing SATA Express as dead in the water until a native SATA Express SSD controller hits the market.

    We have NAND fast enough to saturate SATA 6Gb/S using only four channels, and getting mightly close to saturating it using only two. An 8 or 10-channel controller with SATA Express would make those benchmark results look really good.

    (he says, checking his ageing Sandforce drive on his ageing SATA2 motherboard and realising that it’s plenty fast enough for desktop use because windows loves IOPS and couldn’t give a damn about more sequential speed)

    • Ninjitsu
    • 5 years ago

    Confirmation for Haswell through Broadwell support on Z97:

    [quote<]This motherboard supports Intel® 4th , New 4th and [b<]5th Generation[/b<] Core™ i7/i5/i3/Pentium®/Celeron® processors in the LGA1150 package[/quote<] SOURCE: (scroll to the end) [url<]http://www.asus.com/Motherboards/Z97PRO/[/url<] EDIT: Asus is also pushing CPU-less firmware updates, which is a really nice feature IMO.

    • Wirko
    • 5 years ago

    What’s surprising here is that the Q87 chipset is not getting an update, not the low-end H81 and B85. Business users might be interested in both SATA Express and vPro/manageability support in new hardware.

      • Ninjitsu
      • 5 years ago

      But those solutions aren’t widely available yet, so why bother? Makes more sense to move them to a new chipset, when SATA Express and M.2 are more widely available and cheaper (also more reliable).

      • Bauxite
      • 5 years ago

      I was also curious if the C236 version would show up, since it would mean that E3 xeons will follow the same release path.

    • ronch
    • 5 years ago

    Reminds me very much of the Bulldozer + 990FX launch. Buy the board now and use your current CPU on it, then have the option of plugging in a faster CPU later. In both cases, not much performance would be gained by buying the newer CPU (within the same tier in case of Intel, of course).

    I’m sure that last part there is a flame magnet.

      • Chrispy_
      • 5 years ago

      The flames there were on AMD when their promised new architecture turned out to be slower than what people already had.

      Back then it was all about single-threaded IPC performance still and Bulldozer was teh fail in that regard.

      • chuckula
      • 5 years ago

      I agree with you there. I already made a post pointing out that launching the chipset well in advance of the next-gen CPU designed to work with the chipset is not generally a sign of strength.

      It’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that desktop Broadwell’s CPU performance isn’t really any better than what you can already get from Haswell with the potential exception of the L4 Crystalwell cache that could be helpful in some (but by no means all) workloads.

      The IGP in Broadwell should be quite nice, but on the desktop the IGP just isn’t all that vital outside of HTPC type setups. I’ve ragged on AMD for sacrificing too much to “win” the IGP war, and I’ll rag on Intel in exactly the same way.

      Broadwell in notebooks however.. that’s pretty interestly. I’ll probably be getting one next year to replace my 2008-era Core 2 notebook.

      • Deanjo
      • 5 years ago

      The 990FX however was just a rebrand. Absolutely nothing was changed between it and the 890FX. For it to be similar to the BD/990FX launch intel would have to rebrand the Z87 chipset as the Z97.

    • Ninjitsu
    • 5 years ago

    AnandTech has the Haswell Refresh review:
    [url<]http://www.anandtech.com/show/7963/the-intel-haswell-refresh-review-core-i7-4790-i5-4690-and-i3-4360-tested[/url<]

      • dragosmp
      • 5 years ago

      Wow, talk about underwhelming. This refresh doesn’t bring anything exciting, interesting or innovative in any way. They are ramming the desktop market into the ground

        • Ninjitsu
        • 5 years ago

        You’re trolling.

      • Deanjo
      • 5 years ago

      Lol, love how they don’t even bother putting the 8350 in there. It would be just too much of an embarrassment to AMD I suppose.

        • chuckula
        • 5 years ago

        NO DEANJO! IT’S BECAUSE ANAND IS AN ANTI-AMD SHILL OPERATION!

        I KNOW THIS FOR A FACT BECAUSE ONE TIME THEY FAILED TO CORRECT A TYPO IN ONE OF THE PRESS RELEASES FROM AMD THAT THEY COPIED AND PASTED INTO THEIR AMD SPONSORED PORTAL!! TALK ABOUT AN ANTI-AMD BIAS!!!

          • Deanjo
          • 5 years ago

          Oh are they an anti-AMD shill this month? I keep forgetting to check my calendar to check who’s turn it is.

        • derFunkenstein
        • 5 years ago

        Yeah, they probably just don’t want to bring attention to how far behind the 990FX lags compared to the Intel 9-series.

        • Ninjitsu
        • 5 years ago

        They actually do on some of the benchmarks.

    • ronch
    • 5 years ago

    6-series – Sandy Bridge
    7-series – Ivy Bridge
    8-series – Haswell
    9-series – Broadwell

    You can think of the 9-series chipsets as really meant for Broadwell, but I guess Broadwell is taking a little long to come out and Intel just wanted to put out the 9-series chips first.

      • Ninjitsu
      • 5 years ago

      I dunno, Haswell’s refresh on the 9-series was rumoured since last year, it’s quite likely they were both supposed to share the same chipset, just one on mobile and one on desktop.

        • the
        • 5 years ago

        At one time Broadwell wasn’t going to be seeing a desktop released. The Haswell refresh was expected to fulfill Intel’s desktop line up throughout 2014 and most of 2015 until Skylake arrived.

        Time tables also shifted when Broadwell was moved to the desktop and the Haswell fresh was moved forward into the spring. Then Broadwell itself was delayed and new enthusiast parts were announced for release over the summer.

        So the 9 series chipset is now here with the first wave of Haswell refresh but the new enthusiast parts are still weeks away.

          • Ninjitsu
          • 5 years ago

          Yeah, sort of an awkward release schedule for Intel. I’m still not sure we’ll see more than one Broadwell part (the Crystalwell descendant) on the desktop, with Intel simply transitioning to Skylake on the desktop and Broadwell for mobile.

          Though motherboard makers [i<]are[/i<] listing "5th Generation" compatibility, so i'm not sure now.

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