Intel's Z690 Chipset

Now that we have learned about Alder Lake’s microarchitecture and features we will switch the focus to the Z690 chipset. To support the high-speed coming to and from the CPU Intel has upgraded several key areas. To ensure that all of the new and fast technology has the required bandwidth Intel has updated their DMI 3.0 to DMI 4.0. DMI 4.0 is two times faster than DMI 3.0. Intel’s DMI 4.0 is the link between the Alder Lake CPU and the Z690 chipset and supports up to 8GB\s (bi-directional) so that comes out to 16GB\s. For comparison my 1st Generation X58 chipset used DMI 1.0 (QPI) which topped out at a blazing 2GB\s (bi-directional – 4GB\s) which makes DMI 4.0 four times faster than my X58 DMI\QPI link.

The Z690 Chipset supports PCIe 4.0 and 3.0. Intel states that the Z690 supports up to sixteen PCIe 4.0 connections running at x1 speeds (16 Gb\s) and up to 12 lanes. Motherboard manufactures will be combining these lanes and so far it appears that PCIe 4.0 running x8 mode (64 Gb\s) will be the standard for most PCIe connections. Many of the PCIe 4.0 lanes will more than likely mostly be used for M.2 SSD storage and other on-board features listed below. PCIe 3.0 will use up to 16 lanes. There are a ton of motherboards releasing with the Z690 chipset so there is no telling how many variations will be released over the next year or so. Intel’s Z690 Chipset is 14nm for those who might be wondering.

USB 3.2 (5Gb\s) and USB 3.2 (10Gb\s) are supported as well. Each USB 3.2 Gen ports (5Gb\s & 10Gb\s) will support up to 10 devices. USB 3.1 Gen 2 (20Gb\s) will support up to 4 devices. Although USB 3.x is backwards compatible USB 2.0 hasn’t gone anywhere. Intel will continue to support up to 14 USB 2.0 ports. Ethernet speeds of 1 Gbps will still be the standard, but the Z690 Chipset will natively support 2.5Gbps if the motherboard OEMs decide to support it as an option. 2.5Gbps will be overkill for most home users. Intel’s Optane Memory\Storage will be supported on the chipset as well. As far as RAID goes all of the standard RAID configurations (0, 1, 5, 10) will be allowed for both SATA and PCIe. Intel will allow native and discrete support for their Wi-Fi 6E.

Intel’s Z690 chipset will allow OEMs to change many of the high-speed lanes. This is supported due to many different types of technology standards that the manufactures can specify as they see fit. Certain lanes won’t be changeable such as the DMI lanes or other reserved lanes, but other lanes, for instance PCIe 3.0 & 4.0, can be used for various purposes such as Gigabit Ethernet or 2.5Gb Ethernet, M.2 slots, SATA ports and so on. So for PCIe there is a maximum of 28 PCIe lanes, but only 12 PCIe 4.0 lanes are usable due to the other remaining 16 lanes being reserved for PCIe 3.0. For example a motherboard that I was viewing supports three PCIe 4.0 “M.2” slots in “x4 mode” which comes out to 12 lanes. This would leave that motherboard OEM left with 16 PCIe 3.0 lanes for various I\O ports (USB, Ethernet etc.) Obviously this will allow OEMs to create many tiers and SKUs for the Z690; all with different features and options.

12th Generation Overclocking

The last platform I have overclocked was the 2008 X58 platform that Intel released more than 13 years ago. There were many options and settings to tweak. It was a great and fun experience during that era. After the X58 platform overclocking on newer platforms started to be mostly reliant on overclocking the Voltage and CPU Ratio’s with various settings such as the Base Clock (BCLK) & PCIe Frequency being locked. I also understand why Intel decided to lock down certain frequencies as well, but the enthusiast platform has always been “High Risk – High Rewards”. Alder Lake and the Z690 Chipset have made me excited about overclocking again.

Obviously Intel will be releasing more Chipsets for Alder Lake CPUs, but the Z690 Chipset will allow all overclocking features, especially with the “K” variants (12900K, 12700K, 12600K etc.). Intel will be allowing many areas within the micro-architecture to be tweaked such as Hyper-Threading (enable\disabled) for specific Performance Cores, Base Clock, graphics and of course the Memory Frequency. I also haven’t used Intel’s Extreme Tuning Utility (XTU) in roughly a decade. Intel has updated the XTU to 7.5 and it will feature a ton of options to set within the OS. Back in the X58 BIOS days you would needed to restart your computer to apply settings, but in the UEFI age it should be possible to change settings and see the results immediately. Intel is also making overclocking easier by allowing a simplified interface for users who want to overclock basic features and an advanced interface for enthusiast who wants to go a step further.

Intel’s XMP has also been upgraded. The last time I worked with XMP was on the X58 platform with DDR3 Memory. Back then it was better to overclock the DRAM manually since some XMP settings would cause various settings to run at higher voltage (more heat\stress on components). I skipped DDR4 completely (XMP 2.0) and now with DDR5, XMP has been upgraded to XMP 3.0. XMP 3.0 will allow various new features such as CRC checksum, up to 3 vendor profiles that can be saved to the DRAM from the vendor (Crucial, G.Skill, Corsair etc.). The way I would normally save DRAM settings & timings in the past would be saving it to the motherboard BIOS (or UEFI those using modern systems), but XMP 3.0 will allow users to save their RAM timings directly to the DDR5 DRAM Modules. Not only that, but Intel will allow users to create a descriptive profile name for the DRAM settings\timings. I will speak more on overclocking later in the article. With all of that being said I am very excited about overclocking on the 12th Generation CPU, but now lets take a look at my specifications.

I would like to quickly speak about Denuvo (video game DRM). Denuvo is a widely used DRM solution for developers and companies that aim to prevent unauthorized users from playing games that they did not purchase. Denuvo has never been well received amongst gamers and especially hackers. Intel Hybrid Technology has practically broken Denuvo since it would not allow games that utilize Denuvo to run. Intel's Hybrid Technology (Efficient Cores) caused the Denuvo DRM to believe that the user was playing on a different system. This has apparently affected 91 games, but the most popular titles have already been updated. Intel is working closely with Denuvo and video game developers and has told gamers that there is no need to worry.

With all of that being said Intel’s Alder Lake-S Processor and the Z690 Chipset appears to be a great combo for enthusiast. Now let’s take a look and see how Alder Lake performs in actual benchmarks