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 on the high-end Z87.

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.

Intel's Z87 chipset also includes a new feature designed to make PCs more responsive, with speedier boot and return-from-standby times. Intel's Smart Connect Technology 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.