Z68 Express motherboards from Asus, Gigabyte, and MSI

As somewhat of a fast-food connoisseur, I can’t help but find McDonald’s Third-Pounder Angus lineup a little bit maddening. There are three options: a Mushroom Swiss with sautéed fungus; a Bacon and Cheese with onion, pickle, and what passes for cured pork belly; and a disappointing Deluxe with onion, pickle, tomato, and lettuce. To me, deluxe implies one with everything. If they’ve got mushrooms, bacon, and a salad’s worth of vegetables in the back, you should be able to buy them all on one calorie-laced uber-burger.

I felt much the same way about the initial Sandy Bridge chipset lineup. When Intel’s latest generation of CPUs launched back in January, they arrived on the desktop primarily astride three chipsets: the H61, H67, and P67 Express. The H61 is a castrated version of the H67 and not terribly interesting. However, the H67 and P67 each have something to recommend them. The H67 can tap Sandy’s QuickSync logic for video transcoding, while the P67 holds the keys to CPU overclocking. You can’t adjust CPU multipliers with the H67 or enjoy QuickSync with the P67, though.

Making matters even more frustrating is the fact that both chips are based on the same silicon—their limitations are entirely arbitrary. Fortunately, Intel has finally seen fit to roll back the restrictions with its Z68 Express chipset. This truly deluxe platform hub combines full support for Sandy Bridge’s built-in GPU with unfettered CPU overclocking controls. Intel has also given the Z68 a little something extra in the form of an SSD caching scheme dubbed Smart Response Technology.

The latest member of Intel’s 6-series core-logic family rides in on a wave of new motherboards from all the big names. To get a sense of what’s about to wash up on shore, we’ve rounded up examples from Asus, Gigabyte, and MSI. We’ve also spent some quality time exploring the Z68’s QuickSync support, switchable graphics capability, and Smart Response caching. There’s a lot of ground to cover, so let’s get started.

Same silicon, new capabilities

The first thing you should know about the Z68 Express is that it’s based on the same silicon that powers the H67 and P67. All three chipsets share a common architecture and are fabbed on an identical 65-nano process. As a result, the Z68 chip captured below looks exactly like the P67 pictured in our first Sandy Bridge motherboard round-up.

As far as its core features go, the Z68 has everything you get in the H67 and P67 chipsets. There are dual Serial ATA controllers: one with a pair of 6Gbps ports and a second with four 3Gbps ports. Eight PCI Express 2.0 lanes provide ample bandwidth for expansion slots and peripherals, while 14 USB 2.0 ports highlight the lack of built-in SuperSpeed connectivity. Just like the P67, the Z68 Express also has an HD audio interface and a Gigabit Ethernet MAC.

The P67 connects to Sandy Bridge CPUs via a DMI interconnect that offers 4GB/s of aggregate bandwidth. However, there’s no bridge between the chipset and the CPU’s integrated graphics component. In the H67 Express, an FDI link connects the Sandy Bridge graphics core to display outputs located in the chipset. The very same link and display outputs appear in the Z68.


The Z68 block diagram. Source: Intel

Although Sandy Bridge’s 16 PCI Express 2.0 lanes are built into the CPU and make no contact with the chipset, Intel won’t let them be split evenly in a dual-x8 configuration on H67 motherboards. The P67 has no such limitation for CrossFire or SLI setups, and neither does the Z68. Intel really has combined the best of both worlds.

So, why didn’t the firm just come out with this 6-series deluxe back in January? Because the Z68 was supposed to be a launch vehicle for Smart Response Technology, which wasn’t ready at the time. In a moment, we’ll take a closer look to see if that feature was worth the wait.

Three’s company

Before diving into the Z68’s switchable graphics and SSD caching capabilities, we’ll tease you with the trio of motherboards that fall under our microscope today.

Asus P8Z68-V PRO Gigabyte Z68X-UD3H-B3 MSI Z68A-GD80
CPU power 12+4 8+2 12+1
Expansion slots 2 PCIe x16 (x16, x8/x8)

1 PCIe x16 (x1, x4)

2 PCIe x1

2 PCI

2 PCIe x16 (x16, x8/x8)
3 PCIe x1

2 PCI

2 PCIe x16 (x16, x8/x8)

1 PCIe x16 (x4)

2 PCIe x1*

2 PCI

Gigabit Ethernet Intel Z68 Express Realtek RTL8111E 2 x Realtek RTL8111E
Auxiliary SATA Marvell 88SE9120
JMicron JMB362
Gigabyte GSATA Marvell 88SE9128
USB 3.0 2 x ASMedia ASM1042 2 x EtronTech EJ168A 2 x NEC D720200F1
Audio Realtek ALC892 Realtek ALC892 Realtek ALC892
FireWire VIA VT6308P VIA VT6308P VIA VT6308P
Warranty length Three years Three years Three years
Price $209 $160-180 $240

All three make full use of the Z68’s capabilities, but each one pairs the chipset with a slightly different mix of expansion slots and integrated peripherals. Interestingly, only the Asus board taps the Gigabit Ethernet controller built into the chipset. Each board uses different USB 3.0 controllers, and there’s a good mix of auxiliary Serial ATA options, some of which feed external ports.

Intel expects Z68 mobos to live in the top 40-50% of the price band currently occupied by P67 models, a range that’s nicely covered by our Z68 trifecta. Interestingly, Intel says the Z68 and P67 will coexist until at least the end of the year. P67 boards that aren’t cheaper than Z68 equivalents could be a tough sell, though.

GPU virtualization and QuickSync support

The Z68’s FDI link and display controller give the chipset all it needs to exploit Sandy Bridge’s integrated HD Graphics component. That’s great if you’re going to be using the IGP as your primary graphics device, but it won’t allow QuickSync to coexist peacefully with a discrete graphics card. To combine the two, you’ll need Lucid’s Virtu GPU virtualization software, which Asus, Gigabyte, and MSI are all bundling with their Z68 motherboards.

Lucid, as you might recall, is responsible for the vendor-agnostic Hydra GPU teaming scheme that’s been kicking around for a couple of years now. Hydra is designed to masquerade as a graphics device and intercept API calls, which are then balanced across multiple GPUs to improve performance. Virtu uses a similar multi-GPU abstraction layer. Rather than load-balancing, it sends API calls associated with games to a system’s discrete graphics card. Everything else runs through the Sandy Bridge IGP, which serves as the primary display adapter and allows the discrete GPU to slip into its idle mode when not in use.


Virtu laid out. Source: Lucid

The Intel IGP has to be the primary display adapter for QuickSync to work, so you’ll always need at least one display hooked up to the motherboard. Virtu allows additional monitors to be fed by a discrete graphics card, though. When you’re playing games, the contents of the discrete GPU’s frame buffer are copied over to the IGP’s frame buffer in much the same manner as Nvidia’s Optimus switchable graphics technology for notebooks.

Because Virtu hides the discrete GPU behind an abstraction layer, the vendor control panels associated with AMD and Nvidia graphics cards aren’t accessible. You’ll still have to install the drivers for your discrete graphics card, but an error message will pop up every time Windows loads warning that the control panel doesn’t recognize the primary display adapter. The discrete GPU is hidden behind Virtu, which uses it as a rendering engine for a software layer that knows nothing of application-specific optimizations in the latest Catalyst or ForceWare drivers. Applications with optimizations of their own won’t be able to see your discrete GPU, either. Some additional performance may be lost due to overhead associated with Lucid’s abstraction layer.

The good news is that the Virtu experience is a pretty seamless one. A Lucid app sits unobtrusively in the system tray and allows users tweak a few settings. The ability to briefly display a Virtu icon when the discrete GPU kicks into gear is a nice touch, and the performance optimization slider is a must. We experienced several crashes with the slider set to anything but maximum quality, which was perfectly stable.

Virtu already has built-in support for a huge number of games, and adding new ones is trivial. Don’t expect to be able to use any old graphics card, though. Virtu support is limited to the Radeon HD 4000, 5000, and 6000 series from AMD and the GeForce 200, 400, and 500 series from Nvidia.

To find out how well Lucid’s GPU virtualization tech works, we first tested QuickSync with CyberLink MediaEspresso 6.5. We used the app to transcode 65 minutes of 720p HD MPEG2 video to H.264 at a resolution of 320×240. The test was run on a Core i5-2500K system with its IGP disabled and a Radeon HD 5870 discrete graphics card installed. Our QuickSync config had the IGP enabled and Virtu installed, still with the Radeon in tow.

As you can see, QuickSync cut our encoding time nearly in half. No wonder folks were choked to learn that the P67 wouldn’t be able to make use of this functionality. To be fair, MediaEspresso isn’t exactly known for well-optimized encoding routines that run entirely on the CPU. Our results nicely illustrate that QuickSync is indeed working properly alongside a discrete graphics card, though.

Curious to see what sort of performance impact Virtu might have on games, we fired up a collection of recent titles and tested the Radeon running on its own and behind Lucid’s abstraction layer. All the games were run at 1080p with high detail levels and doses of antialiasing and anisotropic filtering. I didn’t notice any obvious differences in visual quality between the setups while testing, but I was also bleary-eyed from all too many hours of consecutive benching.

Virtu has a minimal impact on performance in some tests. However, there’s a notable frame-rate hit in Bulletstorm, Civilization V‘s leader benchmark, and especially Metro 2033. Frame rates in Metro 2033 drop by nearly 40% when Virtu is enabled, highlighting the perils of virtualizing one’s GPU.

What about Virtu’s ability to lower system power consumption by putting discrete graphics cards into an idle mode when they’re not in use?

According to our power meter, Virtu does save a few watts when idling on the Windows 7 desktop. We see the same gap in power consumption with a Bulletstorm load, suggesting that the difference has nothing to do with idling the discrete graphics card. I’d hazard a guess, but it’s only three watts, and we have more interesting things to discuss.

Smart Response travels up Larson Creek

Virtu got its start on the H67 Express, so it’s hardly unique to the Z68. However, Intel’s Smart Response Technology will be exclusive to the new chipset, at least on the desktop. Smart Response is a purportedly intelligent caching technology that puts an SSD between the hard drive and operating system. The scheme uses logic built into the chipset’s storage controller and drivers to populate a solid-state drive with frequently accessed data and incoming writes.

Smart Response is capable of caching writes immediately, but data must be read at least once to make it onto the SSD. Simply accessing a file won’t cause it to be copied into the cache, though. Intel says Smart Response is intelligent enough to determine whether reads are linked to a virus scan, a large file-copy operation, or media streaming. Caching isn’t a priority for those “one-touch” cases, and it might not offer any tangible performance benefits. Intel is keenly aware of the fact that mechanical hard drives can offer superior sequential throughput to some SSDs.

Rather than caching individual files, Smart Response works at the block level and uses locality to predict which data should be copied to the SSD. Contrary to what one might expect given the 4KB blocks common to SSDs, Smart Response will vary its block size based on the workload.

To enable Smart Response, the Z68’s SATA controller must first be put into RAID mode. From there, one selects the hard drive to accelerate and how much of the SSD’s capacity the cache will occupy. The cache needs at least 18GB and will only consume up to 64GB. You can use any SSD you’d like, though. If the drive is larger than the size of your Smart Response cache, the excess capacity can be formatted and used as a standard Windows partition.

The final step in the Smart Response process is deciding whether to run in maximized or enhanced mode. Enhanced mode is for paranoid types who want to avoid the potential for data loss in the event of a power failure. This mode doesn’t cache any writes, and the user can move his hard drive to a new system without bringing the SSD in tow.

Write caching is available in maximized mode, but you’re on the hook if the lights go out. According to Intel, the risk of data loss is no worse than having write caching enabled on a traditional hard drive. In this case, however, the SSD cache would be much larger. To guard against data loss, Smart Response works constantly to push cached writes to the hard drive and freshen the data it has stored for reads. The hard drive won’t be perfectly in sync with the SSD in maximized mode, so migrating that kind of setup to a new system requires moving the SSD and hard drive together or disabling the cache beforehand. The cache can be disabled or switched between modes at any time.

Although not applicable to the Z68, it’s interesting to note that mobile implementations of Smart Response available in HM67 and QM67 chipsets will change their caching policies to conserve power when a notebook is running on battery. If you’re in maximized mode, Smart Response will also attempt to spin down the hard drive more often.

As a purveyor of solid-state drives, Intel couldn’t unveil Smart Response without a new SSD sidekick designed specifically for the caching scheme. Behold the Intel 311 Series in all its nakedness:

Otherwise known as Larson Creek, this $110 SSD offers 20GB of 34-nm SLC NAND tied to the same storage controller that has anchored the X25-M line for years. SLC flash memory tends to be reserved for enterprise-class SSDs, but Intel is using it here because it offers the best combination of durability and performance for the task. Despite having just five memory chips onboard, the drive is rated for 200MB/s sequential reads and 105MB/s sequential writes. Random 4KB reads top out at 37,000 IOps, while random writes are pegged at 3,300 IOps.

Curious, I asked Intel about how the 311 Series might fare in a Smart Response config opposite Intel’s old X25-V 40GB, which costs around $100. Even with SLC NAND’s superior write-erase endurance, the firm expects the X25-V and 311 Series to offer comparable durability under a typical client workloads. However, Intel says the 311 Series will deliver better caching performance.

Time constraints prevented us from testing multiple SSDs with Smart Response, but we did try it out with the 311 Series. The drive was secure-erased before each test to ensure repeatability. We set up Smart Response in enhanced and maximized modes accelerating a Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB hard drive, which also ran the gauntlet without the aid of caching.

The Caviar Black has a built-in DRAM cache, and it’s much quicker than the Smart Response configurations in HD Tune’s burst speed tests. With the Caviar hitting higher transfer rates than the 311 Series’ maximum performance specifications, Smart Response never had a chance in this test. I’m a little surprised to see the maximized mode score slower than the enhanced mode with burst writes, though.

HD Tune’s sequential throughput test seems like the sort of thing that Smart Response’s built-in intelligence would want to ignore. Caching helps with reads but not with writes.

SSDs are all about lightning-fast access times, and Smart Response puts their potential to good use. Random 4KB reads are wicked-fast regardless of the Smart Response mode, but only the maximized config enjoys an advantage over the Caviar with random writes.

PCMark Vantage’s overall HDD score makes things pretty clear, but we’ve busted out the app’s individual test results to shed some additional light on the picture. The HDD score is based on performance with a number of real-world tasks, and Smart Response looks good pretty much across the board.

Only in the Windows Media Center test does the Caviar best the Smart Response configs. Based on the actual transfer rates in that test, it looks like the Caviar’s cache played a big role in the drive’s victory. Otherwise, Smart Response dominates. The maximized mode is faster in most of the tests, but it’s rarely ahead by a big margin.

These final tests were timed with a stopwatch, which didn’t detect much advantage for Smart Response when booting up the system. However, the SSD cache loaded our Modern Warfare 2 level in less than half the time it took the Caviar Black on its own.

Asus’ P8Z68-V PRO motherboard

Asus’ P8P67 PRO motherboard took home an Editor’s Choice award in our initial Sandy Bridge mobo round-up, setting expectations high for the company’s Z68 offerings. Today, we’ll be looking at another shouty professional model, the P8Z68-V PRO.

This latest PRO looks virtually identical to its P67 brother, which is both a blessing and a curse. The color scheme is nicely understated, but it shares the same black-and-blue palette as just about every other enthusiast-oriented Sandy Bridge motherboard. Sometimes, I long for the days of garish motherboard designs, if only because there was more aesthetic variety.

Although the board’s coloring might be unoriginal, the circuit board itself is a little different from what you’ll find on competing products. ATX members of Asus’ Sandy Bridge motherboard lineup employ a slightly rotated fiber weave designed to reduce the size of the gaps that copper traces must traverse. According to Asus, this change improves signal quality, which can lead to more stable operation when overclocking.

As is fashionable for enthusiast-oriented motherboards, the PRO is peppered with Japanese-made capacitors and fancy electrical components. Of particular interest is the digital power delivery system. Dubbed Digi+ VRM, this power scheme is governed by a separate EPU chip that scales the number of power phases based on system demand and VRM temperatures. Asus says that digital VRMs offer more efficient power delivery because they can switch phases faster than analog designs.

The artfully sculpted VRM heatsinks that flank the CPU socket shouldn’t get in the way of larger aftermarket coolers. Standing less than 30 mm off the board, the heatsinks should be less of a clearance concern than a lot of aftermarket memory modules. That said, the heatsinks are closer to the socket than the DIMM slots.

Looking at the bottom of the board reveals a wealth of expansion and internal connectivity options. That grey PCI Express x16 slot can be configured with either one or four lanes of bandwidth. However, the x4 config will have to share bandwidth with the PCIe x1 slots, eSATA port, and front-panel USB 3.0 controller.

If you’re looking to load up on Serial ATA drives, the P8Z68-V PRO has plenty of ports lined up along its edge. Two 6Gbps jacks are fed by the Z68 chipset, while another two are powered by an auxiliary Marvell chip. The secondary storage controller sits next to the chipset under a low-profile heatsink that dominates one corner of the board.

There are plenty more ports around back, including a trio of display outputs for Sandy’s integrated GPU. That purplish nubbin over to the left is a Bluetooth module—a nice little treat that Asus has taken to including on a number of its recent motherboards. If only Asus had integrated USB power into the eSATA port. Fortunately, FireWire hasn’t been forgotten. An external port didn’t make the cut for the rear cluster, but there are a couple of internal headers onboard.

All three of the motherboards we’re looking at today use Realtek’s ALC892 audio codec. However, each one takes a different approach to speaker virtualization. The P8Z68-V PRO fakes surround-sound environments using DTS Ultra PC software.

Among all the motherboard makers, Asus has easily done the best job of adopting the new EFI BIOS framework. The next-gen BIOS interface supports mouse input and fancy graphics, and Asus has taken full advantage with a very slick interface. There are actually two interfaces: an EZ mode pictured above that looks a lot like Asus’ old Windows tweaking software, and an advanced mode that resembles a reskinned version of the company’s old-school BIOS interface.

EZ mode is too limited for serious tweaking, but it does offer a glimpse of what’s possible with EFI. Seasoned enthusiasts will want to use advanced mode, which offers a wealth of tweaking and overclocking options through a snappy interface that’s well-organized and easy to navigate with a keyboard or mouse. You can even scroll down a list of options with the mouse wheel.

Enthusiast boards have long passed the point of diminishing returns when it comes to new overclocking options. Sadly, few do a good job of implementing fan speed controls. Asus deserves credit for offering temperature-based fan speed control for the system and CPU fan headers, and for letting users set high/low temperature and fan speed limits.

Gigabyte’s Z68X-UD3H-B3 motherboard

I should probably begin by mentioning that Gigabyte sent us two Z68 boards: the Z68X-UD3H-B3 and a more exotic UD7 model. Much to our surprise, the UD7 lacks display outputs of any kind. There’s no way to tap Sandy Bridge’s integrated GPU, rendering the Z68’s QuickSync support entirely useless. Gigabyte appears to have realized its mistake; the company tells us that a new version of the board is coming with an HDMI output. There’s no word on whether the person who approved the original design still has a job.

Since the UD7 we receive snubs one of the Z68’s most important features, we’re going to skip over the board entirely to concentrate on the UD3H. This model is the cheaper of the two, although Gigabyte hasn’t decided where it will fall inside the $160-180 range.

I wasn’t thrilled when Gigabyte ditched its trademark turquoisey blue color scheme for enthusiast-oriented motherboards. However, the UD3H looks quite good in black and grey. The board itself is a purer black than the Asus and MSI models, which have a subtle brownish tinge when viewed up close. Piling on the same blue accents as everyone else would have ruined an otherwise attractive monochrome vibe.

As one might expect, the UD3H features all the exotic electrical components included under Gigabyte’s Ultra Durable brand. Driver MOSFETs that consolidate multiple components on a single chip have been a part of the equation since Gigabyte launched its first P67 boards, and two-ounce copper layers remain a staple of the company’s mobo lineup. Like all motherboard makers, Gigabyte would have you believe that its particular mix of electrical components offers the best efficiency, stability, and overclocking potential.

The UD3H has fewer power phases than the other boards, which is probably why it can get away with only one VRM heatsink. As a result, there’s loads of clearance for larger aftermarket coolers. We should note that the DIMM slots are closer to the socket than on the Asus and MSI boards, though. That proximity could be a problem if you’re running extremely tall memory modules.

With the lowest price of the bunch, it’s no surprise to see the UD3H missing a few of the amenities available on the other boards. Do you really need a third PCI Express x16 slot? Probably not, especially since the Gigabyte board still gives you seven expansion slots in total.

Most motherboard makers tie their eSATA ports to auxiliary storage chips, but Gigabyte hangs the UD3H’s external Serial ATA connector off the Z68’s 3Gbps SATA controller. The board’s secondary storage chip, which Gigabyte labels a GSATA controller, feeds a pair of internal ports with 6Gbps connectivity.

Ahh, so that’s why Gigabyte didn’t put display outputs on some Z68 models; it used them all up equipping the UD3H. The board features no fewer than four display ports—DisplayPort included. You also get one of everything else, although there’s no USB power for the eSATA port. Why motherboard makers even bother with unpowered eSATA ports is beyond me. With 14 USB ports, it’s not like the Z68 can’t spare one for a hybrid eSATA/USB connector. At least all the boards in this round-up have four USB 3.0 ports split between the rear cluster and onboard headers.

On the audio front, Gigabyte uses Dolby software to provide surround-sound virtualization for headphones. Dolby Digital Live is also supported, allowing gamers to pipe multichannel audio to a compatible receiver or speakers via the board’s digital S/PDIF output.

Most motherboard makers have made the transition to EFI BIOSes with their Sandy Bridge boards, but Gigabyte has not. Instead, the company has incorporated an EFI bootloader into an old-school Award BIOS. This allows folks with Windows 7 x64, the OS we’d expect to be used with 6-series motherboards, to boot from 3TB hard drives and use their full capacity. Gigabyte also provides a driver and software utility to bring support for large drives to older operating systems. However, you don’t get the graphical interface and mouse support commonly associated with proper EFI implementations.

As a seasoned enthusiast who has been reviewing motherboards for about a decade, I’m comfortable navigating a traditional text-based BIOS with just the keyboard. I’ve also been using those BIOSes long enough to instantly notice sluggishness, especially when it’s on the exact same screens that were slow with Gigabyte’s first P67 board. The voltage and status sections of the BIOS take a few seconds to load, which is particularly glaring in light of a recent Gigabyte press presentation that accused EFI BIOSes of having slow user interfaces.

Then there’s the matter of Gigabyte’s traditional reluctance to let users tweak fan behavior. The BIOS serves up all the overclocking options one might want, but temperature-based fan speed controls are pretty spartan and limited to the CPU fan. We should also note that Virtu didn’t work properly with the initial BIOS Gigabyte provided with the board. An update that fixed the issue hit my inbox just 13 hours before the official Z68 launch.

I wanted to clarify the UD3H’s lack of EFI support because the motherboard box is emblazoned with a “Hybrid EFI” sticker associated with Gigabyte’s new Touch BIOS feature. Make no mistake: this has nothing to do with the next-gen BIOS framework. Touch BIOS is Windows application capable of adjusting BIOS settings from the comfort of your operating system. You know, like other Windows tweaking utilities. Except this one supports touchscreen input for all those overclockers who want fingerprints and smudges covering their displays.

Gigabyte optimized the interface for touch-based input by making everything really big. As a result, you can’t fit a lot on a single screen, which means lots of scrolling and frustration for folks navigating with a mouse. There are some nice features here, such as the ability to share and save BIOS configurations, but the whole thing makes me think Gigabyte has lost touch with real PC enthusiasts—or whatever subset of the community I fall into.

Update — This review initially contained incorrect information about the specifics of Gigabyte’s EFI implementation. The review text was updated after getting clarification from the company, although our overall impressions of the board are unchanged.

MSI’s Z68A-GD80 motherboard

With a suggested retail price of $240, the Z68A-GD80 is a pricey proposition and the most expensive option of the three we’ve assembled today. MSI tells us that rebates and special deals will be available immediately, so you could end up paying a little bit less. The question, of course, is whether there’s anything to justify the premium.

There certainly isn’t on the aesthetic front. The GD80 uses the same black-and-blue color scheme that has come to define the latest generation of enthusiast boards. Part of me wishes MSI would resurrect the bright red hues that defined its motherboards of old.

We can’t fault MSI for throwing its weight behind the trend toward higher-quality electrical components, though. The company is keen to point out that it was the first to use driver MOSFETs, digital VRMs, and tantalum-core capacitors. Rather than using ferrite-core chokes, the GD80 uses super ferrite-core chokes. And so on. The thing is, all this talk about superior component quality falls a little flat you realize that motherboard warranties have topped out a three years for quite some time now. I’m more inclined to believe the hype with boards like Asus’ Sabertooth series, which has all kinds of fancy components and a five-year warranty.

While we’re looking at the GD80 from this angle, note the six-pin PCIe power connector over to the left. The auxiliary jack is there to provide additional juice to discrete graphics cards. Also, check out the blue connector next to the 24-pin power plug in the bottom right-hand corner. That’s actually a set of six voltage probing points that hardcore overclockers can monitor with a multimeter in between hits of liquid nitrogen.

The GD80 has similar socket clearances to the other boards. All three should easily accept aftermarket coolers, but you’ll need to be careful with taller DIMMs.

Down south, the Z68A-GD80 offers a third x16 slot like the P8Z68-V PRO. However, there’s no BIOS option to toggle the slot between x1 and x4 modes. If you plug in anything other than an x1 card, you’ll instantly lose access to the auxiliary SATA and FireWire controllers, front-panel USB 3.0 connectivity, and both PCI slots. The x1 slots are also limited in that only one can be used at a time. To be fair, though, the second x1 is all but certain to be blocked by a double-wide graphics cooler.

Like the other two boards, the GD80 employs a secondary SATA chip to provide additional 6Gbps ports. One of those ports appears as an internal connector, while the second makes its way to the rear cluster in eSATA form.

MSI has gone with an interesting mix of options here, including dual Gigabit Ethernet ports and a handy CMOS reset switch that should be standard on every enthusiast board. There’s no VGA port, but I doubt anyone will miss it. VGA connectivity may have a place on budget motherboards and student-friendly notebooks likely to be connected to old projectors. There’s no reason to bother on a $240 mobo, though.

George Lucas fans will be pleased to know that the GD80 comes with Creative’s THX TrueStudio Pro software, which offers surround-sound virtualization for speakers and headphones. Unfortunately, a driver bug prevented this feature from working correctly with our sample. MSI tells us that a new Realtek driver resolves the issue, but we haven’t had the opportunity to test it yet.

Like Asus, MSI has gone the EFI route with the GD80’s BIOS. We had numerous problems with the initial implementation that MSI shipped with its P67 boards. While some things have improved with this latest release, there’s still much work to be done. The mouse cursor flickers constantly and can disappear for seconds at a time, some items require a double click when you expect to have to click once, and there’s no wheel support. You can’t key in values like multipliers and voltages directly, either.

At least the overclocking options exposed by the BIOS are plentiful. There’s also a respectable array of fan speed controls. The GD80’s BIOS lets you set a temperature target and minimum fan speed for the CPU. Temperature-based speed scaling doesn’t apply to the system fans, but each one (of four in total) can be set to run at 50, 75, or 100% of full speed.

Digging into the details

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations. Before I lose you to a page filled with tables detailing individual BIOS options, detailed mobo specifications, and system configurations, here’s your chance to skip ahead to our motherboard benchmark results. You’re welcome.

Still with me? Wow, I didn’t think anyone actually read these charts.

Asus P8Z68-V PRO Gigabyte Z68X-UD3H-B3 MSI Z68A-GD80
Clock speeds Base: 80-300MHz
DRAM:
800-2400MHz
IGP: 1100-3000MHz
Base: 80-200MHz
DRAM:
800-2133MHz
IGP: 1-3000MHz
Base: 38-480MHz
DRAM:
800-2133MHz
IGP: 850-3000
Multipliers CPU: 34-59 CPU: 16-59 CPU: 16-60
Voltages CPU: 0.8-1.99V

DRAM: 1.2-2.2V
CPU PLL: 1.2-2.2V

PCH: 0.8-1.7V
CCIO: 0.8-1.7V
IGP: +/- 0.635V

DRAM a/b data: 0.395-0.630V
DRAM a/b
ctrl: 0.395-0.630V

CPU: 0.75-1.7V

DRAM: 0.87-2.13V

PCH: 0.85-1.705V
QPI/VTT:

0.905-1.53V

System
agent: 0.76-1.3V
DRAM ref: 0.69-0.81V
DRAM termination: 0.42-1.385V

DRAM a/b data: 0.235-1.375V
DRAM a/b address: 0.235-1.375V

CPU: 0.8-1.8V

DRAM: 1.108-2.464V

CPU PLL: 1.4-2.53V

PCH: 0.775-1.724V

CPU IO: 0.95-1.55V
System agent: 0.925-1.585V
IGP: 1.0-1.6V
DRAM a/b data:
0.435-1.125V
DRAM a/b address: 0.435-1.125V

Fan control Temp-based CPU, system Temp-based CPU Temp-based CPU
Manual
system 1-4

Distilling a motherboard BIOS down to a handful of options for overclocking and fan control doesn’t really tell the whole story. However, it does illustrate that the BIOSes are more similar, at least in capability, than their outward appearances might otherwise suggest.

Asus P8Z68-V PRO Gigabyte Z68X-UD3H-B3 MSI Z68A-GD80
CPU power 12+4 8+2 12+1
DIMM slots 4 DDR3-1333 4 DDR3-1333 4 DDR3-1333
Expansion slots 2 PCIe x16 (x16, x8/x8)

1 PCIe x16 (x1, x4)

2 PCIe x1

2 PCI

2 PCIe x16 (x16, x8/x8)
3 PCIe x1

2 PCI

2 PCIe x16 (x16, x8/x8)

1 PCIe x16 (x4)

2 PCIe x1*

2 PCI

Storage I/O 2 6Gbps SATA RAID

4 3Gbps SATA RAID

2 6Gbps SATA

2 6Gbps SATA RAID

3 3Gbps SATA RAID
2 6Gbps SATA RAID

2 6Gbps SATA RAID

4 3Gbps SATA RAID
1 6Gbps SATA

Audio 8-channel HD 8-channel HD 8-channel HD
Ports 1 HDMI
1 DVI
1 VGA
2 USB 3.0 w/ 2 headers
6 USB 2.0 w/ 6 headers
1 eSATA

2 FireWire headers
1 RJ45


1 analog front out
1 analog bass/center out
1 analog
rear out
1 analog surround out
1 analog line in
1 analog mic in
1 optical S/PDIF out

1 HDMI
1 DisplayPort
1 DVI
1 VGA
1 PS/2 keyboard/mouse
2 USB 3.0 w/ 2 headers
6 USB 2.0 w/
8 headers
1 eSATA

1 FireWire w/ 1 header
1 RJ45


1 analog front out
1 analog bass/center out
1 analog
rear out
1 analog surround out
1 analog line in
1 analog mic in
1 optical S/PDIF out

1 HDMI
1 DVI
1 PS/2 keyboard/mouse
2 USB 3.0 w/
2 headers
4 USB 2.0 w/ 6 headers
1 eSATA

1 FireWire w/ 1 header
2 RJ45


1 analog front out
1 analog bass/center out
1 analog
rear out
1 analog surround out
1 analog line in
1 analog mic in
1 optical S/PDIF out

Here’s how each motherboard’s assortment of slots and ports stack up. Scintillating reading, I know.

Our testing methods

In addition to pitting the Z68 boards against each other, we’ve also thrown in a couple of P67 models that we covered last week. Those results have been included for reference, and we’ve greyed them out in the graphs to avoid confusion.

While testing, we noticed an odd—and new—behavior from the Asus Z68 and P67 boards. Sandy Bridge motherboards typically crank the Core i7-2600K’s multiplier up to its 38X Turbo peak with one-core loads. When all four physical cores are busy, the Turbo multiplier is generally capped at 35X as long as the motherboard can keep the CPU supplied with sufficient power. The MSI and Gigabyte Z68 boards follow this behavior, and so did Asus’ P8P67 PRO back in January.

With its latest BIOS, however, the P8P67 PRO uses a 38X Turbo multiplier when under four-core loads. The same is true for the Sabertooth P67 and the P8Z68-V PRO. This only happens if you set the memory multiplier manually, which we do with all our test configurations. Leave the memory multiplier on auto, and the max Turbo multiplier for four-core loads will stay at 35X.

We’ve confirmed this behavior with Asus, but the company has yet to explain why it’s changing the Turbo multiplier when users adjust the memory multiplier. The two aren’t connected, and other BIOSes allow adjustment of one without changing the other. As a result, our performance results are somewhat tainted. They are representative of what end users will see with these boards if manual memory multipliers are used, though.

We tested the Z68 boards with the Sandy Bridge IGP serving as the primary display adapter and the Radeon HD 5870 sitting behind Lucid’s Virtu software. We used the following system setups for testing. With few exceptions, all tests were run at least three times, and we reported the median of the scores produced.

Processor Intel Core i7-2600K 3.4GHz
Motherboard Asus P8P67 PRO Asus Sabertooth P67 Asus P8Z68-V PRO Gigabyte
Z68X-UD3H-B3
MSI Z68A-GD80
Bios revision 1502 1502 8801 F2d E7672IMS V17.0B17
Platform hub Intel P67 Express Intel P67 Express Intel
Z68 Express
Intel
Z68 Express
Intel
Z68 Express
Chipset drivers Chipset: 9.2.0.1025

RST: 10.1

Chipset: 9.2.0.1025

RST: 10.1

Chipset: 9.2.0.1025

RST: 10.5

Chipset: 9.2.0.1025

RST: 10.5

Chipset: 9.2.0.1025

RST: 10.5

Memory size 8GB (2 DIMMs) 8GB (2 DIMMs) 8GB (2 DIMMs) 8GB (2 DIMMs) 8GB (2 DIMMs)
Memory type Corsair Vengeance DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz Corsair Vengeance DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz Corsair Vengeance DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz Corsair Vengeance DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz Corsair Vengeance DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz
Memory timings
9-9-9-24-1T
9-9-9-24-1T 9-9-9-24-1T 9-9-9-24-1T 9-9-9-24-1T
Audio Realtek ALC892 with 2.59 drivers Realtek ALC892 with 2.59 drivers Realtek ALC892 with 2.59 drivers Realtek ALC892 with 2.59 drivers Realtek ALC892 with 2.59 drivers
Graphics Asus EAH5870 1GB with Catalyst 11.3 drivers
Hard drive Raptor WD1500ADFD 150GB
Power Supply PC Power & Cooling Silencer 750W
OS Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate x64

We’d like to thank Asus, Corsair, PC Power & Cooling, and Western Digital for helping to outfit our test rigs with some of the finest hardware available. Thanks to each of the motherboard makers for supplying their boards, too, and to Intel for providing the CPU.

We used the following versions of our test applications:

The test systems’ Windows desktop was set at 1280×1024 in 32-bit color at a 60Hz screen refresh rate. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled for all tests.

All the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.

Memory performance

Don’t expect much in the way or surprises here. We’re using the same Sandy Bridge memory controller, Corsair DIMMs, and BIOS-level memory timings with all the boards.

There’s barely any difference in performance between the Z68 and P67 boards in our memory bandwidth and latency tests. Although the Sandy Bridge GPU carves out a slice of system memory with the Z68 systems, there appears to be no impact on bandwidth or latency.

Application performance

As we saw in our Virtu testing, Metro 2033 takes a big hit when running on our virtualized Radeon. The P67 systems engage in no such trickery, allowing the discrete graphics card to fully stretch its legs.

The Asus boards are only out ahead in these application tests because they’ve chosen to use the maximum Turbo multiplier with all load levels. That’s not the default behavior defined by Intel, which sees the Turbo multiplier drop as low as 35X with multi-core loads. I’m not inclined to penalize Gigabyte or MSI for toeing the party line, especially since Asus is changing the Turbo behavior when users fiddle with memory multipliers that should be unrelated.

Power consumption

We measured system power consumption, sans monitor and speakers, at the wall outlet using a Watts Up Pro power meter. Readings were taken at idle and under a load consisting of a Cinebench 11.5 render alongside the rthdribl HDR lighting demo. We tested with Windows 7’s High Performance and Balanced power plans.

The Asus and MSI mobos have handy BIOS switches (dubbed EPU and APS, respectively) that enable advanced power-saving features. Gigabyte has similar power-saving mojo, but it requires a separate Windows application (DES). Indeed, Gigabyte seems intent on keeping all useful features out of the BIOS where they can easily be manipulated without unnecessary Windows apps. We tested each board with its extra power-saving capabilities enabled and disabled.

At idle, the most efficient board of the bunch is the Z68A-GD80 configured in a power-saving mode defined by Intel. MSI’s own APS config draws 10W more, so you’re best sticking with the Intel default. The Asus and Gigabyte boards offer similar power draw to the best MSI config.

Under load, only Gigabyte’s DES software seems to have a big impact on power consumption. It’s barely enough to nudge the Z68X-UD3H-B3 ahead of the MSI configs, though. The Asus board is the most power-hungry of all the Z68 offerings regardless of whether its EPU tech is enabled.

Overclocking

Part of the point behind the Z68 Express chipset is being able to easily overclock K-series CPUs, so we went to town with ours. First, we let each board’s automatic overclocking scheme have a crack at the CPU. After the dust settled, we dove into the BIOS for some manual overclocking with the CPU multiplier. First up: the Gigabyte Z68X-UD3H-B3.

Mercifully, we didn’t have to use Touch BIOS to automatically overclock the CPU. Gigabyte’s EasyTune 6 software has a QuickBoost feature that offers three levels of multiplier-based overclocking with the push of a button. A reboot later, our CPU was humming along comfortably at 4.2GHz. We test stability when overclocking using an 8-way Prime95 load alongside the rthdribl HDR lighting demo, which proved to be no problem for our overclocked UD3H config.

After spending some quality time going back and forth between the BIOS and our Windows stress test, we managed to get the CPU up to 4.5GHz using a 45X CPU multiplier. Ignore the core voltage displayed by CPU-Z in the screenshot above. We had to set the CPU voltage to 1.4V to get the system stable at 4.5GHz, and CPU-Z didn’t reflect any of the voltage adjustments we made in the BIOS.

MSI’s Z68A-GD80 offers several different ways to overclock the CPU, including a very slick Control Center app for Windows and a simple OC Genie button on the board itself. We opted for the one-button approach, which cranked the CPU up to 4.2GHz just like the Gigabyte board. Could we go higher when fiddling with the system manually?

Yes. Although we had to start dosing the CPU with extra voltage after we hit 4.3GHz, we managed 4.7GHz with the same 1.4V as on the Gigabyte board. The system was perfectly stable at this speed, which is nearly 1GHz faster than the CPU’s Turbo peak.

Asus’ AI Suite tweaking software is pretty good, and it includes an in-depth auto-tuning utility that goes through multiple reboots and stability tests before honing in on an ideal configuration. We tried this feature alongside the OC Tuner switch built into the BIOS, and both produced the same result: 4.3GHz with a 43X multiplier and an extra 3MHz on the base clock and an additional 300MHz for the Sandy Bridge IGP. Perhaps Asus should’ve stuck with just the CPU multiplier, because neither auto-overclocked setting was stable under load.

After dropping into the BIOS, we set the IGP and base clock back to their default speeds and managed to push the CPU multiplier all the way up to 47X. In fact, the CPU cruised up to 4.6GHz without so much as a voltage tweak. Getting the system stable at 4.7GHz required a CPU voltage of 1.4V, though. With the CPU voltage set to auto, the BIOS was only supplying 1.37V with a 47X CPU multiplier.

Motherboard peripheral performance

Our last stop on the testing front is the wonderful world of onboard peripherals. More tables!

HD Tach USB 3.0 performance
Read burst

speed (MB/s)

Average read

speed (MB/s)

Average write

speed (MB/s)

CPU utilization

(%)

Asus P8P67 PRO 220.9 176.6 57.9 2.0
Asus Sabertooth P67 221.2 177.0 58.3 2.0

Asus P8Z68-V PRO
198.0 173.0 61.6 2.0

Gigabyte Z68X-UD3H-B3
167.3 166.1 62.9 3.0

MSI Z68A-GD80
174.1 161.5 55.1 2.0

The P8Z68-V PRO’s ASMedia USB 3.0 controller looks to be faster than the EtronTech and NEC chips used in the Z68 boards from Gigabyte and MSI. Still, the P67 boards achieve much higher read burst speeds with their NEC controllers.

HD Tach USB 2.0 performance
Read burst

speed (MB/s)

Average read

speed (MB/s)

Average write

speed (MB/s)

CPU utilization

(%)

Asus P8P67 PRO 35.1 35.0 25.2 2.0
Asus Sabertooth P67 35.1 35.0 25.2 2.0

Asus P8Z68-V PRO
36.4 34.2 24.1 2.0

Gigabyte Z68X-UD3H-B3
37.5 34.8 24.8 2.0

MSI Z68A-GD80
36.3 34.9 23.3 1.0

USB 2.0 transfer rates are pretty close between the boards. None of the Z68 offerings really stands out.

HD Tune Serial ATA performance – VelociRaptor
Read Write
Burst (MB/s) Average (MB/s) Random 4KB (ms) Burst (MB/s) Average (MB/s) Random 4KB (ms)
Asus P8P67 PRO 292.1 129.9 7.0 292.3 125.9 2.7
Asus P8P67 PRO (Marvell) 235.6 129.9 7.2 238.9 114.8 2.6
Asus Sabertooth P67 294.2 129.9 7.0 294.1 125.8 2.7
Asus Sabertooth P67 (Marvell) 235.4 129.9 7.2 234.4 127.2 2.7

Asus P8Z68-V PRO
288.3 129.6 7.2 280.1 122.9 2.7

Asus P8Z68-V PRO (Marvell)
203.3 129.7 7.2 203.9 123.3 2.6

Gigabyte Z68X-UD3H-B3
276.0 129.6 7.2 284.0 123.8 2.7

Gigabyte Z68X-UD3H-B3 (GSATA)
177.4 129.8 7.2 178.8 121.7 2.5

MSI Z68A-GD80
234.7 129.8 7.2 264.3 123.6 2.6

MSI Z68A-GD80 (Marvell)
195.0 129.0 7.2 197.5 85.5 2.6

With our mechanical VelociRaptor connected to the P67’s 6Gbps SATA controller, the Z68A-GD80 has slower burst speeds than the other Z68 boards. Note that all of the auxiliary storage controllers are much slower than their Intel counterparts. Marvell actually has a HyperDuo caching scheme similar to Smart Response (which we’re not using here), but I’d avoid it solely due to the poor performance of the company’s SATA controllers.

HD Tune Serial ATA performance – Vertex 3
Read Write
Burst (MB/s) Average (MB/s) Random 4KB (ms) Burst (MB/s) Average (MB/s) Random 4KB (ms)
Asus P8P67 PRO 387.8 383.1 0.05 348.1 279.6 0.06
Asus P8P67 PRO (Marvell) 263.0 261.3 0.07 241.8 130.6 0.09
Asus Sabertooth P67 388.7 383.7 0.07 346.4 278.5 0.07
Asus Sabertooth P67 (Marvell) 261.3 258.8 0.08 238.1 167.9 0.10

Asus P8Z68-V PRO
381.3 375.0 0.06 340.3 252.0 0.06

Asus P8Z68-V PRO (Marvell)
232.2 243.5 0.09 210.5 152.5 0.11

Gigabyte Z68X-UD3H-B3
383.9 378.5 0.06 325.5 210.3 0.06

Gigabyte Z68X-UD3H-B3 (GSATA)
193.9 194.5 0.06 175.2 136.5 0.08

MSI Z68A-GD80
367.2 362.1 0.06 321.9 234.1 0.07

MSI Z68A-GD80 (Marvell)
208.4 213.5 0.11 200.8 97.9 0.14

Switching to a 6Gbps SSD only highlights the P67’s superior SATA performance. The P8Z68-V PRO comes out a little bit ahead of the other Z68 mobos, but its write speeds aren’t quite as fast as those of the P67 boards.

NTttcp Ethernet performance
Throughput (Mbps) CPU utilization (%)
Asus P8P67 PRO 934.6 1.8
Asus Sabertooth P67 938.3 1.8

Asus P8Z68-V PRO
940.6 1.9

Gigabyte Z68X-UD3H-B3
944.5 3.9

MSI Z68A-GD80 (1)
943.9 3.7

MSI Z68A-GD80 (1)
937.1 3.4

All the GigE solutions offer comparable throughput. However, the Asus boards use the Intel controller built into the chipset, and they enjoy slightly lower CPU utilization as a result. The differences in CPU utilization are too large to be attributed to the Asus boards’ higher Turbo multiplier.

RightMark Audio Analyzer audio quality
Frequency response Noise level Dynamic range THD THD + Noise IMD + Noise Stereo Crosstalk IMD at 10kHz Overall score
Asus P8P67 PRO 5 4 4 5 3 5 5 5 4
Asus Sabertooth P67 5 4 4 5 3 5 5 5 4

Asus P8Z68-V PRO
5 4 5 3 5 5 5 5 4

Gigabyte Z68X-UD3H-B3
5 5 5 5 3 5 5 5 5

MSI Z68A-GD80
5 4 4 5 3 5 5 5 4

The UD3H is the only board to break out from the pack in RightMark Audio Analyzer, which distills analog audio signal quality down to an overall score. If you’re really serious about audio quality, you’d do well to cough up $30 for a Xonar DG.

Conclusions

For PC enthusiasts who want it all, the Z68 Express is the best chipset for Sandy Bridge processors. It’s the only one with support for the CPU’s integrated HD Graphics engine and all its QuickSync goodness, the ability to arrange x16 slots in a dual-x8 config for CrossFire or SLI, full control over Turbo multipliers for overclocking, and Smart Response SSD caching. That last feature will be unique to the Z68 on the desktop, and it may be the chipset’s most compelling attribute.

Don’t get me wrong—QuickSync is pretty slick, too. However, enjoying Intel’s transcoding logic requires running a discrete GPU behind Lucid’s Virtu software, which will cost you gaming performance. We may not see a truly seamless switchable graphics solution until Nvidia’s Optimus technology makes its way to the desktop. Intel says this so-called Synergy scheme will be compatible with Z68 motherboards, and I expect it to offer better performance than Lucid’s solution, at least in games. Fingers crossed.

If the Z68 is the chipset to get, then what’s the board to buy? Probably not Gigabyte’s Z68X-UD3H-B3. I like that Gigabyte is doing a cheaper board with a DisplayPort output, and the UD3H’s performance is good overall. However, the lack of an EFI BIOS is hard to swallow, especially when a touch-enabled Windows app is offered up as consolation. Gigabyte was nipping at Asus’ heels with the last generation of Intel motherboards, but its 6-series offerings have fallen short.

MSI, on the other hand, appears to be on the upswing. The Z68A-GD80 is loaded with fancy electrical components, has nifty extras like voltage probing points and a CMOS reset switch in the rear cluster, and seems to tolerate CPU overclocking better than the Gigabyte board. There’s a proper EFI BIOS, too, albeit one that could use a lot more refinement. I like where MSI is going, but it’s not there yet.

Asus P8Z68-V PRO

May 2011

There, I suppose, would be Asus’ P8Z68-V PRO. That model has the best EFI BIOS on the market by a wide margin, and the built-in Bluetooth connectivity is a great addition. You get a little more flexibility with the PRO’s third x16 slot than you do on the MSI board, too, not to mention slightly faster integrated peripherals. The only thing I don’t like is the BIOS’s propensity to jack with Turbo multipliers if you change the memory clock. That annoyance is easily overshadowed by the PRO’s other attributes, including the fact that it’s $30 cheaper than the GD80.

Our Editor’s Choice is clear, then. The Z68 has more goodness than any other Sandy Bridge chipset, and the P8Z68-V PRO is the best of the Z68 boards we’ve tested. Aren’t you glad you waited a few months for that whole Cougar Point SATA bug to work itself out?

Comments closed
    • cynan
    • 8 years ago

    The z68 is all well and good, but does anyone else find it a bit irking that we still have to wait for another Sandy Bridge chipset (z79), complete with a new socket (LGA 2011), before we see dual pcie x16?

    While the current increase in perormance for crossfire, etc, may be small, I have a 3 year old x48 with dual x16…

    And then Ivy Bridge comes out a couple of months after z79 and we have to endure this segmented product role out all over again?

    It’s almost enough to make me go back to AMD.

    • edh
    • 8 years ago

    I’m planning to order the Asus board. I’ll be installing a 240GB Vertex 3 partitioned as a 180GB boot drive for OS & apps and a 60GB cache set up with a pair of 2TB WD blacks in RAID-1 for primary storage. This seems to me to be an ideal use of the smart response feature.

    • mboza
    • 8 years ago

    So what is the difference between Smart Response and Ready Boost?

    • Dissonance
    • 8 years ago

    Looks like the initial information we had on Virtu’s ability to run with the discrete graphics card as the primary display adapter was incorrect. This configuration does work with the latest Virtu software, and we’re currently testing it. Stay tuned.

      • Coran Fixx
      • 8 years ago

      Any chance you can check to see if it works with the non-graphics port Gigabyte?

    • Next9
    • 8 years ago

    [b<]Gigabyte does use UEFI firmware[/b<] - with classic text interface. Just like intel on its boards since 2005 and Intel 945 chipset. It is shame you guys at Techreport did not recognize it.

      • Dissonance
      • 8 years ago

      Not according to Gigabyte. We asked the company whether it was running a text interface on top of an EFI BIOS and were told that’s not the case. According to Gigabyte, the boards use an Award BIOS and do not implement EFI.

        • Next9
        • 8 years ago

        Well that is marketing bullshit spread by ASUS, MSI, and Gigabyte, presenting UEFI as new graphical interface. Since Gigabyte boards have “UEFI boot” option I can not imagine, how they can boot UEFI bootloader without UEFI firmware. Let me point out BIOS use 16bit real mode (CPU), while UEFI uses 32/64bit longmode. How do you run 64bit UEFI bootloader (which is UEFI application) upon 16bit BIOS to boot?

        At last. Guys from Anandtech pressed on Gigabyte and they came out with response:

        [url<]http://www.anandtech.com/show/4130/the-battle-of-the-p67-boards-asus-vs-gigabyte-at-190/5[/url<] "Gigabyte’s dual BIOS system is on this board. Yes, that is right – BIOS. No UEFI here. Well, that's not strictly true, as one of the latest BIOS updates at the time of writing (F6) implements an EFI into the BIOS, reportedly allowing bootable access to hard drives over 2.2TB. This is due to, as Gigabyte explained, that their board is actually UEFI, but without a proper GUI interface like other boards. They've used the old BIOS-style interface for now, as after years of plugging away they believe it's quick, stable and recognisable for consumers to understand. "

    • SomeOtherGeek
    • 8 years ago

    As ever, great review. I guess, I was expecting a little bit more from the Z68s… I liked what everyone one else commented on about the Smart Response and Virtu stuff. But I’m rooting for Virtu to too make huge strides. Am I asking for too much?

    Anyway, I know of a solution to get rid of one of the tables: Take your PC, mouse, keyboard and monitor and put it on the floor and throw out the damn table! On a more serious note, keep the tables, the geek in me loves them.

    • zorglub
    • 8 years ago

    Using Intel Media SDK I have measured an average of 13 millisecond to encode an 1920×1080 YUV420 video to H.264 using the GPU. Really good.

    • crazybus
    • 8 years ago

    [quote<]If the drive is larger than the size of your Smart Response cache, the excess capacity can be formatted and used as a standard Windows partition.[/quote<] Does this mean that with Smart Response, you can use an SSD as a boot disk and at the same time set aside part of it to use as cache for an app/storage HDD? e.g. 128GB SSD with 100GB OS partition and 28GB for cache.

      • bimmerlovere39
      • 8 years ago

      I think so.

      Though I wonder, from a performance perspective, is 2x64GB (1 disk, 1 cache) faster than a 50/50 split 128GB? I’d think that if you’re working both the SSD and your mechanical, having the cache on the SSD could bog the whole thing down?

    • zorglub
    • 8 years ago

    Finally, Asus is considering the GigE chipset functionnality. Tired of those crappy Realtech NIC. Nothing serious can be done with those. Ask all the GigE vision users!

    • Anomymous Gerbil
    • 8 years ago

    Those looking for a more detailed and accurate write-up of the Smart Response and Virtu functionality should check the couple of articles on Z68 and the Asus mb just posted there.

    • setbit
    • 8 years ago

    I disagree with the Smart Response skeptics. To me it sounds like a much more practical solution than a dual drive SSD/magnetic setup, for the simple reason that it obviates the need for the user to manage what data goes on which drive.

    For example, my Steam directory is pretty darn big, enough so that I’d probably have to buy one of the larger and more expensive SSDs to make sure it would fit it on the system drive along with Windows. But if I put the steamapps directory on my bulk magnetic storage, then I lose the faster load times that are one of the main benefits of buying an SSD in the first place.

    If Smart Response works — which it seems to based on these test results — then I now have the option to buy a cheap, small, and fast SSD that will automatically cache only those blocks that see the most use, with out requiring any clever directory shuffling on my part.

    A way to save money AND time AND get a faster system? Yeah, I’ll take that.

      • UberGerbil
      • 8 years ago

      Most consumers would agree with you. But TR is full of enthusiasts who [i<]enjoy[/i<] actively managing their system for optimum performance, copying files and creating hard links as necessary to get the best speed out of their most-used apps and the the games they're currently playing. Personally, I'm thinking I'll probably do both: re-use an old small SSD get a "Smart Response" enhancement on my HD, [i<]and[/i<] have a separate SSD system drive.

        • setbit
        • 8 years ago

        Fair point. I suppose it depends on where you draw the line between fun and tedium.

        I consider myself moderately Teh H4rdc0r3z — I could spend twenty minutes telling you about the amount and type of thermal compound between my CPU and heatsink — but I don’t relish the prospect of profiling and hand-tweaking file links for each game I install. A solution with 4/5 of the benefit and 1/100th of the work is fine by me.

        Maybe it’s time to admit to myself that I’m old.

        I really like your idea idea of doing both, though. Two smallish SSDs can be had for about the same price as one large one, and you could get a crazy-fast storage system out of the deal. Plus, such a setup would be elaborate enough that I could talk about it in the break room until my coworkers eyes glaze over.

      • phez
      • 8 years ago

      It seems counter productive.

      Why not just get a large 120gbish SSD?

      I doubt many people even approach 120gb of installed apps and games?

        • paulWTAMU
        • 8 years ago

        I’m well over that. My steam folder is over 100 gigs at this point.

          • derFunkenstein
          • 8 years ago

          I’ve backed up my steam games individually and then removed the ones I’m not actively failing. Then when I want to play something I can restore it pretty quickly.

    • d0g_p00p
    • 8 years ago

    Bummer, I just got my replacement AsusP8P67 Deluxe. The only reason why I would like a Z68 board is for Smart Response SSD caching and that cheap Intel SSD that is designed for it. Hopefully at some point I’ll see a motherboard that will tempt me to swap out my current mb.

    • smilingcrow
    • 8 years ago

    It’s a shame that boards that support integrated graphics usually come with 3 video outputs and the interface they usually drop is DisplayPort which is the only digital interface that supports higher resolutions as the DVI is only single link.
    It would make more sense, at least to a geek, if they dropped the DVI as the HDMI can happily handle its functionality with an inexpensive dongle or cable.
    A niche market I know but it sums up my requirements.
    I’ll stick with my H67 with DP as I don’t need to O/C and by the time I do I imagine IB will be banging at the door; don’t you just love/hate acronyms. 🙂

    • NeelyCam
    • 8 years ago

    IMO, too expensive for what it gives you. Sure, overclocking +quicksync together are cool and all, and smart response sounds smart. But if you don’t overclock and you already have an SSD for OS, H67 or H61 would be a much better deal.

    I’m happy I didn’t return my H67 to get one of these.

    • Coran Fixx
    • 8 years ago

    “There’s no way to tap Sandy Bridge’s integrated GPU, rendering the Z68’s QuickSync support entirely useless”

    Completely wrong. Virtu can use quicksync from dedicated graphics card, the -d option. The lack of display ports befuddled me at first as well. It also makes more sense to run virtu this way even if you have the igp port (see anandtechs article), because the hit to gaming is less.

    BIG EDIT: Completely wrong = me. Gigabyte does not list virtu support with its Z68s with no graphics ports. This sucks if it actually works because Newegg is running just the combo deal I’m looking for.

    • fr500
    • 8 years ago

    Will this work?

    Hook up a monitor with two inputs and connecting a spare input to the motherboard’s connector? As far as I know all you need is a display hooked up to one of the motherboard connectors, so if you have a display with 2+ inputs you could get one to your IGP, one to your GPU and switch to the IGP input when you want to do transcoding.

    Best of both worlds, intact GPU performance and Quicksync.

    • albundy
    • 8 years ago

    hard to recommend this setup. looks like they took two steps back in the performance dept.

    • blorbic5
    • 8 years ago

    bottom of page 1 for Asus’ Ethernet, should be Z68 not p86.

      • Dissonance
      • 8 years ago

      Fixed.

    • flip-mode
    • 8 years ago

    AMD’s next gen chipsets had better mow some grass when they get here. You hear me AMD?

    • flip-mode
    • 8 years ago

    Regarding Smart Response: seems more sensible to me to just… deep breath… use the SSD as the system drive.

    I don’t get Smart Response at all. For budget users it would be a great way to speed up disk performance, but budget users aren’t going to spend even $50 on this feature, not to mention budget users aren’t going to buy a Z68 motherboard.

    High end users are just going to use the SSD as a full fledged drive, not as some helper drive.

    Well, I guess it does make sense from one standpoint – having a massive hard drive and still getting SSD performance. Pair a 1TB like Geoff did or a 2TB drive with an SSD. That does make sense.

      • kiwik
      • 8 years ago

      It might be useful in notebooks with the Intel 310 SSD combined with a normal 2.5″ mechanical hard drive. Look at Lenovo’s “Rapid Boot” scheme on Google for example.

        • flip-mode
        • 8 years ago

        Yeah, my comment was pertaining to the Z68 mobos. The feature makes sense to get SSD performance and large capacity at the same time for a fraction of the cost of a large capacity SSD. In that regard, Smart Response is awesome and I’d buy into it.

        Constraining the feature to Z68 is just dumb.

        Intel’s entire approach to chipset market segmentation is dumb these days. Relegating SLI and CF to high end chipsets makes sense, but all the other limitations that Intel has placed on the lower end chipsets are just stupid. Why would Intel not want to put Smart Response on the lower end chipsets and sell some SSDs to those folks too? And the mutual exclusivity of overclocking and using the CGPU is stupidity.

          • UberGerbil
          • 8 years ago

          Yeah, as I said in response to another comment: there will be a lot of early adopters who have been using an SSD as a boot drive and will continue to do so, but at some point they’re going to have an old one kicking around that once was a boot drive but has been replaced by something larger. What to do with all those 40-80GB drives? You could re-sell them, I guess, but how much will you get? Better to just re-use them as a way to boost that TB+ HD you’re using for everything else. (You could also stick your page file, hibernation file, and whatever other scratch / temp directories on it to make more space available on your boot drive).

            • NeelyCam
            • 8 years ago

            Yeah, like maybe one of those old gen1 drives that got dumped because it didn’t trim.

            I can’t say I have a spare anywhere, though…

      • d0g_p00p
      • 8 years ago

      I have pretty much the setup Geoff tested. I have a SSD boot disk and a 1TB WD Black drive for local storage. I would buy a cheap $110 20GB SSD to help speed up my storage drive. The big issue is the price of the SSD. Granted, it’s still a pricey option but again I would totally do it if I had a Z68 motherboard.

        • Coran Fixx
        • 8 years ago

        There’s nothing magical about these 20g drives, are there? They were rumored prior to today to be sold at the $50 price point, I don’t see the benefit to buying this versus a $100, 40gb (enter model name here).

          • d0g_p00p
          • 8 years ago

          Speed and I guess the mental placebo of a Intel SSD paired up with a Intel chipset using the recommended drive for that setup. I’m old like that.

      • moriz
      • 8 years ago

      it’s too bad that there’s a 18GB limitation. otherwise, i’d make myself an 8GB ramdisk and use smart response (in enhanced mode) with my SSD. now THAT would be fast.

        • Firestarter
        • 8 years ago

        Then you’d basically be emulating XP-era disk cache. Just plunk 16GB worth of RAM in a Windows 7 x64 system.

    • colinstu
    • 8 years ago

    How could I use my IBM Model M with Asus’ Z68 board here?

    Looks like I’m finally going to need to get an approved PS/2->USB adapter.

      • bthylafh
      • 8 years ago

      Other models will probably still have a PS/2 port. You can get a Sandy Bridge board from Gigabyte that’s still got a built-in parallel port, ffs.

      Or, [url<]http://www.newegg.com/Product/ProductList.aspx?Submit=ENE&N=100007531%20600022045&IsNodeId=1&name=PCI%20to%20USB%20%2f%20PS2%20Port%20Card[/url<]

    • derFunkenstein
    • 8 years ago

    Smart Response is interesting, but I don’t see it catching on at the desktop. It’s a great idea for mobile users where the notebook is their primary computer. With one traditional hard drive and a relatively large flash cache, you have a nice performance boost and still alot of storage space, plus I think it won’t take up much if any more room than the traditional single mechanical drive. I think you’ll find Smart Response drives in mini-PCIe format, like older netbooks came with as their primary drive, but with better performance.

    On the desktop I’d stick to (or I’d love to migrate to myself, that is) a decent-sized SSD and a big storage drive.

      • srg86
      • 8 years ago

      Agreed, both of these Z68 enhancements are of no real interest to me. I’d be using an SSD as a boot drive too. Also as a Linux user, that Lucid stuff probably would never work for me.

        • NeelyCam
        • 8 years ago

        And even if Lucid worked with Linux, you’d get it much cheaper on H67

    • mczak
    • 8 years ago

    Where’s the memory overclocking???
    Potentially could make quite a difference when using the IGP. Now you can finally do it and noone tests it. Lame.

    • phez
    • 8 years ago

    Can Virtu be used in the situation where you are gaming and encoding at the same time? (Game Streaming)

      • Firestarter
      • 8 years ago

      Yes! [url<]https://techreport.com/discussions.x/20217[/url<] Assuming that whatever you use for streaming supports quicksync.

    • S_D
    • 8 years ago

    Interesting. Great review as always but why no mention of the beta Virtu software that allows you to virtualise the IGP instead of the discrete graphics card, and thus suffer a minimal gaming performance penalty? This is certainly the way I’ll be going when I pick up a Z68 board in the coming weeks…

      • continuum
      • 8 years ago

      I’m curious myself about this omission… is it because it’s still beta?

    • Firestarter
    • 8 years ago

    Having to sacrifice gaming performance 24/7 to get a boost once in a while when encoding something doesn’t sound very enticing to me.

    I’d love to see a more in-depth review of Smart Response though!

      • UberGerbil
      • 8 years ago

      Yes, I expect (eventually) a lot of the early adopters’ small (40-80GB) boot drives will get replaced by larger SSDs, and those small drives will get repurposed as cache drives for the HD they’re still keeping around for media, games, etc. So that scenario might make for a pretty interesting review (especially with variations of HDs — “green” vs black, etc)

    • UberGerbil
    • 8 years ago

    I haven’t used the Virtu software and I doubt I will, but out of curiosity: is it possible to turn off the Tron-pr0n imagery and have it look like something that might be used by someone who has finished passing through puberty?

      • stdRaichu
      • 8 years ago

      Forget about Tron-pr0n – I found those pics creepy as hell. I don’t recall a period in puberty where I’d consider those images as anything other than nightmare fuel. You’d think with a product called Hydra you might get a cool CGI dragon or something, but all there is is some sort of streak of green snot hanging from the elbow of a Terminator that lost a fight with the ugly stick.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 8 years ago

      It’s all the best of ATi and nVidia box art – Ruby dressed as a cyborg cuddling/banging a two-headed dragon. How could you not love that?

        • swaaye
        • 8 years ago

        wish it had the spiked goalie helmet too. 🙁

      • flip-mode
      • 8 years ago

      No doubt. Grossest thing ever. This beats the stupid looking interfaces motherboard makers use for their bundled “utilities”. Friggin retarded. With that stupid cyber chick in there I’d NEVER open that thing up until I’d cleared everyone out of the room and locked the door. Could you imagine having to open that up at work with the feminist co-worker catching a glimpse?

    • UberGerbil
    • 8 years ago

    Nice review. Now, by any chance is a round-up of mATX boards coming?

      • tay
      • 8 years ago

      I just +1’d all your comments. Would like a uATX review as well.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This