What's new
  • Please do not post any links until you have 3 posts as they will automatically be rejected to prevent SPAM. Many words are also blocked due to being used in SPAM Messages. Thanks!

Intel Z68 Review - The Sandy Bridge Platform Expands

Status
Not open for further replies.

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,840
Location
Montreal
At the beginning of the year (January 3rd to be precise), Intel launched their Sandy Bridge processors and Cougar Point chipset into the market. This chipset became the heart of P67 and H67 motherboards and also wound up causing a nightmare scenario for Intel due to an issue with the PCH’s SATA 3Gbps ports. The end result was a recall of every P67 and H67 motherboard; effectively leaving retailers’ shelves bare and customers hungry for replacements. Replacements started shipping out with the “B3” revision emblazoned on them in mid-March….just as the first concrete information about Z68 started hitting the news wires.

For all intents and purposes the Z68 is nearly identical to other chipsets in Intel’s current lineup but its feature set has been expanded to include a number of new features. It offers the P67's ability to modify multipliers on the unlocked K-series chips for vastly increased overclocking headroom while also retaining the H67's option of running (and overclocking) the onboard GPU. This new chipset will also feature Intel’s new RST Caching routine which allows users to install an inexpensive SSD alongside a traditional hard drive for drastically improved load time performance. From a simplified perspective, think of the Z68 as a marriage between the P67 and H67 chipsets with a few new bits tacked on.

Z68-65.jpg

Intel’s motherboard partners have adopted this chipset with varying degrees of enthusiasm since many seem to be worried Z68 will cut into their P67 sales. Nonetheless, there will be a wide range of products available at launch; many of which should be highly affordable for anyone who didn’t jump onto the P67 bandwagon.

ASUS is putting a lot of emphasis on their P8Z68V-PRO which they feel offers an excellent combination of value and high end features. We have a full review of it here. Meanwhile, the Gigabyte Z68A-UD3H may boast a low price but its inclusion of USB 3.0, SATA6 and SLI / Crossfire compatibility could make it a real dark horse in the current market. Another board we have on tap for this review is the Gigabyte Z68A-UD5; an upscale product that bewilderingly discards ability to activate the IGP for GPU switching.

The situation we currently find ourselves in with the Z68 series is hardly unique. In the past, transitions between P35 / X38 and P45 / X48 caused minor upheavals the buying strategies of consumers but at least this time it looks like some worthwhile features being thrown in.

Z68-64.jpg
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,840
Location
Montreal
Say Hello to Z68 - Built for the Mainstream Enthusiast

Say Hello to Z68; Built for the Mainstream Enthusiast


Back when Lynnfield was launched, we were introduced to an all new chipset layout from Intel where many of the usual Northbridge functions were consolidated onto the CPU die. This P55 Express “Ibex Peak” chipset allowed for a more integrated layout and also moved away from the traditional two-chip layout of a Northbridge and Southbridge towards a single chipset design. Sandy Bridge on the other hand took things to the next level by introducing the Cougar Point family of 6-series chipsets. While there were surely some initial teething problems that culminated in a widespread product recall, things seem to be (hopefully) back on track.

When they were released the P67-based boards initially targeted the slightly higher end market and Intel’s motherboard partners were more than happy to flex their muscles by coming to market with feature rich boards. Other chipsets like the H67 was destined for slightly lower-end product ranges. However, we now have a new wrinkle in the motherboard fabric: Z68.

Z68-56.jpg

The high-end Z68 Express chipset layout is nearly identical to the P67 Express but if you look closer, there are some changes. Like on the P67 the 16 PCI-E 2.0 lanes from the processor they can be used in one of two ways: either one slot operating at x16 or dual slots running at x8. This means both Crossfire and SLI are supported though not at their full theoretical bandwidth. In addition, the Processor Graphics can be potentially enabled and interfaces with the chipset’s display and audio outputs through an FDI (Flexible Display Interface).

The Cougar Point chipset (in this case Z68 Express) acts as the control hub for all of the peripheral, display and storage connectors on supporting motherboards. As with P67 it features eight PCI-E lanes and an Intel HD Audio module along with Intel’s Extreme Tuning support. Intel Extreme Tuning wasn’t available on past IGP-enabled chipsets and adds Windows-based overclocking if you have an unlocked K-series processor as well as some basic system monitoring tools.

Where things really change in comparison with the P67 chipset is the availability of rear-panel display outputs for the processor graphics hub. Unfortunately, not all Z68 boards will come with the necessary connectors and without these, the integrated GPU will remain disabled; effectively eliminating the GPU switching and Quick Sync abilities. The aforementioned Intel Smart Response Technology is another addition which the P67 boards won’t benefit from but otherwise, the external storage capabilities of Z68 mirror those of its sibling.

Z68-50.jpg

Many of you may remember this handy little diagram which illustrated the main differences between the H67 and P67 chipset’s abilities and features. The P67 allowed for the overclocking of unlocked K-series Sandy Bridge CPUs but didn’t come equipped with an active display output so the onboard processor graphics controller (PGC) stayed dormant. Meanwhile H67 offered next to no processor overclocking –even with K-series chips- but unlocked the onboard graphics controller so features like Quick Sync video transcoding and high efficiency HD video playback were accessible. In short, a customer was forced to make a choice between the PGC’s capabilities and the ability to squeeze more performance out of their CPU through overclocking.

Z68 changes this –and will likely have some P67 buyers frustrated beyond belief- by incorporating the P67’s overclocking prowess alongside the potential for an active processor graphics hub. To many enthusiasts the image of an integrated GPU’s limited gaming performance many not seem all that exciting upon first glance but in this case, Intel has sweetened the pot.

Z68-53.jpg

By far, the most interesting addition to the Z68 PCH is Intel’s new Smart Response Technology that has been incorporated into Intel’s Matrix Storage driver stack. RST Caching as it’s called decreases system load times by caching frequently used files on a secondary solid state drive.

Quick Sync transcoding may be one of the predominant features brought about by the IGP being activated but Lucid’s Virtu engine and NVIDIA’s upcoming desktop Optimus technology also allow for seamless switching between the CPU’s graphics processor and a dedicated graphics card. This may not sound particularly interesting for most users but it can potentially allow for a more efficient system while allowing for more operations to be done in parallel without impacting gaming performance.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,840
Location
Montreal
An In-Depth Look at Intel's Smart Response Technology

An In-Depth Look at Intel's Smart Response Technology


Modern solid state drives may have boatloads of speed but all too often they fall flat in one key area: storage capacity. In the almighty price per GB race, the ages old spindle-based drives have a significant edge which is becoming more and more important as digital files erupt in size. With high definition content consumption on the rise and the installation size of many games easily reaching the 15GB mark, a sub-$400 SSD just isn’t in the cards unless sacrifices are made.

In order to marry the speed of an SSD with the capacity of modern hard drives, some have been looking towards file caching as an interim solution. Essentially, this means storing certain files of frequently used programs on the blazingly fast SSD in order to speed up boot and load times while the HDD is used as a mass storage device. It’s a novel idea which has been used quite effectively in the past. We’ve seen Kingston introduce their value-oriented Desktop Upgrade series and Seagate use a similar approach for their Momentus XT hard drives. Even Silverstone has weighed in on the game with the excellent, easy to use and inexpensive HDDBoost. Now it’s Intel’s turn.

Z68-57.jpg

Intel’s approach centers upon their Rapid Storage Technology into which has been built a provision that allows SSD acceleration (Smart Response Technology) to operate. In real time SRT caches the most frequently used blocks of data (it does not cache entire files) while intelligently discarding blocks from applications that are not as frequently used. In layman’s terms this means the technology adapts to usage patterns and doesn’t use unnecessary space by speeding up seldomly used programs. It does take some time to “learn” which files are most used but by the second Windows boot or program load, there should be a noticeable improvement in responsiveness.

Smart Response Technology is also vendor agnostic but a 20GB or higher capacity SSD should be used to ensure adequate space for the cached files. A larger SSD naturally leads to further improved caching since it can store the necessary boot files for more applications.

Z68-58.jpg

Since Smart Response Technology is housed within Intel’s RST control panel, it is relatively easy to access and implement once Windows is installed.

Contrary to their claims, Smart Response Technology is not quite as “plug and play” as Intel says. RST Caching requires Windows to be installed in RAID mode but most people who use a single HDD will likely have their BIOS set to IDE or AHCI mode by default. Naturally this shouldn’t cause any issues for people who had the foresight to install their Windows operating systems with RAID enabled in their motherboard’s BIOS. However, for everyone else, using Intel’s caching will require a complete reinstallation of Windows or modifying some registry files and installing the necessary RAID driver prior to the installation of the caching SSD. If you don’t, be prepared for endless BSODs after rebooting with RAID mode enabled.

Z68-59.jpg

Within RST, there are two options: Enhanced and Maximum. Enhanced allows for host writes from both the HDD and SSD but write performance is limited to the performance of the hard drive rather than the SSD. Maximum mode provides additional performance since reads and writes are done on the SSD. The only downfall with Maximum mode is that data can be lost if there is a critical system failure. Below is a chart detailing what each state entails in terms of risk.

Z68-51.jpg
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,840
Location
Montreal
The Larson Creek SSD & SSD Caching Performance

The Larson Creek 311 Series SSD


Z68-21.jpg

Alongside the Z68 chipset, Intel is launching their new 311 series 20GB SSD which is code named Larson Creek. Specifically tailored for caching, the 311 sports high end, long life 34nm SLC NAND and sequential speeds of 200MB/s write and 105MB/s read.

20GB may put it on the low end of the capacity spectrum and a SATA 3Gbps interface isn’t quite in line with some of the higher end drives out there but Intel’s choice of SLC modules makes the $110 Larson Creek 20GB a bit of a rarity. There aren’t many drives on the retail market which use this NAND type and the few which do hit eye-watering enterprise market price points.

Considering most 40GB MLC-based drives sell for under $80, this is a bit of a risk but Intel is betting that people are willing to spend more to get increase reliability.


Intel Smart Response Technology Performance Testing


In order to test RST Caching, we paired up our Larson Creek 20GB SSD with one of the most popular hard drives of the last few years: the Western Digital Black 640GB. Both the Maximum and Enhanced settings were used.


Synthetic Benchmark Performance

Z68-69.jpg

Z68-70.jpg

Z68-71.jpg

The increase in performance between the hard drive alone and a system with the SSD included is like night and day. The Maximum setting does provide the best overall results due to its ability to impact both read and write speeds but the Enhanced setting displays nearly identical read numbers. Unfortunately, the hard drive becomes a substantial read speed bottleneck in Enhanced mode. Let’s see how this impacts real world performance.


Real World Performance

Z68-66.jpg

Z68-67.jpg

Z68-68.jpg

While there may have been a significant difference between the Maximum and Enhanced modes in synthetic benchmarks, the same can’t be said about real world scenarios. Both offer a tangible load time improvement over a system with the hard drive operating by itself. The Maximum setting does offer quicker an OS boot cycle but the application load time differences between the two modes really won’t be felt by the end user.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,840
Location
Montreal
Lucid’s Virtu GPU Switching

Lucid’s Virtu GPU Switching


When it was first announced, NVIDIA’s Optimus GPU switching technology was greeted with open arms due to its ability to seamlessly switch between a high performance discrete GPU and the efficient IGP on notebooks. While NVIDIA is busy working on its own switching technology for the desktop market, Lucid has taken a step ahead by introducing Virtu. This is a truly vendor agnostic approach which supports both NVIDIA and AMD cards.

Z68-55.jpg

Virtu is very much like Optimus: it utilizes Sandy Bridge’s onboard graphics processor for higher idle efficiency along with media acceleration while leveraging the high performance discrete GPU for gaming and professional workloads. This combination ensures resources are properly designated towards the subsystem that is best suited to handle a given task.

Z68-54.jpg

In order to achieve what (in theory) should be a seamless transition between the integrated graphics processor and the discrete GPU, Lucid implements a proprietary software that directs workloads. Basically, there are two options here: the iGPU mode where the main display is plugged into the integrated graphics controller and the dGPU mode

If the software detects a 3D application when in iGPU mode, it will bypass IGP, allow the AMD or NVIDIA card to render and then output the image through the processor’s video memory and then towards the motherboard’s onboard display connector. This has the potential to cause a performance penalty but as the software matures, any overhead should be gradually reduced. Meanwhile, for 2D loads and media playback / conversion, the information is sent directly through the IGP.

Alternately, if the monitor is plugged into the discrete graphics card through dGPU mode, the benefits of lower idle power consumption will be nullified. This is because the less efficient graphics card will be in charge of 2D and Windows Aero rendering rather than Sandy Bridge’s smaller on-die engine.

Here is Lucid's rundown of the two modes:

  • i-Mode provides users with near zero performance overhead on 3D graphics games, while enjoying Intel Sandy Bridge media features and power saving options when no 3D gaming is used. As this mode allows the added-on VGA cards to stay under idle for most of the system up time, the power consumption is also relatively lower.

  • d-Mode is provided for demanding 3D gamers to achieve 3D performance of discrete GPU installed in the system. In this mode, Virtu allows user to utilize Intel special features such as transcoding, while display is connected to discrete GPU.

Z68-61.jpg

Lucid’s main control panel is actually quite sparse since all of the action is taking place behind the scenes, hopefully out of the end user’s view. This view basically shows whether Virtu is working, which onboard processor is presently handling the workload and the placement of the Virtu logo within applications (along with an option to turn off the logo of course). There is also a performance optimization slider in order to fine tune the image quality in relation to framerates.

Z68-62.jpg

The Games tab indicates which games or applications are currently compatible with the virtualization software when in iGPU mode. There are several hundred titles supported and the list has rapidly grown since Virtu’s inception. Unfortunately it does tend to take a while until a newly released game is added to the list so it’s important to check for updates often.

In dGPU mode, any games supported by the current graphics card driver will work without an issue since virtualization is used for the integrated graphics controller’s functions.

As you’ve probably already guessed, there are quite a few loopholes to jump through and on the next page we’ll tackle the performance and any issues we encountered when using Virtu.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,840
Location
Montreal
Virtu Performance & Initial Impressions

Virtu Performance & Initial Impressions


Before we go into our impressions of this new piece of software, let’s check out performance in the two modes. Remember: dGPU means the monitor is plugged directly into the discrete graphics card while iGPU mean Lucid’s virtualization software is doing its thing while the CPU’s video memory handles the display output. The baseline performance is taken with Virtu turned completely off.

In this case, we used a 2600K plus a GTX 560 Ti sporting NVIDIA’s 256.66 WHQL drivers. Why such an outdated driver? We’ll explain a bit later.

Z68-72.jpg

Z68-73.jpg

Z68-74.jpg

Z68-75.jpg

For the most part, it was actually quite surprising to see how little overhead the iGPU setting had on performance. The dGPU setup on the other hand had next to no impact upon in-game framerates.

Within Just Cause 2 though, the software’s limitations came into full view. For whatever reason, the game just wouldn’t play correctly; it frequently paused when loading scenes and was next to unplayable due to poor performance. Launching through a local executable instead of going through the Steam client eliminated the abnormally long load times but there were no changes to playability.


Power Consumption

One Virtu’s selling points is its ability to cut down on idle power consumption when in iGPU mode since the discrete graphics card can go into a lower idle state while the onboard controller takes care of the 2D rendering.

Z68-77.jpg


Z68-79.jpg

We did see an increase in idle efficiency but it wasn’t much to get excited about at approximately 10%. However, when watching a HD movie, this gap increased dramatically and would like likely widened further if we had used a higher end graphics card. In this respect at least, Virtu was a smashing success.



When taken at face value, Vitru has the potential to become a great piece of software and for the most part, it accomplishes these goals – though not without a fair amount of speed bumps along the way. All of which stem from the iGPU mode.

First and foremost among these issues is the motherboard setup that needs to happen prior to booting into Windows. We’ll post a guide about how to set up Virtu in the coming days but for the time being, let’s just say that certain motherboards need to have their initial PCI-E GPU detection manually changed to IGP or the system will get caught in an endless string of BSODs.

Z68-60.jpg

While we applaud Lucid for implementing a truly vendor agnostic solution, any changes made in the drivers from AMD or NVIDIA could cause some serious headaches. We encountered problems with Virtu and NVIDIA’s latest 270.61 driver stack. For whatever reason, Virtu flatly refused to hand off operations to our GTX 560 Ti so the system froze every time a 3D application was launched.

If saving a few watts turns you on and plans for using the iGPU mode on a higher end system are already taking shape, be aware that Intel uses a single link DVI connector for their main display output. This limits supported resolutions to 1080P/60Hz or 1920 x 1200 / 60Hz but anything above that won’t be possible. Nonetheless, we feel that for enthusiast-oriented systems with users who want to save a few watts Virtu may be the way to go....just not yet.

Z68-76.jpg

Out of the two modes, using the system in a dGPU configuration (attaching the main display to the discrete GPU’s video output) was literally worry free. Transcoding a simple 600MB file using Cyberlink’s excellent MediaShow Espresso and Intel’s Quick Sync took seconds rather than minutes while the GTX 560 Ti was left free to attack games. We didn’t experience the slightest hitch.
 
Last edited:

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,840
Location
Montreal
Meet the Motherboards: Gigabyte Z68X-UD3H-B3

Gigabyte Z68X-UD3H-B3


Gigabyte has hit the ground running in the Z68 market with products hitting nearly every possible price point. One of their lower-priced boards is the Z68X-UD3H-B3 but an affordable price doesn’t mean this $160 board skimps on functionality. Truth be told, the UD3H is one of the few products in Gigabyte’s current Z68 lineup that will support all of the chipset’s new features. Both RST caching and Lucid’s Virtu (which is missing from the UD4, UD5 and UD7) are included along with the new Touch BIOS which Gigabyte have developed instead of a full-fledged UEFI interface. USB 3.0 and SATA 6G compatibility, Dual BIOSes and support for 3TB+ hard drives also make an appearance.

Z68-15.jpg

The UD3H may be on the inexpensive side of the Z68 spectrum but it still sports a stunning matte black PCB along with support for Crossfire and SLI. If you think this looks eerily familiar, look no further than the “old” P67X-UD3 which is a literal carbon copy of the Z68X-UD3H other than a slightly different power distribution layout, less SATA ports and the included display outputs on the UD3H. Since this is a bare bones motherboard, don’t expect any onboard power or reset buttons either.

Z68-16.jpg
Z68-17.jpg

Considering this isn’t a high end board, the 8-phase PWM has been slightly stripped down in comparison to more enthusiast-oriented models but there is still plenty of space around the socket for mounting aftermarket heatsinks. There is a small heatsink attached to the VRMs for additional cooling but it is attached with push pins and tends to wobble around a bit.

Z68-19.jpg

The bottom half of the UD3H is straightforward with well placed PCI-E x16 slots (which run in x8 / x8 mode when two graphics cards are installed) along with three PCI-E x1 slots and a pair of legacy PCI connectors. As usual, the USB and Firewire break out connectors are located along the bottom edge along with the front panel connectors.

Z68-18.jpg
Z68-20.jpg

For whatever reason, Gigabyte has decided to eliminate a pair of SATA II connectors from their P67 UD3 so users are left with two SATA 6G and two SATA II ports from the PCH and two more 6G ports from a secondary controller. While most users won’t completely use up these ports, we’re a bit puzzled by this elimination.

The backplate meanwhile features a long list of connectors which is topped off by single link DVI, VGA, DisplayPort and HDMI outputs. Alongside the four USB 2.0 ports here is also a pair of USB 3.0 ports provided by a dedicated Renasas controller chip.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,840
Location
Montreal
Meet the Motherboards: Gigabyte Z68X-UD5

Gigabyte Z68X-UD5


Like most other manufacturers, Gigabyte will be hitting the enthusiast market with a Z68 board. Called the Z68X-UD5, it leverages the high end feature sets of past UD5 branded products while adding Intel’s SSD caching technology as well. Unfortunately, this may be a nearly $300 motherboard but it lacks the video out connectors which are necessary for GPU switching.

Z68-22.jpg

Everything about the UD5 screams enthusiast board but for all intents and purposes, the design is a virtual clone of the now discontinued P67A-UD5. It seems like all Gigabyte did was install a Z68 PCH, give it the “X” branding which designates the new Touch BIOS and slap a near $300 price on a product that once retailed for about $250. That doesn’t sit too well with us so let’s hope that once the UD5 actually hits retail, we’ll see some parity with the outgoing board.


While we may have some issues with the “rebrand” taking place here, there is no denying the fact that the UD5 is built from the ground up for performance. Unfortunately, the heatsink design means accessing the 8-pin power connector is next to impossible when the motherboard is installed into a case.

There are also massive heatsinks sitting over parts of its 20-phase VRM design, power / reset buttons along the PCB’s edge and dual BIOS chips just in case you flash the BIOS into no man’s land. Unfortunately, we once again see only six SATA ports (four SATA II and two SATA 6G)

Z68-11.jpg

The bottom half of this board is a treasure trove of expansion slots with three well-spaced 16x PCI-E slots (which operate at x8 / x8 / x4 modes when two GPUs are installed) for SLI and Crossfire X. There are also two x1 slots and a pair of legacy PCI slots.

Z68-12.jpg

The back I/O connectors don’t hold anything out of the ordinary since as already mentioned Gigabyte decided to forgo GPU switching capability on this UD5. We can’t say much on this topic but we wouldn’t be surprised if Gigabyte decided to release higher end Z68 boards with Lucid’s Virtu of NVIDIA’s upcoming desktop switching technology soon after launch. If you are honestly eyeing this board, we suggest you hold off for the time being.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,840
Location
Montreal
Meet the Motherboards: ASUS P8Z68-V PRO

ASUS P8Z68-V PRO


We won’t spend much time with this particular board since we’ve already published a full review of it but let’s just say that the ASUS P8Z68-V Pro’s $209 price sits somewhere between the two Gigbayte boards featured in this article. Meanwhile, the Pro’s feature set is complete to say the least and in many ways it competes on level footing with the much more expensive UD5. Unlike Gigabyte, ASUS has no intention of phasing out their P67 boards since they find Z68 products fit well within their current lineup.

Z68-1.jpg

ASUS chose a bit more flamboyant colour scheme that Gigabyte but the two tone blue and white design with a glossy black PCB still looks pretty good. We should also mention that ASUS has included a UEFI BIOS with the Pro which makes tweaking much more user friendly.

Z68-2.jpg
Z68-3.jpg

A few of the P8Z68-V’s components seem to be recycled from the P67 side of the fence but it still sports a unique design. Instead of using a cookie cutter P67 mold, ASUS decided to take the lessons learned from the Z68’s siblings and has incorporated a few refinements into the Po. Among them is a new PWM design alongside some expanded capabilities like onboard video connectors.

Z68-7.jpg

As with most motherboards in this price range, ASUS has decked the Pro out with a full complement of PCI-E slots in order to support Crossfire and SLI in x8 / x8 mode. A third GPU for PhysX calculations can be added in the third x4 electrical slot near the board’s lower edge.

Speaking of the lower edge, reset and power buttons with backlit LEDs have been installed for enthusiasts who use their system outside of a case.

Z68-6.jpg
Z68-8.jpg

The P8Z68-V Pro uses a full complement of eight SATA ports (four SATA II and four SATA 6G- two of which come from the Z68 PCH) which is a welcome addition after the two Gigabyte boards’ poor showing in this department.

In terms of backplate I/O connectors, there is the usual fare but we see three different types of USB connectors: four black USB 2.0 ports along with two blue and two red USB connectors. The red ports use standard USB 2.0 speeds while the blue are full speed USB 3.0 ports. There is also a Bluetooth module for wireless syncing. Video connection is basic with a single link DVI, VGA and HDMI ports but the Pro lacks the DisplayPort connector which the Gigabyte UD3 has.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,840
Location
Montreal
Z68 - Our First Impressions

Z68 - Our First Impressions


At this point, you’re likely asking yourself: is there any real benefit to buying a Z68 over a P67? Unless you’re willing to pony up the money for an entry level SSD sometime in the future, the answer is a conservative no. That’s not to say we’d never recommend a Z68 board since the platform has some phenomenal potential with features like GPU switching and Intel’s SSD caching technology.

Intel’s Smart Response Technology is actually one of the best motherboard features we have come across in a long time. While its basic design principles have been implemented in the past with varying degrees of success, Intel has succeeded in making SRT virtually invisible to the end user. The effect of caching is so impressive that disabling it will make you realize how slow your past systems really were. Granted, there isn’t a painless way to add a cache drive to a pre-existing system but hopefully that will change soon.

Virtu may sound great but the whole experience can be likened to a cake that’s not quite yet ready to come out of the oven; it may taste good in a half baked state but it’ll likely taste even better once it has time to finish. Even though Lucid’s technology is maturing at a breakneck pace, its benefits are almost non-existent right now and setting it up requires jumping through far too many hoops. There are also some obvious compatibility concerns when using iGPU mode regardless of its ability to seriously cut down on power consumption in some situations. This will likely change in the future since Virtu has the potential to be an excellent tool but we currently find its inclusion rather pointless on enthusiast and gaming-grade motherboards. Aside from some notable media transcoding benefits, Virtu is currently too buggy to have anything but limited use in most real world scenarios. Plus, with NVIDIA’s own desktop switching technology right around the corner, Lucid needs to step things up in a big way.

Z68-78.jpg

To many of you this chipset’s capabilities will read like a list of items which should have been rolled into the P67 from day one. We tend to agree, but RST caching and GPU switching are two technologies which should be embraced regardless of when they’re being introduced.

Within this quick article we looked very quickly at three motherboards. While the ASUS has its full review here, our preliminary testing suggests that all three perform within spitting distance of one another and their feature sets are broadly similar. The ASUS board may be well-heeled for a $200 product; we feel that Gigabyte’s UD5 would be an unwise purchase since it is priced far too high while eliminating the onboard GPU’s functionality. Meanwhile, the Gigabyte Z68-UD3H fits the bill perfectly as a mainstream board with everything someone could possibly want and it doesn’t break the bank either.

With all of that being said, if you haven’t already bought a P67 board we highly recommend at least considering a Z68-based product. We’re making this recommendation because unlike past platforms, this one has plenty of room to mature and developers will add new features or build upon the current ones. The Smart Response Technology is well fleshed out and can add eye opening load times to an otherwise mid-tiered system, while the GPU switching technology still needs time to iron out the kinks. Nonetheless, it will definitely be interesting to see what the future holds in store for the Z68 family.



Forum Comment Thread for this Article
 
Last edited:
Status
Not open for further replies.

Latest posts

Twitter

Top