Despite early hiccups Intel has seen a lot of success with its Sandybridge line of processors. Even in a weak economy and with established companies thinking of walking out of the PC business (read HP), Intel has fared well. In fact it has done better than that, turning in tons of cash making everyone in the boardroom happy.
WCCFTech took a look at the MSI Z68GD65 motherboard based on Intel’s latest offering; the Z68 chipset.
Today we have two more Z68 boards, both from Asus. The Z68V-Pro and the Z68 Deluxe.
|Processor Support||All LGA 1155 Processors|
|Segment||Enthusiast (Deluxe) / Mid-Range (V-Pro)|
|Memory||DDR3 4 Slots / 32GB|
|Features||Dual Intelligent Processors (TPU + EPU) DIGI + VRMBluethooth 2GoExtra USB & SATA 6 GBPS PortsLucid Virtu SupportUSB 3.0 Front Panel Box (Deluxe only)Dual LAN (Deluxe only)Diagnostic LED Display (Deluxe only)|
|Slots||PCI-e x16 (3) (x16 or x8,x8/ x4*)PCI-e x1 (2)PCI (2)*Shares PCI-e lanes with additional USB 3.0 ports& PCI-e x1 slots (Pro only)|
|Overclocking||Yes (Both Processor and Graphics Core)|
|I/O||USB 2.0 & USB 3.0SATA 6GbpsLAN (Realtek*+ Intel)(*only on deluxe)BT2GoHDMI/D-Sub/ DVI Video out (Pro Only)|
The Z68 Refresher
Z68 is what the P67 should have been. Z68 unlike the P67 and like the H6x PCH allows the use of and over-clock the graphics core within the second generation core processors. Like the P67 and unlike the H6x, it can also over-clock the processor core (or more correctly over-clock memory). Thus Z68 is a sum of P67 and H6x. Intel added a couple of extras to make Z68 relevant.
A cursory glance at the diagram will reveal that Z68 allows for the use of onboard graphics dye. A more interesting feature is the “Intel Smart Response Technology”. This allows the use of a (small capacity; maximum of ~60GB) SSD to complement hard disk performance. In fact Intel sells a specific SSD model (based on SLC) to serve this purpose. Apart from this, there is nothing new here. It is basically an H6x and P67 hybrid. More correctly, it is a H67 which allows processor core over-clocking.
Packaging & Accessories
Both the boards come in standard Asus boxes for Sandybridge motherboards. The deluxe comes in a flip top box with a transparent window below the flip while the pro gets the bog standard box.
Asus has never been the one to hold back on accessories. Both models come with tons of extras. The Deluxe version has the all-important front USB 3.0 box. If your case does not have front USB 3.0 ports the Z68 Deluxe has you covered. Asus EZ connectors, multi GPU bridges and the obligatory IO shield, manuals & the disk complete the list of accessories provided with the boards.
Both boards are full ATX affairs and have the exact same appearance as other Asus P6x & H6x boards. The black PCB has mostly blue components (heat sinks/ expansion ports). If one were to take heat sink assembly and all labels off it would be difficult to tell the two boards apart while looking from the top. In fact the two boards look a lot like the P8P67-Pro model from Asus. I guess it saves cost to use the same basic design, but it does get monotonous and boring really quickly.
There is enough clearance around the socket area for the largest of heat sinks. Installing a Thermalright HR-02 was really easy though it was a tad difficult to tighten the retention mechanism screw that is surrounded by heatsinks on two sides. The Deluxe model features an extra heatsink over the power circuitry which is connected via heat pipe to the main heat sink behind the socket. Both boards feature a 12+2 phase design for CPU and memory. Both also feature 4 phase design for the integrated GPU.
The LGA 1155 socket comes from an unknown manufacturer and is pretty much a standard affair.
Both boards feature 4 DDR3 memory slots with the EZ installation design. The slots have only one tab that needs to be moved to secure and release the memory sticks. The far end of the slot, closest to the graphics card has fixed support for the memory stick. This makes changing memory sticks without removing the graphics card very, very easy.
The Energy Processing Unit (EPU, Pro model only) and the TurboV Processing Unit (TPU) On/Off switch & the mem OK! switch are all located in front of the memory slots.
The EPU is designed to improve power efficiency, while TPU is helps in over-clocking either via the EFI or the bundled AI suite utility.
The mem OK! switch enhances compatibility with memory units that might not be supported properly by the EFI. Activating mem OK allows the board to (try) and boot with the most stable memory configuration (which might not be the fastest). During testing we found this to be valuable as we had an odd herring or two when it comes to memory.
The boards feature 8 right angled SATA ports. The Intel SATA 6Gbps ports (white) are in-between SATA 3Gbps ports (Blue on the left)and Marvell SATA 6Gbps ports (dark blue, right).
The Z68 chipset lies under a low profile heatsink which should not interfere with multi-slot GPUs. Notice the slightly different design of the heat sinks on the two boards (the deluxe on the top and pro on the bottom).
The internal USB 3.0 header lies just to the right of the SATA ports. In-between the two is the EFI chip.
The expansion slots on the two boards are laid out identically. The two PCI-e x1 slots alternate with the first PCI-e x16 slot (blue), while the two PCI slots alternate with the second PCI-e x16 slot (white).
Notice the PLX chip next to the blue x16 slot? This provides additional PCI-e lanes on the deluxe so that the third x16 slot (black) has dedicated x4 bandwidth. On the Pro model this slot shares PCI-e lanes with the x1 slots as well as the internal USB 3.0 header. The user can either choose to use the black x16 slot or the two x1slots together with internal USB 3.0 ports.
The USB 3.0 controller on the pro board is of Asus’s own design (Asmedia). As you’ll later find out the controller is just as good as the NEC/Renasas controller found on many other boards. The deluxe comes with the more ‘traditional’ NEC controller.
The left edge of the board features the front panel connector area together with the USB 2.0 and front port audio connectors. The deluxe model also features the LED display, power & reset buttons (the Pro has these as well) as well as the TPU on/off switch.
The rear IO area has a different layout on the two boards. The deluxe (shown on the left) has the PS/2 port, digital & co-axial SP/DIF connector, dual LAN ports together with the USB 2.0, USB 3.0, E-SATA and fire wire ports. Notice the lack of any video outputs what so ever! That implies that an external graphics card is required even if the user is only interested in using the integrated GPU. All switching is done via Lucid’s Virtu software. This will incur overhead penalties. But in all honesty anyone who intends on buying this board will end up getting a discrete GPU.
The Pro features only digital SP/DIF but adds HDMI/ D-sub and DVI video outputs.
Both boards also feature the BT2Go Bluetooth dongle.
Both boards are powered by a Realtek ALC892 multichannel audio codecs.
There are subtle differences between the back of two boards. The deluxe features support for its extra heat sink which the pro lacks.
Both board feature multitude of fan connectors located strategically over the board. Only the fan connector is of the 4pin PWM variety, the rest are your regular 3 pin types.
Both boards have identicallayouts. As has been mentioned the design is similar across the Asus’s P8Xxx range. This is not necessarily a bad thing as the Asus design is easy to work with. The lack of video outputs on the deluxe is a bit of a surprise and Asus will lose points for this.
Asus’s implementation of EFI is probably the best of its kind. Asus uses the same layout across all of its LGA 1155 boards, be it the top end ROG board or the budget H61ML-E, the EFI looks and works exactly the same.
The EFI can be switched between a basic and advanced mode. The latter exposes the AI Tweaker menu which allows excellent control over over-clocking parameters.
Switching between iGPU (integrated GPU) and dGPU (discrete GPU) is done via the EFI (in conjunction with Lucid’s Virtu software).
Those looking to share their EFI settings can now easily do so. Simply pressing a function key allows the active screen to be saved to a thumb drive.
Bundled Software & Over-clocking
The board comes with Asus’s AI suite II application. This all in one utility can be considered a launch center for various sub apps which deal with monitoring, over-clocking, setting up EPU and DIGI+ VRM settings etc. The implementation again is similar for both the boards being reviewed today
Over-clocking is accomplished via the TurboV Evo utility and offers controls that mirror those found in the EFI. Most users will use the utility to fine tune their over-clocks rather than setting up one.
CPU-Z & OVER-CLOCKING
Over-clocking both boards is really, really easy. This is due to the excellent options provided in the EFI as well as provision of high quality components on board. Using the latest version of the EFI (at the time of testing) we were easily able to hit 4.8GHz on our 2600K with little effort. A little more time spent tweaking could easily result in higher over-clocks at lower voltage settings.
We used the AI tuner (in the EFI) to achieve a quick and dirty over clock and built our own on top of that.
Lucid is a company that specializes in multi display technology, its primary product, Hydra, made a name for itself by providing hardware base support for asymmetric multi GPU processing. Lucid also provides a software solution for the Z68 chipset that allows the concurrent use of onboard and discrete graphics dubbed “Virtu”. In “i-mode” the video display is connected to the onboard video output. This allows the concurrent use of both display hardware (in the CPU as well discrete video card) setups. This allows the use of integrated GPU for video conversion (via Quick Sync) and gaming on discrete GPU at the same time. The problem is that, as the output is connected on integrated GPU, all information from the discrete GPU must pass through the integrated GPU’s frame buffer. As the software must intercept what is being run on discrete GPU Lucid must update Virtu for new games (or otherwise) that are released. The following flow sheet shows how this is done:
If the video output is connected to the discrete GPU (the “d-mode”), the user gets the absolute best discrete graphics performance as all graphics data does have to go through integrated GPU’s frame butter. Quick sync is still available in d-mode.
The advantage of i-mode is power saving as well as access to both discrete and integrated graphics. The disadvantage is a performance hit on discrete graphics performance (which could be up to 40% especially in gaming). The advantage of d-mode is absolute best discrete GPU performance, SLI and XFire availability of integrated graphics (for quick sync). The disadvantage is considerably greater energy consumption.
It must be noted that Virtu is a requirement for dual GPU use. Intel does not provide its own solution to this end.
As the deluxe model is devoid of any onboard video outputs you will need to use a dedicated video card even if you plan on using the iGPU!
Improved Hard drive Performance (Smart Response Technology)
The other feature of the Z68 is its ability to improve hard disk performance by using an SSD as an IO cache for the hard disk, what Intel calls Smart Response Technology (SRT). This is not a hardware feature. Intel can make it available to P67 users as well. Intel’s RAID driver controls caching. It is a pity that Intel is trying to ‘strong arm’ customers into buying a new product where as the old product can do just a good a job! Intel allows a maximum of 64GB of SSD space to be used as cache. Any remaining space can be treated as a physical drive.
Intel’s driver allows for either a ‘enhanced’ mode (minimal benefits, maximum security) or ‘maximized’ mode that offers maximal benefits, but if the SSD cache dies (for whatever reason) it could have detrimental impact on your hard disk.
Intel offers its own 20GB SLC SSD to be used with Z68 boards as cache.
We did not have enough time to test SRT with the two Asus boards. But we were able to test it on the MSI Z68-GD65. Those who are interested can read the results posted in the review. Given that this is a PCH feature I doubt the results would be too different.
Testing motherboards is not an easy task. No matter what types of test are done the CPU’s performance does come into play. Testing IO is basically only testing the ability of the PCH. Thus what separates motherboards these days is their ability to provide functionality you need (read over clocking potential, RAID, multi GPU setup etc). But as the saying goes; when in Rome do as Romans do; we’ll put up some numbers to prove that we did spend time testing the board to dissect the ‘quantum’ difference between it and its peers!
|Motherboard||Asus P8Z68-V ProAsus P8Z68 DeluxeAsus P8P67Asus Sabertooth P67MSI Z68A-GD65MSI P67A-GD65MSI P67A-C43|
|Processor||Intel Core i7-2600K|
|Video||HIS 6950 2GB|
|Memory||G.Skill sniper 2×4 GB (1600MHz; CL 9; 1.25V)|
|Hard Disk||Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 1TB (Both Systems)|
|Power||Thermaltake Tough-power XT 775 Watts|
|OS||Windows 7 (Service Pack 1)|
|Synthetic||Sandra 2011X264 Benchmark (HD V3)Cinebench3Dmark11 –Physics Test|
|Real World||7-ZipFar Cry 2Crysis – Warhead|
|I/O Performance||SATA –HD TuneUSB Crystal Mark 3|
|S67||Asus Sabertooth P67|
|Z68P||Asus P8Z68-V Pro|
|Z68D||Asus P8Z68 Deluxe|
All benchmark indices are rounded off to the nearest 0.
Sandra is a very competent stress testing and benchmarking suite.
The Asus ‘Z’ series behaves exactly like the MSI model tested sometime ago. The ‘Z’ and ‘P’ series offer similar performance across the three Sandra tests.
X264 HD V3 & Cinebench R11.5
This benchmark measures the encoding performance of the processor. It offers a standardized benchmark as the clip as well as the encoder used is uniform.
Cinebench is based on Maxon’s Cinema 4D. It is used to compare graphics as well as processor performance.
Try as you might, you will not be able to tell the boards apart if we were to remove the legend! The CPU determines performance.
3D Mark 11 – Physics Test & Games
This is the latest incarnation of one of the oldest graphics benchmarking suites. The latest incarnation supports DirectX 11. It has a physics test that emulates physics on the processor.
The Z68Pro and Deluxe are at the top… and so is everyone else!
The base line for all tests is a Core i7-950 processor running at its default speed (100%)
Far Cry 2
|Far Cry 2||1680×1050|
|Benchmark||Inbuilt ‘Ranch Small’ CPU|
|Rendering Path||DX 9 – Medium|
Crysis – Warhead
|Crysis – Warhead||1680×1050|
|Rendering Path||DX 9; Physics Set to Enthusiast|
The situation does not change when testing games.
Some might argue against using 7-zip’s compression and decompression benchmark as a ‘real world’ test. But if you try and think about it for a minute, the benchmark does show how fast the program will either compress or decompress, while negating the impact of disk transfers.
If it were not for the way in which the performance axis is scaled all board would have a similarly long bar (graph).
IO Tests: Storage
USB performance was compared between boards. Crystal Mark V3 was used in conjunction with a USB 3.0 compliant Kingston Data Traveler (Ultimate 16 GB). This will be the first time that we would be able to see the Asmedia USB 3.0 controller in action.
Apart from a slight advantage in the sequential write test all both controllers perform equally well.
HD Tune was used to assess SATA performance.
Minor differences separate all of the board that have been tested so far.
As has been seen before, benchmarking Sandy-bridge boards to split apples from oranges is a difficult and an unrewarding task. All of the important circuitry is on the processor die which makes it the deciding factor (vis-à-vis benchmark performance) rather than motherboard. The end user is more likely to base his (or her) buying preference on the feature set and ease of use. After sales support will also play a major role in this decision.
Asus P8Z68 Pro
The pro offers an excellent package for those looking to harness the power of the Z68 PCH. It offers everything that the elder model offers (in terms of basic performance features) and beyond that offers onboard video output (which the deluxe lacks).
It does however lack the extra PCI-e lanes to offer dedicated bandwidth to the third PCi-e x16 slot. It shares bandwidth with the PCi-e x1 and (internal) USB 3.0 ports.
Asus P8Z68 Deluxe
The Deluxe is the top of the line P8 series board from Asus. It offers just enough (extra) featuresto differentiate it from the Pro. The accessories package is also better as it offers a USB 3.0 box for the front panel.
The PLX chip provides enough PCI-e lanes to provide bandwidth to the third PCI-e x16 slot, PCI-e x1 slots and internal USB 3.0 ports all at the same time.
Internal power & reset power buttons& LED diagnostic display put the finishing touches to the package.
Onboard Video output is strangely missing from the board. This is a glaring omission for a board whose strength and main differentiating factor from the ‘P’ series is simultaneous use (and over-clocking) of CPU and GPU cores.
If price was not a deciding factor and the use of onboard video not essential (without a dedicated GPU) the Deluxe wins this battle hands down. But if you want the same performance at a lower cost while forgoing certain extras (listed below) and gaining the ability to use iGPU, then the Pro makes a lot more sense.
The following table highlights the differences between the two boards.
|*PLX Chip (extra PCIe BW)||None||Yes|
|*USB 3.0 Controller||AsMedia||NEC|
|*Onboard Video outs||HDMI/D-sub/DVI||None|
|*Onboard Power/Reset Buttons||Yes||Yes|
|*Heat-sink (power circuits)||2 piece||3 piece|
|*SP/DIF||Digital only||Digital + Analogue|
|*USB 3.0 box (front panel)||None||Yes|