MSI Z68A-GD65 B3 Motherboard Review
MSI employs its Click bios icon based mouse driven interface for EFI navigation. It is easy to use, though not quite as polished as the Asus solution. The main EFI screen has only 5 icons for each of the 5 main functions. Each icon then takes you to a subset of icons or control parameters.
The Utilities icon gives you access to a very hand memory tester, an equally handy HD backup program, ability to update the EFI online and design your own boot screen. The last three utilities require the motherboard’s disk to be in the optical drive.
The settings icon takes you to another series of icons via which you can setup your board, update the bios and check the system status.
Perhaps the most unique aspect of the EFI is provision of games! Yup you heard it right the EFI has games functionality. Don’t expect these to be your Call of Duty level games. They are basic games reminiscent of 80s arcade games. Good time killers, but nothing more than that.
Perhaps the most important icon is the over-clocking icon. This takes you to the various parameters that will help in your over-clocking endeavors.
As you can see that the board allows complete control over core CPU voltage, memory voltage and some control over PCH voltage.
You can also set the OC genie button function in the EFI. If this is activated then it is only possible (recommended) to change the various over-clocking parameters via software (MSI Control Center II, discussed below).
As always it is recommended to use the latest EFI available for this board.
As the board supports discrete as well as integrated graphics as well Lucid’s’ Virtu software for hybrid GPU functions (more on Virtu a little later), the EFI allows the user to switch between “i-mode” (where the output is connected to the onboard connector and any work being done on the discrete graphics must be copied over to the integrated GPUs frame buffer before being displayed) or ‘d-mode’. In this mode the output is connected to the discrete graphics card. This delivers discrete GPU performance.
Bundled Software & Over-clocking
The board comes with MSI’s Control Center II application, which is one of the best software based over-clocking tools I have ever used.
Apart from its use as monitoring tool (for voltages, frequencies and power phases in use), the tool also allows software based over-clocking either via an automatic algorithm (OC Genie) or manual adjustment. To use the former one must press the OC Genie button on the board.
The board booted successfully at 4.2 GHz by using OC Genie, by manual tweaking we were able to get to a speed of 4.5 GHz using nothing but the standard heat-sink! This required exactly the same voltage as compared to the P67-GD65 board that WCCFTech tested sometime ago.
Note: Download the latest version of Control center from MSI’s website for enhanced stability.
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.
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 had a G.Skill SSD lying around that was tested sometime ago. We did a ‘dirty’ test (using maximized mode) to see how our OS boot times (from Starting Windows screen to Login Screen, see system specs below for more information) would improve by using this drive as a cache
|With SSD||Without SSD|
|71 Seconds||47 Seconds|
An improvement of about 35%, not too shabby!