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Intel Z68 Chipset Review: dGPU and iGPU living together, SSD Caching and Overclocking

Manufacturer: ASUS

Z68 is what we wanted all along

In reality, this is what we wanted all along.  When the Intel P67 chipset launched in conjunction with the Intel Sandy Bridge desktop processors, the combination of the new architecture of the x86 processing cores and the newly revamped overclocking capability (courtesy of the enhanced Intel Turbo Boost technology) made for a lethal configuration.  Without a doubt it was the highest performing platform for enthusiasts and gamers and put even more pressure on the AMD CPU division to step up its game.  Intel asserted itself again as the dominant CPU vendor.

The other key feature addition to Sandy Bridge was the inclusion of some fairly high performing integrated processor graphics on the CPU die itself, NOT on the chipset.  The Intel HD Graphics 3000 / 2000 far exceeds the horsepower of the integrated graphics on the Clarkdale processors but that really wasn't hard to achieve.  Along with that added graphical performance was the inclusion of a very interesting feature called Intel Quick Sync that allowed specific applications to take advantage of fixed function hardware on the CPU for incredibly fast video transcoding times.

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The problem was that even mainstream users that decided to use a discrete graphics card in their computer rather than depend SOLELY on the integrated graphics of the Sandy Bridge architecture, lost out on the Quick Sync feature all together.  Why?  The P67 chipset that supported overclocking and other "high-end" features didn't include video output support.  The H67 chipset that DOES support video output does not offer overclocking functionality.  And since the Quick Sync technology was only available when the integrated graphics were initialized, most of our readers that really wanted to game and use a discrete GPU from NVIDIA or AMD were out of luck.  

Today's reveal of the Intel Z68 chipset finally presents a solution that combines the features of the H67 chipset with those of the P67 chipset to create the best option for Sandy Bridge system builders. 

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Users will no longer have to choose between the two sides of Intel's Sandy Bridge design as the Z68 chipset combines the ability to tune and overclock the system with core ratio adjustment, graphics clock speeds changes, DDR3 memory ratios and voltage increases and also access the features of Intel's processor graphics like Quick Sync, Intel Insider DRM and accelerated Blu-ray / 3D playback too. 

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But the fun doesn't stop there as Intel is bringing a brand new feature to the Z68 chipset as well that should whet the appetite of anyone that knows of the power and speed of solid state drives.  Dubbed Intel Smart Response Technology, the new Intel storage technology will allow a user to setup an SSD to be used a cache for a standard spindle-based hard drive.  The result is that your will likely see your most frequently used applications and data loading as fast as they would with an SSD as your boot partition but with added benefits of the larger 2+ TB hard drives.  

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This feature is going to be a major differentiator for Intel and as such we gave a configuration and setup to our storage guru Allyn Malventano to play around with.  So while we are mentioning the feature in this review, you won't see a lot more than that.  If you want to see all the performance details and configuration options that the Smart Response Technology, you definitely need to check out Allyn's full and complete analysis of it. 

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You will also see the inclusion of various switchable graphics technologies such as Lucid Virtu and yes, NVIDIA's upcoming Synergy.  While we have already spent a good amount of time with Virtu (and we will touch on it again here in this review today), we are still waiting for NVIDIA to step up and show us what they have.  The key though here is that Intel and its partners are working to find a way for users to take advantage of both discrete graphics and the integrated Sandy Bridge graphics.  Being able to actually utilize ALL of the hardware a user is paying for - now that sounds like something we can get behind.

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Not only will you be able to connect a single monitor to your system and take advantage of both the integrated and discrete graphics, but you will also be able to utilize both sets of display outputs at the same time so you can connect quite a few monitors to your computer based on the Z68 platform.  Above you can see we are using one DVI connection on the discrete NVIDIA graphics card and the DVI output on our ASUS P8Z68-V Pro motherboard as well.  

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For our testing throughout this article (and Allyn's storage testing) we in fact utilized the ASUS P8Z68-V Pro motherboard.  There will be lots of Z68 motherboards on the shelf starting today as all of the major vendors have been ramping up for this transition for months and months.  We have options in-house or incoming from ASUS, ECS, Gigabyte, MSI and many more.  Let's take a quick look our specific board.

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May 11, 2011 | 03:18 AM - Posted by Tim Verry

Finally, the NDA is over :D

May 11, 2011 | 05:36 AM - Posted by Chaitanya Shukla (not verified)

I will wait the ROG motherboard from Asus for my next PC, lets hope the wait will be worth it.

May 11, 2011 | 11:07 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

No mention of USB-3 eh? What gives?

May 11, 2011 | 01:59 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

What do you mean? It is mentioned on the second page of the review and the chipset itself continues to NOT implement it directly making it a motherboard vendors choice.

May 11, 2011 | 06:36 PM - Posted by klatch

I've noticed that MSI is promoting their "Military Class" features and Giga-Byte is pushing their "Ultra Durable 3" stuff, with each of them talking about things like solid capaciters and other things that make the boards more durable and have a longer life expectancy. I don't see any of this from ASUS; is this just a marketing failure on their side or do they not use the same quality of components etc that MSI and Giga-Byte do? Or is it not a big deal in the first place. I looked at their site and only the "Deluxe" Z68 board lists solid capacitors.

Side note: I posted this before but I must not have put the verification code in after submitting before closing the screen. Is there not a way to make the verification code be on-screen at the time I compose the post or will that make things bad for the site with spammers?

May 11, 2011 | 04:34 PM - Posted by klatch

Additionally, I saw that in the hardocp review they talk about having an issue where the processor wouldn't do anything other than max frequency and idle frequency if there were any changes made to default bios settings (ie: it woudln't scale between those properly. Did you guys notice this also? They say it isn't a big deal but for me, even though I do intend to overclock, I also want to be as smart as possible with power usage. Details here, about 3/4 of the way down in the under the heading called "Note":

May 12, 2011 | 11:27 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Nope, I definitely did not see this. When I overclocked the CPU manually or through the OC Tuner, it always clocked back down to the 1600 MHz idle state.

May 12, 2011 | 12:51 PM - Posted by klatch

Yeah, it goes down to 1600 when idle but I think what they are saying is that it is either 100% or idle - never anything in between and apparently it should be hitting in between. Did you take a look at their article? I'm really close to buying this board when I am off work but I'm wondering whether this is an issue just with their board or if it is something that should make me look elsewhere.

May 12, 2011 | 03:18 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Ah okay, interesting, I didn't specifically see that or NOT see that either. I'll take a look.

May 12, 2011 | 04:30 PM - Posted by klatch

Thanks. I think they basically are saying that turbo mode is always fully engaged any time the CPU isn't idling. I'm planning on buying this board in about 5 hours so bang out that test. =)

May 11, 2011 | 07:48 PM - Posted by SpeedyVV (not verified)

It looks like the DVI is single link. Can you confirm it is Dual? ie support 2560x1600?

May 11, 2011 | 08:01 PM - Posted by klatch

Based on the pin layout it looks like Dual Link DVI-D to me.

May 12, 2011 | 11:27 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Yes, it can handle 2560x1600 resolutions without issue.

May 12, 2011 | 10:21 PM - Posted by AParsh335i (not verified)

Here is a big question for me which could get me to return a whole bunch of stuff i just bought - if you team an Nvidia graphics card like the GTX 560ti (which does not support 3x monitors without SLI) and combine it with this motherboard will you be able to use the 2 DVI on the 560ti and the 1 DVI on the motherboard and now have 3x monitors for a resolution like 5760x1080? This could be a big selling point for some people if they are debating Nvidia VS AMD because AMD is adding it as a standard feature on most cards if you buy the $30 adapter.

May 12, 2011 | 10:25 PM - Posted by AParsh335i (not verified)

I'm going to add a second part to my question that is only applicable if the answer to the first part was yes. If, in fact, you can do do nvidia surround (3x monitors) now without needing SLI thanks to this motherboard it would be great to see a comparison of a p67 + 6950 2GB @ 5760x1080 vs a z68 + 560ti @ 5760x1080.

May 14, 2011 | 07:18 PM - Posted by Max (not verified)

Asus got TUF bot only for sabertooth.

October 8, 2011 | 01:52 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I'm building a PC with mostly Corsair, ASUS P8Z-Pro, Intel 2500K, ect. I had problems with the LAN not working. The internet connection was On/Off, so returned it and got another new ASUS MB Pro and new 2500K from Fry's, Guess waht the exact same thing. I called ASUS and the rep. said they had a big problem with that same issue and to get the Maxium MB instead?????

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