Intel Z68 Review - The Sandy Bridge Platform Expands

Author: SKYMTL
Date: May 11, 2011
Product Name: Intel Z68 Chipset
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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.

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.

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