Intel Z68 Review - The Sandy Bridge Platform Expands
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.
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.
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