Finals Words and conclusion
Finals Words and conclusion
As always with any Z68 review we need to break up this conclusion into two segments, the chipset and the actual motherboard review. Let's start off with the chipset. The Intel Z68 chipset takes the best of both worlds in the series 6 chipset, monitor IO wise the H67 connectivity and IGP support and the power performance and tweaking features of the P67 chipset. Combined they make a strong duo and as such I welcome the Z67 chipset very much. It's especially the H67 end-users that can live with the IGP that would like to overclock a little. It's a much missed feature for them and the Z68 closes that gap. Bear in mind though you will need a K model Sandy Bridge processor in order to overclock.
The new Intel Smart Response Technology is something interesting but we feel will be very limited to a small group of enthusiast users that understand and know what they need to do before getting it set up properly. The idea is simple, use an SSD to cache the most used data of the operating system HDD. The downside here is a fairly complicated setup and an investment of an SSD. And though we feel once you purchase an SSD you will not want to compromise with the HDD injected into that core data, it might end up as a sound solution. The performance increases are impressive none the less and combined with a small cheap SSD, this might be an excellent alternative for the budget minded that dream of SSD performance.
Though not a specific Intel feature, pretty much all Z68 boards will come with graphics switching technology, whether that comes from NVIDIA (Optimus) or Lucid Virtu will be dependant on the ODM (Original Device Manufacturer), but with Intel having a sizable share in Lucid, we think most Z68 motherboards will see the light of Virtu, allowing your motherboard to quickly switch in-between the Sandy Bridge IGP and the dedicated graphics card. Admittedly, the current control software is a joke to look at and it isn't stable either. None the less, you do get to choose from the best of both worlds, nothing is faster than transcoding a movie with MediaShow Espressso over say a Core i7 2600K processor with the now enabled benefit of Quick Sync being active. Normally when a dedicated graphics card is installed, these features would be lost. And that's where Virtu will help out, you assign your IGP to that transcoding job whereas for gaming the dedicated graphics card kicks in. We like the idea, the implementation itself needs to get a whole lot better though. But it is a decent enough start.
The MSI Z68A-GD80 (G3) motherboard itself then, yeah it is impressive alright. However thee conclusion is going to be 99.98% similar to the B3 version.
Compared to the B3 model the G3 model has two primary changes, the first being a new revision click BIOS. It looks aa lot better then the previous model, unfortunately mouse control was bugged so we accessed all values by keyboard. No biggy really, but there is work in progress for MSI on their clickBIOS alright. For whatever reason as of lately the eUFI BIOS seems to be a bit of an Achilles heel for them. I have faith though.
The second change is obviously the PCIe gen 3 implementation. To be honest, it's pretty much useless without the proper hardware supporting it. The reality remains though that when PCie Gen 3 products start to arrive, your infrastructure will be ready for it, and that's always a good thing. But at this very moment, really it just makes no difference.
So yeah, MSI takes that Z68 chipset and then adds, adds, and adds. The end result is a motherboard with superb overclockability, great baseline performance and an EFI based BIOS implementation called ClickBIOS that admittedly has improved quite a bit over the initial release we tested.
As stated, this board is loaded with features including two additional Marvel SATA 6G ports (one used for eSATA though), USB 3.0, the board features four DIMM sockets supporting up-to 32GB at 2133 MHz, it has two PCI Express x1 slots, two legacy PCI slots, as well as three PCI Express mechanical x16 slots, but don't expect surprises for multi-GPU support, since the Z68 chipset is identical to the P67 in this respect.
All in all, the component usage is top notch again and the baseline performance is on par with reference boards. The board layout is excellent, everything is well placed, you'll have plenty of FAN headers and will see the now expected as normal micro buttons for reset/power and auto overclocking, yet also a micro button to clear CMOS.
Yes, the Z68 series motherboards have a lot to offer and as such they are hard to beat. The combination of this motherboard with Intel's Z68 and Lucid Virtu mode is interesting. Really, we feel that Z68 is what H67 and P67 should have been, these two chipsets stirred up a lot of confusion. We do know for sure that hardware wise this board is absolutely magnificent.
Tweaking wise you'll achieve the same results as on P67, I mean you can clock a K series Sandy Bridge processor quite quickly to roughly 4.5 to 5.0 GHz on each and every motherboard in your hands. Your tweak results are more based on processor yield and cooling rather than the motherboard to be frank.
At the moment of writing this article the MSI Z68A-GD80 (G3) is listed for just under 200 EUR, and that is a lot of money, the board however will not be much more expensive compared to theB3 model, in fact we think both products will cost roughly the same. So why not make yourself a little more future proof ?
At sub 200 EUR we feel it seems to be a fair price given the enormous amount of features you get on a motherboard of this class. We absolutely adored spending the time to test and review this product, and as such that should be a testimony to our conclusion. As stated, the board is 99.98% similar to the Z68 B3 revision, with the two differences being the board has a new BIOS design called the Click BIOS II and support for PCIE Gen 3. Other then that, same stuff, same award, same recommendation as the B3 SKU, we however at this point in time can not show you any performance benefit of PCIe gen 3. It remains a sexy motherboard alright.