Articles: Mainboards

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The Z68 Express still being Intel's latest chipset, we keep on writing our reviews of Z68-based mainboards. By the current moment we've already tested the top-end Z68A-GD80 (B3) from MSI as well as a number of such products from Gigabyte. Particularly, we first reviewed the four models from the Gigabyte UD3P to the UD7 which lacked video outputs, then took a look at the GA-Z68X-UD3H-B3 which had a large selection of video interfaces and finally discussed the unique Gigabyte GA-Z68XP-UD3-iSSD which featured an integrated 20GB SSD from Intel to enable Intel Smart Response. Our list lacks ASUS products so far, so we are going to test as many as three of them today: the top-end P8Z68 Deluxe, the midrange P8Z68-V Pro and the junior ASUS P8Z68-V. The LGA1155 mainboards from ASUS we tested earlier offered a number of benefits such as an integrated Bluetooth controller, EFI BIOS, broad functionality and good overclockability. The P8Z68 Deluxe, P8Z68-V Pro and P8Z68-V all match this brief description, too, so let's delve into details right now.

ASUS P8Z68 Deluxe

The P8Z68 Deluxe is shipped in a standard-looking box whose face panel shows the name of the mainboard and logos of the various features and technologies implemented in it. On the back of the box you can find a picture of the mainboard, its specifications and a brief description of some of its features. The only thing that betrays the high status of the product (besides the word Deluxe in its name) is that you can flip back the cover of the box and take a look at the mainboard through a large window without taking it out.

The mainboard comes with the following accessories:

  • Six SATA cables with metal connector locks, half with L-shaped locks and another half with straight ones. Two pairs are specifically designed for SATA 6 Gbps devices (have white inserts on the connectors);
  • A flexible bridge for two-way SLI graphics configurations;
  • Additional unit with two USB 3.0 ports to go into the 3.5-inch chassis bay;
  • I/O Shield for the back panel;
  • “Asus Q-Connector” set including adapters for easy connection of the system case front panel buttons and indicators and a USB 2.0 port;
  • User manual;
  • DVD disk with software and drivers;
  • “Powered by ASUS” sticker for the system case.

We want to note one very useful accessory here. It is the USB 3.0 module with two ports that can be installed into a 3.5-inch bay of your system case. Newer system cases support USB 3.0 natively, but this module will help you endow your old system case with USB 3.0 as well.

The PCB design is familiar to us as it resembles the ASUS P8P67 Deluxe we tested earlier. We can only see some discrepancies in the CPU voltage regulator, which might be expected since the CPU-integrated graphics core calls for additional power. Otherwise, there is no difference between the two mainboards.

The CPU socket supports all modern LGA1155 CPUs. The four memory slots can take in up to 32 gigabytes of system memory and ensure dual-channel access at a frequency of 800 to 2400 MHz. Besides the two SATA 6 Gb/s and four SATA 3 Gb/s ports serviced by the chipset, there are two SATA 6 Gb/s ports based on a Marvell 88SE9128 controller. The two eSATA 3 Gb/s ports on the back panel are implemented via a JMicron JMB362 chip. One of them is Power eSATA and can power the connected device. The mainboard has two PCI, two PCI Express 2.0 x1 and three PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots. That's where the additional PLX PEX 8608 controller comes into play.

The 16 PCIe 2.0 lanes available in the CPU can be split up into two 8-lane groups by the chipset, so it is natural for Z68-based mainboards to have two graphics card slots. But when a third graphics slot is added, the CPU can't give any more PCIe lanes whereas the chipset's PCIe interface is needed for the rest of interfaces and controllers. Therefore the third graphics slot is usually allotted but one PCIe lane or four lanes at the expense of some other interfaces. The list of features that are disabled when the third graphics slot is used can usually be found in small print somewhere in the mainboard specs. These are usually onboard SATA or eSATA controllers, USB 3.0, IEEE1394 (FireWire), PCI or PCIe x1 slots. The P8Z68 Deluxe is different as it employs a PLX PEX 8608 controller to have an additional eight PCI Express 2.0 lanes so that you could use all the graphics slots without losing anything in other features.

We've mentioned some of the onboard controllers above. We will list the rest of them in the description of the mainboard's back panel:

  • PS/2 connector for keyboard or mouse;
  • Eight USB 2.0 ports, four more USB ports are available as two onboard pin-connectors;
  • Two USB 3.0 ports (blue connectors) implemented via Renesas (NEC) D720200F1 controller, the second controller like that provides support for two more internal USB 3.0 ports;
  • Coaxial and optical S/PDIF and six analogue audio-jacks provided by eight-channel Realtek ALC889 codec;
  • Bluetooth V2.1 + EDR module;
  • IEEE1394 (FireWire) port implemented via VIA 6315N controller, the second port is available as an onboard pin-connector;
  • Power eSATA 3 Gbps ports (green connectors) and eSATA 3 Gbps ports implemented via JMicron JMB362 controller;
  • Clear CMOS button;
  • Two local network ports (network adapters are built on Gigabit Intel WG82579V and Realtek RTL8111E controllers).

Being a top-end and expensive product, the P8Z68 Deluxe has a lot of onboard controllers, extra features and technologies. A low-performance integrated graphics core doesn't fit into the concept of a powerful and feature-rich mainboard, so the lack of video outputs on the back panel could be expected. This mainboard is meant to be used with a discrete graphics card, or even several such cards combined into a  CrossFireX or SLI subsystem. The place of the video interfaces is occupied by other connectors. However, the lack of video outputs doesn't mean that the mainboard cannot work with the CPU-integrated graphics core at all. Using LucidLogix Virtu technology, you can enable Intel Quick Sync to get hardware acceleration for video decoding.

The P8Z68 Deluxe has a number of features typical of other ASUS products such as the highlighted Power and Reset buttons. There is also a MemOK! button that helps start the computer up in case of some memory-related problems. The graphics slots are equipped with handy Q-Slot latches whereas the memory slots have Q-DIMM latches on one side only. In case of some problems, the Q-LED indicators report the step at which the boot-up process has been halted while the exact reason for that will be shown by the POST code indicator. The TPU switch can be used to overclock the CPU automatically while the EPU switch enables power-saving operation modes.

The next picture illustrates the mainboard's capabilities.

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