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Closer Look at Intel Z68

Intel’s marketing department tried to introduce Z68 as a completely new solution targeted for enthusiast segment. In the meanwhile, a closer look at its features reveals that it is very similar to Intel H67 that allows using integrated Intel HD Graphics 2000/3000 core.

As you can see from the flow-chart, Z68 doesn’t have any new peripheral interfaces compared with H67. Just like its predecessor, the newcomer supports eight additional PCI Express 2.0 lanes, 14 USB 2.0 ports and 6 SATA ports, two of which can work at 6 Gbps speed. In other words, the new chipset doesn’t have any unique peculiarities from the architectural standpoint. Moreover, Z68 chips are fully pin-compatible with all other LGA1155 chipsets.

So, the uniqueness of Z68 is achieved in the following two ways: by allowing access to everything available in Cougar Point chipset family right from the start and by providing enhanced software support. Here I would like to remind you that P67 chipset could be used for CPU overclocking, but didn’t support integrated graphics. The alternative H67 chipset, on the contrary, allowed using the graphics core integrated into the processor, but didn’t have the option to adjust the processor clock frequency multiplier. Z68 has both: it supports integrated graphics and can overclock processors.

As for the software component, Intel paired the launch of their new Z68 with the announcement of two new technologies. First, they enabled dynamic switching between the discrete graphics accelerator and the integrated graphics core inside the processor. This served as green light for Virtu technology from Lucid. The main idea here is to alternate the use of the add-on graphics card or Intel HD Graphics 2000/3000 core depending on the graphics sub-system utilization at a given moment of time. Second, Z68 supports Smart Response Technology that allows using a small SSD drive to cache the operations of the storage sub-system built with regular conventional hard drives.

As a result, the specifications of major LGA1155 chipsets look as follows:

Although Z68 boasts richer functionality than any other LGA1155 chipset, we can’t call it all-embracing. We were particularly upset that there was no native USB 3.0 support and very few 6 Gbps SATA ports. It is the mainboard makers again who will have to fix these issues by installing additional controllers onto their products.

I have to say that it looks like Intel will soon try to fully replace P67 with Z68. The price of these chipsets differs by only a few bucks, but the new core logic set boasts broader functionality, which should encourage mainboard makers to prefer Z68. At the same time, integrated graphics support is not a must for the new chipset, so the mainboards based on it do not have to have monitor outs at all. As for the compatibility with discrete graphics accelerators, Z68 is equivalent to P67: it supports one graphics card with PCI Express 2.0 x16 interface, or two graphics cards connected as PCI Express 2.0 x8 + x8.

From user standpoint, clean record is a great advantage the new Z68 has to offer. Since its launch was delayed until May, it doesn’t suffer from degradation of the integrated SATA controller. All existing Z68 chipsets are based on the issue-free B3 revision.

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