Articles: Mainboards

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Some time ago we checked out the capabilities of Intel’s Z68 Express chipset in one of our reviews. I must confess I personally was somewhat disappointed with it. Of course, there are some good things about that chipset like the opportunity to overclock CPUs without turning off the integrated graphics core. Up till now, it has been unclear why overclocker-friendly CPUs with the K index in their name had the most advanced version of the Intel HD Graphics 3000 core. And while the purpose of the integrated graphics in such CPUs is still rather questionable, it can at least be put to some use. The new technologies such as Lucid Virtu and Intel Smart Response are also a step forward, yet they are not without downsides, either.

I had expected the opportunity of switching between discrete and integrated graphics cores to appear a few years ago as part of Nvidia’s Hybrid Power technology. However, it didn’t ever make it to Intel’s desktop platforms and eventually ceased to be used with AMD CPUs, too. Therefore, I was interested the most in Lucid Virtu’s i-Mode when you connect your monitor to the mainboard’s video interface while your discrete graphics card is only used for 3D applications. However, I couldn't observe much benefit in terms of power saving since the external graphics card was not turned off completely. Meanwhile, the performance reduction compared to using the graphics card alone was quite noticeable, so I doubt that anyone will want to run his computer in i-Mode. As for d-Mode in which the discrete GPU serves as the primary one, the performance reduction isn’t that significant and you can also make use of the Intel Quick Sync technology for hardware-accelerated video transcoding. This mode will surely be appreciated by people who often transcode video, but you should be aware that you will need commercial software capable of utilizing this CPU feature.

Even the seemingly blameless Intel Smart Response technology which is supposed to accelerate your disk subsystem by using an SSD for caching does not look ideal to me because you will still need to invest into the SSD to make use of it. You may find that giving up conventional HDDs altogether in favor of SSDs would be an even better option for you.

I guess I've made the reasons for my disappointment with the Intel Z68 Express clear. It is not a versatile chipset that can be recommended for everybody's use. It does have certain benefits but they will only be appreciated by certain categories of users. You may want to consider buying a Z68-based mainboard if you need high CPU performance, if you want to overclock your CPU, and if you do not care much about your computer’s 3D performance. You may also be interested in such a mainboard if you often transcode video: Lucid Virtu's d-Mode is going to help you get higher performance by utilizing the Intel Quick Sync technology. And finally, if you've packed a lot of high-capacity HDDs into your system and do not want to give them up, you can make your disk subsystem more responsive by means of an additional SSD and Intel Smart Response. That's about all. For the rest of users and usage scenarios, it would be wiser to buy a mainboard based on Intel P67 Express or H67 Express chipset for your LGA1155 platform.

Anyway, Z68-based mainboards have been developed, announced and released, so we begin our tests of them. Gigabyte, in particular, has introduced a dozen products based on the new chipset and you should be aware that some of them do not support Lucid Virtu and do not even have regular video outputs, which means that they do not allow using the CPU’s integrated graphics. I am going to test as many as four such mainboards today. These are Gigabyte GA-Z68X-UD3P-B3, GA-Z68X-UD4-B3, GA-Z68X-UD5-B3 and GA-Z68X-UD7-B3.

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