The latest chipset to support the LGA1155 platform, Intel’s Z68 Express didn’t provoke any sensation. It just combined the overclocking capabilities of the Intel P67 Express with the integrated graphics support of the Intel H67 Express and similar chipsets. The resulting combination was only really interesting for a rather limited group of users. Overclockers do not care much about integrated graphics as they usually take fast discrete graphics cards to build top-performance computer configurations whereas people who are satisfied with the capabilities of an integrated graphics core are generally indifferent to CPU overclocking. So, the Intel Z68 Express wouldn’t be much of a success if it were not for a couple of software-based features Intel endowed it with, limiting the rest of the LGA1155 chipsets in this respect. The two features, LucidLogix Virtu and Intel Smart Response, are not useful for everyone, though.
In fact, LucidLogix Virtu was quite a disappointment as we wrote in our first review of the Intel Z68 Express. It allows you to run a discrete graphics card along with a CPU-integrated graphics core and to switch between them as necessary. When the monitor is connected to the mainboard's video output and the discrete graphics card is used for 3D applications (the so-called i-Mode), power savings are not very high because the discrete card is never turned off. At the same time, the performance hit compared to using just a single graphics card was quite conspicuous, so i-Mode can hardly be recommended for practical use despite its being interesting theoretically. So, it is only when the discrete graphics card serves as the primary GPU (d-Mode) that we can see some benefits thanks to Intel's Quick Sync technology that offers hardware acceleration for video decoding. This d-Mode may come in handy for people who often transcode videos for smartphones or tablet PCs which can only play video content at low resolutions and in special formats. The downside is that you have to additionally buy commercial software capable of utilizing Quick Sync.
The other technology implemented in the Intel Z68 Express chipset looks somewhat more useful and applicable for a larger user audience. We already discussed Intel Smart Response in our earlier review. Its point is in accelerating a disk subsystem built out of ordinary hard disk drives by utilizing a fast but expensive solid state drive as a cache. The downside is that caching can never match the speed of a true SSD and the technology will only be effective for repeating disk operations because the speed of the first access is still limited by the HDD's capabilities. Still, this is a rather affordable means of giving your disk subsystem a performance boost.
The interesting thing about this mainboard is that it features an mSATA connector with a compact SSD drive from Intel with 20 GB capacity, which is specifically designed for Intel Smart Response technology. We'll tell you about this and other features of the mainboard in our review.
Packaging and Accessories
The Gigabyte GA-Z68XP-UD3-iSSD box is designed in Gigabyte’s traditional style. There are a lot of logos of various technologies on its face side.
On the back of the box you can find a picture of the mainboard and a brief description of its key features.
The accessories to the mainboard are Gigabyte’s standard, too. The only new item is a booklet on preparing your system for Intel Smart Response. Here is a full list of the mainboard’s accessories:
- Four SATA cables with metal connector locks, two with L-shaped locks and another two with straight ones;
- A flexible bridge for two-way SLI graphics configurations;
- I/O Shield for the back panel;
- User manual;
- A booklet with brief assembly instructions in 18 languages;
- A multi-lingual brochure about getting your system ready for Intel Smart Response technology;
- A notice warning you that the mainboard is incompatible with LGA1156 processors;
- DVD disk with software and drivers;
- “Dolby Home Theater” and “Gigabyte” logo stickers for the system case.