PCB Design and Functionality
MSI Z68A-GD80 (G3) is an exact replica of the B3 model. They haven’t even replaced the “True PCI-E 2.0 SLI & CrossFireX” with PCI-E 3.0 (unless the PCI-E 3.0 support is not “true”).
The only noticeable difference between the two models is the use of very convenient wide slot locks for the PCI Express 3.0 slots, similar to Q-Slot by ASUS. Since in the future the support of new-generation PCI-E will be provided by controllers currently integrated into the processors, it only exists for the first two graphics card slots. Just as before, a single graphics accelerator will work at full PCI Express 3.0 x16 speed, and if both slots are occupied it will be cut down in half. As for the third slot, you can install a graphics card there, too, but it will work as PCI Express 2.0 and its maximum speed will never exceed x4. Moreover, these four lanes are provided not by the CPU, but by the system core logic set. In normal mode they are used for different additional controllers, so if you have a graphics card installed into the third slot, then you will have to sacrifice one eSATA and one SATA port, both internal USB 3.0 ports, IEEE1394 (FireWire) support and two PCI slots.
The mainboard uses a twelve-phase processor voltage regulator circuitry. The APS (Active Phase Switching) technology allows the mainboard to change the number of active voltage regulator phases dynamically depending on the current CPU utilization and it will be reflected by the row of CPU Phase LEDs. MSI uses very high-quality “Military Class II” components, including long-lasting solid-state capacitors, Super Ferrite Chokes with lower operational temperatures and tantalum Hi-c CAPs. From now on they not just give you their word that all the components are of exceptional quality, but also include a special certificate documenting that. All VRM components that heat up substantially during work are topped with two additional heatsinks connected with a heatpipes. All heatsinks, including the chipset one, are screwed on to the PCB. The mainboard has two BIOS chips and a V-Check Points panel. Together with an enclosed V-Check Cable set you can use this panel to manually monitor all the important voltages using a voltage measuring device. You will be able to easily find Power On and Reset buttons, because they are glowing in the dark. There is also the OC Genie button for immediate system overclocking and Clear CMOS button on the back panel.
On the back panel of the MSI Z68A-GD80 (G3) mainboard you will find the following ports and connectors:
- PS/2 connector for keyboard or mouse;
- Optical S/PDIF, and six analogue audio-jacks provided by eight-channel Realtek ALC892 codec;
- Clear CMOS button;
- IEEE1394 (FireWire) port implemented via VIA VT6308P controller, the second port is available as an onboard pin-connector;
- Four USB 2.0 ports, six more USB ports are available as three onboard pin-connectors;
- Two USB 3.0 ports (blue connectors) implemented via NEC D720200AF1 controller, the second controller like that provides support for two more USB 3.0 ports;
- One eSATA 6 Gbps port implemented via Marvell 88SE9128 controller, a second port is available as onboard pin-connector;
- Two local network ports (network adapters are built on Gigabit Realtek RTL8111E controllers);
- DVI-I and HDMI video outs.
The table below contains all the mainboard specifications summed up in one place for your convenience:
The originally rich functionality of the Intel Z68 Express chipset has been additionally expanded on MSI Z68A-GD80 (G3) with numerous additional controllers. The mainboard boasts very convenient components layout, and the buttons come in very handy if the mainboard is used as a testbed. Everything is great, except for the fact that only one fan connector out of five, the one for the CPU fan, allows adjusting fan rotation speed. This frustrating drawback is hardly acceptable for a flagship feature-rich mainboard, in my opinion.