10/18/2011 | 09:57 AM
This summer mainboard makers were nearly fighting for the right to be the first in the market with a products supporting PCI Express 3.0. Such companies as ASRock and Micro-Star posted victory press-releases on their company web-sites, Gigabyte announced that the entire family of their mainboards will now come with the native support of the new standard, new models from ASUSTeK are also in the pipeline at this time… In fact, there are currently no graphics cards or processors that would support the new twice as fast video interface, that is why in reality it doesn’t matter to us who was the first one to announce this new feature, when the production started and what models were readily available in retail. By the time it is possible to make practical use of the functionality of the new standard, new mainboards will already be available and then we will look at the actual implementations of the PCI Express 3.0 support by different manufacturers. And in the meantime I was facing the task of reviewing the same MS-7672 ver.3.0 mainboard, like the one we have recently tested, with a slightly different name – MSI Z68A-GD80 (G3). Since the only announced difference was the PCI Express 3.0 support, I wasn’t particularly excited about the review process and even started to plan what parts of the previous review I could simply copy-paste into the new article. However, the reality turned out much more interesting than I had expected. The mainboards only look similar. Their features and functionality are totally different. Some of the innovations were great, some were a bit of a disappointment. Anyway, I had a great time reviewing this product, and I hope you will find this article interesting, too.
MSI Z68A-GD80 (G3) mainboard comes in a box with Micro-Star’s traditional design. The front of it is covered with numerous logotypes of supported technologies and functions, with a new one indicating that it is the world’s first mainboard supporting PCI Express 3.0 standard. The flip-open cover reveals a large image of the actual mainboard and a brief description of its selected features, which continues to the back of the box.
Since it is one of the company’s flagship products, it comes with a large number of accessories including the following items:
We have already seen modules bringing USB 3.0 ports to the system case front panel with products from ASUS, Elitegroup and Gigabyte. It is a real pity that a useful device like that is not yet part of the accessories bundle for MSI’s high-end products. There were even a few differences from the previous model: now the mainboard is accompanied by a reliability certificate listing all components testing methods, similar to the one included with Asus Sabertooth products and promising longer warranty.
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:
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.
In our previous reviews of LGA1155 mainboards from Micro-Star Company we paid special attention to the features and functionality of their new MSI Click BIOS, which at the time wasn’t a very successful UEFI BIOS implementation. MSI Click BIOS was based on the company’s developments from a few years ago, but today we for the first time met the brand new MSI Click BIOS II. I have to admit that right from the beginning it looks much more convenient and informative than the previous version. The top part of the screen serves not only informational purposes, but it also allows changing the order of boot-up devices simply by dragging and dropping them with the mouse pointer. The currently active devices are highlighted.
Right below the informational top part we see the operation mode icons, with the current one (Standard Mode) highlighted. You can select ECO Mode, which isn’t dramatically different: it enables C1E, sets C State limit to C2 and disables highlighting. OC Genie II Mode is the same as OC Genie button on the mainboard itself and allows to automatically overclock the system. The center of the screen is used to display the BIOS settings, there are icons for the major BIOS sections on the left- and right-hand side. The first one is “Settings” and it contains several different sub-sections.
“System Status” sub-section is, in fact, the same start-up screen, which we saw in the regular BIOS.
The parameters in the “Advanced” section are also quite common: they have been moved from the traditional BIOS as is.
Now let’s check out the page called “Hardware Monitor”, where you can enable automatic control of the processor fan rotation speed. Unfortunately, rotation speed of the remaining four fans that can be connected to the mainboard cannot be adjusted, which is a serious drawback for the mainboard of this rank. By the way, the preceding model, MSI Z68A-GD80 (B3), allowed lowering the rotation speed of the remaining fans and locking it at 50% or 75%.
The “Boot” sub-section will let you set the order of boot-up devices and configure a few other options required for system start-up.
“Save & Exit” sub-section doesn’t need an explanation.
“OC” section is one of the largest in terms of available settings. It contains all options related for system overclocking and fine-tuning as well as a number of informational parameters reporting the current system specifications.
In order to make this very busy section less overwhelming, some of the parameters have been moved to separate pages. Namely, the memory timings have been all gathered on a single page. The timings may be set different or the same for each of the two memory channels.
The mainboard allows saving six full BIOS settings profiles. It allows saving these profiles onto external media and loading from them. I wish they made it visible, which profiles have already been taken.
However, this would be the only comment I have about profiles and working with them. There are no other problems. The date and time of profile creation are recorded automatically as well as the corresponding version of the BIOS. You can assign each profile a unique descriptive name or delete it altogether.
The next two sub-sections, “CPU Specifications” and “Memory-Z”, perform a purely informational function. The first one reports the basic info about the installed CPU.
If you wish, you may dig a little deeper and check out the processor technologies supported by your specific model.
The “Memory-Z” sub-section is organized in a pretty similar way. When we get to it we immediately see the information recorded in the modules’ SPD. The mainboard will use these settings as default.
However, it is the “X.M.P.” profile that shows what the memory is really capable of. And you can check out these settings here, too.
“CPU Features” sub-section allows us to adjust the processor clock frequency multipliers and processor technologies. This pretty important sub-section is the last on the list, but you can easily access it, because all parameters in the “OC” section are looped. You don’t have to press the “Down” key a hundred times to get to the last positions on the list: just press the “Up” key once and here you are.
“ECO” section is what used to be “Green Power”. Here we can adjust some parameters dealing with power saving as well as monitor the current voltages.
“Browser” icon on the right will let you surf the web, check your email or IM someone, but only if you have previously installed the Linux-based Winki 3 OS from the bundled DVD disk. The same requirements are valid for the HDD Backup and Live Update programs hiding behind the “Utilities” icon.
“M-Flash” sub-section has become much simpler and more convenient, although it has exactly the same functionality as in the traditional BIOS. You can boot from the BIOS image stored on a flash-drive, you can save the current BIOS version or update it. All images should be stored in the root folder of the drive and this is where they will be saved, too. NTFS file system is not supported, so you have to make sure that your drive has been formatted in FAT or FAT32.
You can set access passwords in the “Security” section, just like you would on any other mainboards. However, they retained Micro-Star’s unique peculiarity: the ability to set a regular flash-drive as a system access key.
Overall, the new MSI Click BIOS II looks much more convenient than the previous version. Its biggest disadvantage would probably be very low contract for the text used in informational parameters. Take, for example, the previous screenshot: you can barely see the first three lines and they are extremely hard to read. However, MSI mainboards have only recently introduced this new look for their BIOS, so we are pretty sure that it will get even better eventually.
Every now and then we discuss software and utilities bundled with the mainboards. Therefore, we are very well familiar with most of the Micro-Star’s utilities and their functionality. Before, I have always had to download the latest versions of all applications from the company web-site. This time, however, I discovered a very cute interface that made driver and utility installation fast and easy. The startup screen is used to install the drivers. Note that the icons for your system’s current drivers will be highlighted. Moreover, you don’t have to pick the necessary drivers one by one, but install everything by clicking on the “Total Installer” button.
The next screen will show you a complete list of everything available sorted according to categories.
The largest and most interesting sub-section here is MSI’s brand name proprietary software.
You have to go to the company web-site for technical support and assistance.
You can also search for the latest information on this or any other mainboard:
The last sub-section offers you to install a 60-day trial version of Norton Internet Security 2011.
Everything looked great, but I couldn’t find Winki 3 OS on that list and had to install it manually. I was about to put it in as a drawback, but after carefully reading the user manual I learned that the installation interface does allow you to install Winki 3 automatically. However, it is not listed among applications, so I should have checked out the driver section, which wasn’t all that obvious. I had to select the “Others” icon in the startup window and find Winki 3 among the drivers. Therefore, I would like to stick to my opinion that they should have paid more attention to the installation process for this operating system. Moreover, I couldn’t find any links to Winki 3 download on the official company web-site. So, if you lose or damage your DVD disk, you will lose some of the mainboard’s functionality. This is also very wrong, although I suspect that the links might be hidden somewhere far way on the web-site and I just failed to locate them.
As for the Winki 3 OS itself, it is currently one of the best available. The basic functionality in the form of a browser for Internet surfing, picture viewing and instant messaging are also available in Express gate from ASUS and eJIFFY from Elitegroup. The distinguishing features of Winki 3 include office document processing and such additional utilities as HDD Backup and Live Update. The only thing that doesn’t strike me as super-convenient is launching this OS exclusively from the BIOS. I think it would make much more sense if you could boot this OS individually, the same way they implemented it on ASUS and Elitegroup mainboards. Or maybe it is available, but is hidden well enough…
By the way, since we mentioned the HDD Backup utility, I have to explain that it allows creating an image of a disk or disk partition and restoring it rapidly to its original condition. There are a lot of utilities like that, so we usually take a screenshot of the start-up window only.
This time, however, we decided to take a closer look at the HDD Backup utility, but it didn’t do as well as we expected it to. The screenshot below shows that the utility offers to create an image only from the second disk partition, which we use for storing archives and applications. The first partition where the system is and which image we actually tried to create is not shown.
In reality the utility does see the system drive, because later on it will offer the system drive as a location for storing our images. Unfortunately, in our particular case the HDD Backup application turned out absolutely useless.
I am sure that our regular readers are already well familiar with the functionality of the “MSI Control Center” utility, that is why here we will only remind you what it looks like:
Today we will focus on a brand new program called MSI Click BIOS II. It is not a coincidence that it has the same exact name as the new version of the UEFI BIOS of our MSI Z68A-GD80 (G3) mainboard. Their interface was intentionally unified, which theoretically allows configuring the system easily in both: Windows as well as UEFI environment.
The startup screens are indeed very similar, but the differences are actually quite serious, as you can see from checking out the very first “Settings” section. The functionality of the namesake utility is much more modest.
However, the major settings of the “OC” section are all there, and you can fine-tune and overclock your system just as well from the utility.
However, the actual fine-tuning procedure is not very convenient. At first I decided to change the memory frequency. I opened the corresponding setting, chose 1333 MHz frequency, pressed Enter and nothing happened. Mouse click also do not seem to work. It wasn’t right away that I noticed the Apply button at the bottom of the window that didn’t really stand out at all. This is what I had to click.
However, this is not the end yet. After that you have to click Apply again, but this time the one in the utility window, in the lower right part of it.
And still this isn’t all. In a few seconds the utility will offer you to reboot, in order to finally apply the changes.
So, I have to admit that I didn’t like MSI Click BIOS II utility at all, compared to the actual MSI Click BIOS II. However, they just started working on this program, so there is hope that it will get better eventually. The first versions of the utility, which we discussed earlier, were totally non-operational. Now, however, it works pretty decently, although still not in the most optimal way. Strange as it might seem, but the BIOS turned out much easier to work with and much better-looking than the Windows tool.
We carried out our tests on a testbed that included the following components:
We used Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate SP1 64 bit (Microsoft Windows, Version 6.1, Build 7601: Service Pack 1) operating system, Intel Chipset Software Installation Utility version 22.214.171.1240, Nvidia GeForce Driver 280.26 graphics card driver.
We didn’t experience any problems when we assembled our system on MSI Z68A-GD80 (G3) mainboard. It also worked perfectly fine in nominal mode. The only disappointment was the board’s inability to adjust the rotation speed of all fans other than the processor one. We almost always use an additional 80x80 mm fan for additional cooling of the area around the CPU socket during our overclocking experiments. The previous mainboard model with the B3 index could set the fan speed at 75% or 50%, but looks like they forgot to add this feature to the new BIOS version on the G3 mainboard. Therefore, on different occasions we adjusted the rotation speed of this additional fan either with Zalman FAN Mate 2 variable resistor, or via software tools, such as Speed FAN, which coped with the task very well. Unfortunately, the missing ability to adjust the rotation speed of any fans is not the only drawback of the new MSI Click BIOS II. The difference from the previous version is not only in the looks, because we have encountered a very serious problem that didn’t allow us to fully overclock our CPU.
If you press the OC Genie button on the mainboard or select “OC Genie II Mode” in the BIOS, you won’t have any problems. The mainboard will automatically increase the processor clock frequency to 4.2 GHz and at the same time significantly increase all voltages and disable all processor power-saving technologies. This is Micro-Star’s typical very non-optimal overclocked mode, which even commencing overclockers should avoid, and experienced users won’t ever use it anyway. The problems actually emerged when we tried to manually overclock our processor to higher frequencies than 4.2 GHz. The mainboard would start just fine even at the maximum clock frequency for our particular processor unit of 4.7 GHz, but during stability tests it would immediately drop its frequency to 4.3-4.4 GHz. In fact, this would be considered normal for any mainboard except ASUS and Gigabyte, if you forgot to push back the processor power consumption maximum in the “CPU features” section. So far, only the mainboards from these two manufacturers were able to automatically push back these thresholds, but now MSI Z68A-GD80 (G3) can do it, too. It automatically set the thresholds to 200 and 250 W during overclocking, but for some reason, it didn’t really work.
Of course, we immediately addressed this issue with MSI representatives and checked out quite a few BIOS versions and settings combinations, but the problem remained. The mainboard continued to drop the processor clock frequency multiplier under heavy load, so we couldn’t get any acceptable results. Eventually, the company’s engineers managed to identify and resolve the issue and we received a new BIOS version 18.62B, in which the processor clock multiplier stopped dropping under load and the mainboard could finally overclock well. However, it took a month of joint efforts to have it all sorted out and now we have a way to overclock processors on Micro-Star mainboards with all processor power-saving technologies remaining up and running.
Quite a few other mainboards don’t ever have a problem like that. We can always increase the processor core voltage in the “Offset” mode, when the necessary value is simply added to the nominal Vcore and all Intel’s processor power-saving technologies remain intact. However, for some reason this parameter is long gone from the BIOS of Micro-Star mainboards that is why we tested them using a different approach. Before, if we increased the processor core voltage, all power-saving technologies on MSI boards would get immediately disabled. If we left the Vcore untouched, then the mainboards increased it on their own during overclocking by raising the base clock and the outcome was exactly the same. Now things have changed. With MSI Z68A-GD80 (G3) it turned out that if you do not manually adjust the processor Vcore, the mainboard won’t raise it more than necessary and the power-saving technologies will stay active. Moreover, when the technology counteracting the processor Vcore drop under heavy load is enabled (it hasn’t yet disappeared from Micro-Star’s mainboard BIOS), the CPU Vcore stays at 1.4 V, which about what we need to push the CPU to 4.7-4.8 GHz clock speed. Unfortunately, we don’t have the best Intel Core i5-2500K unit, as it overclocks only to 4.7 GHz, but it means that even on an MSI mainboard we can now overclock our processor without losing all power-saving technologies!
However, reality made a few adjustments to our excitement. We discovered that when the CPU clock frequency is at 4.7 GHz, the mainboard cannot start without increasing the CPU Vcore. It booted just fine at 4.6 GHz, although we did receive a blue screen of death during OS loading, so we had to drop the clock to 4.5 GHz. As for the memory, our particular modules are a great fit for Micro-Star mainboards, as all latest models supported their operation at 1866 MHz frequency. In fact, it was an MSI mainboard that allowed us to hit from memory frequency for the first time in our lab, and only a little later the same could be repeated on the mainboards from other manufacturers. As a result, the final progress report for our overclocking tests looks as follows:
It is for the first time in a long time that all Intel’s processor power-saving technologies work perfectly fine during overclocking even on an MSI mainboard. The company’s proprietary APS (Active Phase Switching) technology that allows to dynamically change the number of active phases in the processor voltage regulator circuitry depending on the current CPU utilization still gets disabled, but most importantly, now the processor clock frequency multiplier as well as its core voltage both drop in idle mode.
Now we can finally compare the performance of different mainboards working in identical testing conditions. We can give up special modes, which we had to use for MSI mainboards. We had to sacrifice some of the overclocking success, but we encourage and support “smart” overclocking, that doesn’t require users to give up energy-efficiency even at the expense of a slightly lower maximum clock speed.
As usual, we are going to compare the mainboards speeds in two different modes: in nominal mode and during CPU and memory overclocking. The first mode is interesting because it shows how well the mainboards work with their default settings. It is a known fact that most users do not fine-tune their systems, they simply choose the optimal BIOS settings and do nothing else. That is why we run a round of tests almost without interfering in any way with the default mainboard settings. For comparison purposes we are going to also include the results from our reviews of Asus P8Z68 Deluxe, P8Z68-V Pro and Asus P8Z68-V, as well as Asus Maximus IV Extreme, Biostar TZ68K+, Gigabyte G1.Sniper 2 and Gigabyte GA-Z68XP-UD3-iSSD, and MSI Z68A-GD80 (B3). The results are sorted out in descending order on the diagrams. The results of MSI Z68A-GD80 (G3) are marked with darker color on the diagrams for your convenience.
We used Cinebench 11.5. All tests were run five times and the average result of the five runs was taken for the performance charts.
We have been using Fritz Chess Benchmark utility for a long time already and it proved very illustrative. It generated repeated results, the performance in it is scales perfectly depending on the number of involved computational threads.
A small video in x264 HD Benchmark 4.0 is encoded in two passes and then the entire process is repeated four times. The average results of the second pass are displayed on the following diagram:
We measured the performance in Adobe Photoshop using our own benchmark made from Retouch Artists Photoshop Speed Test that has been creatively modified. It includes typical editing of four 10-megapixel images from a digital photo camera.
In the archiving test a 1 GB file is compressed using LZMA2 algorithms, while other compression settings remain at defaults.
Like in the data compression test, the faster 16 million of Pi digits are calculated, the better. This is the only benchmark where the number of processor cores doesn’t really matter, because it creates single-threaded load.
There are good and bad things about complex performance tests. However, Futuremark benchmarking software has become extremely popular and is used for comparisons a lot. To estimate the average performance of our test platform PCMark 7 test measures the performance in common algorithms that are frequently used on an everyday basis. The diagram shows the average of three test runs:
3DMark11 suite measures the graphics sub-system performance in the first place. The diagram below shows the average results after three test runs in 3DMark11 Performance mode with default settings:
Since we do not overclock graphics in our mainboard reviews, the next diagram shows only CPU tests from the 3DMark11 – Physics Score. This score is obtained in a special physics test that emulates the behavior of a complex gaming system working with numerous objects:
We use FC2 Benchmark Tool to go over Ranch Small map ten times in 1920x1080 resolution with high image quality settings in DirectX 10.
Resident Evil 5 game also has a built-in performance test. Its peculiarity is that it can really take advantage of multi-core processor architecture. The tests were run in DirectX 10 in 1920x1080 resolution with high image quality settings. The average of five test runs was taken for further analysis:
As an experiment, we loaded the default optimal settings of the MSI Z68A-GD80 (G3) mainboard and enabled “ECO Mode” in the BIOS. A little later we will see that it has hardly had any effect on the board’s power consumption, but right now we can state that it also has zero effect on performance. In most cases both MSI mainboards are next to each other on the diagrams, which proves once again that there is hardly any performance difference between related mainboards and in most applications they demonstrate very similar results.
Now let’s run the same tests with the CPU and memory overclocked. You can see the difference in the system parameters in the following table:
It is not surprising that MSI Z68A-GD80 (G3) mainboard is mostly the last one, because our CPU overclocked 200 MHz less on it compared with the other testing participants. As a result you can notice its performance being a little lower, but the difference is insignificant: it is about 4% in most computational tasks.
We performed our power consumption measurements using an Extech Power Analyzer 380803. This device is connected before the PSU and measures the power draw of the entire system (without the monitor), including the power loss that occurs in the PSU itself. In the idle mode we start the system up and wait until it stops accessing the hard disk. Then we use LinX to load the CPU. For a more illustrative picture there are graphs that show how the computer’s power consumption grows up depending on the number of active execution threads in LinX (both at the default and overclocked system settings). The mainboards are sorted in alphabetical order on the diagrams.
When we ran the tests in the nominal mode on MSI Z68A-GD80 (G3) mainboard, we enabled “ECO Mode”, but we can’t seem to notice any serious difference from the B3 mainboard on the power consumption charts. However, in overclocked mode our today’s hero takes over the leadership ousting Biostar TZ68K+ from the winner’s spot.
Of course, we didn’t manage to overclock our test processor on MSI Z68A-GD80 (G3) as well as we did on other mainboards, but despite this fact its Vcore increases to about the same level and this is the major factor affecting power consumption. In fact, it is pretty obvious why Biostar mainboard used to be the leader: it is a fairly simple model with very few additional onboard controllers. Unlike Biostar’s mainboard, the MSI one is equipped with a complete set of extras, but nevertheless, it consumes just as little or even less. At last we can enjoy the advantages of high-quality electronic components, which have been used on MSI mainboards for a long time now.
If you ask about my personal opinion of the MSI Z68A-GD80 (G3) mainboard, I may sound pretty disappointed. Of course, my experience was not the easy one because of the encountered error and the numerous attempts to get it sorted out and fixed, which required getting the board on and off the testbed countless times and in the end cost me a lot of time and effort. However, I hope you won’t ever have to deal with the same issue and therefore, your impression of this mainboard will be totally unbiased. It is a definitely a product with rich set of accessories, which could only use an additional module bringing USB 3.0 ports to the front of the system case. It features very smart and convenient layout 9the only questionable thing being a six-pin power connector for additional graphics card power supply. It boasts extensive functionality and offers a lot of additional onboard controllers. It looks like an exact replica of the MSI Z68A-GD80 (B3) model, but features a tremendously improved new MSI Click BIOS II, which looks way better than the first MSI UEFI BIOS version. Although I have to admit that it acquired a number of new problems, some of which have already been fixed, and is missing a few useful features, such as the ability to adjust the rotation speed of additional fans. Unfortunately, MSI’s proprietary software is mostly quite disappointing, but you don’t have to use it. Besides, there is hope that it will eventually become much more user-friendly.
We were extremely pleased that for the first time in a considerable while we managed to find a way to overclock our processor on an MSI mainboard and at the same time keep all power-saving technologies intact. As a result, we were rewarded with low mainboard power consumption during overclocking and enjoyed the benefits of high-quality electronic components, which have already been used on MSI mainboards for a long time and now even come with an official certificate. However, it is a little unclear why a large mainboard maker like MSI purposefully gave up an important technology like that, which, moreover, fits perfectly into the today’s super-popular “save the planet” concept. We are not going to use the industry leaders, like ASUS and Gigabyte, as a comparison here, but even products from ASRock, Biostar, ECS and Foxconn are capable of energy-efficient overclocking, with all power-saving technologies remaining up and running full throttle, and MSI mainboards still haven’t mastered that. Doesn’t it strike you as rather strange?
As far as the mainboard’s major advantage is concerned, the new PCI Express 3.0 standard support, at this point it is pretty ephemeral and intangible. A few months will pass until new processors and graphics cards come out that will be able to use the new standard. Then we will see which mainboard maker implemented the support of the new standard best of all. Although I am sure that by that time there will be newer and better mainboards already available, so it doesn’t make sense to specifically look for MSI Z68A-GD80 (G3) or a similar one for that particular reason. However, the opposite also makes sense: you shouldn’t avoid mainboards with PCI Express 3.0 support. While now it is not really in the way, it may come in very handy in the nearest future.