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Virtu's Great, Caching Is Questionable

The Intel Z68 Express Review: A Real Enthusiast Chipset
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It’s been two months since our first look at Z68, but it's everything we were waiting for, and frankly expecting.

Our assumption here is that you care about Intel's Quick Sync technology. But come on. It was one of the company's flagship Sandy Bridge features. Customers should expect to have access to it if they find themselves needing it. Intel is just fortunate that Lucidlogix was able to use some of the technology it developed for Hydra to get discrete graphics and Quick Sync cooperating on the same machine. We're happy to say that Virtu does indeed right Sandy Bridge's original wrongs. This is the platform for enthusiasts today.

Interestingly, the price difference between Z68 and P67 is smaller than you might think. According to contacts in Taiwan, manufacturers have been drawing down their P67 inventory in preparation for Z68. There will be Z68 bundle packages that bear a price premium, but early quotes suggest similar pricing to the current P67 selection. Instead of charging more, some motherboard vendors intend to swallow the cost upfront, which is great news for anyone about to build a Sandy Bridge-based system.

If Quick Sync means absolutely nothing to you, then you can still achieve enthusiast-class performance with discrete graphics using P67 Express (see High-End P67 Express: Five $200-250 Motherboards), but expect the Z68 selection to ramp up, while P67 falls off.

The Trifecta - Processor Overclocking, Quick Sync Transcoding, and Gaming (Crysis 2)The Trifecta - Processor Overclocking, Quick Sync Transcoding, and Gaming (Crysis 2)

SSD caching is an arguably less tangible benefit. Intel relies heavily on “smart” caching algorithms, which deliberately try to ignore large sequential data streams and the types of access patterns typical of anti-virus scans, for example. Anything that the software guesses will only be touched once doesn't get moved to the SSD. The emphasis is placed on application, boot, and user data, and that information is non-volatile, meaning it carries over between reboots. Unfortunately, between our Z68 preview and this piece, the only clear gain appeared to be game level-loading. Even when we use the caching-optimized Intel SSD 311, we have a hard time making a strong case for caching. I'd still rather make a jump from hard drives to SSDs with a more manually-controlled storage hierarchy. Certain information lives exclusively on a large-enough SSD, and less performance-sensitive data is housed on the hard drive.

See, most SSDs offer better read and write performance than magnetic storage. When you write to the hard drive, you're writing to the SSD at the same time, but you're really limited to the disk's write speed. The benefit of caching is really one of convenience. You can set up a small drive like the SSD 311 and use your system as if it wasn't even there, enjoying a benchmarkable speed-up in certain read-oriented workloads. So long as you don't handicap your storage subsystem with a cache that writes slower than your hard drive, performance is either a wash or slightly better.

On the other hand, if you're able to manage your own data intelligently, it's far better to get your operating system and apps on the solid-state storage, then move the movies and music onto disk. That data wouldn't get cached by Intel's technology anyway, given its size, so you're not losing out on any performance by going the "boot drive" route.

Enter to win a CyberPower Power Mega 1000 PC 

For a chance to win your own Z68-based system from CyberPower, please fill out this Google form.

  • NZXT H2 Classic Silent Mid-Tower Chassis (White Color)
  • Asus Z68-V Pro Motherboard
  • Samsung SH-B123L 12X Blu-ray Player & DVDRW Combo
  • Intel Core i5-2500K 3.30 GHz 6 MB Intel Smart Cache, LGA 1155
  • Asetek 510LC Liquid Cooling System 120 mm Radiator & Fan
  • Kingston 30 GB SSD for Caching
  • 1TB SATA-III 6Gb/s 32 MB Cache 7200 RPM HDD
  • Kingston 8 GB DDR3-1600 Dual-Channel Memory Module
  • Microsoft Windows 7 Professional (64-bit Edition)
  • NZXT 700 W, SLI/CrossFireX Ready Power Supply
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 Ti 1 GB Video Card
  • MSRP $1,299


Contest is limited to residents of the USA (Excluding Rhode Island) 18 years of age and older. Contest starts on May 11, 2011 9:00 pm, Pacific Daylight Time and closes on May 25, 2011 11:59 PM, Pacific Daylight Time. 

Results will be announced by June 8, 2011.

The information you provide will only be used to contact you in relation to this contest.

YOU MAY SUBMIT ONLY ONE ENTRY. MULTIPLE ENTRIES FROM THE SAME PERSON WILL ALL BE DISCARDED.

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