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Intel Z68 Express Chipset Preview: SSD Caching And Quick Sync

Intel’s P67 and H67 Express B3 revision chipsets are already shipping to motherboard vendors, and updated platforms are just starting to appear with the fixed core logic.

In the two months since Sandy Bridge launched, we’ve come that much closer to the official debut of Z68 Express—currently slated for somewhere in the May 8th-14th timeframe. So now you’re probably facing a decision: buy an updated P67 Express-based platform now, or wait two more months for Z68.

The Ultimate: CrossFire'd Radeon HD 6970s with MediaEspresso, enabled by Virtu, exploiting Quick Sync. The Ultimate: CrossFire'd Radeon HD 6970s with MediaEspresso, enabled by Virtu, exploiting Quick Sync.

If Quick Sync means nothing to you, and SSD caching doesn’t sound all that appealing, a P67 board is probably fine. But it bothers me to know I’m missing out on a feature to which I should have access. That’s what Z68 solves. Using a combination of Z68, a K-series CPU, your favorite discrete graphics card, and Virtu, all bases are covered, from overclocking to gaming and media transcode performance. The fact that Lucidlogix now allows the add-in GPU to operate as the native adapter addresses overhead and compatibility issues we raised when we first previewed Virtu.

The above screenshot illustrates our enthusiasm perfectly. That's a Z68 Express-based board running two Radeon HD 6970s in CrossFire at native performance, scoring a fantastic 9333 in 3DMark 11, with CyberLink's MediaEspresso 6.5 in the background clearly taking advantage of Quick Sync acceleration in a Virtu-enabled window. Now that's what we're talking about.

Intel’s SSD caching technology is a little less flashy—probably since it’s aimed at enthusiasts on a budget. Nevertheless, if you were previously stuck trying to figure out how to make the best use of a 40 GB SSD, this may end up being it. For around $200, you’re able to mate solid state storage to a beefy 1.5 TB magnetic repository in a tiered configuration that enjoys quantifiably-better read performance than a hard drive on its own.

Power users buying larger, faster SSDs will want to use them on their own, manually deciding where to put each application or piece of user data. After all, an SSD unencumbered by a disk is significantly faster. However, employing caching technology with practical roots in the enterprise world yields benefits on the desktop as well, particularly if you’re using the same applications and files over and over.

Of course, SSD caching has its limits. We didn’t see any real improvement in boot times and write-heavy tasks aren’t really going to speed up, since you’re synchronously writing to the solid state and hard drives.

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