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Conclusion

Intel Z68 Express Chipset Preview: SSD Caching And Quick Sync
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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.

If you'd like to play a bigger role in helping shape the stories that Tom's Hardware writes, or weigh in with your thoughts on an existing story, please feel free to engage us on Twitter. Editor-in-chief Chris Angelini regularly poses questions to the community, and your answers help determine the tests we run and topics we cover.

Display all 91 comments.
  • 2 Hide
    James296 , March 10, 2011 3:16 AM
    interesting read
  • 0 Hide
    aliened , March 10, 2011 3:39 AM
    Nice. Thanks for the quick heads up, I was just starting to build my new rig but now that I read this I'm going to wait for the Z68 MOBOs :D 
  • 0 Hide
    compton , March 10, 2011 3:48 AM
    I am one of those ssd+hdd users who prefer manually managing the drives. Recently I discovered some of the older ssd + hdd cache devices(Silverstone made one). I wasn't impressed. However,I could see the Intel cache set-up as being advantageous for me. Why? I have a boot SSD, large storage HDD, and a third SSD. I could still boot from the boot drive, then use the second SSD and HDD together. I like that idea enough to wait for the Z chipset before I ditch the H chipset.
  • 0 Hide
    cangelini , March 10, 2011 3:55 AM
    compton, problem with that SilverStone unit was that it didn't have any intelligence built-in--it was simply mapping the first sectors of the hard drive, if what I remember reading a year ago was right...
  • 4 Hide
    masterofevil22 , March 10, 2011 3:59 AM
    waiting for Bulldozer...
  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , March 10, 2011 4:18 AM
    Excellent Work, Mr Angelini! Now it's my job to make sure the motherboard manufacturers follow through!

    -Your Adversarial Colleague
  • -1 Hide
    haplo602 , March 10, 2011 4:51 AM
    wow ...

    I am thinking what is more restricting ... a ZFS supporting OS or the stupid Intel list for SSD caching.

    The only impresive part of Sandy Bridge is the single-threaded performance. Everything else is a disaster (chipsets, QuickSync restrictions, price, linux drivers and bugs etc.) or was already available in previous generations.

    Waiting on AMD Bulldozer and Llano ... I just hope those 2 won't be similar disasters.
  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , March 10, 2011 5:38 AM
    haplo602wow ... I am thinking what is more restricting ... a ZFS supporting OS or the stupid Intel list for SSD caching.The only impresive part of Sandy Bridge is the single-threaded performance. Everything else is a disaster (chipsets, QuickSync restrictions, price, linux drivers and bugs etc.) or was already available in previous generations.Waiting on AMD Bulldozer and Llano ... I just hope those 2 won't be similar disasters.
    In regards to Linux, isn't that like saying "Toyotas are junk because they're always dirty"? I mean, Linux is maintained by its "owners".
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , March 10, 2011 7:17 AM
    So would ssd caching work on a raid 0 setup with 2 samsung spinpoint F3's or would this add an additional risky element without much performance gain?...or say a raid 1 where I have backup...would it cache both drives or 1?..Sorry new to this and also waiting for a z68.
  • 0 Hide
    cangelini , March 10, 2011 7:32 AM
    tradeshowhoundSo would ssd caching work on a raid 0 setup with 2 samsung spinpoint F3's or would this add an additional risky element without much performance gain?...or say a raid 1 where I have backup...would it cache both drives or 1?..Sorry new to this and also waiting for a z68.


    Yes, so long as all members of the array are hard disks.
  • 1 Hide
    SpadeM , March 10, 2011 8:00 AM
    P67 and Z68 are both incomplete chipsets. You still have to pay extra for virtue if you don't want to swap cable. I'm actually fine with that it's just that going down this path is like selling a modular design. I'm expecting intel's P77 chipset to be missing disk controllers but motherboard manufacturers could opt for marvell, jmicron or others to supplement that shortage. Intel does make some fine processors today, but their chipsets disappoint. But the good news is, maybe one day with the help of motherboard vendors we could pair a AMD chipset (which is believe to be superior) with an Intel processor.
  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , March 10, 2011 8:29 AM
    SpadeMP67 and Z68 are both incomplete chipsets. You still have to pay extra for virtue if you don't want to swap cable. I'm actually fine with that it's just that going down this path is like selling a modular design. I'm expecting intel's P77 chipset to be missing disk controllers but motherboard manufacturers could opt for marvell, jmicron or others to supplement that shortage. Intel does make some fine processors today, but their chipsets disappoint. But the good news is, maybe one day with the help of motherboard vendors we could pair a AMD chipset (which is believe to be superior) with an Intel processor.
    Chris probably won't say anything, but as a motherboard tester I've found that the Intel features that do work "right", work better. That includes drive controllers, so it really comes down to a choice of a bunch of good features or a few great ones.
  • 0 Hide
    wribbs , March 10, 2011 8:42 AM
    I don't understand why cached SSD/HDD is so far from pure SSD. Once something is cached to the SSD shouldn't the performance be nearly identical? Seems like this type of technology needs more work.
  • 1 Hide
    silverblue , March 10, 2011 8:48 AM
    Had Intel not imposed such limitations on Sandy Bridge, they'd not need so many motherboard chipsets for a start, plus you can only imagine what a monster it could have been to start off with.
  • 1 Hide
    valuial , March 10, 2011 10:05 AM
    So yeah hooray for intel, ssd caching is just taking performance down (note, this is an option aimed for power user, they are kind of guy who pay 300$ bucks and then choose the worst way to get perf...), quick sync is a unstable restricted piece of crap, transcoding media is a top priority... what about a trim support in raid a array? something that is really needed by power user and not those wanabee features
  • 1 Hide
    Crashman , March 10, 2011 10:29 AM
    silverblueHad Intel not imposed such limitations on Sandy Bridge, they'd not need so many motherboard chipsets for a start, plus you can only imagine what a monster it could have been to start off with.
    Intel, like most other companies in this business, is known for using feature limitations to push more-expensive platforms.
    valuialSo yeah hooray for intel, ssd caching is just taking performance down (note, this is an option aimed for power user, they are kind of guy who pay 300$ bucks and then choose the worst way to get perf...), quick sync is a unstable restricted piece of crap, transcoding media is a top priority... what about a trim support in raid a array? something that is really needed by power user and not those wanabee features
    If you have the money for a huge SSD, go for it! But don't Sandforce controllers already have their own built-in garbage collection that practically negates the need for TRIM?
  • 0 Hide
    marraco , March 10, 2011 11:20 AM
    You can get some benefits of SSD caching by doing different RAID setups between a SSD disk and a partition on magnetic disk.
  • 0 Hide
    mrmotion , March 10, 2011 12:00 PM
    I could see this working out very well for a cad or cam software where your pulling up the same huge files day in and day out off of a storage drive. I will look forward to this for my next workstation.
  • -2 Hide
    lradunovic77 , March 10, 2011 12:41 PM
    Useless. Why would you use SSD as caching? Why would you pair your Nvidia card with that useless silicon called HD3000? Looks like Intel is running out of good ideas so they throw all this useless technology, what a waste.
  • 0 Hide
    lradunovic77 , March 10, 2011 12:43 PM
    I am waiting for true next generation Intel Chipset and CPU, successor of x58. P75, Z68 LGA1155, just like LGA1156 -> freaking joke for masses.
    Also looking to see Bulldozer!
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