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Whose Enthusiast-Class Z68 Board Is Best?

Round-Up: Four Z68 Motherboards From $220 To $280
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Our $220 enthusiast Z68 motherboard round-up scaled the entire range of products, from the mid-featured MSI Z68A-GD80 to the three-way SLI ASRock Z68 Extreme7.

MSI deserves special credit for the Z68A-GD80’s low price and long warranty, and that’s even before we mention that it is also the most efficient product in our comparison. Yet, part of that efficiency is due to fewer on-board features, and we’re most disconcerted with a four-lane x16 graphics card slot that disables most of the add-in features that this platform does include whenever a graphics card is installed there. In fact, we're concerned enough that we wouldn't want someone reading the first and last page of this piece to take an award at face value without fully understanding the caveats. So, we'll hold back this time around. We’d certainly consider purchasing this board for one of our own systems, but only if we planned to leave that third slot well-alone.

ASRock’s Z68 Extreme7, on the other hand, offers a truly extreme feature set at a more savvy power user's price. This is a $300+ motherboard that sells for $280, making it yet another superb value in today’s round-up. Three-way SLI is its killer feature, and the presence of a second PCIe bridge makes this one of only two boards capable of providing access to all of its included functionality. We'd certainly use it in our own mid-priced three-way SLI builds, and the recent addition of a three-year warranty gives us enough confidence in this product that we'd even feel comfortable recommending it to our friends.

Asus has the top performer in today’s round-up. This isn't a coincidence. We use manually-specified memory and BCLK settings in our reviews to work around the less-than-accurate defaults that many vendors set when everything's dialed in automatically. Doing this engages a rule in Asus' firmware that sets all cores to employ the most aggressive Turbo Boost ratio, which is usually reserved for single-threaded scenarios. You can work around this, but we chose to benchmark the default behavior in order to track its effect on power use. The P8Z68 Deluxe is also the best overclocker in today’s round-up. Though Asus also has a PCIe bridge to enable all of its advertised features all of the time, it’s not able to deliver three-way SLI or three-way CrossFire (whereas the competition can). Therefore, it becomes our go-to choice when overclocking is the top priority.

While we don’t normally call out losers in a conclusion, Gigabyte gave us a product with fewer controllers, at a higher price, and with a shorter warranty compared to MSI. Gigabyte has the advantage of only disabling its PCIe x1 slots when a x4-or-larger card is used in its last x16 slot. However, we can’t help but feel disappointed that the Z68XP-UD5 comes from the same company that gave us the award-winning X58A-UD3R.

Wrapping Up

MSI's Z68A-GD80 (B3) and ASRock's Z68 Extreme7 Gen3 stand above the competition in value by attacking it from different angles, yet MSI runs into that issue where its board disables primary features when a third graphics slot is deployed. ASRock, on the other hand, responded immediately to warranty concerns we had on behalf of our readers, offering a top-level part with a warranty we can approve and pricing that comes in at the top of our range, but competes aggressively with more expensive competing platforms.

MSI's slip makes Asus our runner-up, as the P8Z68 Deluxe is the first board we'd pick for high-end overclocking when three-way SLI isn't a consideration. ASRock edges it out in value because we consider this feature is worth an extra $40 (and the price difference only turns out to be $30).

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  • 0 Hide
    crisan_tiberiu , September 19, 2011 5:54 AM
    I own an AsRock Z68 Pro 3 MB, and i am vere pleased with it.
  • 2 Hide
    RazorBurn , September 19, 2011 6:07 AM
    Only Asus and AsRock for me.. Tried severals boards thru the years yet only this two has never failed me..

    My AsRock AliveNF6G-VSTA in my warehouse full of dust, mites, cobweb still works.. Recently upgraded to 4GB RAM and GTS 450 1GB video card..
  • 3 Hide
    iam2thecrowe , September 19, 2011 6:51 AM
    i would like to see a more budget oriented roundup, not everyone wants to spend that much on a motherboard for 0.5 of an FPS increase, or overclock 100mhz more out of their cpu.....
  • -7 Hide
    beenthere , September 19, 2011 6:51 AM
    Intel mobos are way over-priced IMO. In my many years of building PCs the only two mobos that I ever had fail were Asus. As far as performance and reliability I'd rank these mobo brands as follows:

    Gigabyte
    MSI
    Asus
    Asrock
  • 0 Hide
    flong , September 19, 2011 7:05 AM
    I own the AsRock Extreme 4 Gen 3 board and it seems to be a very good board. I had the Asus Pro V before and had problems. I can say from experience that Asus's customer service is VERY poor to say the least. While their boards seem to be high quality according to most reviews, if you do have a problem don't count on Asus being around to help you out. I sent my board back to NewEgg and I had to argue with Newegg to get them to warranty it which was disappointing. Amazon does not have this problem and for my next motherboard purchase I will probably go through Amazon.

    The answer to my first email question to Asus came a three full weeks later AFTER I had decided to return the board. AND the answer was an absolutely stupid response that did not address the real problem. Still wanting an answer to my question, I clarified the question and sent it back to Asus again. TWO weeks later I got ANOTHER asinine response from them. At that point I realized I was wasting my time.

    I don't know how good AsRock's customer service is since I have not had a problem with the board.
  • 1 Hide
    Crashman , September 19, 2011 7:20 AM
    iam2thecrowei would like to see a more budget oriented roundup, not everyone wants to spend that much on a motherboard for 0.5 of an FPS increase, or overclock 100mhz more out of their cpu.....
    I believe you missed this:
    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/z68xp-ud3-dz68db,2980.html
  • 0 Hide
    Mark Heath , September 19, 2011 7:48 AM
    Quote:
    I believe you missed this:
    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/z68xp-ud3-dz68db,2980.html

    Crashman to the rescue again :) 
  • 0 Hide
    Novuake , September 19, 2011 7:51 AM
    Intel boards are not that bad, yes their Enthusiast boards are, but for a good while after LGA1155 came out they had the cheapest USB3/SATA 3 LGA1155 boards available, I think they still do... I would have to check.
  • 0 Hide
    Luay , September 19, 2011 8:24 AM
    The Asrock Extreme7 belongs in another NF200 equipped Tri-fire/Tri-SLI round-up with the UD7, ROG and FTW boards, and I think it would still win based on value.
    Real enthusiasts, on the other hand don't use integrated graphics and already have a dedicated SSD. Enter P67 in the round-up and the winner would still be for almost 18 months running, the $255 Asus P67 WS Revolution.
  • 6 Hide
    ojas , September 19, 2011 12:20 PM
    Hey Tom's. Make Wolfgang read articles like these too. He needs them.
  • -5 Hide
    ghnader hsmithot , September 19, 2011 12:30 PM
    I think there is no such thing as a warranty...
  • -5 Hide
    ghnader hsmithot , September 19, 2011 12:31 PM
    I think no one should think about warranties cuz companies never give them anyway, I think its a marketing scheme.
  • 0 Hide
    JamesSneed , September 19, 2011 12:34 PM
    I have the AsRock Extreme 4 Gen 3 and really like that board. I had have had zero issues with the board and that is even with a mild 4Ghz overclock on the 2500k.

    Luay, real enthusiasts do use integrated graphics just they use it for Quick Sync only.
  • 2 Hide
    Novuake , September 19, 2011 12:44 PM
    Quote:
    I think no one should think about warranties cuz companies never give them anyway, I think its a marketing scheme.


    lol I have succesfully RMA'd many a part!!! Asus, Seagate, Sapphire, Asrock, you name it...
  • 0 Hide
    CaedenV , September 19, 2011 1:03 PM
    while none of these boards are for me, it is nice to drool and think 'what if....'

    I am surprised at the gigabyte board. The power regulation seems too complicated to be useful, and the lack of UEFI seems strange and will hurt boot performance.
  • 0 Hide
    tomskent , September 19, 2011 1:10 PM
    while all these mobos are out of my price range, I would choose the MSI.
    I could care less about using the 3rd pci 16x lane

  • -1 Hide
    jamie_1318 , September 19, 2011 1:17 PM
    ghnader hsmithotI think no one should think about warranties cuz companies never give them anyway, I think its a marketing scheme.


    If you've never gotten a warrenty back than you must have very bad luck. Most companies will happily send a replacement product. OCZ even works with oyu to ensure that you are satisfied with what you recieve back. Out of all the products I've sent in for warranties in the past 3 years, all 4 of them got a working product back. One I didn't bother to ship out because shipping was more than it was worth at the time.
  • 0 Hide
    Novuake , September 19, 2011 1:47 PM
    Quote:
    while all these mobos are out of my price range, I would choose the MSI.
    I could care less about using the 3rd pci 16x lane


    Agreed, Quads and Tri GPU's are just not worth the price at this stage.
  • 0 Hide
    Bluex610 , September 19, 2011 2:17 PM
    Asrock extreme 7 has only 1 PCI-e 3.0 slot, while the Fatal1ty PRO has 2 PCI-e 3.0 slots. Weird... But the Extreme 7 has NF200 chip that allows x16/x16 with 2 cards. I'm going with the Fatal1ty since I want 2 PCI-e 3.0 slots, might not use it for a while, but it's nice to know I have the option.
  • 0 Hide
    spookyman , September 19, 2011 3:06 PM
    What no EVGA boards?

    Always had luck with Asus, Gigabyte and MSI boards.
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