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Round-Up: Four Z68 Motherboards From $220 To $280

Round-Up: Four Z68 Motherboards From $220 To $280
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A real enthusiast chipset deserves a real enthusiast motherboard. Today we're comparing four feature-packed platforms that most folks who call themselves hardcore (and informed enough to know what hardware meets their needs) can actually afford.

Tom’s Hardware editor Andrew Ku called Intel’s Z68 Express a “real enthusiast chipset” back in May, when it was revealed that this platform controller hub is the only one able to utilize all of the features packed into Intel’s Sandy Bridge processors. Multiplier-based processor overclocking and Quick Sync-optimized video transcoding were mutually exclusive on the P67 and H67 platforms. It took Z68 to make them both accessible on the same chipset. Intel also added a much-anticipated technology that turned small SSDs into caches for mechanical hard drives (though we still recommend loading your performance-sensitive apps onto a larger, dedicated SSD if that fits within your budget).

Power users could argue that Intel's X58 platform is the only one suitable for enthusiasts, since it features more than two times as many PCI Express 2.0 lanes than an LGA 1155-based processor. However, Sandy Bridge incorporates that connectivity onto the CPU itself, facilitating quicker access. Besides, some enthusiasts don’t need the extra lanes. Those same power users could also argue that X58's LGA 1366 interface is the only one able to accommodate six-core CPUs. But we've already seen a notebook version of Sandy Bridge best those Gulftown-based chips in applications that use four or fewer cores. Desktop-oriented Sandy Bridge processors are available at even higher clock rates, and the K-series parts facilitate some pretty impressive overclocking results, too.

So it turns out that Z68 is suitable to at least some (actually most) enthusiasts. But what sets enthusiast-class Z68 boards apart from their mainstream counterparts?

Enthusiast Z68 Motherboard Features
 ASRock
Z68 Extreme7
Asus
P8Z68 Deluxe
Gigabyte
GA-Z68XP-UD5
MSI
Z68A-GD80
PCB Revision1.031.001.03.0
ChipsetIntel Z68 ExpressIntel Z68 ExpressIntel Z68 ExpressIntel Z68 Express
Voltage Regulator10 Phases16 Phases21 Phases13 Phases
BIOSP1.1 (08/25/2011)0706 (08/05/2011)F4e (08/25/2011)V17.2 (07/18/2011)
100.0 MHz BCLK99.8 (-0.2%)100.0 (+0.0%)99.8 (-0.2%)99.8 (-0.2%)
Internal Interfaces
PCIe 3.0 x161 (16 Lanes, Shared)NoneNone2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)
PCIe 2.0 x164 (x16/x16/x0/x4 or x16/x8/x8/x4)3 (x16/x0/x4 or x8/x8/x4)3 (x16/x0/x4 or x8/x8/x4)1 (x4, 3 Lanes, Shared)
PCIe x1/x41/02/02 (Shared w/x16-3) / 02/0
Legacy PCI1222 (Shared w/x16-3)
USB 2.04 (8 ports)2 (4 ports)2 (4 ports)3 (6 ports)
USB 3.01 (2 ports)1 (2 ports)2 (4 ports)1 (2 ports)
IEEE-13941111
Serial Port1NoneNone1 (mini)
Parallel PortNoneNoneNoneNone
SATA 6.0 Gb/s6423
SATA 3.0 Gb/s4444
4-Pin Fan2221
3-Pin Fan4344
FP-Audio1111
CD-AudioNoneNoneNoneNone
S/PDIF I/OOutput OnlyOutput OnlyOutput OnlyOutput Only
Power ButtonYesYesYesYes
Reset ButtonYesYesYesYes
CLR_CMOS ButtonYesNoneYesNone
Diagnostics PanelNumericNumericNoneNone
I/O Panel Connectors
PS/2None111
USB 3.04242
USB 2.0286 (2, shared w/eSATA)4
IEEE-1394112 (shared w/USB 2.0)1
NetworkDualDualSingleDual
eSATA1221
CLR_CMOS ButtonNoneYesNoneYes
Digital Audio OutOptical OnlyOptical + CoaxialOptical + CoaxialOptical Only
Digital Audio InNoneNoneNoneNone
Analog Audio5666
Video OutVGA, DVI, Displayport, HDMINoneHDMIDVI-I, HDMI
Other DevicesNoneBluetooth TransceiverNoneNone
Mass Storage Controllers
Chipset SATA2 x SATA 6Gb/s
4 x SATA 3Gb/s
2 x SATA 6Gb/s
4 x SATA 3Gb/s
2 x SATA 6Gb/s
4 x SATA 3Gb/s
2 x SATA 6Gb/s
4 x SATA 3Gb/s
Chipset RAID Modes0, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 10
Add-In SATAASM1061 PCIe88SE9128 PCIe88SE9128 PCIe88SE9128 PCIe
USB 3.02 x AMS1042 PCIe2 x D720200F1 PCIeD720200F1 PCIe
2 x VLI VL810 Hub
2 x D720200F1 PCIe
(Shared w/x16-3)
IEEE-1394VT6315N PCIe
2 x 400 Mb/s
VT6315N PCIe
2 x 400 Mb/s
TSB43AB23 PCI
3 x 400 Mb/s
VT6308P PCI
2 x 400 Mb/s
(Shared w/x16-3)
Gigabit Ethernet
Primary LANBCM57781 PCIeWG82579V PHYRTL8111E PCIeRTL8111E PCIe
Secondary LANBCM57781 PCIeRTL8111E PCIeNoneRTL8111E PCIe
Audio
HD Audio CodecALC892ALC889ALC889ALC892
DDL/DTS ConnectNot SpecifiedNot SpecifiedNot SpecifiedNot Specified


Unlike some of the boards in our low-cost Z68 Express round-up, all of these enthusiast-class models are designed specifically for multi-card graphics configurations. MSI’s Z68A-GD80 is specifically intended to provide two installed cards the bandwidth benefits of PCIe 3.0 transfers, which will double the data rate once Intel’s next-generation LGA 1155 processors (based on the Ivy Bridge architecture) reach the market.

ASRock’s Z68 Extreme7 is even designed for three-way SLI, using the NF200 PCIe hub as a repeater (Nvidia Broadcast mode) to provide two of its cards with full x16 transfers.

Asus adds a Bluetooth transceiver, while Gigabyte doubles the number of available USB 3.0 connections. All four companies beef-up their voltage regulators for increased stability (especially when overclocking). Three of these boards include two network controllers, and Asus leans on Intel’s gigabit PHY in the hope of providing a more dependable connection.

But we can’t describe every detail of each motherboard on a single page, so let’s take a specific look at the details that make each of today’s motherboards special.

Display 47 Comments.
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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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