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Gigabyte Z68XP-UD3

From $100 To $160: Five Z68-Based Boards, Compared
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The Z68XP-UD3 firmly targets performance fanatics with a layout that eschews the use of integrated graphics as a primary output, instead favoring SLI and CrossFire. This begins with an I/O panel that addresses most of the USB 2.0 ports missing from competing products, but lacks even a single DVI interface.

We’ve been told that at least one physical graphics connection must be present for a Z68-based motherboard to support Quick Sync hardware accelerated video transcoding through the CPU’s integrated graphics engine, and Gigabyte addresses this need by adding a single HDMI connection. The firm also adds a legacy FireWire port, separating the -UD3 from previous upper-range parts only in its lack of secondary network and outdated digital coaxial audio outputs.

Four internal two-lane switches allow the Z68XP-UD3 to automatically change from x16/x0 to x8/x8 transfers whenever a second graphics card is installed, while three PCIe x1 slots connect slower devices. The Z68XP-UD3 uses all eight of the Z68’s PCIe pathways, with a PCIe to PCI bridge, a two-port SATA 6Gb/s controller, network, and dual USB 3.0 controllers consuming the remainder.

Up against the limits of our intended budget, the Z68XP-UD3 is one of only two motherboards in today’s roundup to include a front-panel USB 3.0 header. The entirety of features would have made this a $160 board even if it had used the P67 chipset, so we’re not entirely clear how Gigabyte managed to retain this price with a Z68 product that includes Lucidlogix's Virtu license.

And yet Gigabyte wouldn’t let us get away without mentioning its mSATA socket, a feature used in its more expensive Z68XP-UD3-iSSD to add a bundled 20 GB SLC-based SSD for caching. Buyers of the model viewed today are also able to add their own mSATA drive; just bear in mind that doing so with either board disables one of its SATA 3Gb/s ports.

Other limitations include the 5 Gb/s PCIe interface for the motherboard-down two-port SATA 6Gb/s controller. Dual-drive data rates exceeding 5 Gb/s are limited to the controller's interface performance.

After many years of placing its front-panel audio jack in a more-convenient location, Gigabyte decided to regress to the more traditional bottom-rear-corner. This makes sense for builders whose extra-long cables have been diverted around the back of the motherboard tray, but leaves those with shorter cables stranded. The front-panel FireWire port’s similar location is similarly-inconvenient for owners of conventional cases. Fortunately, most new cases lose this legacy interface.

The Z68XP-UD3 includes four SATA cables and an SLI bridge, which are our minimum standards for a mid-priced SLI motherboard. Cheaper boards can get away with fewer cables, since the lower price often appeals to budget builders with fewer drives.

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