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From $100 To $160: Five Z68-Based Boards, Compared

From $100 To $160: Five Z68-Based Boards, Compared
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Value-oriented system builders celebrate new-found performance and features as Intel continues pushing its mainstream platform towards the high-end. Today, we draw a line in the sand and consider five motherboards priced between $100 and $160.

Intel’s Z68 Express chipset represents the pinnacle of mainstream performance, with Quick Sync video transcoding times unmatched by any general-purpose graphics processor at the high-end.

Unfortunately, the contradiction of a mainstream platform capable of the fastest available performance divides some motherboard designers over how this market should really be divided up. In fact, there's one popular board vendor that doesn't even have a mid-ranged Z68-based offering; everything is intended for more enthusiast-oriented environments.

Z68's issue centers on value. The benefit of Quick Sync means you either have to use Intel's anemic integrated graphics core or Lucidlogix's Virtu software. And obviously, if there's a drop of power user blood running through your veins, you'd build a Z68-based machine using integrated graphics and Virtu. Otherwise, you'd simply go the H67 Express route. One of our engineering friends even gave us a specific price of $20, off the record of course, to upgrade the chipset from P67 to Z68 and add the Virtu license. That same $20 could be put towards a couple of extra controllers (USB 3.0 or SATA 6Gb/s) and a beefier voltage regulator on a P67-based model, undercutting a manufacturer’s ability to present Z68 as a more attractive implementation

On the other hand, Z68 Express sports a second unique feature that targets buyers who can’t justify the expense of a large solid-state drive. SSD caching allows small flash-based devices to act as nonvolatile cache for a larger hard disk, giving buyers on a budget a performance tease, as reads get accelerated over time, while writes aren't helped much at all.

What this means for Tom’s Hardware is that a market accustomed to sub-$140 P67-based motherboards must be asked to consider spending up to $20 more in order to retain the same on-board components, upgrade to the Z68 chipset, and gain access to a Virtu license. With that set as our target limit, all but one of the boards submitted for today’s comparison was completely qualified.

Z68 Motherboard Features
 ASRock
Z68 Pro3
Biostar
TZ68A+
Gigabyte
Z68XP-UD3
Intel
DZ68DB
MSI
Z68A-GD55
PCB Revision1.036.01.0Initial4.0
ChipsetIntel Z68 ExpressIntel Z68 ExpressIntel Z68 ExpressIntel Z68 ExpressIntel Z68 Express
Voltage RegulatorFive PhasesFive PhasesSeven PhasesFive PhasesEight Phases
BIOSP1.30 (05/19/2011)F510 (05/10/2011)F1 (05/19/2011)0014 (04/13/2011)M3 (06/10/2011)
100.0 MHz BCLK99.8 (-0.2%)99.8 (-0.2%)99.8 (-0.2%)99.8 (-0.2%)99.8 (-0.2%)
Clock GeneratorZ68 IntegratedZ68 IntegratedZ68 IntegratedZ68 IntegratedZ68 Integrated
Internal Interfaces
PCIe x1612 (x16/x4)2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)12 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)
PCIe x1/x43/01/03/02/03/0
Legacy PCI22232
USB 2.02 (4-ports)3 (6-ports)3 (6-ports)4 (8-ports)3 (6-ports)
USB 3.0NoneNone1 (2-ports)None1 (2-ports)
IEEE-1394NoneNone11None
Serial Port111None1
Parallel PortNone1NoneNoneNone
FloppyNoneNoneNoneNoneNone
Ultra-ATA 133NoneNoneNoneNoneNone
SATA 3.0 Gb/s44434
SATA 6.0 Gb/s22422
4-Pin Fan21232
3-Pin Fan422None3
FP-AudioYesYesYesYesYes
CD-AudioNoneNoneNoneNoneNone
S/PDIF I/OOutput OnlyOutput OnlyOutput OnlyNoneOutput Only
Power ButtonNoneYesNoneNoneYes
Reset ButtonNoneYesNoneNoneYes
CLR_CMOS ButtonJumper OnlyJumper OnlyJumper OnlyNoneJumper Only
Diagnostics PanelNonePass/Fail LEDsPass/Fail LEDsNoneNone
I/O Panel Connectors
P/S 2111None1
USB 2.042864
USB 3.022222
IEEE-1394NoneNone11None
NetworkSingleSingleSingleSingleSingle
eSATANoneNoneNone1None
CLR_CMOS ButtonNoneNoneNoneNoneYes
Digital Audio OutOptical OnlyNoneOptical OnlyOptical OnlyOptical + Coaxial
Digital Audio InNoneNoneNoneNoneNone
Analog Audio53656
Video OutDVI-D, HDMI, VGADVI-I, HDMI, VGAHDMIDVI-I, HDMI,
DisplayPort
DVI-D, HDMI, VGA
Other DevicesNoneNoneNoneNoneNone
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
3 x SATA 3Gb/s
1 x eSATA 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, 100, 1, 5, 10
Add-In SATANoneNone88SE9172 PCIe
2 x SATA 6Gb/s
NoneNone
Add-In Ultra ATANoneNoneNoneNoneNone
USB 3.0Etron EJ168A PCIeASM1042 PCIe2 x Etron EJ168A PCIeD720200F1 PCIe2 x D720200F1 PCIe
2 x VLI VL810 Hub
IEEE-1394NoneNoneVT6308P PCI
2 x 400 Mb/s
VT6315N PCIe
2 x 400 Mb/s
None
Gigabit Ethernet
Primary LANRTL8111E PCIeRTL8111E PCIeRTL8111E PCIeWG82579V PHYRTL8111E PCIe
Secondary LANNoneNoneNoneNoneNone
Audio
HD Audio CodecALC892ALC892ALC889ALC892ALC892
DDL/DTS ConnectNoneNoneNoneNoneNone


With production only beginning to ramp up, MSI had to do a little finagling with rebates in order to qualify its Z68A-GD55 for a $160 roundup. Currently listed at the same $170 upfront cost as the discounted Z68A-GD65, both motherboards are now available with an additional $20 rebate. The full price for the higher-model board is $190, so we expect to see a $20 price delta between these two models after Newegg's temporary discount expires.

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  • 14 Hide
    The Greater Good , July 11, 2011 7:01 AM
    vilenjanWhat about looks? The gigabyte board looks so meh, while the MSI board is sexy!


    Do you stare into your case whilst computing, or do you look at the monitor?
  • 10 Hide
    hatethisbull , July 11, 2011 6:59 AM
    90% of this article could've been compressed into the summary page. I would've preferred to see comparisons between, say, a $70 h67 and a high-end z68. Instead of four pages of unsatisfying gaming benchmarks, how about focusing on board usability? Which of the boards have cheap PCI-E retention clips that are going to pop off on first use? Which ones will have blocked ports, etc.
Other Comments
  • 0 Hide
    compton , July 11, 2011 5:54 AM
    I temporarily used a Biostar TH67+ 1155 mobo until I picked up my new board. After seeing the description of the Z chipset's Graphical UEFI I checked Biostar's website. It looks as though they're released the graphical UEFI for all biostar 1155 mobos.

    Now I just wish Intel would do the same -- can't they just rip off Asus's UEFI implementation?
  • 0 Hide
    johnnyb_27 , July 11, 2011 6:01 AM
    Why not use the MSI's Z68A-G65 instead of the MSI's Z68A-G55? They were the same price but now the drop MSI's Z68A-GD55 to 154 before rebate.
  • 3 Hide
    dirtmountain , July 11, 2011 6:09 AM
    Sorry, but rebates don't count. A nice test of the other 4 motherboards though.
  • 10 Hide
    hatethisbull , July 11, 2011 6:59 AM
    90% of this article could've been compressed into the summary page. I would've preferred to see comparisons between, say, a $70 h67 and a high-end z68. Instead of four pages of unsatisfying gaming benchmarks, how about focusing on board usability? Which of the boards have cheap PCI-E retention clips that are going to pop off on first use? Which ones will have blocked ports, etc.
  • 14 Hide
    The Greater Good , July 11, 2011 7:01 AM
    vilenjanWhat about looks? The gigabyte board looks so meh, while the MSI board is sexy!


    Do you stare into your case whilst computing, or do you look at the monitor?
  • 5 Hide
    aznguy0028 , July 11, 2011 7:57 AM
    The Greater GoodDo you stare into your case whilst computing, or do you look at the monitor?

    I look into my case daily when I use the computer. There's a reason why there is a window, and hours of hard work for your perfect wiring job deserves much credit and to be stared at. Not to mention coloring schemes that matches your case/mobo pcb color/fan led colors/etc.
  • 2 Hide
    jerreddredd , July 11, 2011 9:31 AM
    isn't it time we lost the PS2 port? and maybe even the DB15 VGA port also?
  • 3 Hide
    Crashman , July 11, 2011 9:52 AM
    johnnyb_27Why not use the MSI's Z68A-G65 instead of the MSI's Z68A-G55? They were the same price but now the drop MSI's Z68A-GD55 to 154 before rebate.
    MSI picked the GD55 because it's SUPPOSED to cost $160. MSI did NOT pick the GD65 because it's SUPPOSED to cost $180. MSI's predictions from a few weeks back simply didn't pan out.
  • 7 Hide
    Crashman , July 11, 2011 9:55 AM
    jerreddreddisn't it time we lost the PS2 port? and maybe even the DB15 VGA port also?
    Not PS/2, just VGA. They leave the Multi-I/O controller on the board for compatibility in other areas, so PS/2 is "free" and some people still use it at the high end.

    Some cheap monitors still use VGA, but these boards are not for the budget market! For VGA compatibility (for external capture devices and such) they could just use DVI-I and let the oddball user who needs VGA for that oddball purpose supply his own adapter.
  • 2 Hide
    joshyboy82 , July 11, 2011 9:57 AM
    I have been recommending this board based on other reviews and specs in the forum to people and I always get undermined by some guy who tells me he doesn't really like Gigabyte and z68 is just a fad. I am going to repost the shit out of this conclusion on my build recommendations.
  • 2 Hide
    cobra5000 , July 11, 2011 10:09 AM
    The Biostar is available for $99 @ the egg. Man, that is tempting..
  • 4 Hide
    Why_Me , July 11, 2011 10:36 AM
    Yay for the little Asrock that could. Simple, cheap and yet effective. ;) 
  • 0 Hide
    spookyman , July 11, 2011 1:08 PM
    jerreddreddisn't it time we lost the PS2 port? and maybe even the DB15 VGA port also?


    Actually I like the PS/2 port for my keyboard. I have an old 1983 PS/2 IBM 101 keyboard that I still use. Still the most rock solid keyboard that is comfortable to use and its built like a tank. Best part of the keyboard, no "Windows" keys.
  • 1 Hide
    jerreddredd , July 11, 2011 1:50 PM
    Quote:
    Actually I like the PS/2 port for my keyboard. I have an old 1983 PS/2 IBM 101 keyboard that I still use. Still the most rock solid keyboard that is comfortable to use and its built like a tank. Best part of the keyboard, no "Windows" keys.



    Ok, I guess leaving the Keyboard PS2 port might be ok. I figured everyone moved to USB by now. I think I still have an old PS2 KB laying around. I do remember the feel of the full stroke keys and mechanical contacts. mmmm maybe I should dig it out on day.
  • -1 Hide
    torque79 , July 11, 2011 1:50 PM
    I read through the specs twice, and I still can't find Bluetooth mentioned. The ASRock board is listed as a "pro" version, does that have bluetooth? You know lots of people have cell phones that synch contacts and calendar using bluetooth right? I have a hard time beleiving none of the TH reviewers don't, so why is it never listed in your motherboard shootouts? In another recent (higher-end) motherboard shootout it was also missing.
  • 2 Hide
    davewolfgang , July 11, 2011 2:34 PM
    Quote:
    I read through the specs twice, and I still can't find Bluetooth mentioned. The ASRock board is listed as a "pro" version, does that have bluetooth? You know lots of people have cell phones that synch contacts and calendar using bluetooth right? I have a hard time beleiving none of the TH reviewers don't, so why is it never listed in your motherboard shootouts? In another recent (higher-end) motherboard shootout it was also missing.


    Actually "most" people (as you put it) sync using a USB cable, because then they can CHARGE the phone at the same time. You can't charge your phone using BlueT. So why charge using a USB cable plugged into a wall outlet converter plug (I haven't seen a phone that doesn't come with this in the past 2+ years), and then have to go the BlueT thing, when you can just plug that USB cable right INTO your computer and Charge and Sync at the same time.
  • -2 Hide
    torque79 , July 11, 2011 2:53 PM
    Because then you have to have your cell phone charging at your pc, and your pc must be turned on. Surely I'm not the only person in the world that finds both of these restrictions inconvenient.
  • 3 Hide
    davewolfgang , July 11, 2011 3:08 PM
    Quote:
    Because then you have to have your cell phone charging at your pc, and your pc must be turned on. Surely I'm not the only person in the world that finds both of these restrictions inconvenient.


    Since you actually need to power your computer ON for it to Sync in the first place.....................................
  • 9 Hide
    1foxracing , July 11, 2011 3:28 PM
    Gigabyte boards don't require the PC to be turned on for the charging function to work through USB.
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