The Intel Z68 Express Review: A Real Enthusiast Chipset

Virtu's Great, Caching Is Questionable

It’s been two months since our first look at Z68, but it's everything we were waiting for, and frankly expecting.

Our assumption here is that you care about Intel's Quick Sync technology. But come on. It was one of the company's flagship Sandy Bridge features. Customers should expect to have access to it if they find themselves needing it. Intel is just fortunate that Lucidlogix was able to use some of the technology it developed for Hydra to get discrete graphics and Quick Sync cooperating on the same machine. We're happy to say that Virtu does indeed right Sandy Bridge's original wrongs. This is the platform for enthusiasts today.

Interestingly, the price difference between Z68 and P67 is smaller than you might think. According to contacts in Taiwan, manufacturers have been drawing down their P67 inventory in preparation for Z68. There will be Z68 bundle packages that bear a price premium, but early quotes suggest similar pricing to the current P67 selection. Instead of charging more, some motherboard vendors intend to swallow the cost upfront, which is great news for anyone about to build a Sandy Bridge-based system.

If Quick Sync means absolutely nothing to you, then you can still achieve enthusiast-class performance with discrete graphics using P67 Express (see High-End P67 Express: Five $200-250 Motherboards), but expect the Z68 selection to ramp up, while P67 falls off.

The Trifecta - Processor Overclocking, Quick Sync Transcoding, and Gaming (Crysis 2)

SSD caching is an arguably less tangible benefit. Intel relies heavily on “smart” caching algorithms, which deliberately try to ignore large sequential data streams and the types of access patterns typical of anti-virus scans, for example. Anything that the software guesses will only be touched once doesn't get moved to the SSD. The emphasis is placed on application, boot, and user data, and that information is non-volatile, meaning it carries over between reboots. Unfortunately, between our Z68 preview and this piece, the only clear gain appeared to be game level-loading. Even when we use the caching-optimized Intel SSD 311, we have a hard time making a strong case for caching. I'd still rather make a jump from hard drives to SSDs with a more manually-controlled storage hierarchy. Certain information lives exclusively on a large-enough SSD, and less performance-sensitive data is housed on the hard drive.

See, most SSDs offer better read and write performance than magnetic storage. When you write to the hard drive, you're writing to the SSD at the same time, but you're really limited to the disk's write speed. The benefit of caching is really one of convenience. You can set up a small drive like the SSD 311 and use your system as if it wasn't even there, enjoying a benchmarkable speed-up in certain read-oriented workloads. So long as you don't handicap your storage subsystem with a cache that writes slower than your hard drive, performance is either a wash or slightly better.

On the other hand, if you're able to manage your own data intelligently, it's far better to get your operating system and apps on the solid-state storage, then move the movies and music onto disk. That data wouldn't get cached by Intel's technology anyway, given its size, so you're not losing out on any performance by going the "boot drive" route.

Enter to win a CyberPower Power Mega 1000 PC 

For a chance to win your own Z68-based system from CyberPower, please fill out this Google form.

  • NZXT H2 Classic Silent Mid-Tower Chassis (White Color)
  • Asus Z68-V Pro Motherboard
  • Samsung SH-B123L 12X Blu-ray Player & DVDRW Combo
  • Intel Core i5-2500K 3.30 GHz 6 MB Intel Smart Cache, LGA 1155
  • Asetek 510LC Liquid Cooling System 120 mm Radiator & Fan
  • Kingston 30 GB SSD for Caching
  • 1TB SATA-III 6Gb/s 32 MB Cache 7200 RPM HDD
  • Kingston 8 GB DDR3-1600 Dual-Channel Memory Module
  • Microsoft Windows 7 Professional (64-bit Edition)
  • NZXT 700 W, SLI/CrossFireX Ready Power Supply
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 Ti 1 GB Video Card
  • MSRP $1,299

Contest is limited to residents of the USA (Excluding Rhode Island) 18 years of age and older. Contest starts on May 11, 2011 9:00 pm, Pacific Daylight Time and closes on May 25, 2011 11:59 PM, Pacific Daylight Time. 

Results will be announced by June 8, 2011.

The information you provide will only be used to contact you in relation to this contest.


  • LuckyDucky7
    The Intel 311 might be one of the weirdest products I've seen for a while.

    It doesn't have an impact on games and apps which are too large to be cached and 60 GB drives that blow the 311 out of the water can be had for 20 bucks more.

    And as far as getting QuickSync, it's about time. Should have been done in P67 (along with USB 3.0 support and 6 x SATA III ports) is all I can say.
  • acku
    In an ideal world, that's what we should have seen, but Lucidlogix's Virtu really makes Z68 worth it.
  • hmp_goose
    What is this "QuickSync"? My people do not have this word …
  • ghnader hsmithot
    Sir and madam working at intel.You make us customers look retarded.Thank you.
  • Olle P
    mayankleoboy1is this realy the platform for enthusiasts? with almost daily news of lga2011 ... its a little bit hard to get too happy with thisYes it is!
    I am going to buy myself a Z68 mobo and a Core i5-2500K within a few weeks.

    If you buy yourself an LGA2011 based platform we can get together a month from now and compare the results!
    ... or rather not, since it will take at least half a year for the 2011 to become available.

    Let's face it. For at least a full month from now the Z68 will be the enthusiast platform.
    Then AMD's competition will arrive, and we'll see how much of an option that is.
  • acku
    hmp_gooseWhat is this "QuickSync"? My people do not have this word …,2833-4.html
  • ta152h
    A good comparison would have been striping hard disks to compare against caching with EEPROMs. You'd have more capacity, a lot more, and wouldn't have a technology that dies after a certain amount of writes, which is dubious to use for something that's being used as a cache, and written on rather consistently.

    Performance of Raid 0 would be higher than a single disk, and you'd be increasing performance without a loss in capacity (per dollar). Or, if you wanted the same capacity. you could get higher performance disks, and compare them that way.

    If I want to spend an extra $100 to make my computer faster, will it? Duh, of course. That's all this article is saying. Is it the best way to spend that $100? Well, that much isn't clear at all. It wasn't compared with much of anything else. Two high capacity disks striped, and two higher performance disks (but lower capacity) striped, versus one disk and EEPROMs. All should be the same cost. It's more useful information. You'd have three fundamental choices - huge capacity, high "Winchester" performance, and low capacity with EEPROM caching. You could do a search on the capacity trade-offs pretty easily, but the performance difference between this caching and a high performance magnetic disk in RAID 0 is much less clear. Obviously, the hard disks would win a lot of tests, and could be a better buy for a lot of people.

    It is worth looking at.
  • Olle P
    Another little detail:
    Larsen Creek was the work name for Intel's SSD.
    The final name now in use is Larson Creek, as can be easily read in the picture.
  • flong
    Hey, did I read this right, the theoretical maximum of the 2600K and 2500k chips is 5.7 ghtz???? Has anyone ever got a cpu that high? The most Ive read about is 5.0 ghtz and that was with water cooling. So does 5.7 ghtz exist?
  • My GoD!

    Intels output is capped at 1920x1200? Below my native res! I've been forced to put my buy on hold...

    What were they thinking?