Whose Enthusiast-Class Z68 Board Is Best?
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.
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).