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

Gigabyte GA-Z68XP-UD5

Gigabyte knows how to make a serious-looking motherboard using dark grey anodized heatsinks, black nickel-plated heat pipes, and black slots on the Z68XP-UD5’s black circuit board.

A single HDMI output facilitates access to integrated graphics without wasting space performance-oriented enthusiasts typically want for other features. Those other features include four USB 3.0 ports and two USB-powered eSATA ports.

Recognizing that most enthusiasts use three or four internal hard drives, max, Gigabyte doesn’t bother adding another internal controller to the Z68XP-UD5. The motherboard does, however, have four internal USB 3.0 ports and an incredible number of CPU voltage regulator components.

Perhaps you noticed that the Z68XP-UD5 has twice as many USB 3.0 ports (internally and externally), but half as many controllers when compared to similarly-priced products. Gigabyte achieves this by placing its eight ports on two USB 3.0 hubs, so that all eight devices share a single 5 GT/s PCIe 2.0 pathway to the chipset. Though we aren’t very concerned about multiple devices sharing the chipset’s DMI connection, eight 5 Gb/s ports sharing a single 5 Gb/s pathway seems like a recipe for a more serious bottleneck.

Even more worrisome are slots that cannot be utilized. What we mean is that the two x1 slots gobble up two of the third x16-slot’s four electrical lanes. If you populate either x1 slot, it kicks that third x16 slot down to x1 mode.

All of these missing controllers and shared lanes point to a less-obvious device missing from the Z68XP-UD5: the PLX bridge used by ASRock and Asus. That device acts as a smart switch (similar to those found in networks) to negotiate traffic between an over-abundance of devices and too few PCI Express lanes. Yet, because of the pared-down PCIe device count, we can still treat the Z68XP-UD5 as a fully-functional product if we ignore its x1 slots or its x16 slot wired with four lanes. 

Slot layout is identical to that of Asus’ competing model, making the Z68XP-UD5 a board designed for two-way SLI or CrossFire, at most. If none of the x1 slots are filled, a graphics card in the third x16 slot (again, it runs with only four lanes) could be used separately to host additional monitors. The only problem we see with putting a graphics card into that slot is that most GPU coolers are too large to fit over the notoriously stiff, straight USB 3.0 connectors plugged into the motherboard's front-panel port headers.

Taking a cue from the competition, Gigabyte adds a USB 3.0 bay adapter to the Z68XP-UD5’s support kit. On the other hand, its inclusion of only four SATA cables looks a little too budget-minded for a board that costs well over $200.