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a legacy FireWire port, separating the -UD3 from previous upper-range parts only in its lack of secondary network and outdated digital coaxial audio outputs.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.
Now I just wish Intel would do the same -- can't they just rip off Asus's UEFI implementation?
Do you stare into your case whilst computing, or do you look at the monitor?
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.