Shootouts

Intel Z68 - The True Sandy Bridge Chipset

By Vincent Chang - 12 May 2011

Conclusion

Conclusion

If there's one conclusion that you can draw from the introduction of Intel's Z68 Express chipset, it's that Intel is so dominant in the CPU market that it can afford to emerge from the Cougar Point fracas relatively unscathed. Notwithstanding the actual cost of replacing and repairing the faulty chipsets, Intel remains in a very good position. And whatever flaws that the P67 and H67 chipsets had, the new Z68 chipset has just swept them away.

Which is why, even though there's a slight premium for the Z68 chipset over the older P67, it's very likely that the Z68 chipset will become the chipset of choice from now onwards for anyone getting a new Sandy Bridge system. It allows the use of some of the platform's more attractive features, like Quick Sync, without compromise or restrictions. And, the value-conscious power user can take advantage of Intel Smart Response Technology to get a hefty performance boost while waiting for the prices of the top SSDs to become more affordable.

Throw in the flexibility of Lucid's Virtu and despite the slight performance penalty, we can't really find anything wrong with the Z68. At worst, we can only say that Intel should have covered the switchable graphics angle right at the start, and not have to rely on Lucid for the fix.

This chipset launch does remind us of the flaws of the previous Intel chipsets. Despite the criticisms about its frequent socket changes, Intel has stuck to its guns. It figured that the typical user don't really care to upgrade and would gladly buy a new platform when the need arises, especially since most users are only changing their PCs after several years of use.

In a more competitive CPU environment, one would perhaps expect Intel to suffer from this approach. It's not the case at the moment, with AMD missing in action. While AMD's Bulldozer is expected very soon, there is a big question over whether it can top Intel, especially with Intel's big announcement recently about its 22nm transistor breakthrough. Ivy Bridge will be out next year and already it looks formidable.

Ratings Breakdown
Model Performance Features Value Overclocking Overall Estimated Retail Price
ASUS P8Z68-V PRO 9.0 8.5 9.0 8.5 9.0 S$349
Gigabyte GA-Z68X-UD7-B3 8.5 9.0 7.5 8.0 8.0 S$549
MSI Z68A-GD80 (B3) 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.5 S$359

 

ASUS has been very strong with its 6-series motherboards and the ASUS P8Z68-V PRO maintains its good start. While there wasn't anything really new on this board that differs from ASUS' P67 offerings besides the chipset differences, there was little need for ASUS to change its winning formula. This board is targeted at the upmarket crowd, but not the extreme users, which is why some features are missing like an NF200 controller. But it more than made up for it with its excellent BIOS, strong benchmark performance and a user-friendly layout. The rather competitive price tag helps.

Gigabyte's GA-Z68X-UD7-B3 was an interesting board. The company obviously felt that the target audience for the UD7 would not care to accept any compromises from having Virtu or have the need to use Quick Sync. We cannot agree with this, but as Gigabyte has many other models that do have these features, there's no harm done. Unfortunately, while this Gigabyte board lived up to its usual high standards, the price too can be quite daunting. Unless you really need the 3-way CrossFireX/SLI support, there are more attractive alternatives.

In many ways, MSI's Z68A-GD80 (B3) is very similar to the ASUS board. In terms of features, the two are almost identical and both suffer from the same lack of PCIe bandwidth that the Gigabyte avoids. Both are also very closely matched in price, with the MSI just a bit more costly. Although we find little fault with this board for its layout or choice of features, we just feel that its BIOS loses out to the ASUS.

Our Final Ratings
The ASUS P8Z68-V PRO

 

The MSI Z68A-GD80 (B3)
The Gigabyte GA-Z68X-UD7-B3