The Intel Z68 Chipset
There is a lot to consider about the new Intel Z68 chipset and what it brings to the table for the Sandy Bridge platform as a whole. Obviously, the simplest thing to consider is the performance of the chipset itself – nothing has really changed from the migration of the P67 to the Z68. In our testing, and as we fully predicted and expected, the ASUS P8Z68-V Pro motherboard performed basically identically to the P8P67 Deluxe motherboard we had tested back in January.
But the Z68 is much more than just a new name. The real keys come in the form of the new combination of features from the P67 and H6x chipsets. By allowing overclocking and performance adjustments previously only available on the P67 chipset in conjunction with the display output support of the H6x chipsets, the Z68 can finally unlock the full potential of the 2nd Generation of Intel Core Processors.
But just having access to both discrete and integrated graphics solutions at the same time isn’t enough and thanks to the inclusion of a software desktop switchable graphics solution, Lucid Virtu, user will really be able to get the best of both worlds (to continue an overused saying). Not only will you be able enable and use the integrated graphics features on your Sandy Bridge processor but you will be able to get the performance benefits of a discrete DX11 graphics cards without having to reboot or move display connections around. Obviously the Lucid Virtu / NVIDIA Synergy options are not Intel Z68 feature exactly and are not necessarily going to be paired together 100% of the time. But with Intel not providing its own software solution to remedy the issue, I would expect MOST motherboard vendors to include the Lucid option in the box.
Finally, let’s not forget the SSD caching feature that Intel is dubbing Smart Response Technology. While we have seen discussion and just a few examples of hybrid hard drive solutions that combine solid state technology with standard spindle-based hard drives, none have been particular successful with reviewers or consumers. Intel’s unique capability to combine just about any HDD and SSD to create your own “hybrid” drive in a software configuration is truly innovative and not only will help sell of a ton of new Intel solid state drives but also will improve user experiences on desktop and mobile systems going forward. If you want the full run down on the Smart Response Technology, its benefits, performance and caveats, be sure to check out our separate write up on the subject as well.
The ASUS P8Z68-V Pro Motherboard
Taking the features that are going to be common among all or most of the Z68 motherboard on the market starting today, the ASUS P8Z68-V Pro has a handful of good features that prove it to be a great modestly priced motherboard for enthusiasts. For one, the features and configuration of the board provide a lot for your average gamer with support for SLI and CrossFire while still providing PCI and PCIe x1 slots for further expansion. The board includes Bluetooth as well as Intel-based Gigabit Ethernet, eSATA and four total USB 3.0 ports to really round out a great collection of ports and interface options.
The UEFI BIOS and the overclocking capability of the P8Z68-V Pro motherboard impressed me as well. ASUS has really been the leader in the UEFI transition and has built what many consider to be the best user interface and collection of features in the industry and I tend to agree. We were able to overclock our Core i7-2600K to as high as 4.8 GHz with some manual work but even the ASUS auto-magic OC Tuner software based overclocking nearly reached 4.5 GHz with our sample without any effort.
If you are set on the Z68 chipset for your next system, as I think many of you are going to be, then the ASUS P8Z68-V Pro is a great choice.
Virtu, Synergy and Multi-GPUs
I think that even if all we got with the Z68 launch was the ability to utilize integrated graphics and Quick Sync without a reboot and the Smart Response Technology, it would have been just as successful as it turned out to be. But the advent of the software-based switchable graphics options like Lucid’s Virtu and NVIDIA’s upcoming Synergy really are going to make this THE chipset to have for Sandy Bridge platforms. Any time you can make utilizing the entirety of a consumer’s hardware simple then you are going to get people using your technology.
Lucid first showed us the Virtu technology at CES in January fully knowing that they would need to wait for the Z68 launch to really push and sell it to board vendors. It looks like they will have a little competition from NVIDIA (at the very least) but that is healthy for industry and good for consumer and I am eager to see this technology perfected and without any caveats.
The P67 Dilemma
There are some people that are going to complain that the release of a chipset like this that is really what we wanted all along this quickly after the initial January release date of the P67 and Sandy Bridge processor is like a smack to the face of dedicated enthusiasts that bought in early. While there is some truth to this, especially considering the debacle of the chipset recall, this is unfortunately what happens for those of us on the bleeding edge.
If you have a P67 motherboard now and are happy with it – then I would count your blessings and only really look for an upgrade if you really know you need that SSD caching and Quick Sync support.
Pricing and Availability
You can expect to find Z68-based motherboards in just about every price range, just as you did with the P67 series. I think the Z68 is being charged at a slight premium from Intel though so you should expect to pay just a bit more than the similarly speced P67 motherboards that are on sale today. For our testing, the ASUS P8Z68-V Pro motherboard will be priced around $180 and with all the features and technology packed in it seems like a good price for what you get.
There have been a few rumors that Z68 inventory will be short as it initially makes its way to the retail shelves, but from what I have been hearing from partners like ASUS, Gigabyte, MSI and ECS, they have been sitting on these boards for quite a while and more than ready for the demand.
It is hard not to look at the Intel Z68 chipset as anything but a complete success. You already have a class-leading processor in terms of performance and features and now you are finally enabling all of the features of it be accessed for your entire market of users. That alone would have been enough to get our approval but the addition of the Smart Response Technology that brings SSD caching to any consumer’s computer is a bonus that any and every enthusiast is going to want to take a shot at. While we definitely wish there had been Z68 motherboards available at launch rather than see a bunch of users pick up P67 motherboards early, better late than never is a typical out for companies like Intel.
The ASUS P8Z68-V Pro motherboard is a great combination of this chipset and additional features like USB 3.0, Bluetooth plus more and should be a solid option for anyone looking to finally make the dive into Sandy Bridge or even upgrade from an original P67.