With Sandy Bridge hitting a small reef with the first batch of P67 motherboards, things seem to be back on track for Intel. Till now, if you wanted to overclock your shiny new Sandy Bridge CPU, there was just one option, the P67 chipset. But by doing so, you had to sacrifice the on-board GPU, which is actually not to shabby for video encoding.

On the other hand, if you went with the H67-based motherboards, you wouldn't get any overclocking functions at all. There was no way to get the best of both worlds, until now. At Computex 2011, Intel showcased the Z68 motherboard, a brand new chipset designed to fulfill the cry of PC users everywhere. Board partners also showcased their versions of the chipset and today we’ll be taking a closer look at one of the first Z68 boards to hit our labs – the Asus P8Z68-V Pro.


Good layout

Good layout

Let’s first go through some of the highlights of the Asus P8Z68-V Pro. The UEFI BIOS gives you an easy-to-use graphical user interface along with mouse support. Unlike the traditional blue screen, the new look is less intimidating for a novice user and easy to navigate. The EZ mode hides all the messy tweaking options and presents the user with a simple interface. Power users should not feel left out as ‘Advanced Mode’ puts you right back into the driver's seat.

The P8Z68-V Pro supports GPU switching natively thanks to the chipset and Asus have gone with LucidLogic's Virtu GPU virtulization software for this. What this means is you can enjoy 3D gaming using your graphics card while the onboard GPU can handle other tasks like video encoding. The new chipset also boasts of Intel’s new Smart response technology which copies the frequently used files from your HDD onto an SSD thereby giving you much faster performance. Other features are taken straight from their existing P67 line-up like DIGI+ VRM, EPU for energy saving, Bluetooth, USB 3.0, SATA III, Turbo V,etc.

Design and Layout
Now I know motherboards aren’t something you flaunt, but you have to admit it's a good looking board. The black PCB coupled with the blue heatsinks and slots makes it stand out from the competition. The bundle includes a driver disk, user manual, SLI bridge, Q-connectors, 2x SATA II cables, 2x SATA III cables, 1x rear USB 3.0 bracket.

Plenty of USB ports

Plenty of USB ports

The P8Z68-V Pro has a total of twelve USB 2.0 ports (six at the back panel and three headers). You also get a total of four USB 3.0 ports, VGA, DVI, HDMI and a 8-channel audio support. The 16-phase power regulators around the CPU area are cooled by a well designed heatsink with plenty of fins for cooling.

PCI slots for backwards compatibility

PCI slots for backwards compatibility

The motherboard supports CrossFireX and SLI configurations. The two PCI-E 2.0 slots run in x8 mode when using two graphics cards while the third runs by default in x1 mode. The motherboard also has on-board ‘Power’ and ‘Reset’ buttons for the enthusiast in mind. There are plenty of SATA connections, as well. Six of them are native to the Z68 chipset (4 SATA II, 2 SATA III), while the Marvell controller adds two more SATA III ports giving you a total of eight.

Physical toggle switches for TPU and EPU

Physical toggle switches for TPU and EPU

Up in the corner, Asus have added manual switches for the EPU and TPU for quickly toggling between these features. This is again something for the enthusiast crowd as once installed in the system you can control it through the software in Windows. Overall we didn’t have any major issues with the layout of the motherboard. The full-ATX form factor allows you to comfortaby install even larger CPU coolers and installing a long graphics card won't block any of the SATA ports since they all face outwards.

Test Rig Specifications
Processor: Intel Core i7-2600K CPU @ 3.40 GHz
Motherboard: Asus P8Z68-V Pro
Memory: Corsair Dominator GT 6 GB DDR3 (3 x 2 GB)
Hard drive: WD Velociraptor  300 GB
PSU: Cooler Master Silent Pro 1000W


Since we used the Asus GTX 580 on the previous P67 motherboards we tested, we can't directly compare the results of the Z68 to them. However, the CPU related tests can still be compared since it's not affected by the change in GPU. We recorded a slight bump in performance in our Cinebench R10 scores, but there was a slight drop in the file copy tests. The others didn't show any alarming variation and were pretty much identical. 

Cinebench R10
Single CPU – 4909 CB-CPU
Multiple CPU – 19466 CB-CPU
OpenGL – 6782 CB-GFX

File Copy Test
4GB Single File- 47.3seconds

Glasschess.pov settings 1600×1200, AA 0.3 – ,
1024×768 AA0.3 – 5mins 58seconds

Benchmark Score: 3158 KB/s
File Compression – 25.1seconds
File Extraction – 3.4seconds

Video Encoding
30 sec 

3DMark Vantage
3DMark score – P21619
GPU Score – 20547
CPU Score – 60954

PCMark Vantage
PCMark Score – 10005
Memories Score – 8504
TV and Movies Score – 6357
Gaming Score – 10626
Music Score – 7692
Communications Score – 13045
Productivity Score – 8240
HDD Score – 6082

Unigine Heaven Benchmark
FPS – 35.3

Just Cause 2
Average frame rate – 41.8

If you will be using your monitor with a discrete card then make sure you have ‘iGPU Multi-monitor’ option Enabled in the BIOS, else Windows won't detect the Sandy Bridge GPU and refuse to install the Virtu software.

Simple yet effective

Simple, yet effective

Once set up, you can either connect the display adapter to the onboard video-out port or the graphics card. The former puts you in an 'i' mode, which means the graphics card is idle most of the time and the onboard GPU is used for rendering Windows Aero, flash videos in the browser, etc. You can still load up a game and force the discrete GPU to kick in, but there is some overhead as the frames have to be copied in the iGPU's buffer and then displayed. Connecting the monitor to the dGPU means your primary card is on all the time. In this mode, you can still use the onboard GPU for Intel's Quick Sync functionality while gaming.

The UEFI BIOS is a very easy to work with and all the standard Asus features like AI Probe, Smart Fan, EPU, EZ Flash, etc can all be easily accessed through a novice friendly interface. We noticed that once multi-GPU was enabled, it takes a little longer than usual for the display to appear on the monitor. It's as if the virtu chip checks all the display ports for a signal before finding the right one. We hope this searching time can be lowered in the future through a BIOS update as it increases the boot up time.


No anodized plating for the socket

Anodized plating for the CPU socket would have been nice

Asus offers three variants of the Z68, all packing very similar design features except for slight differences in the bundle. The Asus P8Z68-V Pro retails for Rs.14,248, excluding taxes, which is a bit on the expensive side. It certainly offers better value when compared to the Gigabyte and ECS boards we tested based on the P67 chipset. It doesn't make much sense to go in for the P67 chipset or the H67 for that matter anymore as the Z68 offers you all the features you'll ever need for a Sandy Bridge rig. 

The Asus Z68 delivered good performance throughout and ran stable without any major issues. The feature set is very good as well and the built-in LucidLogic Virtu easily lets you use the onboard and discrete GPU simultaneously. If you are looking for a solid motherboard based on the Z68 chipset, the P8Z68-V Pro from Asus is a good place to start.

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