Today, we have rather special Z68 motherboard from Gigabyte. While most of the feature list remains the same, Gigabyte has added some enhancements of their own, which sets this apart from all the other Z68 boards in the market. Designed for enthusiasts in mind, let’s see if this is worth your time.

Design and Layout
Gigabyte has stuck with their traditional blue PCB design for this motherboard. The CPU area is quite roomy and the stock Sandy Bridge cooler fitted easily with room to spare. There’s a heatsink covering the VRM area, as well. The four memory slots are colour coded making it easy to install memory modules in dual-channel mode. There’s support for up to 32GB of DDR3 memory. The 20GB Intel SSD is placed smack in the middle of the board, so it doesn’t get in the way of other components. Although the SSD appears to be using a mini PCIE connector, it’s actually wired to use the fifth SATA port.

All layout is good with everything spaced out well

All layout is good with everything spaced out well

There rear I/O ports include a PS2 combo port and 10 USB ports, out of which two are USB 3.0. Furthermore, we also have two USB 3.0 headers, a special header for Gigabyte’s front panel USB 3.0 drive bay and finally a USB 2.0 header with support for On/Off charge. There’s even a Firewire, HDMI and a Gigabit LAN jack. Audio is taken care of by SPIDF optical audio out and a 7.1 channel analog audio powered by Realtek ALC889 chipset. There are a total of 8 SATA ports, four of which are SATA III. Oddly, there’s no DVI or VGA for the onboard graphics and there isn’t any adapter that comes bundled.

Supports both CrossFire and SLI

Supports both CrossFire and SLI

We have a good selection of expansion slots, as well. There are two PCIE slots for graphics cards, the first one runs at x16 mode, while the other runs at x8 mode. There are three PCIE x1 slots, but if you use a dual-slot graphics card, you’ll end up losing one of them. Lastly, we also have two PCI slots for backwards compatibility. Overall, the layout of the connectors are good and we didn’t have any problems setting up the rig. There’s ample space between the graphics card and the RAM slots making it easy to add or remove them. The SATA ports are placed facing outwards, so even a long card like the HD 6970 is no problem. The bundle includes four SATA cables, I/O shield plate, case badge, manual, driver disk and a SLI bridge.     

Features

You may have got a hint about one of the unique features of this board from the name itself. This particular Z68 motherboard comes with a 20GB Intel SSD attached to the motherboard, itself. The solid state drive is from Intel’s 311 series and is connected to the motherboard via mSATA. The idea behind this is to take advantage of Intel’s Smart Response Technology, which is built into the Z68 chipset. This allows the system to use the SSD to store frequently accessed files, so Windows can launch and execute programs faster even when installed on a standard hard drive. You basically get SSD-like speed and responsiveness, but with the ample storage of a regular hard drive.

CPU area is uncluttered allowing you to install larger heatsinks

CPU area is uncluttered allowing you to install larger heatsinks

Gigabyte also includes Hybrid EFI Touch BIOS, but it’s not exactly as it sounds. Hitting the ‘Del’ key upon startup still takes you to an Award BIOS screen, unlike Asus boards that allow you to use the mouse. The Hybrid BIOS feature is actually an application you install, which then lets you access some of BIOS features through the OS itself. LucidLogix VIrtu GPU virtulization is also present, which lets you use the onboard GPU, as well as the discrete graphics card, simultaneously. Other features include VRD12 compliant CPU power design, dual BIOS, support for hard drives greater than 3TB out-of-the-box, UD3 features like 2oz copper and ferrite core chokes, SATA III and USB 3.0 and turbo XHD.

Gigabyte also bundles some of their own software utilities like Dynamic Energy Saver 2, Smart 6, Cloud OC, AutoGreen, Dolby Home Theatre enhancements and EZ Smart Response program for configuring your SSD with Intel Smart Response Technology (ISRT). The M.I.T tweaking program in the BIOS gives you good control for overclocking the components, right from the CPU to the memory timings and voltages. XMP profiles are also supported by default. Other than the lack of a proper UEFI BIOS, the Z68XP-UD3-iSSD is quite feature packed and should complement your new Sandy Bridge CPU, very well. Next, let's have a look at how the board performs.

Test Rig Specifications

  • Processor: Intel Core i7-2600K CPU @ 3.40 GHz
  • Motherboard: Gigabyte Z68XP-UD3-iSSD
  • Memory: Corsair Dominator GT 6 GB DDR3 (3 x 2 GB)
  • Hard drive: WD Velociraptor 300 GB
  • GPU: AMD Radeon HD 6970
  • PSU: Cooler Master Silent Pro 1000W

Performance
The stock BIOS that came with the motherboard wasn’t too stable, so we immediately flashed it to the F6 BIOS, which was more stable. We used a fresh install of Windows 7 Ultimate and all the drivers were updated to their latest versions.

Puts up a good fight angainst the Asus

Puts up a good fight angainst the Asus

Setting up the SSD to be used as a cache drive is pretty simple. By default, the PCH SATA control mode is set to RAID(XHD), which is required. You install the OS on the standard hard drive and when that’s done, install the Intel Rapid Storage drivers. After that, you simply launch the application and hit ‘Enable Acceleration’ to use the SSD with ISRT.

ISRT is easy to setup

ISRT is easy to setup

There are two modes at your disposal here. In ‘Enhanced’ mode, data is written to the cache memory and the disk, so even if there’s an SSD failure, your data is not lost. In ‘Maximized’ mode, the cached data is only written to the SSD at intervals, which improves performance sightly, but you run the risk of losing data, since there’s no mirroring going on. Also, currently Intel’s ISRT technology can only use upto 64GB of SSD space. You also need to remember that if you use too many heavy applications often, the onboard 20GB SSD cannot keep cached data of too many programs, so there will come a time when some of the data will be overwritten by a new program.

It's a bit difficult to show the real performance of the SSD cacheing through the scores, since it mostly caches the files needed to start the program. We can say with certainty that Windows and applications in general do respond a lot quicker and give you the feeling that the OS is installed on the SSD when in reality, it's not.

Verdict
The only other Z68 motherboard we’ve reviewed till now is the Asus P8Z68-V Pro, which we felt was too expensive for an m-ATX motherboard. The Gigabyte Z68XP-UD3-iSSD, on the other hand is a full-ATX motherboard with the same price tag as the Asus and at a street price of Rs.13,200, you get a 20GB SSD, as well, which gives it really good value. If you were looking for a high-end Z68-based motherboard, then this Gigabyte makes a good buy. We did have a couple of niggles with it like the lack of VGA or DVI ports and perhaps it would have been nice to see one USB 3.0 rear bracket. Even so, this is a really good feature packed motherboard for the price and we recommend it to anyone looking for high-end Z68 board.

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