The Gigabyte GA-Z68A-D3H-B3 is just one of many Intel Z68 motherboards made by Gigabyte, this one a mid-range full ATX board with not a lot of bells and whistles in terms of overclocking. However, Gigabyte has added quite a few features we’ll be discussing, in the form of top-class hardware components making this possibly one of the better overclockers in its modest price range, and some other interesting features that make it worthy of consideration. And as usual, there are plenty of useful utilities to look at as well. So let’s get right to it!
The Z68 Chipset
We are all aware of the fiasco Intel went through with the release of the P67 chipset, so we don’t need to go over that ever again. Needless to say, even without the SATA bug, it wasn’t very well thought out, with the inability to use the onboard video found on Sandy Bridge. While it’s true that the P67 was supposed to have been considered a ‘performance’ platform, on which nobody would want to use integrated graphics, it also meant that you did not have access to the integrated video’s excellent media encoding features. For that, you needed to use the graphics card itself, which meant going with a lower-end H67 chipset. The fact that P67 was arbitrarily crippled is what hurt the most I think.
Z68 gets around all that by not only allowing ‘performance’ desktop users to utilize Extreme Graphics if they want, but use it in addition to their discrete graphics cards by way of virtualization.
Virtualization can work two ways – you can either use the onboard graphics as the main output, and use the discrete card under virtualization when needed. This has the theoretical advantage of allowing the graphics card to go into sleep mode when not in use. In reality however, today’s graphics cards do not seem to support this function at this time, and power consumption remains the same as though you were using the card itself. Add the fact that there is always some 3D performance penalty, this method isn’t exactly ideal right now. This may change with later driver updates however.
The other method is to use the graphics card’s video output, and virtualize the integrated graphics. Since there is no power consumption advantage anyway, this method is better since there is no loss in 3D performance. Also, the media encoding function does not receive a performance penalty when virtualization is being used. Because of this, many Z68 motherboards don’t even have a video output – since most performance users will have a discrete graphics card anyway, Sandy Bridge graphics is only made available through virtualization.
Another addition to Z68 is the ability to set an SSD hard drive as a cache for any hard drive you wish. This gives you an easy to implement performance boost to any system, just by adding an SSD. Gigabyte makes this even easier, with custom made software to install all the drivers and help you go through the many steps that are involved in setting this up.
Still no native USB 3.0 however, but Gigabyte includes two ports on this board, by way of a not-so-hot controller onboard. It’s not the Renesas/NEC chip we’re used to seeing, and performance suffers because of it.
We’ll get to all this and more, starting on the next page. Let’s kick things off with a tour of the Z68A-D3H-B3!