This review marks the last one I’ll be typing that uses a 2600K as the processor. It’s almost a sad day for that reason, but as you’ll see it’s going out on a pretty solid note with a good board at a good price – the ASUS P8Z68-V / GEN3.
Packaging & First Look
As its name implies, the ASUS P8Z68-V / GEN3 is PCIe 3.0 compatible, so if you already have a Sandy Bridge CPU (or want one for now since they’re cheaper than Ivy), you can keep the board, complete with PCIe 3.0 graphics, when you upgrade your CPU. The box is sufficient to protect the motherboard and has all kinds of marketing-speak on it.
Pulling the board out, you can see for a relatively budget-priced PCIe 3.0 board, it still looks very nice.
Definitely nothing to complain about in the looks department. I’ve always liked blue (holdover from my days as an abit fanboy) and kind-of wish they’d give the option for this kind of color scheme in an ROG board. Chances of that are slim to …ok, well they’re zero, but a guy can dream can’t he?
Specifications & Features
The full specification list, which is quite long, is available on ASUS’ web site. We’ll go over the features here. The biggest item on the agenda is this Z68 board’s adoption of the PCIe 3.0 specification (when combined with an Ivy Bridge CPU).
PCI Express® 3.0
PCI Express® 3.0 (PCIe 3.0) is the latest PCI Express bus standard with improved encoding schemes that provide twice the performance of current PCIe 2.0. Total bandwidth for a x16 link reaches a maximum of 32GB/s, double the 16GB/s of PCIe 2.0 (in x16 mode). As such, PCIe 3.0 provides users unprecedented data speeds, combined with the convenience and seamless transition offered by complete backward compatibility with PCIe 1.0 and PCIe 2.0 devices. PCIe 3.0 will become a must-have feature for users who wish to improve and optimize graphic performance, as well as have the latest technology available to them.
* Actual PCIe 3.0 speed varies with the installed CPU type.
Being a more budget-oriented board of course does not mean you miss out on ASUS’ solid UEFI implementation.
UEFI BIOS (EZ Mode)
Flexible & Easy BIOS Interface
Exclusive to ASUS motherboards, its UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) is the first ever mouse-controlled graphical BIOS interface designed with dual selectable modes. It delivers a user-friendly interface that goes beyond traditional keyboard-only BIOS controls to enable more flexible and convenient input with quick scrolling. Users can easily navigate the UEFI BIOS with the smoothness of their operating system. Quick and simple overclocking and setup sharing is facilitated by the F12 hotkey BIOS snapshot feature. The exclusive EZ Mode displays frequently-accessed setup info, while the Advanced Mode is for experienced performance enthusiasts that demand far more intricate system control, including detailed DRAM information.
Combined with Lucid’s Virtu, you can take full advantage of the iGPU on your Sandy Bridge or Ivy Bridge CPU.
Universal Switchable Graphics Technology
LucidLogix® Virtu is designed for the Intel® Sandy Bridge platform’s powerful integrated graphics. Its GPU virtualization dynamically assigns tasks to the best available graphics resources based on power, performance and system load on Windows® 7 based PCs. It allows users to fully utilize the unique capabilities of advanced Sandy Bridge multimedia features alongside the high end 3D rendering performance provided by installed graphics cards. When no discrete graphics are needed, the graphics card is put in idle mode to lower utilization, heat, fan speed and power draw down to near zero, making the system more environmentally-friendly. For users with diverse needs, LucidLogix® Virtu GPU virtualization provides great flexibility and efficiency.
Universal Switchable Graphics
LucidLogix® Virtu’s GPU virtualization technology assigns tasks to the best available GPU, allowing dynamic graphics switching between integrated graphics and NVIDIA® or AMD graphics cards.3X Faster Video Conversion
With switchable graphics, all ASUS P8Z68 Series motherboards leverage the transcoding power of Sandy Bridge, allowing users to enjoy three times faster video conversion with Intel® Quick Sync Video technology.
Thanks to the Z68 PCH, you can run with SSD caching, seriously improving performance at a fraction of the cost of a large SSD.
Intel® Smart Response Technology
SSD Speed with HDD Capacity
Intel® Smart Response Technology boosts overall system performance. It uses an installed fast SSD (min 18.6GB available capacity) as a cache for frequently accessed data. Harness the combination of SSD-like performance and response with hard drive capacity, that’s 4X faster than a HDD-only system.
* Support Intel® Smart Response Technology on 2nd generation Intel® Core™ processor family
ASUS has been moving toward maintaining strength across its channel parts, meaning the features on their high-end boards aren’t all limited to the high-end, which is great to see. It can make their boards a little more expensive, but it’s worth it for this kind of uniformity across the line. DIGI+ VRM is a solid power control solution and is nice to see across the line.
Dual Intelligent Processors 2 with DIGI+ VRM
Digital Power Design: The New Standard
The world’s first Dual Intelligent Processors from ASUS pioneered the use of two onboard chips – EPU (Energy Processing Unit) and TPU (TurboV Processing Unit). The new generation of Dual Intelligent Processors 2 with DIGI+ VRM provides precise Vcore PWM, integrated graphics voltages and frequency module adjustments with minimal power loss through BIOS tuning and an exclusive user interface to increase the board’s overclocking range while performance reaches its full potential. ASUS DIGI+ VRM digital power design empowers users with superior flexibility and perfect precision to ensure optimized performance, extreme system stability and greater power efficiency.
Herald the Arrival of a New Digital Power Design Era
VRM, or voltage regulator modules, are considered among the most essential motherboard design components. They supply the voltage demanded by the CPU, and a good VRM must intelligently detect actual CPU power draw to provide precise power accordingly. ASUS DIGI+ VRM is an innovative, industry-leading technology that fully integrates Intel® VRD12 specifications on a native level, greatly enhancing power to go far beyond the limits of analog designs.
Advantages of ASUS DIGI+ VRM Digital Power Design
Unlike previous VRD versions, Intel® VRD12 uses digital signals (SVID). To ensure perfect power delivery, ASUS specially designed DIGI+ VRM to sync completely with this new technology.
- Faster sensing and response: ASUS DIGI+ VRM acts as a digital controller to perfectly match digital power signal (SVID) requests from the CPU, eliminating digital-to-analog conversion lag.
- Better cooling: exclusive dual driver and MOS design doubles the heat dissipation area with expanded cooling surfaces for improved thermal performance. Spacing components out over a wider area speeds up cooling to enhance reliability and stability.
- 2X CPU power supply: the same exclusive dual driver and MOS design also provides twice the CPU power supply with two complete power stages. This results in far greater phase load tolerances, so the CPU never has to wait for power to arrive, increasing performance and overclocking potential.
Active Cooling for Extreme Durability- Super Cool VRM
ASUS DIGI+ VRM delivers intelligent power management to balance loadings for each power phase by detecting VRM temperatures to ensure longer component lifespan and better cooling.
TPU is quick-and-easy automatic overclocking. We don’t do much with them and in general our users prefer to overclock on their own, squeezing out the best their system can get with a given cooling setup; but it’s there for those that prefer to set it and forget it.
EPU is a feature for the eco-friendly crowd. It’s a nice feature to have, but another that we don’t spend too much time on. We’re about performance with a capital P here, but there are definitely those that need this kind of feature so it’s nice to have included.
The Ultimate Turbo Processor
Unleash your performance with ASUS’ simple onboard switch or AI Suite II utility. The TPU chip offers precise voltage control and advanced monitoring through Auto Tuning , GPU Boost and TurboV functions. Auto Tuning offers a user friendly way to automatically optimize the system for fast, yet stable clock speeds, while TurboV enables unlimited freedom to adjust CPU frequencies and ratios for optimized performance in diverse situations.
Energy Efficiency All Around
Tap into the world’s first real-time PC power saving chip through a simple onboard switch or AI Suite II utility. Get total system-wide energy optimization by automatically detecting current PC loadings and intelligently moderating power consumption. This also reduces fan noise and extends component longevity!
Use the iGPU? Overclock it easily!
Go to the Limit with iGPU Level Up!
GPU Boost accelerates the integrated GPU for extreme graphics performance. The user-friendly interface facilitates flexible frequency adjustments. It easily delivers stable system-level upgrades for every use.
This one is surprising on the -V SKU – built-in Bluetooth. Another higher-end feature on a mid-range SKU.
Diverse BT Enjoyment, New Technology Lifestyle
Onboard Bluetooth wireless design enables smart connectivity to Bluetooth devices with no additional adapter. ASUS BT GO! comes with 7 special functions that offer a significant breakthrough in Bluetooth evolution, including Folder Sync, BT Transfer, BT Turbo Remote, BT-to-Net, Music Player, Shot and Send, and Personal Manager. All are accessible through the exclusive, user-friendly ASUS interface.
Courtesy of the Sandy and Ivy Bridge on-board controllers, you get two SATA III ports. Because the Z68 PCH doesn’t have USB 3.0 support natively, you get four USB 3.0 ports via third-party controllers.
SATA 6Gb/s support
The Intel® Z68 Express Chipset natively supports the Serial ATA (SATA) interface, delivering up to 6.0 Gb/s data transfer. Additionally, get enhanced scalability, faster data retrieval, double the bandwidth of current bus systems.
Complete USB 3.0 Integration
Double USB Access, Double Convenience
ASUS facilitates strategic USB 3.0 accessibility for both the front and rear panels – 4 USB 3.0 ports in total. Experience the latest plug & play connectivity at speeds up to 10 times faster than USB 2.0. The P8Z68-V/GEN3 affords greater convenience with high speed connectivity.
Overall a very solid feature set, especially at its price point.
The accessory stack has everything you need to get you started with your new system. Storage cables include two each of SATA II and SATA III. There is an included SLI connector, the driver DVD, backplate, manual, handy front-panel connectors and an extra HDMI sheet that didn’t make it into the manual.
Up Close & Personal
Starting our close-up tour of the P8Z68-V / GEN3, we see the ASUS TPU controller chip, Nuvoton monitoring / fan controlling IC, ASMedia PCIe-to-PCI bridge and front panel headers.
Moving left a little bit, we’ve got the onboard power button (regrettably there is no onboard reset button), and the front panel audio header. Immediately to its left is the RealTek-controlled audio section.
As far as graphics expansion, you get the standard 1 x 16x or 2 x 8x, 16x PCIe slots. The one at the bottom operates at 4x. There is also ample expansion capability, with two 1x PCIe and two old school PCI slots.
Storage is handled by the Z68 PCH with no additional controllers necessary. You get two SATA III and four SATA II connectors. To their right you see the removable BIOS chip (always a welcome sight to overclockers). To its right is the USB 3.0 header, which is fed by the ASMedia controller just above it.
In the upper right corner, you can see the two-phase RAM power, four DIMM slots (which operate in dual channel) and the very important MEM OK button. If you enjoy overclocking RAM, that thing is a lifesaver. It’s even more important on boards like this one without a clear CMOS button.
You can also see four of the board’s five (the other one is next to the 8-pin CPU power connector) fan headers in this photo. Two are 3-pin and two are 4-pin. The two 4-pin headers are for two CPU fans; very convenient for those that use push/pull fans on a heatsink, or those with two-fan water solutions.
Here are a few controllers for your viewing pleasure. In the top photo you see the DVI and HDMI converters. On the lower right is one of the ASMedia USB 3.0 controllers and the Intel LAN interface chip. Finally, in the photo on the lower right is the RealTek audio codec.
Finally we make it to the back of the motherboard. A legacy PS/2 port is missing in favor of two additional USB 2.0 ports, for six total (four black and two red). There are two USB 3.0 ports and one each of eSATA (3GB/s), optical S/PDIF out, HDMI, VGA, DVI and LAN ports. The blue item above the red USB 2.0 ports is the onboard Bluetooth module and last, but not least, are the analogue audio input/output plugs.
Now let’s pull those nice looking blue heatsinks off and see what lurks underneath.
Under the Hood
Before I alluded to the fact that I like the blue styling and here’s a good reason why. These heatsinks look great. They cover all the necessary parts (PCH and MOSFETs on the front and back of the board).
They definitely get credit for going with the full coverage instead of skimping out on the top-of-board MOSFETs like other manufacturers do. It’s another reason this board might cost a few bucks more, but another reason why it’s a superior solution.
Contact on the heatsinks was consistent throughout. The main MOSFET heatsink and PCH heatsink are both screwed down on this board. The top MOSFET heatsink goes with a push-pin solution.
Here’s the naked board in the flesh, showing off its nice and strong power section.
As mentioned, part of the power section resides on the rear of the board, which is covered in an aluminum heatsink. In all, there are sixteen power phases here, four for the iGPU and twelve for the CPU. That’s a lot, but they’re needed as they aren’t quite as robust as the phases on the ROG series, which spoils its buyers with very high quality components (which explains why the Maximus IV Extreme-z has only eight CPU power phases).
Regardless, there is nothing skimpy about the power section on this board.
Next to the iGPU power section is the DIGI+ VRM / EPU controller chip. This is what allows the seamless control over your power output from the UEFI and AISuite. It’s a killer feature to have on a budget board and a welcome sight here.
Last is the Z68 platform controller hub itself.
So far we have a good looking, strong motherboard. Let’s power it up and see what the UEFI has to offer us.
When you enter the UEFI, you’re dropped in the best place you can be – the AI Tweaker menu, where you do all your overclocking. In this menu you adjust BCLK, multiplier, voltages and DIGI+ VRM controls.
As you can see, while maybe not quite as extensive as the DIGI+ VRM control on an ROG board, it’s pretty close and gives you all the main controls over your power section as you have on the high-end boards.
Memory timings are as extensive as those in the market for this board could ask for, giving you access to a plethora of timings to adjust.
The CPU configuration menus give you everything you can expect for controlling your CPU.
The Monitor screen shows you all the temperatures, fan speeds and voltages you need to keep a close eye on your system. All of these readings transfer over to AISuite in-OS too.
This is also where you adjust your CPU and Chassis fan control, which also has AISuite control.
Handy to overclockers is the Tool menu. You have the SPD Information tool to let you see your RAM’s SPD information, which is helpful in troubleshooting manual configurations. If something isn’t working with your RAM config, check this to see what might be too far out of spec.
Very helpful is the O.C. Profile menu, which allows you to save eight profiles for easy recall.
Last in the Tools menu is EZ Flash 2 which remains (in my opinion) the best way to flash a BIOS on the market.
Finally we get to the rest of the BIOS options. These are pretty standard but are here for you to peruse at your leisure.
The UEFI on the P8Z68-V / GEN3 is a solid offering throughout. There isn’t anything extraneous and gives you all you need to get the job done.
Ahh, AISuite. I extoll the virtues of this software every time in reviews, because it works so well. Things have come a long way since abit’s industry-first uGURU software solution. AISuite has taken pretty close to every main control you could adjust in UEFI (minus some of the more fine-grained controls) and put it right there in the OS at your finger tip.
The first thing we’ll look at is the tool overclockers will use most – TurboV EVO. BCLK, multiplier and voltages are right here at your beck and call.
Auto System Level up lets you auto-overclock your system. While most of our readers prefer to do things manually, this is here for your use if you want it. EPU lets the green-minded overclockers adjust their power saving options (as you can see, I’m on “High Performance”, where it always stays).
DIGI+ VRM translates right into the OS as well via AISuite. All of the controls you need to adjust your CPU’s power section are right here.
FAN Xpert gives you fine-grained control over the CPU and Chassis fan headers. You can set a curve manually or use ASUS presets to set them for you. As temperature rises, so does the fan speed. It’s response is fast and implementation into the software seamless.
Probe II keeps your components in check, alerting you when temperatures, voltages or fan speeds are out of bounds. The preset tolerances are generally fine, but can also be adjusted as you see fit. Sensor Recorder is great for those that like monitoring their system.
ASUS has worked to bring USB 3.0 interface improvements since it came out. Ai Charger+ allows those with Apple iDevices to charge them faster than you could otherwise.
USB 3.0 Boost makes transferring via USB 3.0 faster via Turbo and UASP protocol. Turbo speeds up normal BOT protocol speeds by allowing a large package of commands to be sent rather than just one at a time. UASP allows parallel commands to be sent to the device. ASUS has some graphics explaining what USB 3.0 Boost does and its benefits if that interests you.
System Information does exactly what you think it does. (Warning, this image is quite wide.)
Update is ASUS’ in-windows BIOS flashing software. I would highly recommend flashing via EZ Flash 2 however. While the software is fine, there is an added possibility of OS instability and you do NOT want to have a crash mid-flash, especially on a board with only one BIOS chip.
MyLogo lets you change the BIOS boot logo, which is a neat feature. Settings is where you select which AISuite features remain installed and adjust the menu bar behavior.
It’s hard to say enough good things about AISuite really. Everything works, it never crashes (unless you push the system too far and it’s unstable) and offers all the control and monitoring options you could want.
Our test systems share everything except for the GPU. The test bench has been switched over from a 5870 to a 6970, so the 3D testing isn’t going to be very comprehensive. Rest assured there is little to zero difference between any of the boards clock-for-clock with a single GPU.
|CPU||Intel i7 2600K|
ASRock P67 Extreme 6
ASUS P8P67 WS Revolution
ASUS Maximus IV Extreme-z
ASUS P8Z68-V / GEN3
|RAM||G.Skill RipjawsX DDR3-2133|
|GPU||AMD HD 6970|
|Cooling||Custom water loop (Swiftech MCP-x35,
Swiftech MCR-320, EK Supreme HF,
Ultra High Speed Panaflo fans)
|OS||Windows 7 x64|
Plenty of competition for the -V GEN3 today! Before overclocking and checking out performance comparisons though, let’s have a look at an important feature of the Z68 chipset.
The Z68 chipset introduced SSD caching, which is a great way to boost the speed of your computer without breaking the bank on a giant SSD. It really is the best of both worlds. I ran a couple comparison benchmarks with and without SSD caching enabled.
Now, before your eyes buldge out of your head, remember that ATTO especially is leaning heavily on the large 64GB cache drive. Except for sequential writes in CrystalDiskMark, everything improved with SSD caching.
After benchmarking the combo, I used it for about a week to let the system get used to my program uses and, while it’s definitely not as fast as a large SSD, it is absolutely worth the investment of an inexpensive caching SSD, such as the OCZ Synapse Cache SSD we reviewed a little while ago; or any 64GB SSD really. It will be a night-and-day difference compared to just a HDD alone for minimal cost.
This is another great feature this relatively inexpensive board offers right out of the box. Add an SSD and a HDD, install Windows and enjoy!
Overclocking this board was pretty easy, but it hit a snag. When stress testing, before Ivy Bridge, I used LinX to test for stability (now I use AIDA 64). This board passed LinX at 4.8 GHz just like the Maximus IV Extreme-z did, but with a bit more Vcore, at 1.352 Vcore loaded, rather than 1.328 Vcore loaded.
However, unfortunately it wasn’t really stable there. The PoV Ray render test was a thorn in this board’s side. It just would not pass at 4.8 GHz. Presumably it was the power section as this one isn’t quite as robust as the Maximus IV Extreme-z that happily ran this CPU at 4.8 GHz. The other boards I only took it to 4.6 GHz. 4.8 was a stretch for 24/7 use to see if the MIVE-z could do it – and indeed it did without complaint.
Unfortunately for the -V / GEN3, the MIVE-z separates itself in 24/7 overclocking, showing off its premium pedigree. The P8Z68-V / GEN3 isn’t quite as stout of a board and wouldn’t remain stable at the same 4.8 GHz. At 4.7 GHz though, it was perfectly stable and happy to drop Vcore back down to 1.328 V. Thus, all overclocked runs graphed are run at 4.7 GHz.
One thing to keep in mind when viewing the results below is ASUS’ implementation of ‘stock’ clocks. When left on auto, ASUS’ UEFI on this board and the MIVE-z defaults to running all cores at max turbo of 3.8 GHz. Thus, when you look at the multi-core benchmarks, that’s why these two boards fare better at ‘stock’.
Rendering and Compression
First up, some real world testing via Cinebench and 7Zip
Everything is as expected here, with no surprises. At stock, -V / GEN3 is right there with the MIVE-z. Overclocked it loses a tad from the 100 MHz difference and gains a bit over the other boards, which were run at 4.6 GHz.
3D Benchmarking (CPU Tests)
Checking out 3DMark06 and Vantage CPU tests, everything is as it should be for the same reasons above.
SuperPi shows less discrepancy because of turbo’s ability to kick up to 3.8 GHz on the other boards. The difference comes right back when running multi-threaded WPrime. All results are also right in line with expected at stock and overclocked.
Pushing the Envelope
While there was a slight problem running the same clocks for 24/7 operation as the MIVE-z, when pushing for max clocks, the P8Z68-V / GEN3 hangs right there near its bigger brother, with only about a dozen MHz difference. This was a very pleasant surprise after the little 24/7 issue.
First up, I ran WPrime 1024M and 32M. They completed at 5317 MHz and 5418 MHz, respectively. That’s right where this chip is capable of running on water cooling.
Lastly I ran SuperPi 1M to see how far it could push overall and was very happy to see it goes just as far as the MIVE-z, running at the chip’s maximum multiplier at 5511 MHz.
For pushing this chip’s limits on water cooling, this board is very close to as capable as the MIVE-z. It’s not quite able to push the extra 5-10 MHz that the Extreme-z can but with the 100 MHz deficiency at 24/7 clocks, this is much closer than expected, showing solid results for this board.
Final Thoughts & Conclusion
First up, let’s talk about price. At $159.99 after rebate with free shipping, it’s not the cheapest Z68 board on the market, but you have to look at one of its main selling points: PCIe 3.0 compatibility. With that filter applied at Newegg, it’s only three from the lowest priced PCIe 3.0-rated board. Using that metric, it’s downright budget-friendly. If you already have a Sandy Bridge CPU, you can get this board and have a clear upgrade path to Ivy Bridge.
As far as Z77 boards go, with the feature set available on this board, it is priced right where it should be. Considering its displayed abilities here, it’s just as capable as any Z77 board around the same price point. The only difference is you’ll get native USB 3.0 rather than third-party-controlled USB 3.0. Truth be told, that doesn’t amount to much of a difference.
Overall I’m quite pleased with this board. Considering the price difference between the P8Z68-V / GEN3 and the Maximus IV Extreme-z, 100Mhz for 24/7 overclocking is a very reasonable trade-off.
If you’re in the market for a board, you can’t really go wrong with the P8Z68-V / GEN3. It does what it should, does it well and even allows you to overclock to your CPUs limits rather easily. Add ASUS’ excellent UEFI and AISuite software and you have a winning combination.