The Z68 chipset series are the latest socket 1155 boards from Gigabyte and it is comprised of a very complete line that has 11 motherboards ranging from entry-level mATX to the flagship Z68X-UD7-B3. Regardless of what your socket 1155 motherboard needs are, Gigabyte has an option that is going to match. Somewhere near the middle of their Z68 line is the ATX-sized Z68X-UD3H-B3. Gigabyte’s Z68 chipset boards include some new technologies such as TouchBIOS, Intel Smart Response and Virtu, in addition those that have become standard features on many Gigabyte boards, as well as some very handy applications to make use of them.
Features and Specifications
The “H” in Z68X-UD3H-B3 means on-board graphics are available through the motherboard via Intel’s 2nd Generation HD graphics on 1155 processors. Overclocking and using the integrated graphics processor (IGP) on an 1155 processor were mutually exclusive prior to the Z68 boards being released. If you wanted to overclock, a P67 board was the only choice, but you couldn’t use the IGP. If you wanted to use the IGP, an H67 board was the only choice, but they couldn’t overclock. With Z68 and motherboards equipped with video ports, you can finally have the best of both: an overclocking motherboard that can also utilize the IGP that was paid for on the processor. This is one advantage to Z68 in the epic Z68 vs. P67 battle. In addition to allowing use of the IGP, the Z68X-UD3H-3B also adds some new and potentially very useful features.
One such feature that Gigabyte has implemented is “TouchBIOS”. Dubbed as a “Hybrid EFI”, TouchBIOS allows access to the motherboard BIOS right from the operating system desktop. If you happen to have a touch screen display, you most certainly can interact with the TouchBIOS using your finger instead of the mouse. To see a quick video of TouchBIOS in action, have a look at Gigabyte’s introductory video (external link) for it.
So far, UEFI BIOS implementations are handled via the normal BIOS procedures by other manufacturers, accessing them during boot, but instead of the text-only environment that has been around since the Stone Age, UEFI BIOSes provide a graphical, mouse-friendly environment to work in. For the Z68X-UD3H-B3, the standard Award BIOS that most are used to seeing from Gigabyte is what is still available for access from the POST screen at boot, which may be the “hybrid” part: EFI implentation from the desktop and the standard BIOS at boot.
As an added note, possibly this feature was too new to make on to the driver CD included with the board, but it was not there and the TouchBIOS application had to be downloaded separately from Gigabyte’s website.
Also making it’s debut with Z68 is the Intel Smart Response Technology. It is (or should be) common knowledge at this point that Solid State Drives (SSD’s) are much faster than than standard platter-based hard disk drives (HDD’s). It is also common knowledge that SSD’s are substantially more expensive for a fraction of the capacity. 1TB (terabyte) HDD’s are commonplace these days and can easily be found for as little as $50 at various retail sources. For that price, one could maybe find an 8GB or 16GB SSD of the cheaper MLC variety right now at those same retail sources. That is quite a difference in capacity for the same price and as consumer-sense dictates, most people are going to spend $50 on a 1TB HDD long before they spend a couple thousand on a 1TB SSD.
Enter Intel Smart Response Technology to offer a compromise of SSD performance with HDD capacity. Of course, one of each type of drive is needed to have the best of both worlds, but a lower capacity (64GB max), and much more affordable, SSD is used as a cache in combination with an already cheap, high-capacity HDD. Through the Smart Response Technology, the SSD stores and accesses the most commonly used files for quick access, while the HDD is available for its huge amount of storage space. The point being that you get SSD performance on the data that is accessed the most, but there is still plenty of room to store your game and media files.
Intel Smart Response Technology requires the motherboard to be set up in RAID mode. If an operating system was already installed using IDE mode, changing it RAID normally requires an entire reinstall of the operating system, however, Gigabyte has created their “EZ Smart Response Utility” that will automatically configure everything and install the Intel Smart Response application without having to reinstall the operating system. A very nice bonus and kudos to Gigabyte for making this extremely helpful utility.
Does anyone remember the “Hydra” chip that had computing circles buzzing a few years ago? If not, “Hydra” was to be a bridge of sorts, allowing use of multiple and mixed GPUs in the same environment. GPUs from different companies and different models could all work in the same setup. Virtu is from the same company that brought us “Hydra” (LucidLogix, now just Lucid) and is very reminiscent of it. Where the Z68X-UD3H-B3 is concerned, Virtu allows running both the IGP on the CPU and discrete video cards. This is not to say that they both process the same work together at the same time. Virtu decides which GPU should get the work based on what the work is and this is particularly handy on the 1155 processors if you do more than just game or just encode video or just watch HD. Most people will use their computers with some combination of video demands. In the case of transcoding video, the IGP on 1155 CPUs is far more efficient than even the current high-end discrete graphics cards when Intel Quick Sync is used, the catch is, the IGP must be used in order to use Quick Sync. If you want to play a DirectX11 game with anti-aliasing after transcoding, a discrete graphics card would be better suited to the job, but the cable would need to switched from the IGP output to the graphics card. If one goes back to watching HD video after playing a game, the IGP might be the better and lower-power choice and the cable would need to be changed back again. With the IGP and a discrete video card installed, the best of both worlds is available with Virtu. One doesn’t need to decide which GPU is the better option or have to physically switch display cable between them. With Virtu, the cable stays plugged into the motherboard video output and Virtu decides which GPU is the best option for the task and sends the work to that GPU automatically.
While there is a small hit in performance in 3Ds and gaming from a discrete card when Virtu is used, since an extra controller is involved in the mix, this is not completely unexpected and for average users, it will be largely unnoticed and is a small price to pay to have access to the most efficient GPU (IGP or discrete) for a task and not have to do a thing to make it happen.
Now that some of the new and interesting technologies have been covered, let’s take a very quick look at the Gigabyte Z68X-UD3H-B3 itself…
The Gigabyte Z68X-UD3H-B3 features a matte black PCB, all black slots and grey heatsinks, a very “high tech” color scheme. This color scheme overall is carried up the Gigabyte Z68 line, with higher models having colored stripes on their sinks to denote the models.
As part of the Ultra Durable 3 line, the Z68X-UD3H-B3 also includes 2 ounces of copper for the power and ground PCB layers, Ferrite core chokes, 50,000 hours Japanese solid capacitors and lower RDS(on) MOSFETs. As is standard on most all of Gigabyte’s motherboards within the last year or so, the Z68X-UD3H-B3 also includes Gigabyte’s “3x USB Power” and “On/Off Charge” features. “3x USB Power” supplies more power to the USB ports for greater compatibility and quicker charging of mobile devices. Let me do that math for you. With “3x USB Power”, up to 1.5A is available on a USB2.0 port (normally 500mA) and on a USB3.0 port, a whopping 2.7A is available (normally 900mA). The “On/Off Charge” feature allows the USB ports to charge devices even with the system off.
The Z68X-UD3H-B3 has a 12-phase VRM setup and, as usual, Gigabyte pays a lot of attention to the details of their power circuitry and the features for it.
As on many of their recent boards, the Z68X-UD3H-B3 VRM features Gigabyte’s “Dual CPU Power” technology, which basically allows the power circuits to split into two separate banks that alternate working so one set of components can rest while the other is active. If a component isn’t working unnecessarily, it’s not getting worn out unnecessarily either (or creating heat) and that will extend the life of the components and the motherboard. When load requires it, all phases become active for maximum power delivery.
The VRM on this board includes an Intel-approved Intersil PWM controller that is VRD 12 compliant. A new feature for this controller includes SerialVID (SVID), which transfers power management information directly between the voltage regulator controller and the processor, allowing for a more efficient signaling control between the CPU and PWM controller. The 100% hardware design allows for faster response to changes during CPU loading as the signal between the PWM and VRM doesn’t need to be converted from Analog to Digital and back to Analog. Additionally, there are no possible signal sampling errors for the conversion, making the PWM more accurate.
The VRM on the Z68X-UD3H-B3 also includes the use of DriverMOSFETs. It finally occurred to me that sometimes things that automatically make sense to one person don’t automatically make sense to everyone. I have used the term “Driver MOSFET” during reviews on other Gigabyte motherboards and realized this time that the name alone probably means nothing to a lot of people and have purposely included Gigabyte’s graphic here to illustrate what makes a DriverMOSFET what it is. As the name implies, it is a component that contains a driver chip and a high side and low side MOSFET in a single package. Combined with chokes and capacitors, the MOSFETs and their driver IC are normally all individual components laid out on the board to create a phase of the VRM. With the driver and MOSFETs built into a single self-contained DriverMOSFET component, there is greater efficiency at higher switching frequencies and the components themselves take up less space on the PCB.
With the VRM covered, we’ll move around the rear I/O and here we see something that no P67 board has: on-board video ports. The Z68X-UD3H-B3 includes one each of a D-Sub, DVI-D, HDMI and Display ports, which pretty much cover the range of oldest to newest technologies for connecting displays. The DVI-D and HDMI ports support a maximum resolution of 1920×1200 and the Display port supports 2560x1600p. As a note, the DVI-D port does not support use of a D-Sub adapter, a display with a DVI-D plug must be used. While dual monitor configurations are supported in operating systems, the motherboard does not support dual monitors during POST or in BIOS.
Rounding out the rear I/O:
- 4x USB2.0 ports (red) – Z68 chipset
- 1x PS/2 Keyboard/Mouse combo port
- 1x Optical S/PDIF – Realtek ALC889
- IEEE 1394a (red) – VIA VT6308
- eSATA 3GB/s – Z68 chipset
- Gigabit ethernet port – Realtek RTL8111E
- 2x USB3.0 ports (blue) – Etron EJ168
- Standard audio jacks – Realtek ALC889
Additional ports available via internal headers:
- 8x USB2.0 – Z68 chipset
- 2x USB3.0 – Etron EJ168
- 1x IEEE 1394a – VIA VT6308
While we’re talking about USB ports, Gigabyte’s “SuperSpeed USB3.0” feature utilizes an additional on-board controller that provides for a theoretical 5GB/s transfer rate. In addition, their “Turbo USB3.0” option may net an additional 10% increase in transfer speeds, but in order to achieve this, “Turbo USB3.0” utilizes extra PCI-e lanes. This means that no Crossfire or SLI graphics card configurations are possible with “Turbo USB3.0” enabled and even a single graphics card will only operate at 8x as opposed to 16x. Unless you have an extremely pressing need for the possible extra 10% transfer rate, it would be advisable to keep “Turbo USB3.0” disabled any time when using a dedicated graphics card and the feature must be disabled for 2-way Crossfire or SLI.
There are seven internal SATA connectors: 2x SATA2 (3GB/s) and 2x SATA3 (6GB/s) off of the Z68 chipset and 2x SATA3 (6GB/s) off of the Marvell controller. The Z68 chipset ports support RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10, while the Marvell ports support RAID 0 and 1.
The expansion area of the Z68X-UD3H-B3 has two PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots for available 2-way Crossfire or SLI graphics card setups. The secondary PCI-e slot shares bandwidth with the primary PCI-e slot, so each runs at 8x when both are populated. As a reminder, when using the “Turbo USB3.0” option, dual graphics card configurations are not possible and a single PCI-e graphics card will run at 8x rather than 16x. The board also includes two PCI Express slots and two PCI slots.
The internal headers for USB and 1394a can be seen along the edge of the board and for cooling duties, the Z68X-UD3H-B3 has two 4-pin headers for CPU and SYS_FAN2 and two 3-pin fan headers for SYS_FAN1 and the PWR_FAN.
Like all Z68 boards, this board utilizes dual-channel DDR3 and the Z68X-UD3H-B3 has four DIMM slots that support up to 32GB of memory with speed options from 1066-2133MHz. Also seen in the photo are the two BIOS ROM chips that make up Gigabyte’s DualBIOS, which provides recovery for BIOS failures. In addition, Gigabyte’s DualBIOS is compatible with 3+ terabyte hard drives, allowing for booting from them without a separate partition. The 3TB+ unlock application can be downloaded from Gigabyte’s website and was not currently available on the driver CD included with the motherboard.
Next to the main 24-pin ATX power connector on the board is the Trusted Platform Module (TPM) slot, should you choose to use one.
As usual, the ThermalTake Frio air cooler was bolted on to check whether a large aftermarket cooler would fit. There is plenty of space between the cooler and the on-board heat sinks, but as is almost always the case with a 25mm thick fan on DIMM side of the cooler, the closest DIMM slot is blocked and may be usable if the memory module has no heat sinks. With no fan on the DIMM side of the air cooler, all four slots are easily accessible. Still a bit of tight fit, but the second DIMM slot (channel A) is able to accept a module with an extended sink.
Additionally, there is plenty of space between the Frio a discrete graphics card in the primary PCI-e slot. It is a close fit, but the PCI-e slots are spaced where 2-way Crossfire or SLI can be run even with 3-slot cooling solutions on the cards, however, a 3-slot cooler in the secondary PCI-e slot may very likely cause fitment issues with any of the internal USB, IEEE 1394a or front panel headers used.
Testing and Performance
|CPU:||Intel Core i7 2600K|
|Memory:||2x2GB Corsair Dominator GT 2000C7|
|Graphics card:||Intel Integrated Graphics Processor (HD 3000)|
|Power Supply:||Gigabyte Odin 1200W|
At first boot, I was anxious to take a look at Touch BIOS. It is an interesting application, allowing access to BIOS settings directly from the desktop. Changes made to BIOS settings are not real-time, rather they are set at the next boot. While there would be way too many to screen, all options in BIOS are available in Touch BIOS. In addition, icons can be removed for options that aren’t wanted and there is also a bookmark option that will open Touch BIOS directly to the screen that is bookmarked, which is particularly handy for quick access to monitoring or overclocking screens.
These are just a few screens of the options available in Touch BIOS. Suffice it to say, if it can be controlled in BIOS, it can be controlled in Touch BIOS. Note that the wacky temperature reading in the monitoring screen is because the processor was below 0°C on the single stage phase unit.
Though Touch BIOS doesn’t allow real-time changes, the EasyTune application does allow on-the-fly CPU multiplier, BCLK and voltage changes from the desktop. Unlike changes made from the desktop in previous versions of EasyTune though, the changes made on this board are also set in BIOS at the next reboot, so anyone planning to use EasyTune to muster out every fraction of a BCLK from a setup should be aware that when a lock up or crash occurs by going too far in EasyTune, that bad overclock will be in the BIOS when the system is rebooted and the board will go through its recovery, which admittedly, can be a bit annoying on this board. Sometimes it can take several reboots where it might appear to be stuck in a loop, but it is not.
As is no big secret around here, I am a bencher and not really an ambient cooling kind of person. The single-stage phase is about as warm as I ever like to go, so since it was already setup, I opted to stick with it for the testing on this board. While sub-ambient cooling doesn’t offer much of any overclocking benefit on 1155 processors, it’s just nice not to have to worry about CPU temperatures at all. Additionally, even though a couple beefy GTX580 video cards are on hand, since the Z68X-UD3H-B3 allows use of the IGP while being able to overclock the processor, I opted to put the Intel HD 3000 graphics on the 2600K processor to the test and the single-stage cooling probably helps out in that respect. As a bit of a spoiler, the overclocking that was possible on the IGP and the 3D scores it produced were quite impressive compared to the previous generation IGP.
Since this processor has been used in several boards before, it is fairly average with a max known overclock of approximately 5465-80MHz (depending where the BCLK fractions land) with the IGP disabled. With the IGP enabled and more stress on the IMC and processor, a hit in the CPU overclock and/or memory clocks was expected and there was a bit of reduction in benchable CPU overclock, but the only time it was noticeable was with all cores on and Hyperthreading enabled. The maximum CPU clock was reduced approximately 50MHz with no reduction in memory speed or timings. Considering the very high overclock on the IGP, 50MHz less on the CPU seems like a minor trade off.
As said at the beginning of this article, this is a quick look at the Z68X-UD3H-B3 and I meant a real quick look. Real life has had me pressed to the wall over the last many weeks and have had all I can do to scrape together minutes at time to sit down with this setup sometimes, so tests here are going to be limited to a few benchmarks without any real tweaking or OS changes. This wound up a “run what you brung” thing and boiled down to what was already installed (XP SP3 stripped, no Vista/Win7 only 3D benchmarks).
As was alluded to before, Intel’s 2nd Generation Graphics performs much better clock-for-clock than the IGP’s found in socket 1156 processors. A quick internet search will provide side-by-side comparisons if you are interested. If not, suffice it to say that not only does the new IGP architecture perform much better, it overclocks very well and put out much higher numbers than I expected on the 3D benchmarks.
First up is the most difficult 3D benchmark that was run in this testing. As noted before, the maximum CPU clocks were reduced from about 5470MHz with the IGP disabled to approximately 5415MHz with it enabled and a very high overclock on the IGP when all cores and HT is enabled. The default frequency of the IGP on the 2600K processor is 850MHz for 2D and 1350MHz 3D. As seen in the screen shot above, 3DMark06 was completed with the IGP overclocked to a very healthy 1950MHz.
For 1900MHz+ on IGP with raised IGP voltage and an overclocked CPU, cooling capacity on the processor will be a factor. Since a single stage phase unit was used for this testing (sub-ambient), it was a non-issue, however, with a little research, it seems that the IGP would likely reach 1450-1600MHz with little issue on ambient cooling depending what temperatures are like, so just expect a reasonable overclock on the CPU and IGP for the cooling being used.
With the number of cores on the CPU reduced for 3DMark05, 3DMark03 and 3DMark01, the CPU overclock was raised to about its known limit and the IGP overclock was also increased to a whopping 2000MHz. While IGP may not yet be a truly comparable replacement for a discrete graphics card for 3D use, these scores are substantially better than those with the previous generation IGP’s.
Currently priced at less than $170 at the usual online retailers, the Z68X-UD3H-B3 is pretty easy on the wallet and includes a lot of features considering it is a mid-range motherboard. The Intel Smart Response Technology alone may be worth the upgrade from previous chipsets for some. The Z68X-UD3H-B3 overclocks my unlocked 2600K processor to its known maximum frequency as easily as more expensive P67 motherboards it has been in and it allows using the integrated Intel 2nd Generation HD graphics processor while also having PCI-e slots available for up to 2-way Crossfire or SLI if desired. Having the Virtu chip on-board is a convenient way to get the best use of a combination of an IGP and discrete graphics cards to get the highest performance for the type of work needed and the Intel Smart Response Technology is a performance boost that many can take advantage of. Implementing Smart Response, however, may be above what some are willing or able to do terms of having to reinstall their entire operating system and files if it is not already set up in a RAID environment and Gigabyte has a user friendly solution for everyone, even if they are willing and able. Their EZ Intel Smart Response application makes setting up Smart Response fast and simple for everyone. Along those lines, their “Touch BIOS” application is convenient and will most assuredly make BIOS options more accessible to those that might not even know what BIOS is, however, as an overclocker, I still find the familiar Award BIOS on the board a quicker way to set and find overclock settings that work. If Touch BIOS ever allows for real-time changes from the desktop (at least BCLK, multiplier and voltages), overclockers may find it more useful, but in the meantime, Gigabyte’s EasyTune application can be used to make on-the-fly overclocking adjustments from the desktop.
All in all, the Gigabyte Z68X-UD3H-B3 is a solid, reasonably priced motherboard that includes some worthwhile features over previous chipsets and Gigabyte has provided some very helpful applications that make using the features very simple for everyone.
NOTE: Some graphics are courtesy www.gigabyte.com.