The MSI Z68A provides a total of eight SATA ports. Six of these are powered by the Z68 PCH, two of which (the side-facing white ones) support SATA 6Gbps. The Marvel 88SE9125 controller powers the remaining two 6Gbps ports, one of which one is found as an eSATA port on the rear I/O.
Because the Marvell 88SE9125 is connected to the chipset via a PCIe 2.0 x1 link, the effective combined bandwidth of its two SATA ports is limited to only 5Gbps. Of course, only high performance SSDs will run into this bottleneck.
The usual array of connectors can be found on the rear I/O panel:
- PS/2 combo port
- 8-channel audio, optical S/PDIF out (Realtek ALC892)
- IEEE 1394A Firewire 400Mbps (VIA VT6308P)
- 2 x Gigabit Ethernet (2 x Realtek RT8111E)
- eSATA 6 Gbps (Marvell 88SE9125)
- 2 x USB 3.0 (NEC D720200)
- 4 x USB 2.0
- DVI, HDMI
There is also a small clear CMOS button nestled next to the eSATA port.
The remaining connections are available via headers as follows:
- 2 x USB 3.0 (rear panel bracket included)
- 6 x USB 2.0
- IEEE 1394A Firewire 400Mbps
- Front panel audio
It's nice to see a USB 3.0 rear panel bracket thrown in for a total of four ports out of the box. This might come in handy down the road, but at this point in time many users do not even own a single USB 3.0 device.
The Z68A provides a total of three PCIe x16 slots, but take note that the bottommost slot supports only up to x4 speed. Also, if an x4 device is installed, several onboard devices will be disabled including Firewire, the Marvell SATA controller, USB 3 and the two PCIe x1 and PCI slots.
This limitation arises because the Z68 PCH provides only eight PCIe 2.0 lanes, which have to be shared among the various onboard devices as well as the expansion slots. This limits the maximum number of onboard devices and expansion slots that can be used at any one time.