Intel Z68: The Best of Both Worlds
The Z68 combines the best of both worlds, letting you overclock your processor and still make use of Intel Quick Sync. Throw in a few extra goodies, and is this the platform to get your hands on? Or should hardcore enthusiasts just wait till X79/Ivy Bridge?
When H67 and P67 were launched, you couldn't always have your cake and eat it. It was a choice between being able to overclock and making use of HD Graphics (and Quick Sync). This awkward situation was best exemplified by the K-series chips, which could only either unlocked multipliers or HD Graphics 3000.
The arrival of Z68 means that enthusiasts can finally make full use of their K-series processor's capabilities. Of course, the Z68 also gets x8/x8 CrossFire/SLi like the P67, which is better than the x16/x4 setup of H67. USB and SATA support remains idential to the P67/H67, which means we'll see manufacturers breaking out the USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gbps controllers once again.
In our preview of MSI's Z68 motherboard, we touched briefly on the limitations posed by the eight PCIe lanes that Z68 supplies. This is a problem mainly on the more expensive models where the peripheral devices have to fight for lanes with a PCIe x4 slot.
Some manufacturers have opted to simply disable certain devices if this third slot is occupied, while others are using a bridge chip to share one lane among several devices. The latter option is certainly the preferable one, though using a bridge chip raises costs. Regardless, this is something you should take note of when choosing a motherboard.
The last (and most extravagant) option, which you will only see on the most pricey of Z68 motherboards, is to use a NF200 bridge chip to split the 16 lanes coming from the CPU into 32 lanes, freeing up all the PCH lanes for peripheral use. If it's any comfort, the upcoming X79 should not have this problem as the CPU alone provides enough lanes that manufacturers will not have to dangle the third PCIe slot off the PCH.
The other noteworthy feature of Z68 is Smart Response Technology (a.k.a. SSD caching). This brings to mind Silverstone's HDDBoost from 2010. SRT is different, however, in that it uses the SSD to cache both reads and writes. We'll examine SRT in detail soon, but first let's take a look at some Z68 motherboards.