When the LGA1156 first appeared it was mooted as being the lower cost alternative to the almighty X58. To some degree it was although the cost of the higher-end CPUs and some of the better motherboards didn't leave it far short of a medium X58 setup.
Now LGA1155 has been around for a while and we've had the initial P67 influx, more and more manufacturers are shifting to the Z68 Chipset to power their LGA1155 socket motherboards. Unlike its P55 and, to a lesser degree, P67 brethren most of the Z68 boards we've seen have been definitely at the affordable end of the spectrum.
Biostar have often been a supplier of some no-frills, good performing motherboards at reasonable pricing and todays review, the TZ68A+ absolutely falls into the reasonable pricing category, being available for a hair over £90.
Is it really possible to get all the bells and whistles of Z68 boards but for such a tiny price?
Certainly the specifications aren't lacking. Only the limited number of USB ports and inclusion of some fairly last gen stuff such as a Printer Port and a couple of PCI slots hint at its 'value' roots.
Externally the TZ68A+ package looks the part, highlighting all the features and looking resplendent in a blue wave. Opening the box we can see the first hints that this is a sub-£100 mobo as we have a plain IO Shield, 4 SATA cables and a Molex to SATA adaptor. Even the manual is rather sparse, even by the normally woeful motherboard standard.
Well no-one will accuse it of being a head turner. All the SATA ports are of the vertical variety and the heatsinks are functionary rather than designed with flair. But this is under a ton, so allowances have to be made. Thankfully Biostar have at least sourced all their plastic bits from the same two colours giving us a strawberries and cream appearance.
This definitely could be a good board to upgrade from your wheezy old system with as we've got two legacy PCI slots alongside the standard PCIe x16 and PCIe x1 variety. We can't think of much call for a LPT port anymore, but maybe someone still has a 9 pin dot matrix printer somewhere.
The CPU socket is by no means as cramped as we've seen some, largely in part to the reduced power-phases that this price-point calls for. That might hurt the overclocking a bit. Round the back there is a PS2 port, a couple of USB3 and USB2 ports as well as the outputs for the HD3000 integrated graphics. All standard stuff.
Amazingly enough, and really putting the boot into some other motherboard manufacturers we could mention, the Biostar TZ68A+ has a full UEFI BIOS on board. None of this half-arsed 'old style BIOS with a cursor' stuff here. The only thing its lacking is a printscreen button, and it's not the most responsive BIOS we've ever seen. But it looks the part and has all the options you could desire.
Biostar include their TPower software with the TZ68A+ which looks gorgeous and allows you to full adjust the voltages, but unfortunately it only allows you to adjust the BCLK rather than the multipliers, so its usefulness is very limited.
Time to get testing.
For our testing everything is our standard Z68 bench rig.
Intel Core i5-2500K
8GB G.Skill RipjawsX @ 1866MHz
Thermalright Silver Arrow
EVGA GTX570 ForceWare 275.33
Be Quiet Dark Power Pro
Samsung Spinpoint F1
Windows 7 x64
Pushing the Biostar hard is a simple procedure thanks to its user-friendly BIOS and because it's got all the little options we've come to expect from a modern BIOS. Results wise it is pretty good managing to extract 4.7GHz from our Core i5-2500K. Not the highest we've ever seen, but not bad at all.
Whilst the TZ68A+ isn't exactly at the top of our graph, in fact it only matches the Intel reference P67 scores, it's a hill of cash cheaper than any other offering here and so isn't disgraced at all.
Memory performance is right where we'd expect it to be. Certainly no problems in AIDA64 at least.
Once again you'd never be able to guess at the pricing judging by the scores from the Arithmetic test in SiSofts Sandra. The Z68 Chipset is one robust beast.
The Processor MultiMedia score is starting to hint at our lower overclock but still there is nothing jarring here.
Perhaps moving to real-world testing will help us understand how this is so damn cheap.
PC Mark Vantage
Away from synthetic possibilities and into the world of actual performance, cracks start to appear in the Biostar armour. Not hideously bad but nothing to write home about at all. The Memory score is especially poor.
PC Mark 7
Proving that tests can be a curious beast and why we run more than one, PC Mark 7 shows the Biostar to be back where our synthetic results would have us expect. In fact they're surprisingly good.
Pushing the system hard is something that CineBench does fabulously well, and the Biostar TZ68A+ is unruffled. Taking into account our slightly lower than average overclock we get exactly the score we'd expect to see. Which is nice.
With modern devices nearly all capable of recording HD video it's important to know how quickly this can be converted into a manageable format and the x264 benchmark does just that. The TZ68A+ hits nearly 80FPS which is a seriously good rate of conversion for an un-hyperthreaded quad-core.
3D Mark Vantage
Vantage has a wealth of gaming tests built in and the TZ68A+ has no problems in pumping the data to the PCIe lane and keeping our GTX570 busy.
3D Mark 11
Finally 3D Mark 11 and its bevy of hardcore graphics tests. The TZ68A+ has no difficulty in pushing our GTX570 along and whilst it's not at the leading edge of our results it's still in the right ballpark.
So how did the latest in a long line of Biostar motherboards do?
Overclocking the TZ68A+ is simplicity, albeit slightly frustrating. Our 2500K is good for 5GHz on a great motherboard and the Biostar topped out at 4.7GHz. Not even a ridiculous bump in voltage could get it to POST at 4.8GHz. This obviously had a knock-on effect in the synthetic scores we saw. They were about on a par with a 4.7GHz overclock which is good, but the real-world based tests, and PC Mark Vantage in particular, definitely took at a hit.
Looks wise the nicest thing we can say is that it's got everything you could expect. It's got the same design flair as a breeze block. Entirely utilitarian and wholly lacking in any artistic elements at all. The on-board power and reset switches are very basic switches indeed, all the SATA ports are individual ones mounted in the same vertical manner that we often see a 7th port mounted in and they make cabling the whole thing tidily a bit of a challenge. 3 fan headers are barely enough for any setup these days, and even the ones there are aren't placed in the most useful spots.
If we discount the price for a moment then it's very average in performance, as plain as a boiled potato and about as satisfying.
However and, to paraphrase Blackadder it's a 12 story however with wall-to-wall carpeting a big neon sign saying 'However', it's £92!
By any measure you care to use, including the 'always lower cost than Intel' AMD line of motherboards, the Biostar is cheap. Properly cheap. But it isn't cheap in the same way that a Rolex brought from a market for a fiver is. It's cheap in the same way another TZ was. If you can bear with my whilst I recant my youth, when I was a teenager Yamaha had a TZ motorcycle which wasn't very expensive and went like a bat out of hell. The Biostar TZ68A+ reminds me very much of that.
It's no frills to be sure, but you're getting a motherboard with HD3000 graphics, USB3.0, SATA 6Gbp/s, IRST and a UEFI BIOS. You're getting a motherboard that can overclock to 4.7GHz for the price of a decent night out.
If you're the kind of person who thinks that all those artistic touches like coloured heatsinks in the shape of Sydney Opera House are needless flash and that what you want is the maximum bang for your buck, then the Biostar TZ68A+ is the board for you. Sure it stretches the 'all go no show' mantra to the edge of breaking, but it doesn't break.
Performance and looks are average enough but take into account that price tag and the TZ68A+ definitely makes it one of the most deserving Value For Money award winners we've ever had and equally deserving of our Silver Award.
Thanks to Biostar for providing the TZ68A+ for review. Discuss in our forums.