It's fairly well-known, or at least should be by now, that the Intel Core i5-2500K is the processor that we consider to be the best value on the market. It provides huge performance, both stock and overclocked, at a very reasonable price indeed. So it's not a surprise that it is a very popular choice.
So if you can get a good processor for a reasonable price, then obviously it behooves you to seek out a suitably high performance/low cost motherboard to put your new toy in. The market is awash with motherboards around the £150 mark that will all perform well, but what do you do if you're on a tighter budget?
So far the cheapest LGA1155 motherboard we've reviewed was the Biostar TZ68A+, which performed pretty well even if it looked like it was made out of LEGO.
Today's review, the Gigabyte Z68AP-D3 undercuts the Biostar by a tenner and is available for a eye-popping £80. Does it manage to still give good enough performance to be worth a look or is it a trim too far?
Looking through the table there isn't anything that particularly stands out as being trimmed off the specifications to get the price so low. The excellent ALC889 audio chip is there, as is Intel's brilliant Rapid Storage Technology. The only thing that hints at why the D3 is so competitively priced is the 4pin ATX 12v rather than the 8pin EPS number.
|Onboard Graphics||Integrated Graphics Processor: |
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|Internal I/O Connectors|
|Back Panel Connectors|
Externally the packaging for the D3 looks just like any other Gigabyte board we've reviewed. A combination of the classic white with, as one would expect for a bargain board, a raft of technological information to demonstrate the value you're getting. It's only when we open the box and find the IO shield is made from the thinnest, sharpest, aluminium around that you get a hint of cheapness.
As for the board itself it's surprisingly good looking. There are a few spots where you can see it's not one of the UD series, such as the small power-phase heatsink and lack of heat-pipes and fan headers, but certainly if you didn't know better you could be forgiven for thinking this was a much more expensive unit. The major headers, USB, front-panel etc, are all up to the usual Gigabyte standard.
At the PCIe end of the board we have two PCIe slots for your dual-GPU fun and games, as well as a couple of legacy PCI slots which make more sense on a board at this end of the spectrum as it's much more likely to be an upgrade from older technologies and so the likelihood of people having a PCI expansion they wish to bring across is greater.
Memory is the usual four DIMM slots which, as we'll show later, are capable of running up to 2133MHz DDR3, so there isn't any performance compromise here.
Up Close cont
Storage options are well catered for with two SATA 6Gbp/s ports and four SATA 2. We also have something new on the Z68AP-D3 and that's the inclusion of an M-SATA port.
mSATA is something far more often to be found in Netbooks. It's a 1.8" form factor but with SATA2 speeds. Useful if you've got a spare tiny drive somewhere, or want to migrate from a portable option onto the D3.
The CPU area is the one place on the D3 motherboard where the difference between this and the more enthusiast motherboards is clear. Only a single CPU fan header, a 4pin rather than 8pin CPU power connector and a lot less power-phases.
Yes those really are a parallel port and serial port on the rear of the D3. With a reasonably short amount of USB ports and the many other things we've come to expect on the back of our motherboards something has to fill the space, and it does follow on from the general upgrade design philosophy. Although if you've still got a LPT printer then you'll probably experience future-shock when you realise it's 2011.
Bios and Utilities
As we have often seen the BIOS on the Gigabyte ZX68AP-D3 is the usual design we've all seen before a million times and the EFI side of things is handled by the Gigabyte Touch BIOS utility. Although we're giving away the results of our overclocking in this screen shot it's worth it as it is so surprising we don't mind showing it twice.
The D3 supports the amazing IRST, so if you've got a small cheap SSD lurking around somewhere you can really boost your HDD performance.
Although it's not a 'live' tuner, you can play with the BIOS and then reboot with those settings. The @BIOS live updater is probably the best around as it not only checks for online updates but allows you to upgrade the BIOS manually, whilst giving a clear indicator of what version you're currently running.
Our test rig is our standard LGA1155 affair. The only change from our last review is the switch from the 285.27 ForceWare drivers to the latest 285.33.
Gigabyte ZX68AP-D3 Motherboard
Intel Core i5-2500K
4GB Kingston Genesis 2133MHz
Be Quiet Dark Power Pro
Samsung Spinpoint F1
Corsair 80GB SSD as Intel Rapid Storage Technology cache
Thermalright Silver Arrow
Windows 7 x64
Considering the reduced level of power-circuitry we weren't expecting much from the ZX68AP-D3 but it proved to be very capable indeed, giving us a rock-solid 4.6GHz overclock on our i5-2500K at good voltage as well. When coupled to our 2133MHz RAM we're expecting the D3 to be right up there as it's only 100 or 200MHz shy of some heavy hitters.
In the CPU section of the AIDA64 test suite the D3 gives us some good results. A little low on the CPU Queen and zLib as we'd expect from a slightly reduced CPU overclock, but the PhotoWorxx and AES results are up there with the best. A good start.
If the CPU results were good, the memory results are amazing. The read speed is on a par with the best Z68 board, the write speed isn't bad at all and you are reading it correctly, that's the highest Copy MB/s we've yet seen on the LGA1155 socket.
Whilst we'd expect the pure CPU tests of Sandra to have the D3 flagging a bit it actually puts up some good numbers. When compared to the GD65 G3, one of the middle-range MSI boards, it's neck and neck, and it even bumps up against the vastly more expensive Sniper 2. The Z68 chipset is just so robust it's almost impossible to make a bad one.
Out in to the real-world the smaller overclock that the D3 gives naturally has an effect in CineBench with the lowest scores in our graph. It's not disgraced by any means, but it's just lacking that little bit of oomph.
The situation is very similar with the multiple calculations of wPrime95. It performs exceptionally well for the money, but is just shaded by the more capable motherboards out there.
PC Mark 7
With IRST turned on the D3 gives a good score in PC Mark 7. Indeed it's not far behind is stablemate the Z68XP UD3P.
PC Mark Vantage
The older Vantage version of the PC Mark test suite nicely mirrors the newer version above, with the D3 around the same performance of the UD3P, but for £20 less. Once again it's worth noting the benefits that having IRST turned on make to the speed of the whole system.
3D Mark Vantage
3D Mark Vantage starts off giving us a very good P-Score, but as the detail levels are ramped up into High and then Extreme the score does start to tail further away from its competitors. Still not bad by any means.
3D Mark 11
Finally we turn to 3D Mark 11 and see a similar story. The Gen3 Z68A GD65 can be ignored for comparison purposes as it's running the full PCI Express 3 slots. The 3D Mark 11 P score for the D3 is up there with the rest, but as it moves to Extreme settings it just loses its edge.
At the beginning we asked if it was possible to produce a great performing motherboard for such a low price. Often when we see 'value' motherboards they are lacking so many bits and bobs that it's almost a false economy as you're losing too many features to make them a worthwhile purchase.
The Z68AP-D3 proves that, with some careful design planning coupled to the frankly indestructible Z68 chipset you really can have your cake and eat it. And then have enough money left over to buy another.
There is a lot to like and very little wrong with the D3. For a start it looks like a more expensive motherboard. We all know how important first impressions are, and with the D3 once you've got all your hardware installed it can easily pass for almost any of the regular Gigabyte motherboards. It isn't short of features either. We have USB3, IRST, SATA3, full 2133MHz DDR3 support. Nearly everything you could expect. The main things you notice that it's short are alternative display outputs, we only have one HDMI here, a header for extra USB3 ports and a dearth of fan headers.
However these are by no means deal-breaking things. It happily ran our RAM at its rated 2133MHz speed which is more than can be said for some boards we've tested, and whilst the 4.6GHz overclock isn't exactly the fasted we've achieved it was simplicity itself to hit and rock-solid throughout all of our testing.
To call it 'my first Sandy Bridge motherboard' sounds pejorative, but if you are in the world of Socket 775 or similar technologies then the Z68AP-D3 would be a fantastic upgrade. You get the serial and parallel port which aren't of much use to anyone but might be handy if you're coming from an older tech. The overclocking is ridiculously simple and foolproof and, best of all, the board generally gives performance akin to the speeds you're obtaining.
Of course there are some negatives, but they are slight. We'd like to see at least a VGA port to go along with the HDMI, especially as we have so many other older technologies available. The overclock is solid, just unspectacular, although we doubt anyone would pick one of these up for their latest attempt to break a world record. Finally the results in the 3D testing just lost their edge as the going got tough.
But all of that is just minor quibbles. The Gigabyte ZX68AP-D3 is a fantastic motherboard for such a small price, capable of being the perfect entry-level board for those upgrading to LGA1155, but with still plenty to give for those times you're feeling the need to overclock and tweak.
At £80 it's almost impossible to go wrong. It's a good, honest, hardworking motherboard that wont disappoint anybody who chooses it as the foundation for their system and for that it wins our OC3D Silver Award, as well as our Value For Money award.
Thanks to Gigabyte for providing the D3 for review. Discuss in our forums.