The LGA1155 socket has had a difficult birth since its first appearance on the scene a few short months ago.
Firstly we had the problem with the early P67 chipsets and their SATA ports causing data loss on certain channels. Intel went away into their R&D department and came back with the B3 Revision of the P67 chipset and all seemed right in the world. We saw a rapid influx of motherboards all bearing the B3 branding and it seemed that finally the LGA1155 had settled into the slot vacated by the short-lived LGA1156.
Apparently solving the P67 problems weren't the only thing Intel were beavering away at, as following the B3 Revisions out the door, so close it must have been bumping into it, is the Z68 Chipset.
So what does this bring us that the P67 doesn't? Surprisingly little to be honest. The major difference is the inclusion of Intel Rapid Storage Technology (IRST for brevity), which we'll discuss in a few pages time, and the inclusion of a version of the Lucid chip on those motherboards that have integrated graphics. Otherwise the differences are largely manufacturer specific.
Today we're following up our preview from earlier in the week to bring you the full review of our first motherboard with this chipset, the Gigabyte Z68X-UD5 B3. Quite why it needs the B3 revision designation from the P67 series when it's a new chipset we're not certain, but it speaks volumes about how little difference there is.
So what has the UD5 got in store for us?
Firstly it isn't one of the models that has an integrated graphics card, so we have no Lucid nor any integration to test. Secondly it has got the IRST which can speed up a HDD by using a SSD as a cache drive. Finally it has a version of the excellent EFI BIOS, but I'd hold onto your bunting for just a moment.
|Storage Interface||Chipset: |
|IEEE 1394||T.I. TSB43AB23 chip: |
|Internal I/O Connectors|
|Back Panel Connectors|
Time to take a look at what we have.
The Z68X UD5 B3 definitely isn't short of technologies to highlight on the packaging. Not only is there the multitude of features that we all expect as standard these days such as SATA3, USB3.0, SLI/Crossfire support and the like, there is also the many Ultra Durable features that Gigabyte implement to ensure that your purchase stays working long-past the expected lifespan of LGA1155 product line.
The UD5 has all the hallmarks we've come to expect from Gigabyte boards. Excellent cooling courtesy of some gorgeous heat-sinks, a lovely subdued colour palette (in sharp contrast to the earlier Gigabyte days) and plentiful ports on the back for all your connectivity needs.
The Z68X UD5 has six SATA ports, four 3Gbp/s SATA2 and 2 6Gbp/s SATA3.
Down the PCI-E end of the board there are 3 PCI-E graphics sized ports, the topmost one is x16 when solo and x8 if the others are populated. Over by the DIMM sockets there is a power button, a Reset switch and a CMOS clear button.
Just to demonstrate our earlier feeling that this such an incremental update, here is the official press photos of the P67A UD5 next to the Z68X UD5. If they didn't have the model number painted on the board you wouldn't have a hope of telling them apart.
Besides the inclusion of a SSD to allow for testing the IRST, this is our usual LGA1155 test setup.
Gigabyte Z68X UD5 B3
Intel Core i5-2500K
4GB Kingston Genesis
EVGA GTX570 - ForceWare 270.61
Samsung Spinpoint F1 1TB
Kingston V100+ 64GB SSD
Be Quiet Dark Power Pro
Windows 7 64-bit
Overclocking the Z68X UD5 is exactly the same as overclocking on P67 motherboards so we had high hopes that the UD5 would be able to give us the 5GHz that it's just possible to squeeze out of our particular Core i5-2500K.
As it was it couldn't quite reach those heights and we had to settle for a a high of 4.8 GHz, which is not inconsiderable at all, and amazingly it was also stable. It seemed to be a bit 'all or nothing' as 4.9 GHz just failed instantly, but the 4.8 GHz, albeit with a hefty amount of voltage in place, was rock solid and that's what we'll be running our tests at.
Let's have a quick look at the EFI Hybrid Touch BIOS before we get down to testing.
Hybrid Touch BIOS
The EFI Hybrid Touch BIOS is, without the flowery name, just a standard desktop tweak utility. The only difference is this one can inject your settings back to the BIOS. Although it isn't the first one capable of that.
It's so much like the other EFI BIOS' that we've seen it's even more infuriating that it isn't installed as the actual BIOS. The icon front end moves you to each sub-menu, exactly as you'd expect in a standard BIOS. From top left to bottom right we have Overclocking, Boot Settings, Quick Boost, Hardware Status, @BIOS, Hardware, Power Settings, Load Optimised Defaults and Set Password. Across the bottom are Save and Quit, Back, Adjust, Take Screenshot, Bookmark and Main Menu.
Once you've clicked each icon you get taken to a screen that is just like those you'd get in your BIOS, but with drop-down menus. Updates to temperatures and fan speeds are in real-time as you'd expect.
If that doesn't float your boat, you can instead use the standard EasyTune6 software that we're sure you've all seen before. This does many of the features the Touch BIOS does, but with the ability to overclock "live" once in Windows. As getting into Windows has been the downfall of many a high overclock, this can almost prove more useful for those seeking the really high scores.
Intel Rapid Storage Technology
IRST is the major new addition that the Z68 Chipset has over its P67 brother. This requires the addition of a SSD to your hardware arsenal but the benefit is that it's used as a cache drive to speed up your standard HDD, so you aren't financially bankrupted by having to buy a large SSD.
It's phenomenally easy to set up. Set the SATA mode to RAID(XHD), install Windows as normal to your HDD, install the IRST driver and set, in the little utility that comes with it, the SSD to be a Cache drive which takes a couple of clicks. And that's it. It's entirely idiotproof.
But, does it work?
Crystal Disk Mark 3.0
Starting with Crystal Disk Mark we can call it an emphatic yes. We're only using a well-worn old Samsung Spinpoint F1 and yet you can see clearly that with the benefits of an SSD providing the cache courtesy of our Kingston V100 and the IRST it fairly flies along. 100 MB/s in the 512K test, which is where most of your use will be, is outstanding. The true eye-popping result comes from the 4K read though, as the IRST gives us a forty-fold increase.
Moving on to the Write tests, the results remain the same.
PC Mark 7
So up to date are we here at OC3D that no sooner is PC Mark 7 released, than we're bringing you scores. Here we've taken three of the detailed results from the PC Mark test suite to demonstrate how much of a benefit you see in daily tasks. The IRST literature promises "up to 4x faster results" and sure enough in Windows Defender we're seeing 4x faster speeds. Importing Pictures gives us just over twice as fast and Gaming is three times as quick.
PC Mark 7
As PC Mark 7 is so brand-spanking new we've obviously only got today's sample for our results. However you can see that in pure workflow terms the IRST provides a bigger benefit than overclocking does! Even so, using both together (and why wouldn't you) gives us a 66% increase in score over a stock setup. Outstanding.
PC Mark Vantage
We have to say we're pleased that PC Mark 7 has been released. Not only has it removed the epilepsy inducing tests of PC Mark Vantage, but frankly our PC Mark Vantage graph is becoming unwieldy.
At stock the Z68X UD5 is frankly a disappointment giving some of the poorest scores we've seen from our Core i5 2500K setup. Thankfully it takes to an overclock well and uses the IRST to get right up there with our Best In Class P67A, the ASUS Sabertooth.
Despite AIDA64 being updated more often than a teenagers Facebook status, it hadn't quite caught up to our Z68X UD5 at the time of testing. As you can see some scores fair better than others, but we're surprised at how poorly it performs at stock and that there is barely a breath of movement in the overclocked AES result. It's near enough to what we'd expect when we look at other benchmarks though. The lesson as always is to not live and die by a certain benchmark or a certain score, but take things as a whole. We're not saying AIDA64 is misreporting, merely that we're not absolutely sure it's getting the best out of the setup at the moment.
Memory results are good indeed with the normal LGA1155 quality of not being particularly bias towards either read speeds nor write speeds, ensuring your workflow is smooth at all times.
Sandra Processor Arithmetic
Once again with our i5-2500K at stock the Z68X UD5 just doesn't seem to be up there with the best of the P67 boards yet. Overclocked is something else though and it's very much on a par with the highest performers.
The always reliable CineBench rendering test merely echoes our findings. This is a board at its best when overclocked and merely average at stock.
3D Mark 11
Finally we'll look at 3D Mark to ensure there are no nasty surprises awaiting us, and sure enough there aren't. Both the latest 3D Mark 11 and the old hand 3D Mark Vantage churn out approximately the same scores no matter what the underlying system, as they both rely so heavily on the GPU, which is the GTX570 in all cases.
3D Mark Vantage
It's worth noting that the P-score of Vantage, which is so hopelessly low in resolution and detail that it takes a greater advantage from the underpinning system, seems to really enjoy the IRST to scrape a few extra 3D Marks out. Although of course this dissipates once the GPU load becomes a larger factor.
So how does the Z68X UD5 fair? It's unquestionably a 'game of two halves'.
At first glance the entire thing seems to be a bit of a head-scratcher. As we saw at the bottom of page two, this is so alike the P67A UD5 that they might as well be identical twins.
The first real surprise is the much heralded EFI BIOS is relegated to a mere application. This is a completely bizarre decision. We know that the P67 UD7 had a "normal" BIOS included when every other manufacturer was pushing out the GUI-based EFI BIOS, but given its large place on the box (the biggest technological icon on display) and the extra development time between the P67 and Z68 releases, we've no idea why Gigabyte are sticking to using the old blue cursor-key style BIOS. It instantly gives the wrong impression that this isn't a cutting edge product, merely a incremental revision.
Given that the EFI BIOS has proven perfectly rounded on many other boards and indeed the "Hybrid EFI BIOS", a fancy word for utility, that Gigabyte provide is so useful, it's a bad move to not have gone the whole hog with it. You can call it a hybrid all you want but when you give it so much coverage in the official literature, we can't be the only people who expected an icon-based BIOS to greet us.
Getting all the bad out the way in one go, the performance at stock settings is average at best. The UD5 is not the cheapest LGA1155 motherboard around and with the market so incredibly tight, getting the performance out-of-the-box right is crucial.
However, there aren't going to be many people plumping for the UD5 who haven't got a bit of interest in pushing their CPU a bit further. It takes something special to really stand out in this category and the Z68X, whilst doing a very respectable 4.8 GHz, isn't quite hitting the 5GHz heights we've had before from this exact processor.
Thankfully overclocking is, as with all LGA1155 processors, a breeze. Either via the actual BIOS or the Windows based Hybrid Touch BIOS and EasyTune6 options, the Gigabyte Z68X UD5 B3 really is a cinch to get running at a high clockspeed. Even better it responds so well once you have done so. The average stock performance becomes a thing of distant memory as benchmarks are eaten up easier than soggy cornflakes.
Unquestionably the star of the show and the main difference between this Z68 and its P67 brethren, is the Intel Rapid Storage Technology. This isn't a totally new technology as SilverStone have had a similar thing on the market for over a year. However its first outing as part of a Motherboard has been a total success.
The real benefit of the IRST is with smaller loads, as that's where your system can appear to be "pausing for breath". No longer so with the inclusion of the Intel Rapid Storage Technology as those stutters are smoothed out to give a much faster response no matter what you're doing. If you've been one of the last few people clinging on to the belief that SSDs are under-sized, over-hyped and over-priced, then it's time to shut up. We're doubling our HDD speed for the price of a seventy quid SSD and therefore have a 1TB, 150MB/s storage device for about £110 all in. Now if that doesn't put a tilt in your kilt you need to check your pulse.
Finally the price. Currently retailing at just under the £230, it's at the higher-end of the LGA1155 market. In fact, it's the same price as buying a Gigabyte P67 UD5 motherboard and the aforementioned SilverStone Hybrid adaptor. This is where a final decision becomes difficult.
On the one hand this is a good motherboard from a well established manufacturer that has all the bells and whistles you can expect from the latest products. The IRST is worth the price of admission alone. At stock it's not amazing, but it overclocks well and performs handily with something suitably beefy in the CPU socket.
However it's difficult not to come to the conclusion that there are better performing, cheaper, P67 boards already on the market. Quite a lot of which come with the EFI BIOS as default, rather than as a utility to be installed. If you already own, or are planning to own, a SSD then the IRST wont bring many benefits. And if the benefit of that outstanding technology are something you are interested in, £30 will get you a SilverStone add-on that does the same thing.
That's the crux of the matter. We're just not convinced that there is enough extra performance from this particular Z68X to make us abandon the more rounded P67s available. We know Gigabyte can do better, and the UD5 branding raises expectations to a level that the Z68X UD5 B3 just doesn't live up to. It's not a bad motherboard by any means, but you come away more impressed by the Intel Rapid Storage Technology and disappointed by the Gigabyte use of a normal BIOS, than anything else. Which speaks volumes at this end of the market.
Thanks to Gigabyte for providing the Z68X UD5 B3 for review. Discuss in our forums.