There has been a lot of talk about the benefits and drawbacks of the Gen3 motherboards. The only one we've seen so far is the Gigabyte Sniper which was a genuine Gen3 motherboard and today we take a look at another technologically stuffed board in the guise of the MSI Z68A GD65 G3. Quite a lengthy title.
The last GD65 we looked at was the P67 version and, at first glance, they are identical. Of course with the Z68 chipset being an evolution of the P67, and the LGA1155 socket still being in place, there wont be many changes.
So what does the Gen3 bring to the table? Largely it's the inclusion of PCIe 3.0 which provides double the bandwidth of PCIe 2.0 and should give us benefits even with our test GTX570. When genuine PCIe 3.0 graphics cards arrive we'll obviously see how great it is, but for the moment we'll focus on finding out if the extra bandwidth can give us any 'free' performance.
We've discussed in a previous article the accuracy or not of Ivy Bridge compatibility with UEFI BIOS so that angle shall remain in that article as without Ivy Bridge chips to hand we wont know either way.
So at half the price of the Sniper 2 does this deliver?
Besides the inclusion of the 3rd Generation PCI Express slots this is a fairly standard Z68 board with a focus on performance over frippery.
|CPU (Max Support)||i3/i5/i7|
|FSB/BCLK/Hyper Transport Bus||100MHz|
|Chipset||Intel® Z68 (B3)|
|DDR3 Memory ||DDR3 1066/1333/1600*/2133*(OC)|
|Max Memory (GB)||32|
|PCI-E Gen||Gen3 (1x16, 1x8)|
|USB 3.0 ports (Rear)||2|
|USB 2.0 ports (Rear)||4|
|Audio ports (Rear)||6+Coaxial / Optical SPDIF|
|VGA Max Share Memory (MB)||1024|
The packaging is the normal MSI affair with many technologies emblazoned upon the front and the usual array of eye-catching numbers on the back. The Postman wasn't too gentle with our one but thankfully the damage is wholly contained to the box and the internals are in perfect order.
The accessories are four SATA cables, IO shield, header blocks to make installing single pin cables easier, or indeed the front panel ones. It's nice to see the hardware and software manuals split up especially as, generally speaking once the system is up and running the motherboard manual tends to be surplus to requirements.
And here it is. As you can see it's a lot like the P67 GD65 and, aesthetically at least, it's rather average.
A small point that will matter less to those of you who install once, rather than us who spend our days building and dismantling systems, the Lotes CPU Socket comes with a different pin protector that the usual one that fits beneath the pressure plate. This just clips over the top. Much simpler, a lot faster, and far less likely to be forgotten.
Up Close continued
Starting off round the back we have four USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0, VGA, DVI, HDMI, LAN and the audio headers. Across the silicon expanse we have four SATA 2 ports and four SATA 3 ones to cover all your storage requirements. Two of these run off the excellent Marvell 9128 controller and the other six off the Z68 chipset itself.
As well as the obvious 4 DIMM sockets this board comes equipped with the brilliant Genie II overclocking button. With the board off you press the button and start up and it overclocks your processor for you. It's easily the best auto-overclocking solution on the market and a previous winner of our Innovation Award.
Although the front panel connections aren't marked on the board the header (as part of the accessories on the previous page) is. Just above that is the Fintek Super IO chip.
This is the major talking point of the Z68A GD65 G3, a full fat PCI Express 3 socket. MSI have gone away and created their own PCIe Gen3 switches to make certain that the full bandwidth is available to you. We'll find out if there are any benefits 'right now' later on, but for future cards these switches are a big deal.
BIOS and Software
Some motherboards have a UEFI BIOS equipped, and some have the mouse GUI BIOS enabled as a software utility. The MSI GD65 G3 has both a UEFI BIOS and a utility version. The best part is that both work and look exactly the same.
It's all very usable well designed with everything pretty much where you'd expect it to be and certainly a big improvement upon the legacy style.
As well as the Click BIOS existing as a utility, there is a 'live' way of overclocking using the MSI Control Center. Being able to skip that troublesome Windows boot part of the equation should let you reach higher clockspeeds and nail down a stable overclock a lot quicker than the endless "into BIOS, reboot, test, into BIOS" routine we're all so familiar with.
MSI Z68A-GD65 G3
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
The MSI Z68A-GD65 G3 proved to be a tough nut to nail down a decent overclock initially. We've so much experience with our particular chip that we know roughly what it will reach and how much Vcore you need to get there, yet the GD65 proved stubborn at getting it past 4.5GHz initially. It quickly became apparent that it requires and responds to a decent bump in voltages and one that hurdle was overcome we reached a pretty great 4.9 GHz. Just shy of the best we've achieved with our processor (5GHz on a Sabertooth).
Sadly even with such a hefty Vcore it wasn't stable and even dropping to 4.8GHz we saw lockups in some tests. Thankfully 4.7GHz proved bulletproof and it was with this setting that we headed off to do our testing.
In the AIDA64 CPU benchmark the GD65 is nicely middle of the pack. None of the tests are particularly amazing but equally none are worrisome. Technologically its primary competition is from the Gen3 capable Sniper 2, and it just edges ahead of that.
The Memory benchmarking once again demonstrates the consistency of the GD65 in all three phases and it just edges ahead of its rival the Sniper 2. The Gene-Z is quite a bit better in both the CPU and Memory suites of AIDA64 though.
Such is the consistency of the Z68 chipset that although the differences between motherboards are slight there are still things worth noticing. The Z68A-GD65 G3, albeit by only a small amount, is the lowest scoring board in our graph. By no means terrible, but it is what it is.
Being so tied in to the available speed of your processor and RAM wPrime95 definitely prefers the very fastest systems. With its good but not premium overclock the GD65 is in the middle-range of the boards we've tested.
Sandra is capable of testing the processor entirely separate from the rest of the system which leads to the results following the clockspeed quite closely. The Z68A-GD65 G3 is just a shade behind the Sniper 2 but still not bad. In the Processor MultiMedia test the scores are tighter still, although the MSI is again a little behind the best.
PC Mark Vantage
Dispensing with pure synthetic benchmarks and into the real-world testing the benefits of the IRST when coupled to the Z68 chipset are clearly visible. The GD65 is almost inseparable from the much pricier Sniper 2.
PC Mark 7
If Vantage showed the two Gen3 motherboards to be close then PC Mark 7 demonstrates how truly close they are. 16 points separate the two contenders.
3D Mark Vantage
Even thought PCI Gen 3 GPUs are still on the horizon rather than an actuality, the extra bandwidth might be useful to current cards. MSI have made big claims about their Gen3 Switches, so let's see if they do anything. Vantage at least remains nip and tuck between the two Gen3 motherboards.
3D Mark 11
Wow. Now here is a turn up for the books. 1000 point increase in P score and 240 X points is nothing to be sniffed at. Especially when the only variable between the systems is the motherboard itself. It's results like this that demonstrate why we're so committed to only changing the single piece of hardware that is being tested between runs.
So how does the GD65 stack up?
One issue we initially had was our gaming mouse which we use on our test rig acted completely crazy in the BIOS and we had to resort to a dusty old generic number to be able to use the BIOS, even on the latest update. Speaking of which the "Live Update 5" software which handles driver and BIOS updates neither spotted the two BIOS revisions that have occurred since the release of the GD65 G3 nor does it have a way to manually update via a download file. USB stick in the main BIOS is the only way to do it, which does render the Live Update software pretty useless.
The OC Genie II was as brilliant as it's always been getting our i5-2500K to run at a rock solid 4.3GHz just by pressing a button. If you're uncomfortable with overclocking manually, although the ease of Sandy Bridge should mean that's nobody, then you can gain a 1GHz overclock using the MSI board. That's only 400MHz shy of our best efforts which for such an easy option shows that MSI still lead the field when it comes to simple overclocking for the masses.
Once everything was up and running though initial results weren't very encouraging. Despite a good overclock the end results in the synthetic tests were quite average. Thankfully as we moved through into the everyday tests of browsing and gaming the GD65 came up trumps.
The PC Mark scores were neck and neck with the Sniper 2 which costs, let's not forget, twice as much. Whilst the size of the score itself can be attributed to the immense benefits that the Intel Rapid Storage Technology gives when compared to a pure mechanical drive alone, the fact that the Z68A-GD65 G3 can keep up with the Sniper 2 despite giving away 100MHz in CPU power is very good indeed.
Things improve still further when we ran 3D Mark. Much has been made in MSI literature of the difference that the MSI PCIe Gen3 Switches make and Vantage certainly didn't show any benefits. However the 3D Mark 11 score was comprehensively better, giving us the highest GTX570 scores we've yet seen.
So all in all it's quite difficult to pin the GD65 down. From some angles, PC Mark 7, 3D Mark 11 and AIDA64 it seems to be a great performer. However in both PC Mark and 3D Mark Vantage it was on par with the best, and yet in CineBench and Sandra it was a fair bit slower than most of the competition. Our overclock was good, but not spectacular and the GD65 needed the voltages to be higher than many other boards we've tested. It's reasonably priced at around £150, but looks a little spartan. In fact the main selling point of the GD65 G3 is its potential compatibility with hardware that doesn't yet exist.
Looking at the board today, with current hardware and the plethora of superb LGA1155 boards around we think that if you picked up the Z68A GD65 G3 you'd be happy and could do a lot worse. For the money you're very much getting a good solid board that wont disappoint but wont particularly wow you either. Solid can be a very attractive quality and for that, when coupled to the always brilliant OC Genie II, we're awarding the MSI Z68A-GD65 G3 our Silver Award.
Thanks to MSI for supplying the Z68A-GD65 G3 for review. Discuss in our forums.