At the beginning of this month we took a look at one of the cheapest overclocked bundles available. This was the Aria.co.uk Gladiator based on the MSI P67A-GD45 Motherboard equipped with a 4.4 GHz overclocked Core i5-2500K and 4GB of 1333MHz DDR3. It was outstanding value for money, especially when paired with out standard test bench GTX570. For a penny shy of £330 you really couldn't go wrong.
Of course not everyone can afford to stick a beastly GPU in their rig. Maybe you just want one as part of an HTPC, capable of High-Definition playback and some light gaming?
If so then you'll be interested in today's review of a very similar specification bundle but based upon the newly released Z68 Chipset. This particular board comes complete with integrated graphics. Perfect for a low-cost home theatre system.
Anyone who saw the specifications of the P67 Bundle will recognise many elements here. We have the outstanding Core i5-2500K processor as the heart of the bundle. Overclocked, for free, to 4.4 GHz and kept cool by the Arctic Cooling Freezer 13.
One of the slight niggles we had about the P67 version was the 1333 MHz RAM which, whilst still good enough, was a little bit of a weak link and so it's great to see that in the Z68 variant it's been replaced by some excellent Mushkin Copperhead running at 1600 MHz CAS9.
The major change is in the platform. Whereas the P67A-GD45 was a good value plain board, here we have a Gigabyte Z68MA D2H which has integrated graphics.
• FREE CPU Overclocking to 4.40GHz
• Intel® Core™ i5-2500K (Sandybridge) Socket LGA1155 Processor
• Integrated Intel HD3000 Graphics
• 4GB Mushkin Copperhead #996778 (2x2GB) DDR3 1600MHz 9-9-9-24
• Gigabyte GA-Z68MA-D2H Intel Z68 (REV B3) Socket 1155 DDR3 PCI-Express Motherboard
• Arctic Cooling Freezer 13 CPU Cooler
• Arctic Silver 5 Thermal Compound
• 4.40GHz Quad Core CPU
• Intel® Z68 Chipset
• 4GB 1600MHz Dual Channel DDR3
• DirectX 10.1 via the integrated Intel HD3000 GPU
• Multi VGA Outputs: 1x D-Sub, 1x DVI-D, 1x HDMI, 1x DisplayPort
• 4x USB3.0 Ports
• 12x USB2.0 Ports
• 4x SATA 6GB/s Ports
• 4x SATA 3GB/s Ports
• Gigabit LAN
• High Definition 8 Channel Audio CODEC
• ATI CrossFireX™/NVIDIA SLI Technology
• Expansion slots: 3x PCIe 2.0 x16 Slots (dual x8/x8) & 1x PCIe x1 Slot
Enough waffle. Let's take a look.
The Gladiator comes packaged just like the P67 did with enormous amounts of air bags and one of the most serious cardboard boxes we've ever seen. There is no chance of it getting damaged in transit which is always a worry with a pre-mounted heatsink.
The bundle itself is kept safe in a modified anti-static bag and we also have the box and all accessories included, just as if you'd brought it all separately.
As this is one of the lower-end Gigabyte motherboards there isn't an extraordinary amount of accessories included, but there is still everything you'd need.
Once out of the packaging you can see the Freezer 13 dominates this Micro-ATX board.
Although the Gigabyte Z68MA-D2H-B3 comes with Intel HD3000 graphics integrated, there are still enough PCI-e slots that you could run CrossfireX or SLI should you so choose. An array of USB3.0 headers ensure you're not short of USB ports.
The D2H comes with four SATA 3Gbp/s and two SATA 6Gbp/s sockets for all your storage requirements.
If you do wish to use this as your HTPC then power efficiency is an important requirement. It's important in every use, but especially so as your digital media server. As you can see the 4-pin CPU power and integrated VRM components reassures us that your electric meter wont need a lie down.
Round the back we have a combined PS2, four USB 2.0, two USB 3.0 and the Realtek LAN. Although the excellent Realtek ALC889 supports 7.1 you'll need a front-panel to make full use of it as the D2H comes with line-in, line-out and microphone jacks.
For maximum compatibility the onboard graphics can be output via the VGA, DVI-D or even HDMI connectors.
There are two ways we could go with testing the Gladiator Z68, but rather than stuff it full of high-end bits which would only replicate results we've seen before, today we're testing this for its HTPC properties.
Aria.co.uk Gladiator Z68 Bundle comprising :
Intel Core i5-2500K @ 4.4 GHz
4GB Mushkin Copperhead 1600MHz DDR3
Gigabyte Z68MA-D2H-B3 Motherboard
Arctic Cooling Freezer 13
Additional components :
Be Quiet Dark Power Pro PSU
Samsung Spinpoint F1 1TB
Samsung SH B123L Blu-Ray Drive
Samsung T240HD Monitor
Overclocking and Intel GPU Details
Here is the overclock as supplied from Aria :
Firing up GPU-z we can see the Intel HD3000 graphics aren't exactly mind-blowing. 2 ROPs and 12 Shaders should be okay for some basic gaming and certainly plenty to ensure good High Definition playback.
There is plenty of tweakability to the Intel Graphics. You're certainly not limited to just resolution adjustments.
It's worth remembering that we're not strictly comparing like for like as the Gladiator Z68 Bundle comes with an overclock lower than what we normally obtain, but equally it's overclocked so it will beat the stock results. We're expecting something between our average stock and overclocked results.
In AIDA the Gladiator Z68 clearly demonstrates the power of the Core i5-2500K and the wisdom of using this as the heart of the bundle.
The Mushkin Copperhead kit performs admirably considering that in this particular graph it's up against 2133 MHz kits.
Whoa horsey, look at that Dhrystone result. Whilst the Whetstone result is exactly where we'd expect it to be, that Dhrystone result is a good 20 points ahead of what experience led us to anticipate. Impressive.
Things return to normal in the processor Multi-Media testing, with the Gladiator Z68 Bundle performing admirably.
PC Mark Vantage
Although the Gladiator appears to be quite a way behind the rest, this is onboard graphics vs a GTX570. Now considering that we've got 12 shaders up against 480. When you take that into account it's clear that onboard graphics have come a long way from the days when they struggled to even play Freecell.
PC Mark 7
Putting the Gigabyte Z68MA-D2H up against it's much bigger brother the UD5, it doesn't come away from the contest with any shame at all. It's the little motherboard that could.
In CPU terms the Gladiator puts up a great showing with the Aria overclocked Core-i5 2500K just shy of 7 CPU Pts. Obviously the Intel HD3000 graphics haven't got the oomph to power the OpenGL testing to a big score, but we wouldn't expect it to.
x264 is the High Definition codec of choice and although HD playback was flawless we also wanted to give you some hard stats and so brought out the x264 Benchmark, here in v3 form. Considering this is encoding and we're seeing a 78 FPS average on a two-pass encode, you can understand that mere playback is absolutely impeccable.
3D Mark Vantage
Nobody would expect integrated graphics to be able to run the very latest titles, and if you do, go stand in the corner, and although with a GTX570 in place the Gladiator Z68 can give the 26000 P-Score we've seen a thousand times, how would it perform if you'd just use it as an HTPC with light gaming?
Despite GPUz reporting DX11 compatibility, 3D Mark 11 swore it didn't have, and Intel report only Direct X 10.1 compatibility, so to Vantage we go. 1840 P-Score. Not by any stretch amazing but, like everything, you tailor your expectations.
Far Cry 2
So with presumptions suitably in check, is this little powerhouse capable of giving you some gaming goodness? Absolutely. Far Cry 2 in the equivalent of 720P and High settings (so identical to how it is on the consoles) gives us a good 30 FPS average which is definitely playable.
Hopefully you've enjoyed today's slightly different take upon some common hardware. It would have been all too easy to just go down the normal route and end up with results that we've all seen before. If you weren't planning to use this as an HTPC then you'd probably go for the Aria.co.uk Gladiator P67 system we reviewed earlier this month.
The Intel HD3000 Integrated Graphics on this particular Gigabyte board open up a whole other dimension by allowing you to need only the smallest amount of extra hardware to put together an exceptional High Definition media server.
No matter what we threw at it in terms of media, from 1080 Blu-Rays through to x264 films, it handled itself with exemplary poise. Playback was outstanding and seeking, even in supremely large files, didn't cause the Gladiator Z68 to flinch or hiccup in the slightest.
With such a choice of visual outputs there is something for everyone too. You can have it as the basis for an office PC and just run out the DVI or VGA outputs. You could install it in one of the many sleek cases available and have it under the TV as a Home Theatre PC. Or you choose to purchase a graphics card and have it as a hardcore gaming rig only limited by your wallet.
No matter what the application it's this flexibility that really separates the Gladiator Z68 from any of its rivals, and even differentiates it from the £30 cheaper P67 Gladiator bundle we looked at earlier. We understand how tight purse-strings can be, and thirty quid is a lot of money, but if you factor in even the most basic of GPUs you'd struggle to beat the value for money that's on offer here.
It's worth mentioning how impressive this latest generation of integrated graphics are too. Certainly you wont be able to max Metro 2033 or similar, but if you're willing to restrain your expectations then there is still a lot of HD Gaming pleasure to be obtained. We used Far Cry 2 as our example, and if you can get 30FPS of 720P eye-candy out of that then any of the PopCap style games will work perfectly, and things like the ultra-popular World of Warcraft will happily stroll along.
Once again the build and bundle quality from Aria deserves special mention. The Gladiator Z68 comes packaged so well it would survive even the most feckless delivery man and arrive to you in mint condition. The inclusion of the related periphery that one would accumulate by purchasing these parts separately is a lovely touch too.
Not that the Gladiator Z68 needs its value for money enhancing further, but it's only about £15 more than if you'd buy the bits yourself from Aria.co.uk, and yet you've none of the faffing about associated with building a new rig and overclocking it properly.
Whether you want a simple home/office setup, a High Definition media behemoth, or want to stick SLI GTX580s in there and go mental, the Gladiator Z68 has got you covered. Although slightly pricier than the P67 equivalent the inclusion of slightly faster RAM and the integrated graphics flexibility is definitely worth it. Unhesitatingly a winner of our OC3D Gold Award.
Thanks to Aria.co.uk for providing the Gladiator Z68 Bundle for review. Discuss in our forum.