Zotac Z68-ITX WiFi Review
The Zotac Z68-ITX WiFi is, for the second time in a week, not something that can be easily summarised but, contrary to HD6870X2 it's largely all the fault of Zotac themselves.
Let's put aside the marketing blurb and proclaimed overclocking capabilities for a moment and look at this just as an ITX board.
It's dead easy to set up. Despite it's small size it has enough of everything you could want as an HTPC solution. The maturity of the Z68 chipset and the brilliance of Windows 7 (which, as people who've suffered from the days of DOS 3 all the way to now, we still can't get over how stable it is compared to some earlier efforts) is highlighted by how quickly all the hardware can be up and running. HDMI outputs enable you to connect this to anything from a standard monitor to a monster flat-screen.
WiFi was equally easy to get up and running and the signal quality was fantastic throughout testing. The decision to use a 802.11n card rather than the cheaper g option is a wise one especially when the main bulk of these boards will find their way under the TV as a media server.
With plentiful USB sockets and the very fast SATA-III onboard this is an outstanding choice as a HD media centre and with the benefit of some light overclocking it proves a very good package.
There is, as ever with these matters, some lofty aspirations clouding initial expectations, namely the bold proclamations by Zotac about the overclocking capabilities of the Z68-ITX.
As with any overclocking endeavour there is a line that defines if you're going to go down the old DFI route of having every potential option available in the BIOS and a paucity of information about their use, or if you'll go down the MSI Genie route wherein a single button or setting provides a decent overclock with the minimum of fuss. Zotac seem to have straddled this line by having a lack of overclocking options and then obfuscated the ones that are there.
When you strip a BIOS bare of overclocking options you are clearly aiming at the Everyman rather than the Enthusiast, and so to not provide a "click here for 4.4 GHz" type option beggars belief. Especially the decision to have the voltages only be a modification of a value that isn't obviously apparent which is almost an invitation to fried components. In these modern times to have a BIOS that is both simplistic and complex yet in neither of the ways you'd wish it to be so is quite an achievement and most definitely one that Zotac deserves chastisement for.
Further demonstrating the feeling that the board was designed and then someone high-up said "hmm can we also make it a hardcore gaming board?" and features had to be crowbarred in is the placement of the PCIe socket. Sure on a ITX board there is very little room, but if you want it to be an overclocking board we need to keep our processor cool, and that renders the use of the PCIe socket nearly impossible. Even half-height HTPC cards are still way too big. Sure you could use a smaller cooler, but that negates the overclocking, which isn't very good in the first place. If only Zotac had just marketed it as a HTPC board like every other ITX we'd have been happy and all this would be merely a bizarre element of an otherwise good product.
So let's step away from all that hyperbole and schizophrenia and just look at the Zotac Z68-ITX WiFi for what it actually is, and that's a very capable ITX board with a raft of the latest technologies and some reasonable overclocking capabilities. So don't expect it to be all things to all men but rather a good ITX board and under those circumstances it's reasonable value at about £130 and therefore worthy of our OC3D Bronze award.