When is a chipset truly a new chipset? That’s a question that many PC enthusiasts will ponder when they see the specs for Intel’s Z68 chipset, which is at the heart of the Asus P8Z68-V Pro board.
For one thing, there’s no native USB 3.0, no additional PCI-E lanes (which are tied to the CPU anyway), and still the paltry two SATA 6Gb/s ports that Intel included with the original P67 chipset’s PCH chip. If these negatives are enough to make you skip the rest of this review, know that you’re making a big mistake.
The Intel Z68 chipset in the Asus P8Z68-V Pro brings SSD caching and virtual graphics to Sandy Bridge.
That’s because the Z68 chipset in the P8Z68-V Pro offers several major advances over the P67: the ability to overclock the processor graphics in the Sandy Bridge CPU; Identity Protection Technology, which is essentially a hardware token integrated into the chipset and CPU; Smart Response Technology for SSD caching; and the ability to switch between the discrete and integrated graphics.
Of these four features, the biggest impact will come from the Smart Response Technology. SRT lets you use a relatively small, low-cost SSD to give your hard drive “SSD-like” performance. Intel actually claims around a 4x improvement with SRT over an HDD alone.
On the graphics side, the P8Z68-V Pro board bundles LucidLogix’s Virtu software, which lets you “switch” graphics modes. There are two modes available in Virtu on the P8Z68-V Pro: i-mode and d-mode. I-mode lets you plug your monitor into the integrated graphics port on the board. Most of your chores will run off the processor graphics, but kick on a game and the discrete GPU takes over. It actually works, but i-mode doesn’t support SLI. And the main reason to run it, power savings, isn’t hugely material as the GPU doesn’t actually turn off. You’ll also have to wait for profiles from LucidLogix for new games support. Another weakness of the feature is lack of support for dual-link DVI, so you can rule out 30-inch, high-res panels. Most people, however, will use d-mode, which runs off the discrete GPU. This mode lets you access the Intel Quick Sync video encoding technology in the CPU. In our encoding tests, we found Quick Sync to run roughly 30 percent faster than the mighty GeForce GTX 580 when encoding video using CyberLink’s MediaEspresso 6.5. Zow!
The integrated DVI port can be used in combination with your discrete card, but lacks dual-link DVI support.
The board itself is a near replica of the P67-based P8P67 Pro board in layout, SATA ports, and slots. With the PCI-E and memory controller integrated into the CPU and the exact same PCH as the P67 chipset, performance between the P8P67 Pro or Deluxe and the P8Z68-V Pro is a wash. That is, until you factor in the SRT SSD caching, which is a big boost for folks who intend to primarily run a hard drive. If you look at the benchmark charts you can see the impact of SRT, which also felt faster in general use than a hard drive alone.
The best performance will always come from running the SSD as your primary disk, but then you are limited by size and are always managing your data between the SSD and HDD. With SRT, you have all the spatial freedom of a fast 3TB drive with much of the performance of an SSD. One thing to note: The Maximized mode gives you the best write performance, but you run the risk of data loss should your system lose power or blue-screen suddenly during a large write. Enhanced mode is safer, but your fastest write is at the speed of the hard drive.
So what do we think of the P8Z68-V Pro board? We probably would not upgrade to it if we were running a P67. We view SRT and the Quick Sync access as valuable, but not quite worth the hassle of an upgrade. But this board is the clear choice if you’re building a new mainstream PC.