Today we continue with our Motherboard Memory Lane series, taking a look at older Intel chipsets and processor platforms, the motherboards and processors that were popular and the benchmark records broken in that era. Today we turn our attention to a chipset that could well be described as the strange uncle of the Intel chipset series. The Intel Z68 platform was a slightly unusual platform launch in that it didn’t actually coincide with a new processor series launch. Let’s take a look in a little more detail:
Intel Z68: Overview
The Intel Z68 Express Platform Hub Controller, to give it its full title, was launched on May 11th of 2011, just four months after its predecessor the Intel P67. It used the same LGA 1155 socket and supported the same 2nd Generation Intel Core Sandy Bridge architecture processors. To better understand the Z68 platform, let’s first examine its predecessor, the Intel P67.
If we look again at the Intel P67 and its more affordable alternative, the Intel H67, we can see that the P67 supported CPU overclocking, while the H67 did not. The only other difference is the fact the P67 could also split its PCIe lanes in two 8x lanes for more effective multi-GPU configurations. One area however where the H67 excelled however, was the fact that it also offered support for Intel’s integrated HD Graphics. No P67 motherboards featured video outputs on the back panel, a fact that denied enthusiast customers the option of accessing a GPU that was present on all Sandy Bridge processors. Intel’s logic was that P67 customers that are attracted to the idea of overclocking multi-GPU configurations, would not require integrated graphics.
While this logic maybe seem solid, it also inadvertently denied P67 users the change to enjoy Quick Sync technology – Intel’s proprietary hardware accelerated video encoding and decoding. Quick Sync was a big hit with many users because it offered encoding speeds that were much faster than any CPU core. However, Quick Sync required access to the integrated GPU, a fact that meant it was unavailable on P67 motherboards.
To summarize – you could have Overclocking and multi-GPU support and opt for a P67 board, or enjoy Quick Sync and the option of integrated graphics and choose a H67 board – you could not have it all. Not until the Z68 platform arrived.
On the surface the Z68 PCH looks almost identical to the P67. The major difference is that it supports video output from the Sandy Bridge CPU (options include HDMI, DisplayPort, VGA and DVI). In terms of USB, SATA and PCIe options there was no change. To bolster the attractiveness of the Z68 platform, Intel enthusiasts a new technology that the company hoped would lure them to the new platform; Intel Smart Response.
Intel Smart Response (or SRT) is basically a proprietary SSD caching solution. SRT was managed by the Intel Rapid Storage Technology software driver and allowed users to use a regular SATA SSD as a cache to speed up traditional hard disk drives. At this point history, decent capacity SSDs were still quite expensive. However, by installing a smaller, more affordable SDD and using it as a cache, users were able to experience SDD-like performance on the cheap. Intel offered the Intel 311 Larson Creek SSD as the perfect solution – a 20GB single-cell SSD marketed specifically for use in SRT enabled systems.
The Intel Z68 PCH, like its 6-series brethren was codenamed Cougar Point. Like other members of the Cougar Point family it was manufactured using 65nm lithography and had a TDP of 6.1 watts. Like the H67 PCH, it supported any two of HDMI, DisplayPort, DVI and VGA video outputs.
To many enthusiasts the Z68 chipset was the chipset that the P67 should have been, i.e. a fully fledged, high-end offering with no sacrifices. Let’s take a look at the most popular Z68-based motherboards.
Most Popular Intel Z68 Motherboards
Previous Motherboard Memory Lane articles have proven conclusively that ASUS is the industry leader when it comes to high-end, high-performance motherboard design and marketing. In the era of the Z68 chipset we find that ASUS again has by far the two most popular boards.
- -ASUS Maximus IV Gene-Z – 24.93%
- -ASUS Maximus IV Extreme-Z – 16.59%
- -ASUS P8Z68-V Pro – 5.4%
- -ASRock Z68 Extreme7 Gen3 – 3.72%
- -ASRock Z68 Extreme3 Gen3 – 3.60%
- -GIGABYTE Z68X-UD7-B3 – 3.06%
- -GIGABYTE Z68X-UD4-B3 – 2.92%
- -ASUS P8P68-V – 2.90%
- -GIGABYTE Z68XP-UD4 – 2.84%
- -GIGABYTE Z68X-UD3H-B3 – 2.38%
At this stage in history, the ASUS ROG brand is clearly gaining in strength with the top two boards on the list boasting ROG branding. The company shares the top ten with GIGABYTE, who as with ASUS have four boards on the list. ASRock punch above their weight with two boards in the top ten. Combined however, the Maximus IV Gene-Z and Maximus IV Extreme-Z are responsible for more than 40% of all Z68 submissions historically. An impressive feat.
On the surface the ASUS Maximus IV Gene-Z is a slightly unusual choice for Overclockers, simply because it’s a Micro-ATX motherboard. The reasoning for it being the Z68 board of choice on HWBOT is that, a) it is as equally capable of high Sandy Bridge clocks as its larger brother the Maximus Extreme IV-Z, and b) it was priced a bit lower. ASUS deserves credit however for being bold enough to think outside the box and produce an ROG mATX board that performs to the same standards and boasts the same features as any full ATX board. The company went on to produce Mini-ITX form factor ROG boards with their Impact line, further proof that good things can come in small packages.
In terms of performance, where most Z68 boards struggled to push a Core i7 2600K to the mythical 5GHz overclock on air, the Maximus IV Gene-Z proved to an exception for many users. According to Shaun Baker of Tweaktown:
“I expected the ASUS to perform well and it did …we ended up pushing our multiplier all the way up to 53x. Along with pushing the multiplier up, we also managed to give our BCLK a slight bump to 101 and what we ended up with was a CPU that was running at just over 5.36GHz. What ASUS shows us is that just because you opt for a smaller stature, it doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice the overclocking potential of your CPU.”
Tweaktown Maximus IV Gene-Z Review.
Most Popular Intel Z68 Compatible Processor: Intel Core i7 2600K
As with the Intel P67 platform we covered last week, the most popular processor in terms of HWBOT submissions for the Z68 platform was the Core i7 2600K. It represents 51.5% of all submissions. The second most used processor was the Core i5 2500K with 22.32%. The Sandy Bridge lineup experienced a refresh a few months after the Z68 platform launched. Intel introduced the Core i7 2700K, a chip that had a default clock of 3.5GHz, just 100MHz faster than the Core i7 2600K. The 2700K represents 8.7% of all Z68 submissions.
The Core i7 2600K, was a quad-core, eight threads chip with a base clock frequency of 3.4GHz (boosting to 3.8GHz), an 8MB L3 cache and a TDP of 95 watts. The platform supported default DDR3 speeds of DDR3-1066 and DDR3-1333. You can read more about the Core i7 2600K in our previous Motherboard Memory Lane article which dealt with the Intel P67 platform.
ASUS ROG Maximus IV Gene-Z: Record Scores
We now take a look at the highest scores posted using the most popular Z68 platform motherboard, the ASUS ROG Maximus IV Gene-Z motherboard.
Reference clock overclocking was not so significant in the Z68 era. Pushing multipliers was usually the best way to higher clock speeds. However, in the spirit of consistency, let’s look at the highest reference clock made with the ASUS Maximus IV Gene-Z. The highest reference clock submitted on HWBOT came from Eeky NoX from France. He managed a reference clock of 112.29 MHz, using an Ivy-Bridge Core i7 3770K processor.
You can find the submission from Eeky NoX here on HWBOT: http://hwbot.org/submission/2282915_eeky_nox_reference_frequency_maximus_iv_gene_z_112.29_mhz
Even though raw CPU frequencies are not really treated as true benchmarks, they remain an important performance metric for most overclockers.The highest CPU frequency ever submitted to HWBOT using the Maximus IV Gene-Z motherboard came from BenchZowner from the US who managed to push a Core i7 3770K to a massive 6,409.7mhz, an impressive +83.13% beyond stock settings.
You can find the submission from BenchZowner here on HWBOT: http://hwbot.org/submission/2277711_benchzowner_cpu_frequency_core_i7_3770k_6409.7_mhz
Finally we come to the classic SuperPi 32M benchmark, an important benchmark in terms of historical relevance. The fastest SuperPi 32M run submitted on HWBOT using an ASUS Maximus IV Gene-Z motherboard was submitted by Sweden’s Calathea who completing a run in just 4min 49sec 937ms using a Core i7 3770K ramped up to 6,842MHz (+95.49%).
Check out the submission from Calathea here: http://hwbot.org/submission/2279492_calathea_superpi___32m_core_i7_3770k_5min_11sec_297ms
Thanks for joining us for today’s trip down Motherboard Memory Lane. Come back next week when we take a look at the Intel Z77 platform.