MotherboardBy Juha Saarinen, Auckland | Tuesday, 06 December 2011
Gigabyte and Intel have teamed up to roll out a hybrid solid state storage technology that promises great performance at a moderate price. The result of the collaboration is the Z68XP-UD3 motherboard for Socket 1155 Sandy Bridge processors. This is a midrange board, packed with features such as 14 USB 2.0 and 4 USB 3.0 ports, and 8-channel Dolby Home Theatre audio.
Unlike other vendors, Gigabyte is using its own Hybrid EFI BIOS instead of a graphical UEFI one. It’s rich in functionality with plenty of settings for overclocking, and supports 3TB and larger drives.
Looking at the board’s features, it comes with Intel’s Z68 Express chipset, which can utilise the onboard graphics in Sandy Bridge CPUs. For that reason, the Z68XP-UD3 comes with an HDMI out port for video.
A busy layout and cost considerations may have had something to do with the PCI Express slot configuration: there’s a single 16-lane slot and an 8-lane slot, followed by three X1 slots. While the board supports NVIDIA SLI/AMD CrossFireX graphics, using two boards means each will operate at 8X, rather than the full 16X, which may be an issue for some.
The main draw card for the Z68XP-UD3 is the inclusion of the 20GB Intel Smart Response (SRT) SSD. This is a “Larsen Creek” Intel 311 Series 34nm SSD mounted on a small 3Gbps mSATA card in the middle of the motherboard. Vital statistics for the SSD are 190MByte/s sequential reads and 100MByte/s sequential writes, with 37kIOPS for random reads and 3.3kIOPS for random writes. Latency is given as 65 microseconds for reads and 75 microseconds for writes. These good but not mind-blowing figures are due to Intel’s choice of Single Level Cell (SLC) Flash memory. Cheaper Multi-Level (MLC) has now overtaken SLC in performance thanks to improved SSD controllers and device design but they’re not as reliable.
By and large, Gigabyte’s SRT implementation delivers. You set the SATA controller to RAID mode in the BIOS, install Windows and the Intel SRT application. Then, pick the drive to cache and the onboard SSD to do the job.
With the Samsung 1TB 7,200RPM Spinpoint drive doing all the work, PC Mark 7 reported a score of 3,601. With the SSD it scored 4979, an increase of 38 percent.
Intel implemented two cache modes for SRT: Enhanced (Write-Through) and Maximised (Write-Back). The former only caches reads to minimise the risk of data corruption; the latter caches writes as well.
As the Spinpoint drive has roughly the same sequential write performance as the Larsen Creek SSD, Maximised mode didn’t affect PC Mark 7 or synthetic benchmark scores. Maximised mode improves system responsiveness by boosting random read/write performance 30- to 50-fold compared to normal hard drives. Drive access time didn’t improve under either mode however.
To let SRT stretch its legs, I used an OCZ Vertex III 240GB SATA 6Gbps drive and put the maximum amount of cache – 64 GB – on it. This MLC-based speedster tops out at 525MByte/s reads and 500MByte/s writes and now Maximised mode flew along: ATTO reported sequential reads at 475MByte/s for over 4kb sizes, and writes around 435MByte/s. Other test metrics improved by similarly impressive amounts, but the PC Mark 7 score only increased 6.8 percent.
Thanks to SRT and the iSSD, the Gigabyte Z68XP-UD3 offers SSD-like performance with capacious standard hard drives, and easy installation. It’s a hassle-free way to build a fast system on a moderate budget.
The motherboard ships for a RRP of $440 including GST. Gigabyte is distributed in New Zealand through Dove Electronics and Synnex.
This review appears in the December/January issue of PC World.
I thought this model of motherboard was EOL?
Posted by Anonymous at 10:12 on December 6, 2011
Not that I know... are you thinking of the P67 ones?
Posted by Juha at 03:50 on December 19, 2011
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