MSI Z68A-GD80 Revision G3 Reviewccokeman - October 27, 2011
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MSI has made a serious push to update its image over the past few years and it has shown with the look of the motherboards changing to a more appealing theme, most recently black, blue, and silver. The Z68A-GD80 G3 is built around the Intel Z68 chipset, which incorporates the best features from both the H67 and P67 chipsets for a fully functional board able to use all the Sandy Bridge socket 1155 processor's features. These include switchable graphics and Intel's Quick Sync technology and now Intel Smart Response Technology. The black PCB sets off the blue and silver accents. The MSI Z68A-GD80 incorporates MSI's Military Class II build, using components that meet Military specification MIL-STD 810G to make sure there is both reliability and a long purposeful life span. The heat sink package is held on with screws instead of spring-loaded push pins for a secure mount and better thermal transfer of heat to the heat pipe-based cooling circuit. The CPU socket retention mechanism is still put together by LOTES.
The I/O panel on the Z68A-GD80 features quite a bit of connectivity and mimics the setup on the B3 revision with the inclusion of both a Single Link DVI and HDMI port. Starting from the left is the PS/2 combination keyboard or mouse port, the Optical S/PDIF output port, a clear CMOS button for when things get a little too far out of spec, a single IEEE 1394 port, two of the four USB 2.0 ports and the eSATA port, two Realtek-controlled RJ-45 Gigabit LAN ports, a pair of NEC-controlled USB 3.0 ports, one Single Link DVI-I port, an HDMI port, and the audio ports that support the Realtek ALC892 8-channel sound. Expansion slots get an upgrade on the Z68A-GD80 G3. In all, there are seven expansion slots: 2x 16x PCIe 3.0 slots that offer up to two times the bandwidth of PCIe 2.0, 1x 16x PCIe 2.0 slot, 2x PCIs 1x, and two PCI 2.0 slots. The top two 16x PCIe 3.0 slots will run at 8x / 8x when dual-graphics cards are installed. Both SLI and CrossFireX are supported. Due to PCIe lane limitations, some on-board devices become unusable when all three 16x slots are in use. Only one of the 1x slots can be used at a time, again due to bandwidth restrictions. Right above the top 1x PCIE port is a 6-pin PCIe power connector used to provide additional current capacity to the memory on the installed GPUs, as the memory draws its power from the PCIe power plane.
Moving to the bottom of the board, there is a good deal of connectivity as well as one of the significant features of the Z68A-GD80 G3. From the left, we have the front panel audio header, S/PDIF output connection, on-board power and rest buttons, the OC Genie one touch OC button, the USB 3.0 header that allows for a total of 4 USB 3.0 ports, the three front panel USB 2.0 ports, and the front panel header. Notice the front panel USB 2.0 headers are color-coded. The one colored red is for use with MSI's Super Charger utility to provide the current needed to charge high-powered mobile devices. One touch hardware-based overclocking has been a staple on MSI boards over the past couple years and has really been tweaked, currently offering the best option out of the box with the overclocks delivered able to pass Prime 95 stability tests without an extra voltage tweak.
On the right hand side of the PCB, starting at the bottom, are the SATA ports for drive connectivity. The four black ports are 3Gb/s, while the white ports are SATA 6GB/s ports. The two 90 degree ports are handled by the Intel controller, with the other white connector handled by a Marvell 88SE9128 controller that also controls the eSATA port on the I/O panel. Raid 0/1/5/10 are supported on the ports handled by the Z68 controller. SSD caching or Intel Smart Response technology is supported and is exclusive on the Z68 chipset. Next up are a couple fan headers, the 24-pin ATX power connection, and the V-Check points. This little header is used to check the voltages of the CPU core voltage, CPU I/O voltage, IGP voltage, memory voltage, and the PCH voltage. Right beside the check points are several of the Super Ferrite chokes used by MSI. DDR3 memory is supported in single and dual channel configurations from 1333MHz to 2133MHz, up to 32GB in capacity. Of course that would require 8GB modules.
Across the top of the PCB there is not much to show aside from the CPU PWM controlled fan header, a series of LEDs that light up to show which of the 12 power phases is active, and the 8-pin EATX power connector. One of the two-piece heat pipe-connected VRM heat sink runs along the top edge of the board.
The area around the CPU socket is not crowded in the least, leaving room for large cooling solutions. The Z68A-GD80 G3 uses a 12 phase power low profile DrMOS design that uses Hi-C tantalum-filled, self-repairing capacitors that have an 8x lifespan improvement over traditional designs and Super Ferrite dynamic switching chokes that are 10% more efficient while still handling 30% more current — parts that meet the Military Standard MIL-STD 810G, thereby allowing MSI to use the Military Class II logo.
The heat sink package used by MSI on the Z68A-GD80 G3 is a good looking design and gets the job done. The southbridge is covered with a large passive heat sink with the MSI logo and a large blue shield on it. The heat sinks around the CPU socket are interconnected via a heat pipe to transfer heat to the area most likely to have it dissipated, in this case out the rear of the case via the rear 120mm fan.
Seeing how similar the G3 revision is to the B3 makes you wonder what the improvements made to the board will bring. Not much with Sandy Bridge, but when Ivy Bridge makes an entrance in the future, the board is primed and ready to go.