MSI Z68A-GD80 Revision G3 Review

ccokeman - 2011-08-10 19:03:47 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: October 27, 2011
Price: $229

Introduction:

 

Earlier this year, the Z68 chipset was launched by Intel as a way to take advantage of all the benefits of the P67 and H67 chipsets all in one package — not to mention the snafu with the P67 chipset's SATA 3Gbps controller that was quickly resolved by Intel. At launch, we looked at MSI’s top offering equipped with the Z68 chipset, the Z68A-GD80 B3 revision, and found it to be a fully loaded board that offered tremendous upside and overclocking to match the feature set — things like Smart Caching technology, switchable graphics, Military Class II component selection, OC Genie one touch overclocking, uEFI bios. and more. Here we are that few months down the line and we have an update to the Z68A-GD80 with the G3 (Generation 3), which brings along an updated feature set to take advantage of Intel's upcoming Ivy Bridge lineup, like a pair of 16x PCIe Gen 3 slots that deliver multi-GPU Gen3 bandwidth, an improved implementation of MSI’s Click BIOS, with Click BIOS II, support for 2.2TB and greater disk drives, and a much improved user interface. The warranty period is another upsell from MSI, with the G3 revisions of the Z68A-GD80 and GD65 seeing an increase to five years from the previous three years . Performance-wise, this revision is not going to differ from the B3 revision, but just provides a way to prepare for the future launch. Let's dig a little deeper into what the MSI Z68A-GD80 has to offer.

Closer Look:

From a packaging perspective, the packaging does not see much change other than to highlight the additional capabilities and feature set of the G3 revision. Highlighted on the front panel are the new features, as well as some of the previous ones that are still there. One of those new features is that MSI has the first PCIe Gen 3 solution usable for dual-GPU use. Click BIOS II removes the cartoonish look to the uEFI BIOS and an enhancement to its OC Genie II one touch hardware based overclocking utility. The rest of the feature set is strategically spread over the front and rear panels. Across the top, Lucid Logix Virtu technology is supported, as well as AMD CrossFireX and NVIDIA SLI multi-GPU solutions. The back panel goes into detail on the attributes of MSI’s Military Class II Technology, which uses Hi-C Caps, Super Ferrite chokes, and long life solid capacitors. All this helps with the other major callout, the OC Genie II overclocking utility. Winki 3 is a small Linux-based application that allows much of the OS functionality without taking the time to boot into the OS, and Super Charger provides the current needs for charging today's mobile power house phones and tablets. A flip-open cover is used to provide an even more granular look at the feature set. There is plenty of information placed, so if you do purchase from as brick and mortar location, you can at least make an informed decision.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inside the packaging is a pretty stout bundle of accessories packed into the available space. Remove the accessory bundle and the Z68A-GD80 comes into view.

 

 

The bundle comes in two parts, the documentation and the hardware. Included are a pair of quick start and installation guides, the manuals, a quality certification for the Military Class II components, and the software and driver disk. The hardware side gives us the usual, as well as some exclusive parts. Included is the I/O panel, Molex to SATA power adapters, a USB 3.0 bracket with two additional USB 3.0 ports, SATA 3 Gbps and 6Gbps cables, V-check adapters, and the M connector package. The M Connectors allow those of us with a large hand to connect the small front panel wiring onto one plug outside the chassis and connect one wire package easily versus fighting the individual connectors. The V-check cables are extensions used to insert a multimeter into them to read critical voltages via the V-Check points on the Z68A-GD80.

 

 

All in all, a slick package that is almost identical to the B3 revision Z68A-GD80. Even so, it's the new hardware and capabilities that count, so let's look at the board and what it has to offer.

Closer Look:

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.

Closer Look:

With the Z68A-GD80 you get the latest revision of MSI's Control Center software. This application will allow you to overclock the system from within the operating system environment and instantly apply the settings for a real time check of the settings you have made. This in itself can save some time in finding those settings that work. Once found they can be applied in the Click BIOS II. The Overclocking section presents a total of four different areas that have either information or the capability of managing the clock speeds, voltages and/or memory timings. The Mainboard section gives top line information about the motherboard with more detail found under the "More" button to the right of the window. The CPU monitor section again gives top line info about the installed CPU, in this case an Intel second generation Core i7 2600K. The CPU monitor tab to the right of the window opens up a new window that shows the current CPU clock speed, clock multiplier, temperature, and maximum Turbo Boost ratio by cores. The "More" button shows information displayed that is similar to what you see displayed in CPU-Z. The OC Genie tab gives an illustrated tutorial on how to use the OC Genie II button.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Along with the Control Center, MSI puts a few other applications into the package that allow the user to take advantage of all the board has to offer. Live update is used to update the BIOS and drivers on the motherboard and can be configured to do this automatically or allow you to check on your own schedule. The Audio Genie allows for speaker calibration and THX mode settings. Super Charger is an app for charging your portable devices quickly through a powered USB port.

 

 

 

LucidLogix Virtu Software is included to take advantage of the Z68 chipset's ability to use dynamic switching between the Intel HD 3000 and an installed discrete GPU. The software comes with a preset list of supported games and applications, although I found 3DMark Vantage to not switch between the IGP and discrete card, while several games did show the jump in performance (indicating the sofware switched from IGP to the discrete graphics card).

 

 

To take advantage of Intel's Smart Response technology (SSD Caching), you will need to have the latest Rapid Storage technology driver, a small SSD, and a mechanical drive. This ability allows the most frequently accessed programs to be cached on the SSD for a faster response. Setup requires that the primary drive and solid state drive are installed and the controller is set to RAID instead of AHCI or IDE. Then, once the OS is installed to the mechanical drive and the drivers and INF are installed, install the latest RST (10.5.1026), reboot and open up the RST control panel, choose Accelerate and follow the directions. Once this is done, you can enjoy the benefits of a combination said to be faster than a hybrid drive. A small SSD is recommended with the largest cache supported being 64GB. Currently a 32GB SSD will set you back from 80 to 100 dollars. This option shows promise but a few more dollars spent can get you the full abilities of an SSD.

 

 

MSI's Winki is a small application that allow for a quick boot into a small Linux distro. The Winki software is enabled in the BIOS and allows for pretty much anything you can do in the Windows OS, like browsing the Internet, looking at files, or viewing and working with pictures.

 

 

MSI has made the Click BIOS II available in the OS environment to change settings and work through the BIOS. Not all the information and utilities are shown, but you can get a good feel for walking your way through the BIOS.

 

 

With that tease on the look of the new BIOS, let's dig a bit deeper into what MSI has to offer in terms of the Click BIOS II uEFI BIOS.

Closer Look:

MSI was much maligned for the look of the Click BIOS implementation launched with its P67 chipset motherboards. It looked cartoonish and really looked out of place on a high performance motherboard. With the Z68A-GD80 G3, MSI went back to the drawing board and came up with a refresh that looks great, but more importantly, is more functional in terms of quickly finding what you are looking for in this BIOS. The new look contains the features you need to use and is easier to navigate through. At the top of the window you get information about the installed components, the time, date, and boot priority. There are three "modes" that can be chosen that limit the amount of control over the BIOS functionality. Eco is used for a base set of energy saving settings, Standard mode brings in all the functions and adjustments, and the OC Genie mode is used when the OC Genie button is selected to overclock the system.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Settings:

Under this section are the System Status, Advanced, Boot, and Save & Exit drop down menu's. The System Status menu shows the date and time and the connected system drive and system information on the installed processor. The Advanced drop down has more detail and is where you can configure the integrated peripherals, such as the system drives mode (IDE, AHCI, RAID), enable or disable the LAN controllers, and enable or disable the audio controller. The Hardware Monitor is where the fan controller settings can be configured, as well as monitoring the CPU and System temperatures. Integrated Graphics is where the setup is done to enable Virtu Technology and set the IGP mode between i-mode, d-mode or disabled. There are a few more settings, but these few are where the most time can be spent. The Boot menu is where the drive boot order is established. It can be done at the top of the main menu by dragging and dropping the drives in the correct order or preference. Additionally, the full screen logo can be turned on or off to suit the end user's preference.

 

 

 

 

Overclocking Setting:

This tab is where all the overclocking action takes place outside of the operating system. The bclock is adjusted in granular increments of 10kHz. A slew of options are available including adjustments for the CPU ratio in and outside of the OS. Internal PLL Overvoltage can help multiplier-limited chips like my 2600K step above the multiplier wall. Intel Turbo Boost and EIST should be enabled for overclocking. DRAM Frequency has six different settings (plus auto) to fine tune the DRAM speed that the installed modules will run at. XMP is for those who want "set it and forget it" memory speeds without having to use the OC Genie one touch OC tool. DRAM Timing mode can be set to link or unlink the settings made in the Advanced DRAM Configuration drop down menu. Vdroop control is the Load Line Calibration tool and only has Auto and Low vdroop as options. The CPU Core, CPU I/O, DRAM, System Agent, and CPU PLL voltages can be tweaked. The DDR-Vref voltages are used when really pushing the limits of the memory modules for extreme clocks. Overclocking Profiles allows for saving up to six distinct "Profiles" or settings packages. Recovery from a failed overclock or just a new batch of settings can be applied and saved for quick access. CPU Specifications shows the CPU technologies, Memory-Z shows the SPD values assigned to the memory modules, and CPU Features provides the ability to enable many of the Intel-specific features, such as C1E and the ability to set the Turbo core limits by core.

 

 

ECO:

This section is where the energy saving features are enabled or disabled, such as Intel C-States, C1E Support, and CPU Phase control that can be set between Intel SVID, APS(Active Phase Switching) or disabled. EuP 2013 is the Standby mode supported with this implementation not to exceed 1.00 watt of current in standby or off mode when priding a display. Voltages can be checked here, as well as the current draw through the Green Power Genie section.

 

Utilities:

In this section are the HDD Backup , Live update and M-Flash. HDD Backup and Live update can be used from either the Winki quick boot software or in the operating system and by clocking either of these icons that is where the direction goes. M-Flash is used as a way to flash the BIOS with a simple to use utility that looks for the replacement BIOS ROM file on removable media like a thumb drive.

 

 

Password Security:

In this section, admin and user passwords can be configured. Chassis Intrusion settings are configured here as well.

 

I really like what MSI has done here with this update to the Click BIOS. Working through the menus for the first time was easy and I quickly found what I was looking for. There were no distractions or funky coloring to take away from the smooth look of the BIOS.

Specifications:

Socket
1155
CPU (Max Support)
Sandy Bridge
AM3 CPU Ready
N/A
FSB / Hyper Transport Bus
100MHz
Chipset
Intel Z68
DDR2 Memory
N/A
DDR3 Memory
DDR3 1066/1333/1600*/2133*(OC)
Memory Channel
Dual
DIMM Slots
4
Max Memory (GB)
32
PCI-Ex16
3
PCI-E Gen 2.0
Gen3 (1x16, 1x8, 1x1)
PCE-Ex4
N/A
PCI-Ex1
2
PCI
2
IDE
N/A
SATAIII
3
SATAII
4
RAID
0/1/5/10
LAN
10/100/1000*1
TPM
1
USB 3.0 ports (Rear)
2
USB 2.0 ports (Rear)
4
Audio ports (Rear)
6+Coaxial/Optical SPDIF
Serial ports (Rear)
N/A
Parallel ports (Rear)
N/A
1394 ports (Rear)
1
eSATA
1
Display Port
N/A
VGA
N/A
HDMI
1
DVI
1x SL-DVI
VGA Share Memory (MB)
64
DirectX
NA
Form Factor
ATX
DrMOS
Y
APS
Y
Sideport Memory
N/A
SLI
Y
3-way SLI
N
Hybrid SLI
N
CrossFire
Y
Hybrid CrossFire
N/A
D-LED2
N/A
Green Power Genie
N/A

 

Features:

 

 

All information courtesy of MSI @ http://us.msi.com/product/mb/Z68A-GD80--G3-.html#/?div=Overview

Testing:

Testing this Z68 chipset motherboard will include a run through the OCC test suite of benchmarks that include both synthetic benchmarks and real world applications to see how this board performs in relation other Z68 boards. The gaming tests will also include a couple of synthetic benchmarks and actual game play to see if similarly prepared setups offer any performance advantages. The test system received a fully updated fresh install of Windows 7 Professional 64it edition and used the latest drivers for each board and the latest AMD Catayst drivers for the HD 6970.

Testing Setup: Intel Core i5/i7 Socket 1155


 

Comparison Boards:

Overclocking:

 

Overclocked Settings:

Putting the screws to the MSI Z68A-GD80 G3 gave me almost identical overclocking results as the B3 revision did. No surprise there! The way to the promised land is through adjustments of the bclock, clock multiplier, vcore, and turbo boost settings. The CPU I am using needs the PLL overvoltage option enabled to reach a multiplier greater than 44 and really does not care to run over 47. But it is tolerant of increasing the bclock at higher multipliers. On this board, that equated to a bclock 105.6MHz. The vcore needed to get to 4.96GHz on this chip is in the 1.48 to 1.49 range, depending on the board and how the Load Line calibration options are structured to manage the vdroop. In this case, a setting of 1.485v in the BIOS would show as 1.472 under load. As is the case with the Sandy Bridge platform on the P67 and Z68 chipset motherboards, most of the other voltage settings can be left on auto. Pretty simple when you get down to it with the max clock speed attainable limited by your CPU and cooling solution. Making overclocking simple with their one touch OC Genie hardware-based overclocking tool is one thing MSI has worked at perfecting. I have to say MSI has a winner with this revision. Even though the results are conservative at just about 4.2GHz, the result is a Prime 95 and 3D stable overclock without extra tuning. If all you want is a quick and easy boost, this tool will get you there. Just make sure the cooling solution employed is up to the task.

 

 

Maximum Clock Speed:

Each CPU and motherboard has been tested for stability at the clock speeds listed when in an overclocked state. These clock speeds will be used to run the test suite and will provide the performance difference increase over the stock settings in the overclocked scoring.

 

 

Benchmarks:

  1. Apophysis
  2. Bibble 5
  3. WinRAR
  4. Geekbench
  5. Office 2007
  6. POV Ray 3.7
  7. PCMark 7
  8. Sandra XII
  9. ScienceMark 2.02
  10. Cinebench 10
  11. Cinebench 11.5
  12. HD Tune 4.60
  1. Aliens vs. Predator
  2. Battlefield: Bad Company 2
  3. Civilization V
  4. 3DMark 11

Testing:

The first part of our testing will be the system-specific benchmarks.

 

Let's get started with Apophysis. This program is used primarily to render and generate fractal flame images. We will run this benchmark with the following settings:

 

 

The measurement used is time to render, in minutes, to complete.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lower is Better

 

WinRAR is a tool to archive and compress large files to a manageable size. We will use 100MB and 500MB files to test the time needed to compress these files. Time will be measured in seconds. Additionally, I will use the built-in benchmark as a comparison.

 

ZIP:

 

Lower is Better

 

 

Lower is Better

 

 

RAR:

 

Lower is Better

 

 

Lower is Better

 

Geekbench 2.1 provides a comprehensive set of benchmarks engineered to quickly and accurately measure processor and memory performance. Designed to make benchmarks easy to run and easy to understand, Geekbench takes the guesswork out of producing robust and reliable benchmark results.

 

 

Higher is Better

 

Bibble 5:

Bibble 5 will be used to convert 100 RAW 8.2MP images to JPEG. Total conversion time was recorded in seconds.

Lower is Better

 

Throughout the testing so far, the board performed within a small envelope for the most part. In Geekbench, the MSI Z68A-GD80 G3 seems to have an advantage.

Testing:

Office 2007 Excel Big Number Crunch: This test takes a 6.2MB Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and performs about 28,000 sets of calculations that represent many of the most commonly used calculations in Excel. The measure of this test is how long it takes to refresh the sheet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lower Is Better

 

POV Ray 3.7: This program features a built-in benchmark that renders an image using Ray Tracing. The latest versions offer support for SMP (Symmetric Multiprocessing) enabling the workload to be spread across the cores for a quicker completion.

 

Higher Is Better

 

In these two tests, the MSI board does well, completing the tasks assigned faster in Excel and rendering at a higher PPS count when overclocked.

Testing:

SiSoft Sandra is a diagnostic utility and synthetic benchmarking program. Sandra allows you to view your hardware at a higher level to be more helpful. For this benchmark, I will be running a broad spectrum of tests to gauge the performance of key functions of the boards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Processor Arithmetic

 

Higher is Better

 

 

Higher is Better

 

Multi-Core Efficiency

 

Higher is Better

 

 

Lower is Better

 

Memory Bandwidth

 

Higher is Better

 

 

Higher is Better

 

Memory Latency

 

Lower is Better

 

 

Cache and Memory

 

Higher is Better

 

Power Management Efficiency

 

Higher is Better

 

The Z68A-GD80 G3 performs in the middle of the pack, with all boards performing similarly in most tasks.

Testing:

ScienceMark tests real world performance instead of using synthetic benchmarks. For this test, we ran the benchmark suite and will use the overall score for comparison.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher is Better

 

CineBench 10 is useful for testing your system, CPU and OpenGL capabilities using the software program CINEMA 4D. We will be using the default tests for this benchmark.

 

Higher is Better

 

 

Higher is Better

 

Cinebench 11.5 is the latest iteration of this popular benchmark that features a new look to the interface. This test now has a simple GPU and CPU test built in.

 

Higher is Better

 

HD Tune measures disk performance to make comparisons between drives or disk controllers.

 

Higher is Better

 

 

Higher is Better

 

 

Lower is Better

 

 

Lower is Better

 

In Sciencemark, the Z68A-GD80 G3 delivers the top score in both the stock and overclocked tests. The stock results in the Cinebench tests put it in the mean average, but it delivers a higher level of performance when overclocked.

Testing:

PCMark 7 testing provides overall system performance scores from its various benchmarks. The tests conducted are the six primary benchmarks at default settings, while comparisons are made between multiple systems.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

In the overall suite scoring, the MSI Z68A-GD80 G3 delivers the highest marks even though in two of the suite scores, it does not deliver the highest marks.

Aliens vs. Predator, developed by Rebellion Developments, is a science fiction first-person shooter and is a remake of its 1999 game. The game is based off the two popular sci fi franchises. In this game, you have the option of playing through the single player campaigns as one of three species, the Alien, the Predator, and the Human Colonial Marine. The Game uses Rebellion's Asura game engine that supports Dynamic Lighting, Shader Model 3.0, Soft Particle systems, and Physics. To test this game I will be using the Aliens vs. Predator benchmark tool with the settings listed below. All DirectX 11 features are enabled.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

Higher = Better

 

At stock speeds, the MSI board performs along the average, but again is the highest scoring board when overclocked.

Testing:

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is a first-person shooter developed by EA Digital Illusions CE (DICE) and published by Electronic Arts for Windows, PS3 and XBox. This game is part of the Battlefield franchise and uses the Frostbite 1.5 Engine, allowing for destructible environments. You can play the single player campaign or multiplayer with five different game modes. Released in March 2010, it has so far sold in excess of six million copies.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

Higher = Better

 

The performance margins between boards are not enough to be noticed in-game between these boards.

Testing:

Civilization V is a turn-based strategy game. The premise is to play as one of 18 civilizations and lead the civilization from the "dawn of man" up to the space age. This latest iteration of the Civilization series uses a new game engine and massive changes to the way the AI is used throughout the game. Civilization V is developed by Firaxis Games and is published by 2K games and was released for Windows in September of 2010. Testing will be done using actual game play with FPS measured by Fraps through a series of five turns,150 turns into the game.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

Higher = Better

 

Performing in the middle of the rest of the boards at stock speeds, the Z68A-GD80 G3 jumps to the top of the scoring when overclocked. Even so, the difference between first and worst is a mere four FPS max.

Testing:

3DMark 11 is the next installment for Futuremark in the 3DMark series with Vantage as its predecessor. The name implies that this benchmark is for Microsoft DirectX 11 and with an unintended coincidence, the name matches the upcoming date in number (which was the naming scheme to some prior versions of 3DMark nonetheless). 3DMark 11 is designed solely for DirectX 11 so Windows Vista or 7 are required along with a DirectX 11 graphics card in order to run this test. The Basic Edition has unlimited free tests on performance mode whereas Vantage only allowed for a single test run. The advanced edition costs $19.95 and unlocks nearly all of the features of the benchmark and the professional edition runs $995.00 and is mainly suited for corporate use. The new benchmark contains six tests, four of which are aimed only at graphical testing, one to test for physics handling and one to combine graphics and physics testing together. The open source Bullet Physics library is used for physics simulations and although not as mainstream as Havok or PhysX, it still seems to be a popular choice.

With the new benchmark comes two new demos that can be watched, both based on the tests but unlike the tests, these contain basic audio. The first demo is titled "Deep Sea" and have a few vessels exploring what looks to be a sunken U-Boat. The second demo is titled "High Temple" and is similar to South American tribal ruins with statues and the occasional vehicle around. The demos are simple in that they have no story, they are really just a demonstration of what the testing will be like. The vehicles have the logos of the sponsors MSI and Antec on their sides with the sponsorships helping to make the basic edition free. The four graphics tests are slight variants of the demos. I will use the three benchmark test preset levels to test the performance of each card. The presets are used as they are comparable to what can be run with the free version so that results can be compared across more than just a custom set of test parameters.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

Once again, the MSI Z68A-GD80 performs within the mean average at stock speeds and then excels when the clock speed limits are pushed.

Testing:

Rather than rehashing my original testing, the examples shown below illustrate each of the technologies and show the performance you can expect with each application scenario.

The Z68A-GD80 B3 and G3 is equipped with video outputs to make use of the capabilities of the Z68 chipset. If a discrete video card is not installed, the Intel HD 3000 graphics are capable enough for most instances where gaming is not the sole use of the system. Sure the IGP can run games at lower settings and resolutions well enough, but when you want more, the discrete card is a better option. To get the best of both worlds (lower power consumption during non-3D intensive tasks, such as video transcoding using Intel Quick Sync technology and gaming performance that the HD 3000 graphics just cannot deliver), install a separate graphics card. First off, the software is vendor agnostic so that any vendor's card can be used (NVIDIA or AMD), so you really are not locked into one brand. MSI and LucidLogix have delivered a solution in its Virtu software that allows a discrete video card to be installed in the system and used when 3D performance is needed — all through the on-board graphics port. As interesting as this seemed, one has to wonder if it will really work as advertised. And if so, what is the performance penalty going to be? To test this out, I used the HD 5870 as the discrete card and ran a couple of tests to verify the performance, or lack thereof. I used Futuremark 3DVantage using the Performance setting and Batman: Arkham Asylum with my standard game settings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Batman Arkham Asylum:


3DMark Vantage:

 

The LucidLogix software works well as long as the game is supported. I was surprised to see that 3DMark Vantage, while supported, did not show an increase over what the IGP was capable of. In Batman: Arkham Asylum, the software switched to the discrete HD 5870 when the game was launched and delivered the expected gaming performance without having to get behind the system and swap cables from one output to the other (which is a plus). There is, however, a performance hit when gaming this way. At 1280 x 1024, the average FPS when Virtu is disabled and the monitor is connected directly to the video card, was 190FPS. With the software enabled and the monitor connected to the Z68A-GD80 SL DVI port, I averaged 181 FPS, or a 9 FPS drop. On a percentage basis, this is just under a 5% hit. Not bad for convenience. Even though it works, there seems to be some issues with compatibility. Further testing showed that AvP and COD MW2 did benefit from the use of the software when connected to the motherboard.

 

SSD Caching:

Another benefit of the Z68 chipset is SSD Caching, or the ability to take a small SSD and large mechanical HDD to create what in essence is a system that uses the SDD to store frequently used data for faster access and increased drive performance. According to the MSI and Intel literature, this can be up to four times faster than a traditional drive and two times faster that a hybrid drive. By using Intel's 10.5 Rapid Storage Technology software, the solid state drive is set up as the cache drive and the HDD is set up as an accelerated drive. To test this ability, I will run PCMark Vantage's Hard Drive tests a total of five times and take the average result. For the Smart Response setup, I will run the test a total of six times with the first test thrown out.

 

When you look at the testing results, the technology works when a program is frequently accessed. The first run score was similar to the mechanical drive score and from that point on the results were in a small envelope where the performance would get no better.

Conclusion:

Not too long ago, I looked at the B3 revision of this board and found it had a lot to offer in terms of its feature set and overclocking ability. I found that the G3 revision had a little bit more to offer the end user, not so much from a performance perspective, but in the feature set that MSI wanted to update this board with to ensure that there is some future proofing going forward to get ready for the next generation of Intel processors (Ivy Bridge). Included are the main features such as the Military Class II component selection using dynamic switching Super Ferrite Chokes, Solid State tantalum-based Hi-C self-repairing capacitors, 12 phase DrMOS-based power design, PCIe 3.0, and a bump in the warranty coverage period to five years on the Z68A-GD80 and Z68A-GD65. MSI's OC Genie II is an awesome one touch overclocking system that really has to be the easiest to use of all motherboard manufacturers. While there are similar tools out there on competitor boards, I found that MSI's hardware-based utility so far is the only one I have used recently that does not require extra tweaking of the settings to get the overclock fully stable. The tuning time is put in on the back end to get it right. If you get a good chip, the sky is the limit, but with my 2600K, it needs the internal PLL voltage override enabled, so I pretty much hit the same 4200+/-MHz limit I reached on the B3 version each and every time I implemented the tool. One of the biggest things for me, other than the excellent overclocking ability, is that MSI has finally fixed the cartoonish-looking uEFI BIOS and made it look more like a performance motherboard-based BIOS with Click BIOS II. Navigation through the BIOS is much easier than what was available on the B3 revision of the Z68A-GD80 with all the options under one main page vs. four different sub headings. OC Genie II offers excellent baseline stable overclocking, but working through the BIOS and in the OS with the Core Center application will allow a much higher overclock, in this case a bump of 561MHz on my weak kneed chip to 4.961 MHz, within .005MHz of the B3 revision. The clock speed generated by OC Genie II will give the end user additional performance for no additional cost or tweak time. Just be forewarned that you need to invest in a more capable cooling solution to keep the processor from overheating, as the stock Intel cooler is only good for stock speeds, with even that being debatable.

The Z68 chipset offers additional capabilities above those delivered by a P67-equipped board. Intel Smart Response technology offers tangible disk performance improvements over using just a mechanical drive, but still falls well short of of the disk performance using a dedicated SSD for the OS. Still, a low cost 64GB or smaller SSD will drive up disk performance. LucidLogix Virtu software enhances the power savings of the platform with switchable graphics that can be used with discrete GPU cards from AMD or NVIDIA. It works by connecting the monitor to the onboard graphics port so that it uses the HD 3000 (2000) IGP of the Sandy Bridge in low overhead 2D applications and uses the video feed from the discrete GPU in demanding 3D applications or games, all while connected to the onboard port. The upside is that you only need to connect to the one onboard DVI port regardless of the usage scenario (2D vs. 3D). The down side is there is a small performance hit in 3D applications, but nothing too significant for the current high end discrete cards.

MSI has not let up with this offering and continues to improve the product and brand for its consumers. You get all the latest technology to future proof your build (as much as is possible), a huge BIOS upgrade, a killer five year warranty, Military spec parts, and a board that overclocks with the best of them on the market, all for a $10 premium over the B3 board. Can you say winner?

 

Pros:

 

Cons: