MSI Z68A-GD80 Reviewccokeman -
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The Z68A-GD80 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 trans coding 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 their 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 really will 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 of it. I used Futuremark 3DVantage using the Performance setting and Batman Arkham Asylum with my standard game settings.
Batman Arkham Asylum:
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, I averaged 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.
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 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 setup as the cache drive and the HDD is setup as an accelerated drive. To test this ability I will run PCMark Vantages 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.