MSI Z68A-GD80 Reviewccokeman - May 10, 2011
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The GD-80 series boards from MSI are at the top end of the product stack and come fully loaded with all the good parts and technologies. The Z68A-GD80 is a full ATX motherboard that is based off of and carries all of the Z68 chipset capabilities such as SSD caching and Quick sync, video outputs and overclocking on a top end board instead of the lower end. This is more of a combination of H67 and P67 feature sets so you get the best of both worlds. MSI's Military Class II components are used throughout the board for increased reliability and stability. The board uses a blue, black and silver theme as in the P67 line-up. The back side of the PCB has the base of the CPU retention mechanism made by LOTES. The heat sink package is held on by screws instead of push pins.
Looking at the I/O ports, the difference between a Z68 and P67 motherboard are obvious with the inclusion of the SL-DVI and HDMI outputs. The Single Link DVI port means a 30 inch monitor cannot be used without being stuck at a resolution of 1280 x 800. To reach the supported 1920 x 1080, you have to use a monitor with a maximum resolution of 1920. This is not a board problem but the build-out on the Intel HD 3000 graphics. From left to right are a PS/2 port for use with a mouse or keyboard, an Optical S/PDIF output, Clear CMOS button, a single IEEE 1394 port, 4x USB 2.0 ports, 1 eSATA port, 2 NEC controlled USB 3.0 Supercharger ready ports, Dual Realtek controlled GB LAN ports and the Realtek HD eight channel audio. Expansion slots options are three 16x PCIe slots that support both NVIDIA SLI and AMD CrossfireX multi-GPU solutions, 2 PCIe 1x slots and two PCI slots. When all three 16x slots are populated, some onboard connectivity is lost due to the limitation on PCIe lanes to the chipset. When two 16x slots are populated, they run at 8x x 8x. The CMOS battery is located just above the top PCIe 16x slot.
The bottom edge of the Z68A-GD80 contains a wealth of connectivity as well as added functionality. Left to right are the front audio header, S/PDIF output, IEEE 1394 header, Power, Reset and OC Genie buttons, NEC controlled USB 3.0 header supporting two ports for a total of four on board, three USB 2.0 headers for a total of ten on board with the last header being for the front panel switch and LED connections. The OC Genie button allows the end user to overclock with just a push of a button and literally takes a second to do. Push the button and sit back. This button is lit when the feature is activated and power is supplied to the motherboard so there is no question as to whether it is enabled or disabled.
Starting up the right side of the Z68A-GD80 is the balance of the front panel connections with this header supporting a chassis speaker. The single SATA 6Gb/s port is Marvell 88SE9128 controlled while the balance of the SATA ports are controlled by the Z68 chipset. Two (white) SATA 6Gb/s ports and four SATA 3Gb/s ports that support RAID 0,1, 5,10. Just up from the SATA ports are a pair of fan headers out of the total of five on board. The dual BIOS chips are between and behind the single SATA 6Gb/s port. The 24pin ATX power connector, V-Check points and four DIMM slots that support DDR3 2133,1600,1333,1066 up to 32GB max but realistically with densities available today, 16GB is the current maximum using 4GB modules. Just to the right of the power connection are a pair of Super Ferrite chokes. The V-Check points allow a multimeter to be used to check and verify voltages to key components including VCCP, CPU VTT, CPU graphics, VCC DDR and PCH.
Along the top of the PCB there is not a lot to view other than one of the heat sinks for the VRM circuit and the 8 pin auxiliary power connection for the CPU. The one item that holds interest are the CPU phase LEDs that show how many phases are enabled at one time.
Power is supplied to the board through three different connection points, 24 pin ATX on the right hand side of the board, the 8 pin 12v power source at the top behind the I/O ports and a 6 pin PCIe connection just above the top 1x PCIe slot that supplies power to the installed graphics cards.
The heat sink package is fairly small on the Z68A-GD80 but is effective at removing the heat from the DrMOS components and chipset underneath when the CPU is under load. Around the socket are a pair of heat sinks that are interconnected by a heat pipe. The chipset heat sink is flat with large fins to dissipate the thermal load and is oriented to capture airflow from a front mounted case fan to help with cooling. The gray and blue color scheme compliments the board's design.
The LGA 1155 CPU socket uses a LOTES retention mechanism in black chrome. A much better looking solution than a steel colored latch. Around the CPU socket are the majority of Military Class II parts that MSI uses to give the end user a more stable and reliable platform for the long term. A twelve phase power circuit is used on the Z68A-GD80. Under the heat sinks are the DrMOS (Driver Mosfets) of the VRM circuit that prove to be able to handle 2x the current of traditional designs with up to 96% efficiency. Visible around the socket are the Dynamic Power Switching Super Ferrite chokes that offer a 30% increase in current capacity and 10% increase in efficiency as well as the Tantalum core flat capacitors that have 15x less current leakage. These low profile capacitors also end up creating a nice bit of room around the socket for large cooling solutions. Both my NH-U12P and water cooling kits fit without a problem.
This board seems to show plenty of promise as a successor to the P67 chipset offering everything in one package. But the board is not the only part of the package. Let's take a look at some of the included apps from MSI.