Z68 Motherboard Roundup Part 2

gotdamojo06 - 2011-10-12 14:56:34 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: gotdamojo06   
Reviewed on: December 19, 2011
Price: Sapphire Pure Platinum Z68 - TBA
Price: Gigabyte Z68XP-UD4 - $194.99
Price: Gigabyte G1 Sniper 2 - $339.99

Introduction:

Have you been looking at getting a new motherboard for your current setup? Maybe you are interested in getting into a new setup but have not quite made up your mind. With the holiday season right around the corner, there is always the possibility of a few new components being gifted to you or purchased with some spare gift cash. Well if you are looking into the Socket 1155 arena, OCC has three new boards for you to take a look at in the second part of the Z68 Motherboard Roundup. We all know that there are many new features that Z68 brings to the table over the previous P67 Chipset. No other component is more important than choosing the proper motherboard for your setup. This component is going to determine exactly what types of graphics cards you can grab or the memory type, speeds, and capacities. The HDD choices that you make should be based on what HDD features your motherboard can offer such as Gigabyte's XHDD feature or the allowance for up to a 3TB HDD as a bootable storage device with the Z68 chipset. Heck, you may pass up on a motherboard based on the overclockability or features that it may carry with it. With that said, I am interested to see exactly how these boards do compare to some of the other boards that are out on the market.

 

 

Closer Look:

A few months ago we look at four other Z68 boards which you can see here. This Z68 roundup is going to have a total of three new motherboards going head to head to see which one of them can out perform the others. In this roundup, the three motherboards we will be looking at, include the Sapphire Pure Platinum Z68, the Gigabyte Z68XP-UD4, and the Gigabyte G1 Sniper 2. Each one of these boards have unique features that separate them from each other and the rest of the pack. What we are going to do here is take a close look at all three of the boards to see exactly how each one of them perform. Looking at the Sapphire Pure Platinum Z68, you are going to be getting quite a nice feature list, such as the Diamond Chokes, onboard Intel HD Graphics, USB 3.0, onboard Diagnostics/CPU Temperature LED, Bluetooth, as well as high quality and durable film solid capacitors that provide low ESR and high heat resistance. The two Gigabyte boards are going to offer you the signature Gigabyte Ultra Durable 3 lineup, which include Japanese Solid Capacitors, Lower RDS(on) MOSFET, Ferrite Core Chokes, Dual CPU Power, DualBIOS that supports 3TB HDDs, a double thick Copper PCB for increased durability, and USB/SATA 3.0 support.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What exactly does Intel's Z68 Express chipset offer? First, it offers support for the 2nd generation Intel Core processor family with Intel's Turbo Boost Technology 2.0. The Intel Z68 Express chipset is the first product to enable performance tuning with access to the built-in visual features of 2nd generation Intel® Core™ processor family. You are also going to get Intel's Rapid Storage Technology 10.5, which is going to allow you to have a RAID 0, 5, and 10 array, as well as have support for RAID arrays that are larger than 2.2TB. With Intel's Rapid Storage Technology 10.5 you will also be able to have support for eSATA devices that can reach up to 3Gb/s. Intel's Smart Response Technology is also included in the Z68 chipset, which is going to implement storage I/O caching to provide faster response times for tasks such as system boot and application start up. Intel Rapid Recover Technology is also included, which is their latest data protection technology that provides a recovery point that can be used to quickly recover a system should one of your hard drives fail or there is data corruption. Finally, you are going to have SATA 6Gb/s support with the Z68 chipset. What more could you want?

 

 

Now that we know exactly what boards are going to be compared in this roundup, let's take a nice close look at all three of them to see what each board offers.

Closer Look:

The Sapphire Pure Platinum Z68 arrived in a box similar to other motherboards in the Platinum series. As with the rest of these boards, the Sapphire Pure Platinum Z68's box used a silver and black color scheme. Directly in the the center of the box is a silver and black shield which holds the Pure Platinum Logo. Flipping the box over reveals a detailed list of the motherboards specifications and features.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Removing the outer box and then opening the inner box reveals the Sapphire Pure Platinum Z68's included accessories. You can then lift up the cardboard holding these accessories to get your first glimpse of the motherboards itself, which is sitting nice and snug in an anti static bag.

 

 

As far as accessories go, the Sapphire Pure Platinum Z68 came with everything you'll need. This includes five SATA cables, an I/O shield, a Driver CD, and a users guide.

 

 

Looking at the Sapphire Pure Platinum Z68 motherboard as a whole, it appears to have an average layout. All of the board's SATA connectors are right angled and the power connectors appear to be nice and close to the edge of the board. Populating the first two PCIe X 16 slots will cause you to lose two PCI slots, and populating the third PCIe X 16 slot will interfere with the boards internal power and reset switches. Flipping the board over reveals a fairly empty PCB, but we can see that the boards heat spreaders are attached via screws, rather than push pins.

 

 

Speaking of the boards internal switches, let's take a closer look at what Sapphire has made available for you. They have given the user a Clear CMOS switch, a power switch, a reset switch, and a BIOS select switch. Unfortunately, this Sapphire motherboard is still using AMI BIOS, as opposed to EFI BIOS like many of the newer motherboards we've looked at. Located directly under the BIOS switch is an internal molex connector to help spread power across the PCIe slots.

 

 

If your computer case has a lot of USB connectors, nothing is worse than owning a motherboard that doesn't have enough internal USB headers. The Sapphire Pure Platinum Z68, with a total of four USB headers, probably won't be one of these boards! Along with the four USB headers you'll also be able to utilize a total of eight SATA connectors, four of which are SATA III connectors. Also scattered around the motherboard is a decent amount of case fan headers.

 

 

As far as powering the board goes the Sapphire Pure Platinum Z68 uses the standard 24pin main power connector and a single 8pin auxiliary power connector. Located directly behind the main 24Pin connector, and a fair distance away from the socket, are the board's DIMM slots. As you should have guessed, the Sapphire Pure Platinum Z68 utilizes four DDR3 DIMM slots, which support up to 1600+Mhz modules.

 

 

 

Before we take a look at the Sapphire Pure Platinum Z68's socket notice the massive heat spreader covering the board's power phase. Sapphire made sure to only use high quality components when designing this motherboard, which includes their Sapphire Diamond Black Chokes. Moving on to the board's Z68 chipset, we can see that it is cooled by the same heatspreader found on other Platinum motherboards. Last but not least, the motherboard utilizes a LOTES 1155 socket.

 

 

 

Now that we have taken a look at the Sapphire Pure Platinum Z68, let's move on to some of the other boards in our roundup.

Closer Look:

 

When you take a look at the packaging for the Gigabyte Z68XP-UD4, the first thing that you are going to notice is that the front is very busy. Gigabyte has printed a whole bunch of information on the front to show off the features that this board has. The top right hand corner is where you will find the Gigabyte logo printed. Along the top edge, you will find the four "Ultra" features of the board which happen to be Cool, Durable, Efficient, and Performance. In the top left hand corner, you will find that the board does support the Intel "K" series processors for unlocked multipliers. Towards the center, you are going to see that the Gigabyte Z68XP-UD4 does support Touch BIOS, which is a Hybrid EFI Technology, allowing you to use a touch screen monitor to interact with the BIOS. Along the bottom edge, you are going to find a few of the features of the motherboard such as 16 Phase Power, SATA 3.0, USB 3.0, Ferrite Core Chokes, 50,000 hour rated Japanese solid caps. The Gigabyte Z68XP-UD4 also does support Intel Smart Response Technology. When you flip the package over to the back, you are going to see that there is a nice picture of the motherboard with all of the main features listed and shown where they actually are located on the motherboard. Gigabyte does go in more detail and explain what the main features listed on the front are and how they are beneficial to you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After you get the package opened up, you are going to find all of the accessories that come with the Gigabyte Z68XP-UD4 sitting on top of the partition that keeps the motherboard in place during transportation. Once you pull all the accessories off to the side, you are going to see that you get a few pieces of documentation such as the User Manual, Drivers CD, a warning document that lets you know it is a 1155 motherboard and not a 1156 board, as well as a Intel Smart Response Technology Installation Guide. After you remove the cardboard that keeps the motherboard in place, you are going to get the first glimpse at the Gigabyte Z68XP-UD4, which is wrapped up in an anti-static bag to keep it protected.

  

 

Looking at the accessories Gigabyte has included, you are going to see a total of four SATA cables, two case badges, a single 2-Way SLI bridge connector, and the I/O Shield. When you look at the shield closer, you will see that Gigabyte has loaded the board up with a whole bunch of rear I/O interfaces that we will look at in a short while.

 

 

Looking at the motherboard outside of the anti-static bag from an overview, you are going to see that the board has a very elegant look to it. All of the components on the board have a black and dark grey color scheme to go along with the PCB actually being colored black. The PCB of the Gigabyte Z68XP-UD4 is a 2x thick copper PCB, which is going to help keep it lasting longer. When you look at the rear I/O panel on the motherboard, you are going to see you are going to find 7x USB 2.0/1.1 ports, a single PS/2 Keyboard/Mouse port, an Optical S/PDIF Out Connector, a Coaxial S/PDIF Out Connector,1x IEEE 1394a port, eSATA, USB Combo Connector, eSATA 6Gb/s Connector, 2x USB 3.0/2.0 Ports, an HDMI port, an RJ-45 LAN port, along with the 6 audio out connectors. Looking at the expansion slots that are installed on the Gigabyte Z68XP-UD4, you are going to see (from left to right) a PCI-E x16, two PCI-E x1, PCI-E x8, followed by two PCI slots.

 

 

 

Along the bottom edge of the board, you will find the front panel case motherboard headers to hook up the ports that may or may not be on your chassis of choice. The Gigabyte Z68XP-UD4 supports front audio, IEEE 1394a, USB, as well as all of your buttons. When you turn the corner and start up on the back edge of the motherboard, you are going to find all of the SATA ports for installing hard drives and optical drives. The four black ports are your typical SATA 3Gb/s connectors, while the two white ports are going to be your SATA 6Gb/s connectors. All six of those connectors are controlled by the Intel Z68 Chipset. The two grey ports are still going to be SATA 6Gb/s connectors, however these two are going to be controlled by the Marvell 88SE9172 chip installed on the motherboard. All around the board you are going to find a total of four fan headers, two of which are 3-pins, while the other two are going to be 4-pin to allow for the PWM features.

 

 

The Gigabyte Z68XP-UD4 has only two sources of power that it requires, these come from the 24-pin and the 8-pin power adapters from your power supply. Along the back edge is where you are going to find the 24-pin and the 8-pin connector is going to be behind the rear I/O panel. On the Intel Z68 chipset with the socket 1155 chips, you are only allowed for dual channel memory. Looking at the slots, you are going to notice that all four are the same color, which may make installing only two sticks a little tricky to get them in the channel you want them to be in. Channel A are slots 2 and 4 (the two closest to the CPU Socket); while Channel B are slots 1 and 3.

 

 

 

Looking at the heatsinks that Gigabyte put on the Z68XP-UD4 board, you can see that there is a taller design for the MOSFETs, chokes, and capacitors around the CPU socket to keep them cool. The two heatsinks around the CPU Socket are both connected with a heatpipe to help evenly load the heatsinks with the heat coming from these components, so some don't break down faster than the others. When you look at the Intel Z68 Chipset, you are going to see that there is a large and flat grey heatsink that sits on top of it.

 

 

 

Surrounding the Intel 1155 socket, you are going to find a few capacitors, along with the four holes to mount the CPU cooler of your choice. There are no high-rising components around the socket, which will help allow for wider coolers that may sit a little lower than usual with enough clearance.

 

Now that we have taken a look at the Gigabyte Z68XP-UD4, it's time to look at the Gigabyte G1 Sniper 2.

Closer Look:

While the lower classification boards do well in their own right, Gigabyte has targeted their G1 series of motherboards right at the large contingent of FPS gamers. One would think PC gaming is dead, but the fact that motherboard and video card companies keep bringing these flashy targeted products to fruition means that the myths most likely are not true. The G1 Assassin was the first of these boards to see the light of day taking care of the X58 segment along with the G1 Sniper. Now the G1 Sniper 2 is following suit with its rich feature set and good looks, add in some features for the gamer and it just gets better. The packaging has a military theme to it in the current desert warfare camouflage that we see everywhere these days. The front panel has the G1 Killer logo, Creative X-FI, and Killer E2100 logos. Along the bottom features include readiness for PCIe and Intel 22nm IvyBridge processors. The back panel illustrates just about every single feature of the G1.Sniper 2 motherboard. The "Super" features include Super "Speed" with the Bigfoot Networks E2100 with 1 GB of DDR memory on board, SATA 6Gbps, and USB 3.0. Super Hearing features the inclusion of Creatives top of the line audio processor, the 20K2 that supports EAX AHD 5.0, copper shielding around the audio components, built in headphone amp, and Nichicon Audio capacitors. Super Shield comes in the form of heat pipe based board cooling solution. Super Sight includes support for 2Way SLI and CrossfireX multi GPU video setups, with future support for PCIe 3.0. The rest of the Z68 features include Smart Response technology, Intel Quick Sync, and Switchable graphics. The back panel goes into detail on each of these features.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inside the camouflage theme continues. Opening the package further, shows the G1.Sniper 2 is well packaged and a window shows off the board. Underneath the board is the box containing the accessory bundle that is by all standards fairly substantial.

 

 

 

The bundle of accessories includes all of the documentation, a driver and software disk, a pack of stickers, and a poster. The hardware piece of the bundle includes a front bay device with USB 3.0 connectivity and an OC button to overclock the system on the fly, the IO shield, SLI bridge connection, SATA cables, and the screws to mount the bay device.

 

 

 

Finally we get to the motherboard to see just what Gigabyte has to offer. The G1.Sniper 2 is built around the Intel Z68 chipset for use with Intel Second Generation Core series Socket 1155 Sandy Bridge processors including the Intel Core i7 2600K. This board supports Intel's upcoming 22nm Ivy Bridge processors and PCIe 3.0 connectivity. The feature set is outstanding and is a point of distinction in this crowded segment. The black PCB and green accents allow it to stand out from the crowd. The unique "Locked and Loaded" heat sink package spans the entire board and has a chipset heat sink that fits the gaming look. The back side of the PCB is uneventful with the Foxconn socket back plate and the screws that hold the heat sink package in place. This board is built with Gigabytes Ultra Durable 3 technology, that uses dual 2oz copper layers for added cooling and improved temperature stability, 50% lower impedance, and improved overclocking margins.

 

 

I/O connectivity is there and should allow a large percentage of the peripherals to get connected on the back end of the chassis. From the left is a P/S2 port that can be used with either a keyboard or mouse, two of the seven USB 2.0 ports, the CPU OC button for a quick boost on the fly, two more USB 2.0 ports over the top of an HDMI port that supports up to a 1920x1200 resolution, a USB 2.0 and eSATA/USB 2.0 combo port, a pair of USB 3.0 ports, 2 more USB 2.0 ports, the RJ-45 GB LAN port connected to the E2100 Bigfoot Killer Nic, and last the Audio jacks connected to the Creative X-Fi based sound solution. Expansion capabilities include a pair of 1x PCIe slots, a pair of PCI 2.0 slots and two PCIe 16x slots that run at 16x with a single card installed and 8x each when in SLI or CrossfireX mode.

 

 

In front of the expansion slots, are the added features that make this board attractive to gamers, like the Creative X-Fi sound and the Bigfoot E2100 Killer Nic. Up front are the copper shielded Nichicon MUSE ES and and MW series Bi Polarized audio capacitors for Each channel. Inside the ring of capacitors, is the amp for the front panel headphone connection that is able to drive 150 ohm loads. Creative's upscale CA20K2-2AG HF audio processor is used and support Dolby DTS and Digital Live. Next to the Audio Processor is 64MB Xram. The Bigfoot E2100 Killer Nic is used and has 1GB of DDR2 memory, along with a dedicated NPU to help offload the network traffic from the CPU to allow it to perform other tasks.

 

 

Along the bottom of the PCB, there is plenty of added connectivity. From the left are the front panel audio header, SPDI/f output, a fan header, three front panel USB headers(One of which supports On/Off Charge), Serial port, TPM port, front panel connections, OC button header, and a fan header to round out the bottom of the PCB. Pretty well loaded, but there are no power, reset buttons, or a Debug LED usually seen on the bottom of the board. Just above the front panel header, are the pair of BIOS chips that are parts of Gigabyte's Dual BIOS feature that uses two physical ROM chips that act to recover from a corrupted BIOS. During my overclocking trial with this board, I had the opportunity to watch this in action and found it recovered well.

 

 

Much like just about all of the motherboards in use today, the SATA connectivity package falls to the lower right hand side of the PCB. There are a total of 7 SATA ports, Two SATA 3GB/s(Black) handled by the Intel Z68 chipset, Two SATA 6GB/s ports(White) controlled by the Chipset, a single eSATA port through the Intel chipset, and a pair of SATA 6GB/s ports controlled by a Marvell 88SE9172 chip. RAID 0/1 is supported on the Marvell device and RAID 0/1/5/10 is supported by the Intel controlled ports. Above the top SATA port is the USB 3.0 header. The orientation of this header will not cause interference issues with a video card, as it sits above the level of the top 16x PCIe port. Further up is the 24 pin ATX power connection, a fan header, and the four 1.5v DDR3 Dimm slots. The G1.Sniper 2 supports DDR3 memory in capacities up to 32GB at speeds of DDR3 2133/1866/1600/1333/1066 with or without XMP profiles. Next to the top of the right hand Dimm slot, are a series of phase LED's that show the how many Power phases are in action at any given time.

 

 

Across the top of the board there is not a lot to speak about. The large heat sink over the VRM circuit dominates the view, while over to the right hand side are the 8 pin auxiliary CPU power connection and a pair of fan headers. Each of the five fan headers are "Smart Fan" headers that each have their own individual thermal sensors and can be controlled through the BIOS or within Easy Tune 6.

 

 

The socket area is a little crowded, with the large volume of surface mount components and the heat sink package. Gigabytes G1.Sniper 2 is built to use Intel's Second Generation Core processors in the LGA socket 1155 package. A 12 phase power circuit is used and is part of Gigabytes Ultra Durable 3 design. Ferrite core chokes, Solid capacitors, and Low RDS on Mosfets complete the package.

 

The heat sink package on the G1.Sniper 2 is fully able to handle the load of the components hiding underneath each of them. They are part of the Locked and Loaded design that mimics the look of a rifle barrel housing on some of today's weapons used by the military. The sink over the P67 PCH looks like a magazine with a bullet showing at the top, falling in line with the "Loaded" part of the design element. Gigabyte was careful to avoid any impropriety with a warning on the bottom of the clip that it is not real. Around the socket, the rest of the package is functional and completes the look. The main sink has a series of green LED lights for added effect.

 

 

 

With the G1.Sniper 2 you get a full featured board that has a distinct target market and does not miss the mark. It has features that the target market uses integrated into the PCB, freeing up the space normally used by these product to be used with a pair of high end video cards. Lets see how well it performs by comparison.

Closer Look:

 

When entering the Sapphire Pure Platinum Z68's BIOS, the first screen you'll encounter is the Main screen. Here you'll be able to do all the basics like view system information or change the date and time. Next up is the Performance tab, here you'll be able to adjust CPU/GPU Configuration, Memory Configuration, and Voltage Configuration. Entering the CPU/GPU Configuration will bring you to another menu, where you'll have options to both overclock the integrated GPU as well as the CPU. Similarly, the Memory Configuration menu will give you options that will allow you to overclock your memory. The trend continues with the Voltage Configuration menu and here you'll be able to increase all the voltages needed to properly overclock your hardware!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moving on to the Advanced tab, you will be able to change a multitude of system settings. Moving into the PCI Subsystems menu will allow you to change the..., well PCI settings. Similarly, the ACPI Settings menu will allow you to change ACPI settings. Moving on to the CPU configuration menu, is where you'll be able to enable/disable power savings features as well as hyperthreading, and CPU cores. Following our trend, the SATA Configuration menu will allow you to configure each of the boards SATA ports. Moving on from that, we get to USB and I/O Configuration, each of which will allow you to change settings for the respective categories. After that, we can move on to the H/W monitor. Here you'll be able to view important system temperatures, fan speeds, and voltages.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next up, let's move on to the Chipset tab. Here you'll be able to change settings for what would be the North and South bridge. Under the North Bridge menu you'll be able to adjust settings for the integrated graphics. The South Bridge menu will allow you to enable/disable the High Precision Timer. The Chipset tab is followed by the Boot tab. here you'll be able to change boot options, as well as selecting which device to boot from.

 

 

 

Last but not least, we have the Security and Save and Exit tabs. The Security Tab will allow you to set a BIOS password, while the Save and Exit tab will let you save your changes, create defaults, or exit without saving.

 

 

Now let's move on to some of the other board's BIOS!

Closer Look:

Having gotten used to almost a universal adoption of the uEFI BIOS interface for the Socket 1155 product stack from a variety of manufacturers, it was like going back old school with Gigabyte's line up including the Z68XP-UD4 and the G1.Sniper 2. A Hybrid uEFI BIOS is used but a touch screen monitor is required to enjoy that feature. What we are left with is an Award BIOS (version F4) that is like a trip down memory lane. The traditional Gigabyte layout is used. If you are familiar with it great, if not, it's not to hard to find your way through it. Gigabyte uses a Dual BIOS chip arrangement to provide redundancy, in case a BIOS file is corrupted during a flash or some spirited overclocking. I found it works well during my overclocking tests.

M.I.T.

This section is where the majority of the work will be done when overclocking the Gigabyte boards. When you first go into this section there are five sub menus that take care of basic settings, as well as the voltages, frequencies, and memory timings. A top level look at the current settings shows at the bottom of the screen, providing information on the BIOS revision and where the current clock speeds, temperatures, and voltages are reading. The Current Status tab shows in more detail the information on the main window. Under the Advanced Frequency setting tab are the controls for the clock multiplier, memory ratio, bclock setting, and CPU specific adjustment. A sub menu allows the Turbo ratios, power states, and CPU specific adjustments to be tweaked.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Advanced Memory section allows the manipulation of all of the memory specific functionality including enabling Intel XMP profiles, setting the memory ratio and sub timings through the Performance Enhance function and setting the timings manually

 

 

Advanced Voltage control is where the voltages that run the board are and allow for tweaking to reach the height of the processor's overclocking margins. All of the pertinent voltages are here. Gigabyte uses a 10 step Load Line calibration scale, for a more granular approach to using this function.

 

 

 

Standard CMOS Features:

This section has little to offer but is where the system time and date are set, the installed drives are shown, as well as a look at the amount of system memory installed is shown.

 

 

Advanced BIOS Features:

This section allows the end user to set the drive boot order, GPU order, how the board cycles the ports, the HDD delay, and whether or not the Boot screen is shown.

 

 

Integrated Peripherals:

In this section all of the onboard devices can be enabled and disabled including the Audio, LAN, and USB controllers. Gigabytes eTreme Hard drive tool can be enabled, as well as the operation mode of the installed SATA devices.

 

 

Power Management:

This section deals with the power saving and resume from hibernation modes, as well as how the interface works. Power on by Mouse or Keyboard are also supported.

 

 

PC Health Status:

As the heading suggests, this is where the temperatures and voltages can be checked. Fan failure and temperature alarms can be set to alert based on user set values. Smart fan control can be enabled to keep the energy consumption down and cycle the fans as needed to maintain targeted temperatures.

 

 

The majority of the rest of the tabs are one trick ponies doing exactly what they imply. Setting the Fail Safe defaults and Optimized defaults allow for an easy recovery with bad settings. Setting up passwords to limit BIOS access at both the supervisor and user level are supported as well as the Save and Exit and Exit without saving functions.

 

While I did like my trip down memory lane, the fact is that a uEFI BIOS is more engaging at this point. The simplicity of an older BIOS has its allure, but seems dated. One thing I found lacking, was that I could not find a way to save a profile for my overclocked settings. The importance of having a good solid base setup to work from after a failed boot is something that can't be overstated. With the Gigabyte's BIOS, it just was not there for use. After each CMOS clear I had to start from scratch. Again a trip down memory lane, a memory best left in the past.

Closer Look:

 

Sapphire TriXX for MB:

With the Sapphire Pure Platinum Z68 motherborad, the overclocking utility that comes with it is Sapphire's TriXX for MB. This piece of software is going to allow you to easily overclock your system from inside of the Windows Operating System. Once you open up the Sapphire TriXX software, you are going to see a quite impressive list of information on the screen. In the upper let hand corner of the application window, you are going to find the motherboard that you are currently working with, as well as the CPU listed, with the CPUID information printed below it. You are also going to get the current Bclk and multiplier listed with the current CPU speed presented in a MHz form. The upper right hand corner is where you are going to be able to adjust the Bclk Frequency on a slider, your current Bclk is listed to the right of the slider. Inside of the Sapphire TriXX application, you are going to be able to not only adjust the Bclk, but also some of the more important voltages in your system such as the CPU vCore, DIMM Voltage, CPU VTT, CPU PLL, and your CPU VSA, which is all done in the Voltages section. In the Monitoring section, you are going to be able to view the status of quite a few different important aspects of your system's current state. You are going to get the current CPU, Power, Chassis, and fourth fan speeds, along with the CPU, VREG, and System Temperatures. You are also going to get the vCore, CPU VTT, PCH vCore, VDIMM, +5V, +12V, VSB3V, and VBAT current voltages listed out for you. You will notice that on the desktop you are also going to get a nice little widget that lists out the current status of the more important temperatures, as well as your fan speeds and current voltages.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gigabyte has a full suite of utilities for use with their boards from BIOS flashing tools to Energy saving tools including Dynamic Energy Saver, Tweaking tools including Easy Tune 6, Smart 6 that includes another feature set with Smart BIOS, Smart Recovery,Smart Time lock, and more. The Smart features are password locked to keep out the kids or others. On the G1.Sniper 2 there are a few other features not seen on the UD4 that we will look at. Bigfoot's E2100 software package and Creative's software suite for the integrated X-Fi sound solution.

 

@BIOS:

When you first open up Gigabyte's @BIOS, you are going to see a small little application window sitting in the center of your screen. On this screen, you are going to be able to see the current motherboard that is installed in your system, the BIOS type, the Flash Memory Size, as well as the BIOS Vendor. On the right hand side of the window, you have a total of three different BIOS editing options; you can Update BIOS from the Gigabyte Server, Update BIOS from File, and Save Current BIOS to File. If you choose to update from the server, you just need to select which server to look for an update on. When updating from a file, all you need to do is to navigate to the BIOS file you wish to flash to. Finally if you are saving the current BIOS version to your computer, just point @BIOS to where you want the file to be saved on your hard drive and the application will do the rest.

 

 

 

EnergySaver2:

When you first open up Gigabyte's EnergySaver2, the application is going to be off and you are going to see exactly how many watts your CPU is currently using. This can be an eye opener, as you may not really think your CPU is drawing that many watts just sitting there not doing anything. When you click the large Dynamic Energy Saver 2 Logo in the top right hand side of the application, the whole window will light up brighter and start to go to work. You can see that once I hit the button my CPU Power drops from 3.672 watts all the way down to 0.095 watts. Along the bottom section of the application, you can see exactly what features are currently being used to help save power. The first Power Saving Level is going to focus on the Smart Fan and CPU power settings. The second Power Saving Level is going to add the VGA and HDDs to your list of devices. Finally, the Chipset and Memory will be under the third Power Saving Level. If you click into the Advanced button, you get a pop-up that shows you all the different settings that you can change inside the ES2 application for each of the different components; CPU, VGA, Memory, Chipset, HDD, and Smart Fan.

 

 

 

EasyTune6:

The EasyTune6 application is Gigabyte's Windows application that allows you to easily overclock your system. With the Quick Boost screen, you are going to have three pre-set buttons that will adjust your CPU speeds based on the multiplier. The Green "1" button is going to set your multiplier to 37x resulting in 3.70GHz, the Yellow "2" button is going to raise your CPU speeds up to 3.90GHz, while the Red "3" button brings your CPU multiplier up to 42x giving you 4.20GHz on your CPU. If you click into the Easy mode, you are going to be able to adjust your base clock, which will change exactly what the CPU speeds are going to be set at by the button pushes on the main screen. Under the Advanced Mode, you are going to be able to change your Memory speeds. When you click under the Ratio tab, you are going to be able to adjust the "C" state Ratio settings. This is going to adjust your Turbo level multipliers that are used based on the CPU Load when Intel's TurboBoost is enabled. Under the Voltage tab, you are going to be able to adjust just about any voltage that you would need to, while you are inside of the Windows environment, to fine tune your overclock.

 

 

 

Under the main tab index, when you select the CPU tab, you are going to get a screen that looks very similar to the main CPU-Z screen, listing off all the information about your current CPU and settings it has set to it. When you go to the Memory tab, you are going to get a screen that looks again very similar to the memory tab under CPU-Z, giving you all the information about the memory sticks installed in your motherboard. Here you can also see a Memory Timings Table. The Graphics tab is where you are going to be able to overclock your GPU and graphics card memory speeds. You can also adjust the Onboard Graphics Core Frequency under the Graphics tab. Here you can also monitor the GPU temperature. The Smart tab is where you adjust the fan speed settings based on the temperature that the motherboard is sending to the fans hooked up to the PWM 4-pin headers on the board. On the HW Monitor tab you are going to see a the CPU, DRAM, +3.3V, +5V, and +12V current status listed out on one real-time graph.

 

 

 

Smart6:

The final generic Gigabyte Utility is Smart6. This application actually houses six smaller applications all inside of one application. You are going to have access to SMART QuickBoot, SMART QuickBoost, SMART Recovery2, SMART DualBIOS, SMART Recorder, and SMART TimeLock. The SMART QuickBoot application is where you are going to be able to adjust the BIOS QuickBoot and OS QuickBoot settings (enabled or disabled). The SMART Quick Boost application is going to give you an easy one click overclocking solution for your CPU speed. Under SMART Recovery2, you are going to be able to set backup images of your computer as well as recover from these backups.

 

 

 

The SMART DualBIOS application is going to be able to hold your passwords and important dates as well as set alarm reminders for these dates/times. The SMART Recorder application is going to allow you to record the dates and times that the system was turned on and what time it was powered down. You are also going to be able to monitor what time a "flagged" file location was accessed. So if you have important data that you don't want anyone to see or want to know when someone looks at this information, you can do so with the File Monitor. The final appliation is the Smart TimeLock, which is a nice feature if you have kids that you want to be locked out of the computer during certain times of the day. This application will allow Weekday and Weekend time locks and the maximum amount of time the user can be on the computer. You can also set the Non-Use Time for both the Weekday and Weekend time frames to the times you want your kids to be in bed or the times you don't want the computer to be in use.

 

 

 

Bigfoot Networks E2100 Killer Network Manager:

This software suite is used to setup the operating parameters of the e2100 networking solution onboard the G1.Sniper 2. The Overview section shows a listing of the installed hardware and the network status. PC Monitor section monitors the functions of the installed hardware. Under Applications the user can configure how the applications interface through the e2100. Under Network the operating parameters of the controller can be configured. The Advanced section allows the user to further define the parameters.

 

 

 

Creative Software Suite:

Creative's Sound Blaster software suite is useful for setting up listening modes and the ability to tailor the sound quality to the end users tastes. There are a total of six tabs, each with a distinct responsibility and function.

 

 

 

 

The software suite available from Gigabyte offers flexibility in tweaking the performance and energy savings features of the boards. Added software is used to configure the special hardware found on the G1.Sniper 2.

Specifications:

 

 

 
Sapphire Pure Platinum Z68
Gigabyte Z68XP-UD4
Gigabyte G1 Sniper 2
CPU
Support Intel LGA1155: Intel Core i7 /i5 / i3 series processors
Support for Intel® Core™ i7 processors/Intel® Core™ i5 processors/ Intel® Core™ i3 processors/Intel® Pentium® processors/Intel® Celeron® processors in the LGA1155 package
BIOS
AMI BIOS, 16Mb Flash ROM
2 x 32 Mbit flash
Use of licensed AWARD BIOS
Support for DualBIOS™
PnP 1.0a, DMI 2.0, SM BIOS 2.4, ACPI 1.0b
Memory
4 slots 240-pin DDR3 800/1066/1333/1600+ non-ECC ,un-buffered memory
16 GB Max.
4 x 1.5V DDR3 DIMM sockets supporting up to 32 GB of system memory
Dual channel memory architecture
Support for DDR3 2133/1866/1600/1333/1066 MHz memory modules
Support for non-ECC memory modules
Support for Extreme Memory Profile (XMP) memory modules
Graphics
Intel® HD Graphics
1 x HDMI port, supporting a maximum resolution of 1920x1200
Expansion Slots
3 x PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots
3 x 32-bit PCI slots
1 x PCI Express x16 slot, running at x16 (PCIEX16)
    * For optimum performance, if only one PCI Express graphics card is to be installed, be sure to install it in the PCIEX16 slot.
1 x PCI Express x16 slot, running at x8 (PCIEX8)
    * The PCIEX8 slot shares bandwidth with the PCIEX16 slot. When the PCIEX8 slot is populated, the PCIEX16 slot will operate at up to x8 mode.
    (All PCI Express x16 slots conform to PCI Express 3.0 standard.)
2 x PCI Express x1 slots
    (All PCI Express slots conform to PCI Express 2.0 standard.)
2 x PCI slots
Storage
4 x Serial ATA III 6Gb/s connectors
4 x Serial ATA II 3Gb/s connectors
Supports HDDs with RAID 0, 1,5,10 functions
Chipset:
2 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors (SATA3_0, SATA3_1) supporting up to 2 SATA 6Gb/s devices
4 x SATA 3Gb/s connectors (SATA2_2~SATA2_5) supporting up to 4 SATA 3Gb/s devices
2 x Marvell 88SE9172 chips:
2 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors (GSATA3_6, GSATA3_7) supporting up to 2 SATA 6Gb/s devices
2 x eSATA 6Gb/s connectors (including 1 eSATA/USB Combo connector) on the back panel supporting up to 2 SATA 6Gb/s devices
1 x Marvell 88SE9172 chip:
2 x SATA 6Gb/s connector (GSATA3_6, GSATA3_7) supporting up to 2 SATA 6Gb/s devices
Chipset:
2 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors (SATA3_0, SATA3_1) supporting up to 2 SATA 6Gb/s devices
3 x SATA 3Gb/s connectors (SATA2_2~SATA2_4) supporting up to 3 SATA 3Gb/s devices
1 x eSATA 3Gb/s connector (eSATA/USB Combo connector) on the back panel supporting up to 1 SATA 3Gb/s device
 
Audio
Realtek ALC892 HD Audio CODEC with 8-Channel
Realtek ALC889 codec
High Definition Audio
2/4/5.1/7.1-channel
Support for Dolby® Home Theater
Support for S/PDIF Out
1 x Creative CA20K2 chip
Support for Dolby® Digital Live and DTS™ Connect
Support for X-Fi Xtreme Fidelity® and EAX® Advanced HD™ 5.0 technologies
High Definition Audio
2/4/5.1/7.1-channel
Support for S/PDIF Out
Ethernet LAN
Marvell 88E8057 PCI-Express Gigabit LAN
1 x Realtek RTL8111E chip (10/100/1000 Mbit)
1 x Bigfoot Killer E2100 chip (10/100/1000 Mbit)
Rear Panel I/O
4 x USB 2.0 port
2 x USB 3.0 port
1 x VGA(D-Sub) port
1 x HDMI port
1 x DisplayPort 1.1a
1 x Audio I / O ports
1 x Supporting Bluetooth® 2.1 + EDR by Atheros AR3011
1 x Single Link DVI
PS/2 KB/MS combo port
7 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports
1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse port
1 x coaxial S/PDIF Out connector
1 x optical S/PDIF Out connector
1 x IEEE 1394 port
1 x eSATA/USB Combo connector
1 x eSATA 6Gb/s connector
2 x USB 3.0/2.0 ports
1 x HDMI port
1 x RJ-45 port
6 x audio jacks (Center/Subwoofer Speaker Out/Rear Speaker Out/Side Speaker Out/Line In/Line Out/Microphone)
7 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports
1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse port
1 x CPU overclocking button
1 x optical S/PDIF Out connector
1 x eSATA/USB Combo connector
1 x HDMI port
2 x USB 3.0/2.0 ports
1 x RJ-45 port
5 x audio jacks (Center/Subwoofer Speaker Out, Rear Speaker Out, Side Speaker Out, Line In/Mic In, Line Out)
Internal I/O
4 x USB 2.0 headers
CPU 4 pin PWM Fan connectors
3 Pin Chassis Fan connectors
24-pin ATX Power connector
8-pin ATX 12V Power connector
Control (Front) panel headers
1 x 24-pin ATX main power connector
1 x 8-pin ATX 12V power connector
4 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors
4 x SATA 3Gb/s connectors
1 x CPU fan header
2 x system fan headers
1 x power fan header
1 x front panel header
1 x front panel audio header
1 x S/PDIF Out header
3 x USB 2.0/1.1 headers
1 x USB 3.0/2.0 header
1 x serial port header
1 x IEEE 1394a header
1 x Trusted Platform Module (TPM) header
1 x clearing CMOS jumper
1 x 24-pin ATX main power connector
1 x 8-pin ATX 12V power connector
4 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors
3 x SATA 3Gb/s connectors
1 x CPU fan header
4 x system fan headers
1 x front panel header
 1 x front panel audio header
1 x S/PDIF Out header
3 x USB 2.0/1.1 headers
1 x USB 3.0/2.0 header
1 x serial port header
1 x Trusted Platform Module (TPM) header
1 x clearing CMOS jumper
1 x heatsink LED power connector
1 x CPU overclocking button header
Form Factor
ATX, Size 12" x 9.6"
ATX Form Factor; 30.5cm x 24.4cm
ATX Form Factor; 30.5cm x 26.4cm
OS Support
Windows 7 (32/64) bit
Support for Microsoft® Windows® 7/Vista/XP
Bundled Software
None
Norton Internet Security (OEM version)
Intel® Smart Response Technology
LucidLogix Virtu

All information on this page courtesy of Sapphire @ http://www.sapphiretech.com/presentation/product/?cid=2&gid=1040&sgid=1071&pid=1239&psn=&lid=1&leg=0# & Gigabyte @ http://www.gigabyte.us/products/list.aspx?s=42&jid=2&p=2&v=24#0

Testing:

Testing this group of Z68 based motherboards will include running them through the OCC test suite of benchmarks, that include both synthetic benchmarks and real world applications to see how each of these boards perform. The gaming tests will also include a couple of synthetic benchmarks and actual gameplay to see if similarly prepared setups offer any performance advantages. Each board received a fully updated fresh install of Windows 7 Professional 64-bit 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:

During the overclocking on the Sapphire Pure Platinum Z68, I was able to reach a final overclock of only 4709MHz, which is a pretty decent overclock when you look at where you start from. 4709MHz is 1309MHz higher than the baseline stock speeds that the i7 2600K starts out at or a 38.5% increase on the CPU Core speeds. I was a little disappointed that I was unable to achieve a higher overclock with this board, however I am pretty happy with the end result. The temperatures were a little on the high side, however it seems like my chip tends to run a little warmer than others out there and requires a little bit more CPU vCore to get it to these speeds.

On the Gigabyte Z68XP-UD4, I was able to achieve a maximum overclock of 4813MHz, which is the highest that I have been able to get my chip up to. The only other time that I had been able to get my 2600K to run at a 48x multiplier was when I had the base clock down around 98MHz, which still gave me around 3700MHz. I didn't have to raise the voltages going to the vCore on this board much higher than I did on the Sapphire board or any of the other boards I have tested, which just means that the power being given to the chip on the Gigabyte board is a little more clean and constant.

 

 

To say I was under whelmed is a pretty strong sentence to put it mildly, as I was expecting more from my little beat up 2600K on this board. It has all the features and a strong VRM that should have allowed it to play nice with my chip. Now 4852MHz is nothing to sneeze at, but the chip is stable 100MHz higher on several other boards. Getting to the edge is fairly uneventful, but once you get there the ability to boot into the OS or even into the BIOS goes away quickly. Boot recovery is a little involved and required a power down and disconnect to get the board to boot when I got close to the edge. This was kind of random it seemed. One time the board would boot fine then next would take a series of reboots or a power cycle to get back to booting. Even so once it was sorted out and voltages were tweaked it would operate fine. On previous boards I was not able to get into a 48 multiplier but was able to reach a higher bclock, so there are some tradeoffs to take away from this exercise. Memory overclocking was pretty much deja vu, with the multipliers and bclock limiting the overclocking headroom available. When you get down to it though, the work pays off with increased performance and system response. The maximum clock speed I was able to reach was 4852MHz, a 1.45GHz boost in clock speed above the baseline speed, which is a significant jump in any book. That's on the order of a 42+% increase in clock speed over the baseline 3.4GHz, with just some time and effort.

Maximum Clock Speed:

The Maximum Clock speeds attainable that were stable enough to run the entire benchmarking suite and play through hours of intense gaming are shown below. Each CPU has been tested for stability at the overclocked speeds listed. These clock speeds will represent the overclocked scores in the testing.

 

 

Benchmarks:

  1. Apophysis
  2. WinRAR
  3. Geekbench
  4. Bibble 5
  5. Office 2007
  6. POV Ray 3.7
  7. Sandra XII
  8. ScienceMark 2.02
  9. Cinebench 10
  10. Cinebench 11.5
  11. HDTune 4.60
  12. PCMark 7
  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

 

In the ZIP section, the new boards were hanging around the middle and end of the heard, with the Sniper 2 able to come back towards the front of the pack during the 1000MB stock testing. During the RAR testing section, all three of the boards were able to come up towards the front. In the Geekbench testing at stock speeds, the Sniper 2 did better than the Z68XP-UD4 and the Sapphire board, however the Z68XP-UD4 was able to make up some ground during the overclocked testing. The Sniper 2 came up in first place during the overclocked testing.

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 the Office 2007 benchmark, we can see that the Gigabyte G1 Sniper 2 was able to take first place during not only the stock testing, but the overclocked testing as well. The Gigabyte Z68XP-UD4 came right in the middle of the pack during the stock testing and bumped up to second place when it was overclocked. Sapphire's board was towards the end of the pack at both stock and overclocked testing. In POV Ray, all three of the boards in this article came up in the middle of the pack. When overclocked the Gigabyte G1 Sniper 2 was able to come up to second place while the Sapphire Pure Platinum Z68 fell towards the end. In the POV Ray benchmark, all of the boards were giving similar results.
 

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 CPUs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

In the Sandra benchmark, all of the boards were giving very similar results and did not change much based on which board the chip was placed in. The Power Management Efficiency test is where you can see a difference between the boards, with the Gigabyte boards being towards the middle when overclocked and the Sapphire board being towards the end of the pack.
 

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

 

All 7 of the boards in these benchmarks were able to perform very similar once again. The only place that you are able to see a significant difference in results is during the Multi CPU overclocked testing and the Access Times, during the HD Tune benchmark.
 

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

 

Even in the PCMark7 benchmark, you can see that once again, with all seven of the boards that are tested in this roundup, we are getting very similar results not dependent on the board tested. During the Computation Overclocked testing we can see the Gigabyte G1 Sniper 2 fell a little short from the rest of the pack.
 

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

 

During the different resolutions tested, we are able to see that no matter what board is used, you are going to be getting very similar results in the AVP benchmark. With the exception of the Gigabyte G1 Sniper 2, that scored higher in the 1920x1200 resolutions.
 

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

 

While testing all seven boards in the Battlefield: Bad Company 2 benchmark, we can see that all of the boards were giving very similar results, regardless of the resolution change and CPU speed changes.
 

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

 

Looking at the results from the Civilization V benchmark, we can see that the Gigabyte G1 Sniper 2 was able to yield the highest FPS, and this happened in the higher resolution.
 

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, while 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 we can see that the same theme continues throughout the entire suite of benchmarks. All of the boards get very similar results at the three different presets in 3DMark 11, regardless of the CPU Speed.
 

Conclusion: Sapphire Pure Platinum Z68

What exactly is there to say about the Sapphire Pure Platinum Z68? Well to start off, the board's layout was extremely easy to use and setup. All of the connectors on the board were right in the perfect spots to be able to plug everything in. The cooling solution that Sapphire put on the MOSFETs and the Diamond Chokes are quite effective, however the heat sink is quite a bit taller than one that you would typically find on other motherboards. But I did not have any issues with this while using my cooler. The built-in support for USB 3.0 means that when you connect your portable devices that support the USB 3.0 standard, you will be able to have the maximum bandwidth/transfer speeds possible.

Sapphire does have Lucid Virtu support on the Pure Platinum Z68 motherboard. This feature is going to allow you to have your discrete graphics card installed, but not being used while there is no need for it and instead use the onboard graphics based off your processor. The Diamond Chokes that are installed on the board are supposed to run cooler and distribute power more effectively than a regular choke on other motherboards. I like that the Sapphire Pure Platinum Z68 has the onboard diagnostics LED light on the board, it makes your life much easier to figure out exactly what is wrong with your system when there is an issue. If there are no issues, Sapphire has the LEDs displaying the CPU temperature. This is another useful feature if you are using the motherboard outside of a chassis, that way you can see it much easier.

Overall, I was very impressed with the Sapphire Pure Platinum Z68 motherboard, it was a solid board that delivered results very similar to its competition and was able to overclock quite well. The fact that there are no uEFI BIOS on the motherboard does not really bother me. However for the newer people getting into overclocking and using the BIOS, they may be a little lost if they have only used other boards with uEFI BIOS.

 

Pros:

 

Cons:

 

 

Conclusion: Gigabyte Z68XP-UD4

When talking about the Gigabyte Z68XP-UD4 motherboard, I am a huge fan of the layout and color scheme, everything is very neutral and nothing on the motherboard tries to grab the user's attention too much. It would have been nice if Gigabyte had the different memory slots colored slightly different, however this is just a personal preference and not a complaint. When it came down to the overclocking on the Z68XP-UD4, I was able to achieve the highest stable overclock with my 2600K on this board, while 4.8GHz isn't the highest overclock I have seen or gotten the chip to, it was the highest stable overclock for this chip.

Gigabyte is ready for PCI-E 3.0 support on the Z68XP-UD4 motherboard as long as you have a 22nm CPU installed. Which is always nice to have a little future proofing on your motherboards, as well as a piece of mind that you will not need to grab a new board when you need to upgrade to a PCI-E 3.0 graphics card. The Gigabyte Z68XP-UD4 has quite a few features on it that impressed me, such as the Turbo XHD, which will automatically detect if you can run RAID 0 and prompt you to set it up. The Drive MOSFET feature is going to help with the power efficiency, by not only reducing temperatures, but also delivering a higher power transfer at higher switching frequencies, which may have been what helped get me that higher overclock on my chip.

I would suggest this board to anyone who has a Socket 1155 chip and wants to get into a Z68 motherboard. Not only was I able to get the highest overclock on this board with my chip, but it looks great and has a nice overall setup with the features to back it up. Once again, the only complaint that I have about the board is that there are no uEFI BIOS. While I still like the traditional BIOS, there are many other boards that are on the uEFI BIOS and they do offer an easier setup and navigation of the BIOS. Plus all of this can be had at under $200.

 

Pros:

 

Cons:

 

 

Conclusion: Gigabyte G1.Sniper 2:

Overall I would have to say I am pleased with the performance delivered by the Gigabyte G1.Sniper 2 motherboard. On a scale of 1 to 10, I would have to give it an 8, as I was not able to reach the limits of my poor beat up 2600K. However I was able to get close, with only 108MHz separating the max stable clock speed reached between the Sniper 2 and the ASUS Maximus IV, more along the lines of the results with the P67 Sabertooth. That puts the G1.Sniper 2 in some pretty good company.

A couple of things that stood out and were a disappointment were the lack of onboard power/reset switches and a debug LED. Boards of this stature have been coming with them for the past few years. Are they necessities? No, but they are nice when testing out of a chassis or when I am just to lazy to hook up the front panel connections. The Debug LED would have helped with the failed boot analysis and reduced the time frame in diagnostics. The legacy BIOS was a trip down memory lane, but a trip that should not be needed and the board falls a little behind in this respect. The Hybrid feature is useful from within the windows environment via mouse and keyboard interaction although to get the full effect a touch screen monitor will be required.

Performance wise it stacked up well against the rest of the comparison field and really stood out in the gaming tests. The feature set is impressive to say the least, with the on board Killer E2100 NPU and top of the line Creative Soundblaster X-Fi Digital Audio Processor (20K2). These two features are substantial upgrades and add to the cost of the board. With both, the benefit of having the parts onboard means that you have to ability to populate both PCIe 16x slots with full size video cards be it ATI or NVIDIA. SLI and CrossfireX are both supported and will further enhance the gaming experience. Lucid LogiX Virtu Switchable graphics technology can be used to improve productivity using Intel's Quick Sync technology. Another Intel Feature is Smart Response technology, that improves responsiveness on frequently accessed programs and gives the best of both worlds, although some find the use of an SSD more satisfying. Without a true EFI BIOS, you would think using a 2TB plus drive would be out of the picture, but Gigabyte has a utility to manage this function with its Hybrid EFI BIOS and 3TB+ software.

Looking forward, the G1.Sniper is poised to take advantage of Intel's 22nm Ivy Bridge processors that bring PCIe 3.0 to the market. There currently are no devices to support the spec, so we will need to wait for the next round of video cards to test this feature out. All these features come with a price and this combination of high end parts drives the cost of the Sniper 2 into the upper end of the market. Even so it comes with all the current buzz word features USB 3.0, SATA 6Gb/s, PCIe 3.0, Smart Fan control, and more. You get good cooling performance and great looks with the Locked and Loaded heat sink package, it's either a like it or hate it proposition but is up to the task of keeping the board cool, although the Ultra Durable 3 construction is there with the dual 2oz copper layers in the PCB. When you get down to it, Gigabyte has put together another motherboard with good looks an extensive feature set with performance to match.

 

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