Gigabyte Z68X-UD5-B3 Motherboard
By Gabriel Torres on May 12, 2011
Gigabyte released 11 motherboard models based on the new Intel Z68 chipset. With prices ranging from USD 120 to USD 350, there is a model for any kind of user. Let’s take a look at one of the most high-end models, the Z68X-UD5-B3, which can be bought today for USD 270.
The Intel Z68 chipset is basically a P67 chipset with two new features added. First, the Intel Smart Response Technology (SRT), allows you to speed up disk performance by using an SSD unit as a cache unit for your conventional (i.e., mechanical) hard disk drive. This technology works by storing in the SSD the programs and data you access the most.
The second technology that was added is a video connection between the CPU and the chipset, called FDI (Flexible Display Interface). This connection was previously available on the H67 and similar chipsets but not on the P67 chipset. Socket LGA1155 processors have an integrated video processor, but the P67 chipset won’t allow you to use it since it is targeted to consumers that will have a physical video card. With the Z68, the use of integrated video processor is possible if the motherboard manufacturer added video connectors on the motherboard. This way, Intel won’t be releasing an “H68” chipset.
The big reason for this change was that Intel licensed a software from Lucidlogix called Virtu, which allows the computer to dynamically switch video cards depending on what you are doing with your computer. In a typical scenario, this software will make the system use the CPU’s integrated video engine when you are not playing games, turning your add-on video card completely off, and then turning on your add-on video card and turning off the CPU integrated video when you run games. By keeping your video card completely turned off when you are not playing games, you can save a lot of energy. For this feature to be available on a given Z68 motherboard, the motherboard manufacturer must have licensed the Virtu software.
The Gigabyte Z68X-UD5-B3, however, doesn’t support Virtu, mainly because it doesn’t have video connectors. On the Gigabyte motherboard line-up, only the models that have an “H” on their product name have video connectors and, thus, support the Virtu technology. Unfortunately, Gigabyte decided to add support to the Virtu technology only on their entry-level Z68 motherboards, because only these models have video connectors. It is a pity that the most high-end models from this manufacturer don’t come with support for Virtu, as we believe high-end users are the ones that would benefit the most from it.
The Gigabyte Z68X-UD5-B3 comes with three PCI Express x16 slots, two PCI Express x1 slots, and two standard PCI slots.
The first two PCI Express x16 slots are connected directly to the CPU integrated PCI Express controller. Therefore, they work at x16 when only one video card is installed or at x8 when two video cards are installed. They support both SLI and CrossFireX modes. The third x16 slot is connected to the Z68 chipset and works at x4 speed.
If you install a dual-slot video card in the first PCI Express x16 slot, you will “kill” one of the PCI Express x1 slots, and if you install a dual-slot video card in the second PCI Express x16 slot, you will “kill” one of the standard PCI slots. The third PCI Express x16 slot officially supports only single-slot video cards, but you can install a dual-slot card if you have a case with eight expansion slots. However, the video card may block the USB 3.0 front panel connectors and FireWire header, depending on the position and shape of its cooler.
It is important to understand that Intel chipsets no longer support standard PCI slots, and the PCI slots are provided by an ITE8892 bridge chip.
Intel socket LGA1155 CPUs have an embedded memory controller, meaning that it is the processor – and not the chipset – that defines what memory technologies and the maximum amount of memory you can have. The motherboard, however, may have a limitation as to how much memory can be installed.
The integrated memory controller from socket LGA1155 processors supports only DDR3 memories up to 1,333 MHz under dual-channel architecture, but Gigabyte says the Z68X-UD5-B3 supports memory up to 2,133 MHz through overclocking.
The Gigabyte Z68X-UD5-B3 has four memory sockets and, since DDR3 memory modules can now be found in capacities up to 8 GB, you can have up to 32 GB with this motherboard if you use four 8 GB modules.
All memory sockets are black, which is a big drawback, because in order to enable dual-channel technology (which increases memory performance), you need to install one memory module in the first socket and one memory module in the third socket. In other words, you should not install memory modules in any socket you want.
The Intel Z68 chipset is a single-chip solution and is also known as PCH (Platform Controller Hub). This chip supports two SATA-600 ports and four SATA-300 ports, supporting RAID (0, 1, 5 and 10). The SATA ports are located on the motherboard edge rotated 90°, so video cards won’t block them.
The motherboard has two eSATA-600 ports, which are controlled by a Marvell 88SE9128 chip.
There is no support for a floppy disk drive controller or an ATA-133 port.
This motherboard has 10 USB 2.0 ports, six soldered on the rear panel and four available through two headers located on the motherboard. It also has eight USB 3.0 ports, four available on the motherboard rear panel and four available through two front panel connectors. (The motherboard comes with one 3.5” adapter with two USB 3.0 ports for you to install on the front panel of your case.) It is important to understand that, internally, this motherboard has only two USB 3.0 ports, controlled by a NEC (Renesas) µPD720200 chip. One VLI VL810 hub is installed on each USB 3.0 port provided by the NEC chip. Each hub allows four devices to share a single USB 3.0 port. So, if you connect two or more USB 3.0 devices that required high bandwidth and start transferring data simultaneously, the performance won’t be the same as if they were installed at non-shared USB 3.0 ports.
The Z68X-UD5-B3 has three FireWire (IEEE1394) ports, two at the motherboard rear panel (one standard-sized and one miniature-sized) and one available at a header on the motherboard. These ports are controlled by a Texas Instruments TSB43AB23 chip.
This motherboard supports 7.1+2 audio format, i.e., eight channels plus two independent channels for audio streaming. On this motherboard, the audio is generated by the chipset using a Realtek ALC889 codec, which is an outstanding solution, providing an impressive 108 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog outputs, 106 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog inputs, and up to 192 kHz sampling rate for both inputs and outputs. This means you are able to capture and edit analog audio (e.g., converting LPs to CDs or MP3, converting VHS to DVDs or any other digital format, etc.) with this motherboard without adding any background noise.
The portrayed motherboard comes with independent analog audio outputs, meaning that you won’t need to “kill” the line in or mic in jacks when connecting an eight-channel analog speaker set, an optical, and a coaxial SPDIF output. You also can route digital audio to your video card to have digital audio in the HDMI connector using the available “SPDIF_O” header.
This motherboard has one Gigabit Ethernet port, controlled by a Realtek RTL8111E chip.
In Figure 5, you can see the motherboard rear panel, with shared PS/2 keyboard/mouse connector, six USB 2.0 ports, coaxial and optical SPDIF outputs, two eSATA-600 ports (shared with two USB 2.0 ports), two FireWire ports (yellow connectors), four USB 3.0 ports, one Gigabit Ethernet port, and independent analog 7.1 audio outputs.
One detail we didn’t like about the motherboard rear panel was that the shared eSATA-600/USB 2.0 connectors are blue, thereby making users believe that they are USB 3.0 ports, since USB 3.0 ports are usually blue.
In Figure 6, you can see all the accessories that come with this motherboard.
The CPU voltage regulator circuit of the Z68X-UD5-B3 has 20 phases for the CPU main voltage (Vcc a.k.a. Vcore) and two for the CPU VTT voltage (integrated memory controller and L3 memory cache). Therefore, it uses a “20+2” configuration.
This motherboard uses solid ferrite-core coils, which present less energy loss than iron-core coils (i.e., they improve efficiency) and solid capacitors. Each main phase is controlled by an SiC769CD integrated circuit, which combines the three required transistors (“high side,” “low side,” and “driver”) in a single chip. It also allows the switching clock to be at 1 MHz, which allows efficiency to be over 90%. (Usually voltage regulator circuits switch at 250 kHz.)
There are two phases for the chipset voltage and two phases for the memory voltage, also using ferrite coils, solid capacitors, and low-RDS(on) transistors (i.e., high-efficiency transistors). This is important because some motherboard manufacturers build high-end voltage regulators for the CPU but use lower-quality parts on the other voltage regulators.
If you want to learn more about the voltage regulator circuit, please read our tutorial on the subject.
The motherboard has a series of LEDs for you to monitor the phases of the voltage regulator circuit. You can monitor the main phases through five LEDs, each one representing four phases, and the two VTT phases through two separate LEDs.
The Gigabyte Z68X-UD5-B3 offers some overclocking options, listed below (F3 BIOS):
For a better understanding of what these options do, please read our Understanding All Voltage Configurations from the Motherboard tutorial.
The main specifications for the Gigabyte Z68X-UD5-B3 motherboard include:
* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this First Look article.
The Gigabyte Z68X-UD5-B3 has several nice features, such as three FireWire ports, eight USB 3.0 ports, three PCI Express x16 slots, high-quality audio with coaxial and optical SPDIF outputs, a very high-end voltage regulator circuit, and an impressive set of overclocking options, allowing you to increase the CPU base clock using 0.1 MHz steps, which is unbelievable. In addition, you can benefit from Intel’s Smart Response Technology to greatly improve your system’s performance.This motherboard, however, has some serious drawbacks. First, it doesn’t support Lucidlogix’s Virtu technology, which is one of the new features of the Z68 chipset, so you get only half of the benefits of owning a Z68-based motherboard. Second, the motherboard has only two real USB 3.0 ports. The total of eight ports is achieved by using hub chips. This means that if you install two or more USB 3.0 devices to the same controller and transfer data at the same time, the performance won’t be the same as if you had these devices connected to “real” USB 3.0 ports. And third, the price of the Z68X-UD5-B3 is not attractive, especially when you have so many options costing less.