Zotac Z68-ITX WiFi Motherboard
By Gabriel Torres on July 28, 2011
Zotac is establishing itself as one of the major Mini-ITX motherboard manufacturers. For the new Intel Z68 chipset, this manufacturer released two models, the Z68-ITX WiFi (a.k.a. Z68ITX-A-E, USD 170) and the Z68-ITX WiFi Supreme (a.k.a. Z68ITX-B-E, USD 210). Both come with integrated WiFi, but the latter also has an integrated GeForce GT 430 graphics chip. Let’s take a look at the Z68-ITX WiFi model.
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. Click here to learn more about this technology.
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 an 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 instead of using your add-on video card. This allows you to save energy, since the CPU integrated video consumes less power than add-on video cards. For this feature to be available on a given Z68 motherboard, the motherboard manufacturer must have licensed the Virtu software, and the motherboard must have video connectors soldered directly on the board.
Since it doesn’t have a lot of space available, the Zotac Z68-ITX WiFi has only one PCI Express x16 slot.
The motherboard has a mini PCI Express slot, which comes with the wireless adapter installed. This slot is compatible with the mSATA standard, so you can, if you want, remove the wireless adapter and install an mSATA SSD unit. The motherboard comes with a spare metallic bracket for you to install this kind of unit.
Intel socket LGA1155 CPUs have an embedded memory controller, meaning that it is the processor, 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 DDR3 memories up to 1,333 MHz under dual-channel architecture, but Zotac says the Z68-ITX WiFi supports memory up to 2,133 MHz through overclocking.
The Zotac Z68-ITX WiFi has two memory sockets, and since DDR3 memory modules can now be found in capacities up to 8 GB, you can have up to 16 GB with this motherboard if you use two 8 GB modules.
Since there are only two memory sockets, you must install two memory modules in order to enable the dual-channel feature. If you use only one memory module, the system performance won’t be the best.
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). This motherboard, however, provides only two of the four SATA-300 ports supported by the chipset. As already explained, the mini PCI Express slots is mSATA-compatible, and you can replace the Wi-Fi adapter with an mSATA SSD unit.
Unfortunately there is no marking on the motherboard saying which ports are the SATA-600 and which are the SATA-300. Usually, SATA-600 ports are white, but the manufacturer decided to use blue connectors. The information about which ports are which is hidden on page 19 of the product manual, and we believe most users won’t find it.
There is no support for a floppy disk drive controller or an ATA-133 port.
This motherboard has eight USB 2.0 ports, four soldered on the rear panel and four available through two headers located on the motherboard. It also has four USB 3.0 ports, two available on the motherboard rear panel and two available through a front panel connector, controlled by a VLI VL800 chip. The motherboard comes with an I/O bracket for you to install these two ports on an available expansion slot from your case.
This motherboard doesn’t have FireWire ports.
The Zotac Z68-ITX WiFi 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 ALC892 codec. The specifications of this chip include 97 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog outputs, 90 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog inputs, up to 192 kHz sampling rate for both inputs and outputs, and 24-bit resolution. These specifications are good for the mainstream user, but if you are looking into working professionally with audio editing, you should look for a motherboard that provides an SNR of at least 97 dB for the analog input.
The portrayed motherboard comes with shared analog audio outputs, meaning that you won’t need to use the line in or mic in jacks when connecting a 5.1 analog speaker set, but one of these jacks must be used if you install a 7.1 analog speaker set.
The motherboard has an on-board optical SPDIF output, and you also can add a coaxial SPDIF output using the available “SPDIF” header.
This motherboard has two Gigabit Ethernet ports, controlled by two Realtek RTL8111E chips. The Wi-Fi adapter that comes with the motherboard is an AzureWave AR5B95, compatible with the IEEE 801.11b/g/n standards.
In Figure 6, you can see the motherboard rear panel, with four USB 2.0 ports, Wi-Fi antenna connectors, clear CMOS button, shared keyboard and mouse PS/2 connector, two USB 3.0 ports (blue connectors), two Gigabit Ethernet ports, two HDMI connectors, one mini DisplayPort connector, optical SPDIF output, and shared analog 7.1 audio outputs.
The motherboard comes with an adapter for you to convert the mini DisplayPort output into a regular DisplayPort connector.
The motherboard has on-board power and reset buttons, and a POST diagnostics display, which allows you to know, through a two-digit code, which component is problematic when your computer is not turning on.
The motherboard has a legacy serial port on a header labeled “CN4.” You will need to buy an adapter if you want to use this port.
In Figure 8, you can see all the accessories that come with this motherboard.
The CPU voltage regulator circuit of the Zotac Z68-ITX WiFi has six phases for the CPU main voltage (Vcc a.k.a. Vcore), two for the CPU VTT voltage (integrated memory controller and L3 memory cache), and one for the CPU VAXG voltage (integrated video controller). Therefore, it uses a “6+2+1” configuration.
Each phase is controlled by a Renesas R2J20651NP 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.) Integrated circuits with those characteristics are known as “DrMOS.”
This motherboard uses high-end solid ferrite-core coils, which present less energy loss than iron-core coils (i.e., they improve efficiency) and SMD (surface mount device) capacitors, also known as highly-conductive polymerized or simply Hi-c.
If you want to learn more about the voltage regulator circuit, please read our tutorial on the subject.
The Zotac Z68-ITX WiFi offers a few overclocking options, listed below:
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 Zotac Z68-ITX WiFi motherboard include:
* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this First Look article.
We were really impressed how Zotac was able to squeeze so many features in such a small form factor. The Z68-ITX WiFi proved to be an excellent option for those building a high-end HTPC (Home Theater PC) or SFF (Small Form Factor) system based on an Intel processor.
The quality of the components used on the voltage regulator circuit is impressive, and it is interesting to see how Zotac, differently from other manufacturers such as Gigabyte and MSI, is not making a lot of noise about of it.Another highlight of the product is the mini PCI Express slot compatible with the mSATA standard, allowing you to replace the wireless card with an mSATA SSD, in order to use the Intel Smart Response Technology (SRT) without installing a standard SSD on one of the motherboard SATA ports, which will save you space inside the computer case.