Z68 Roundup: ASUS, EVGA, ASRock, GB, MSI, ZOTAC

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With seven motherboards to cover, we opted to run through them in alphabetical order by manufacturer. Thus, the ASRock Z68 Extreme7 Gen3 is first up.

At $289.99, it’s the most expensive board in our roundup, but it’s a beauty. The PCB is black, as are all the slots, ports, and most of the connectors. Even the heatsinks are black, but they’re topped with silver-colored plating. The lettering and other shiny components are gold, creating a stunning look overall. One knock on the color scheme, however, is that the memory slots aren’t color-coded, so it’s a little tricky figuring out where to put the DIMMs in a dual-channel setup.



ASRock Z68 Extreme7 Gen3

ASRock Z68 Extreme7 Gen3
Specifications & Features

CPU: Supports 2nd Generation Intel Core i7/i5/i3 in LGA1155 Package


Memory: Dual Channel DDR3 memory technology

Supports DDR3 2133(OC)/1866(OC)/1600/1333/1066/800 nonECC, unbuffered memory

Max. capacity of system memory: 32GB

Supports Intel Extreme Memory Profile (XMP)


Graphics: Intel Quick Sync Video, Intel InTru 3D, Intel Clear Video HD Technology, Intel HD Graphics 2000/3000, Intel Advanced Vector Extensions (AVX)

Multi VGA Output options: DSub, DVID, HDMI and DisplayPort


Audio:  7.1 CH HD Audio with Content Protection (Realtek ALC892 Audio Codec)

 Premium Bluray audio support

 Supports THX TruStudio


LAN:  PCIE x1 Gigabit LAN 10/100/1000 Mb/s

 Supports Dual LAN with Teaming function


Slots:  5 x PCI Express x16 slots

 1 x PCI Express 2.0 x1 slot

 1 x PCI slot

 Supports AMD Quad CrossFireX, NVIDIA Quad SLI


SATA 3:  2 x SATA3 6.0 Gb/s connectors by Intel Z68, support RAID (RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 10, RAID 5, Intel Rapid Storage and Intel Smart Response Technology), NCQ, AHCI and "Hot Plug" functions

 4 x SATA3 6.0 Gb/s connectors by ASMedia ASM1061, support NCQ, AHCI and "Hot Plug" functions (SATA3_A4 connector is shared with eSATA3 port)


USB 3.0:  4 x Rear USB 3.0 ports,  1 x Front USB 3.0 header (supports 2 USB 3.0 ports) by ASMedia


Smart Switch:  Power Switch with LED, Reset Switch with LED, Clear CMOS Switch with LED

 
Form Factor:  ATX Form Factor: 12.0in x 9.6in, 30.5 cm x 24.4 cm

This ATX board supports 2nd-Generation Core i7/i5/i3 LGA1155 chips, up to 32GB of DDR3-2133 (OC) RAM, and all the graphics outputs you could want, including D-Sub, DVI-D, HDMI, and DisplayPort. For expansion, you get five PCI-E x16 slots, a PCI-E 2.0 x1 slot, a legacy PCI slot, support for PCI-E 3.0, and graphics support up to quad CrossFireX, and up to NVIDIA quad SLI.

Of the ten SATA ports, six are SATA (6Gbps) and four are SATA (3Gbps). ASRock delivers five total USB 3.0 ports via an ASMedia ASM1042 chip as well as a pair of USB 2.0 ports. The board itself sports power, reset, and clear CMOS buttons, all lit by LEDs.

 
 
 
     

There were a couple of nice surprises in the box, including a front USB 3.0 panel and a bracket with a PS/2 port and two USB 2.0 ports.

The ASRock Z68 Extreme7 Gen3 also comes packed with a few unique features. It has an NVIDIA NF200 chip that enables you to run two graphics cards at PCI-E x16/x16 or three cards at x16/x16/x8. Other notables include Dual LAN with Teaming, which enables two connections to act in tandem for better data flow, and XFast LAN, XFast Charger, and XFast USB, which are designed to boost the performance of your LAN connection, attached device charging, and USB performance, respectively.

When it comes to overclocking on this board, ASRock couldn’t have made it simpler; we just switched on Advanced Turbo 50 in the UEFI, and the board overclocked the processor to 4.8GHz. You can also tweak overclocking settings easily with the included ASRock Extreme Tuning Utility. More on BIOS options later.

Article Index:

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"What a way to kick off the day. A great Motherboard round off with a solid line of mobo's at different price points going at each other. I like this because you get to see the strengths of each boards even at the value deferential."

"Seth did a great job a covering the basics, but I have to disagree on the conclusion. Put the Asus Deluxe and the Asrock Extreme7 in front of me to choose, and I would easily pick the Extreme7. Why, first, It has a NF200 Chip, that will allow me to run 3 cards at 16/8/8 as opposed to the Deluxe, 8/4/4, also 16/16 in dual mode, as opposed to 8/8 on the Deluxe. Its Gen3, so it more future proof, double the bandwidth when Ivy Bridge comes. Looks cooler, although the Deluxe looks beautiful in blue I have to admit. Has more Sata ports 10 vs 8, but the Asrock sports 4 extra Sata III as opposed to only 2 extra Sata III ports, thus making a better option for a server type use. "

"One big point is the the Extreme7 has various Video outputs, the the Deluxe has *NONE*. So its ready to use right out of the box without an external GPU. And all those feature for about $40 more, its a steal. There is no other z68 motherboard with a NF200 chips for under $300. The others are the Maximus IV Extreme Z and the UD7 from Gigabyte. One thing that I do like though about the Asus Deluxe is that it has bluetooth"

"So there's my argument. in a dedicated head to head stand off between these two boards, in my opinion, the Extreme7 is the better value."

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Just read the entire article, every word. I have to say it truly is great; one thing I do notice is that the ASUS, Asrock and EVGA motherboards are at the top of the price point while the Gigabyte, MSI and Zotac are near the lowest price point. Funny, seeing as how those boards aren't the top of the line while the EVGA is, anyway...

We're finally getting to the point where we're able to get 3-Way SLI on Z68 boards; both the EVGA and the ASRock are able to do 16x/16x/8x and that's a major plus if anybody is concerned about 3-way SLI. Not wild about 16x/16x SLI. I've read tons of articles about this and while I thought I needed a motherboard with 16x/16x SLI, I figured out I really don't need it seeing as how 8x/8x SLI/Crossfire performs similarly to 16x/16x SLI. Additionally, I don't even know why I need the 16x, I mean it's not going to matter much when PCI-E 3.0 hits the scene and all the new video cards take advantage of it. The number of motherboards taking advantage of SLI is surprising, it seems like every motherboard here is able to do SLI/Crossfire.

In terms of the stuff you get from the box, I'd say the EVGA, ASUS and ASRock have all of the other motherboard manufacturers beat, but in terms of total value, EVGA hands down has the best bundles. I mean they really care about their customers to include lots of stuff that pertains not only to the motherboard but also to the overclocking and additional ports, plus you can't deny the sweet ass poster you get in the box with every product. EVGA Gaming, how cool that'd be to have that up on the wall if I kept the 2GB 560 Ti, unfortunately it wasn't meant to be.

So in terms of customer service, they're all good but I've only handled one and heard about two. ASUS's customer support isn't tip-top and you may have a hard time getting through to them but if you persist long enough then you might just get the support you need. EVGA has the best support out there in terms of well, everything. Lifetime warranties, local support, great RMA policies. Gigabyte's support from what I've heard is okay but they are reliable.

In terms of product quality, there's no clear winner since all of them are similar. Those looking for 3-Way SLI will go for the ASRock or the EVGA though EVGA does tend to be very good with their product quality (they do build it themselves and they do manage to use quality components, plus it overclocks amazingly well. (even further if you LN2 your CPU.)), plus EVGA does have a bit more then the ASRock but at an oddly lower price. (note that the ASRock is the most expensive motherboard in the lineup, more so then the usually expensive EVGA, and ASRock is usually known for cheaply priced motherboards.)

If 3-Way SLI is not your thing then you're decision is either the ASUS, Gigabyte or the MSI. I can't judge each of them individually and none of them appear to be a clear winner but I will say that ASUS has a good reputation and good quality motherboards, even though their support isn't up to part. Gigabyte's are not Motherboards you should ignore, I mean I've had a MicroATX one for LGA755 and while it wasn't feature packed, it did have good overclocking features and it didn't break down on me at all, so they're good overclockers. Don't care if it has a non-EUFI BIOS. If it overclocks well and if it works well for what I do then it's a purchase. MSI has good support from what I've heard and if you do get it then you'll at least be guarrenteed the "Military Grade" components they place in the motherboards, not only does it overclock well from what I've heard but I've also heard that it lengthens the lifespan of the motherboard as well, plus they've got a really good track record; I mean have you even seen their graphics cards/motherboards, they practically make them from scratch. The Zotac is what it is.

I suppose the Z68 chipset makes it so that there's no clear winner in the motherboard war but the high-end does have the EVGA motherboard which I think is a better value then the ASRock, still; both are good on their own merits. Also I don't think Video outputs should matter much in a motherboard, I meant it's nice but to use it then you'd probably have to get a CPU that has a GPU built into it, and god knows enthusiasts will not be buying one of those CPU's. Plus the cost of internal GPU's have lowered drastically, and there is no reason for you not to have one; at all. None.

Great job Seth.

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I like the looks of the Asus board as well.

I wonder why the Deluxe has PS2 ports on it but the Pro has the newer and better USB ports only?

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Good reveiw Seth.

I like the ASUS board the best, and as usual, the ASRock board as well.

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Is there a way to get to a command-line UEFI version if the GUI version crashes?

Every line of code is another chance for a bug cropping up.

I really don't need a flashy BIOS replacement. I just want something that works. The beauty of EFI on systems the HP's Integrity line is that you can access it remotely through a terminal

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ldillon:
Is there a way to get to a command-line UEFI version if the GUI version crashes?

Not that I heard of. Don't get me wrong, a command line does make sense (even though you don't entirely know how to use all of the fuctions.) but I don't even see any reason for manufacturers to include it.

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ldillon:
Is there a way to get to a command-line UEFI version if the GUI version crashes?

You don't need it.

You can load a viable BIOS onto a flash drive with another PC and have it plugged in when you boot. The system scans it and see's the bios and asks if you want to flash. You just do it and you're back in action. (I had to do this once when a BIOS update failed due to a power surge)

The new UEFI BIOS's are a pleasure to use so far. I have three of them, all on ASRock boards.

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I actually have the Gigabyte UD4 and as such i wouldnt recommend it or the UD3 if you plan on using the built in RAID or the accel features of the Z68.

The Gigabyte boards do not have a true UEFI its just a hybrid that lets you boot a 3TB hard drive if its plugged in. If however you plug that same 3TB drive in, and pair with a SSD for acceleration using the capabilities of the Z68 chipset the board will no longer boot in UEFI mode, it will only boot in BIOS mode which means Windows can only see the first 2TB of the disk.

The other fun quirk is that if you have that 3TB array in the RAID when the board boots the Windows boot DVD it will boot it in the hybrid UEFI environment so windows will install expect UEFI then when you reboot, no system drive found as the RAID is booted without the hybrid UEFI environment.

If you're getting one of these stay well clear of the Gigabyte boards.

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I like this review a lot but I would like to see some more specifications in the tests mostly from my gaming perspective as there are some startling results when it comes to difference in fps numbers. Now i realize low res is used to exclude the gpu as much as possible from altering the results (much like a cpu test) but when motherboards are showing 10 fps gaps thats pretty significant, but is it relevant?

Most gamers are probably pushing 1080p these days, does a board actually make a difference at that res? This would be more important to test using cpu intensive games I assume.

Are the tests run once or multiple times with consistent results?

a 5-10 fps difference is about a $50-$100 difference in GPUs it would be nice to see if certain motherboards are just better for gaming (At high res).

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Atticus14:
Most gamers are probably pushing 1080p these days, does a board actually make a difference at that res? This would be more important to test using cpu intensive games I assume.

I would have to say no because a CPU would not be able to handle all of the graphical work at that resolution. Therefore the GPU's taking over and the CPU's playing less of a part in the graphical performance (as in performing it all themselves.) and I've looked at various results, few boards actually make a difference.

Same with the certain motherboards, it all performs the same. It's only the specific features (like overclocking and gaming and X-Fi sound and also the quality of the components) that make it stand out from the pack.

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