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Why will Intel launch Z68 – is it important?

The whole subject of Intel's upcoming Z68 chipset has recently spawned more fevered online articles than a Lohan limousine leg-shot. Pushing all of the minor improvements to one side KitGuru is ready to reveal the key reasons for Intel's latest launch.

Almost without fail, each generation of technology products has its improvements. With chipsets you find that some are there, fundamentally, by design. Others are achieved by the board vendor, and included during the production cycle.

Lastly, there are the BIOS re-writes, which can also offer a great deal. What is the big deal about Z68 ?

One of the first boards to have been seen was the Asus P6Z68-V Pro. The board should be a great overclocking product as it features a 14 phase Digi+ CPU VRM, UEFI Bios and supported memory of up to DDR3-2600 via OC.

Additional features include the support for Intel Flexible Display Interface, for processors with Intel's embedded HD 3000 graphics. As well as this, it includes Lucid Virtu technology, which will allow the board to switch between integrated graphics and discrete simultaneously – to help with power saving.

This particular board has dual PCI-E 2.0 x16 (x8 electrical with both populated) and a single PCI-E x 16 (x4 electrical), 2x PCIe x 1, and 2x PCI expansion slots. There is support for SATA 6 GB/s and USB 3.0, as expected.

On the rear are DVI, VGA and HDMI 1.4a connectors.

Currently, H67 express gives the user access to the HD Graphics 2000/3000 engine built into every second generation core CPU, while motherboards based around P67 require the focus on discrete graphics cards. We all know which has proven more successful for Intel within enthusiast circles.

The Z68 allows graphics and processor based overclocking. In theory you could install an i5-2500K and attach a panel to the HD 3000 graphics output. We aren't so sure many enthusiast users would find this such an appealing prospect however. World of Warcraft might run at semi reasonable resolutions, but you aren't going to be powering Crysis with the settings cranked, there is no question about that.

Intel are hoping that Virtu attracts an audience. You can add in a discrete card and connect to the HD graphics enabled outputs on a Z68 based motherboard. Lucidlogix's software then facilitates the best of Quick Sync and today's discrete graphics solutions. Basically its a combination of P67 and H67, with 3D and transcoding acceleration. We recently looked at Lucid Hydra and weren't impressed, so lets hope this software implementation is more solid.

40GB SSD: an ideal size for Intel's new 'caching' feature

Another selling point for Z68 is the SSD caching. This means a user can add a small solid state drive to a system already configured running a larger mechanical disk with the target goal of speeding up the read performance of data which is cached to the SSD. For people who can't afford a larger SSD but who still need high levels of storage it might be a benefit. This story we wrote last June might be an interesting read.

Tomshardware have had access to this technology for weeks now and there is a writeup, over here. It looks as if the enthusiast audience might not find this appealing however as Twitter discussions on this technology have highlighted that the majority still prefer the idea of a separate boot drive.

SSD caching, is constrained by a handful of requirements (courtesy of Tomshardware).

  1. You have to be using a Core i3, Core i5, or Core i7 processor. As far as we know, caching will only be enabled on Z68 Express, so this narrows the list even further to Sandy Bridge-based LGA 1155 CPUs.
  2. You need to have the 32- or 64-bit version of Windows Vista, 7, or Server 2008 installed.
  3. Intel’s Desktop/Workstation/Server Express Chipset SATA RAID controller hub has to be installed and enabled (the platform controller hub needs to be in RAID mode, in other words).
  4. The system has to be RAID-ready with the Accelerate bit enabled (presumably, Z68 will be the only platform with this switched on initially).
  5. You need a SATA-based SSD with at least 18.6 GB of free space.
  6. You need a hard drive present with no recovery volume.

The maximum cache size will be limited to 64GB. This means that if you have a larger solid state drive you can just use it as a standard boot drive. With 64GB or less you can use it as a cache oriented drive instead.

KitGuru says: It's hard to imagine the madness that would need to grip a user in order for them to buy an overclocking rig costing more than £800 ($1,200) and NOT include a decent graphics card. Anyone care to hazard a guess as to how much laughter a noob at a gaming event would have to endure if they rocked-up with a clocked-up rig at 4.8GHz and no discrete card?  Whether SSD caching and Virtu proves popular with the enthusiast audience remains to be seen.

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