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. We’ve already seen one of the most expensive models, the Z68X-UD5-B3. Today we are taking a look at one of the mid-range models, the Z68X-UD3H-B3, which supports the Virtu technology.
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 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.
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. This way, the Z68X-UD3H-B3 supports this feature.
The Gigabyte Z68X-UD3H-B3 comes with two PCI Express x16 slots, three PCI Express x1 slots, and two standard PCI slots.
The two PCI Express x16 slots are connected directly to the CPU integrated PCI Express controller. When only one video card is installed, the slot works at x16, but when you install two video cards, each slot works at x8 speed. These slots support both SLI and CrossFireX technologies.
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. If you install a dual-slot video card in the second PCI Express x16 slot, you will “kill” one of the standard PCI slots.
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.
[nextpage title=”Memory Support”]
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 only DDR3 memories up to 1,333 MHz under dual-channel architecture, but Gigabyte says the Z68X-UD3H-B3 supports memory up to 2,133 MHz through overclocking.
The Gigabyte Z68X-UD3H-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.
[nextpage title=”On-Board Peripherals”]
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). One of the SATA-300 ports controlled by the chipset was routed to the motherboard rear panel as an eSATA-300 port. The manufacturer added two additional SATA-600 ports, controlled by a Marvell 88SE9128 chip, supporting RAID 0 and 1. The SATA ports are located on the motherboard edge rotated 90°, so video cards won’t block them (except for the third SATA-300 port, which is installed using the standard orientation).
There is no support for a floppy disk drive controller or an ATA-133 port.
This motherboard has 12 USB 2.0 ports, four soldered on the rear panel and eight available through four 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 two EtronTech EJ168A chips.
This motherboard has two FireWire ports, one available on the motherboard rear panel and the other available through a header on the motherboard. These ports are controlled by a VIA VT6308P 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 use the line in or mic in jacks when connecting an eight-channel analog speaker set, and an optical SPDIF output. You also can add a coaxial SPDIF output or route digital audio to your video card to have digital audio in its
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, four USB 2.0 ports, VGA connector, DVI-D connector, HDMI connector, DisplayPort connector, optical SPDIF output, one FireWire port, one eSATA-300 port, two USB 3.0 ports, one Gigabit Ethernet port, and independent analog 7.1 audio outputs.
[nextpage title=”Other Features”]
The Gigabyte Z68X-UD3H-B3 has other features. The most important is the presence of two BIOS chips. If the main BIOS is corrupted by an unsuccessful BIOS upgrade or virus, you can still turn on your PC and fix the defective BIOS using the backup chip.
This motherboard comes with a legacy serial port, available on the “COMA” header. You will have to buy an adapter if you want to have this port available.
The power tracks of the printed circuit board are two times thicker than traditional printed circuit boards. Gigabyte calls this feature “2 oz. copper.”
In Figure 7, you can see all the accessories that come with this motherboard.
[nextpage title=”Voltage Regulator”]
The CPU voltage regulator circuit of the Gigabyte Z68X-UD3H-B3 has four 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 “4+2+1” 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.)
Strangely, Gigabyte added a passive heatsink only over the Vcc and VAXG integrated circuits, leaving the VTT integrated circuits without a heatsink.
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 motherboards 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.[nextpage title=”Overclocking Options”]
The Gigabyte Z68X-UD3H-B3 offers some overclocking options, listed below (F3 BIOS):
- CPU ratio: From x16 to x59 in x1 steps (for unlocked CPUs)
- CPU base clock: From 80 MHz to 200 MHz in increments of 0.1 MHz
- GPU clock: From 0 MHz to 3 GHz in increments of 1 MHz
- CPU core voltage: From 0.750 V to 1.700 V in increments of 0.005 V
- CPU VTT voltage: From 0.905 V to 1.530 V in increments of 0.005 V
- CPU PLL voltage: From 1.445 V to 2.095 V in increments of 0.005 V
- GPU voltage: From 0.850 V to 1.705 V in increments of 0.005 V
- System agent voltage (VCSA): From 0.760 V to 1.300 V in increments of 0.005 V
- Memory voltage: From 0.870 V to 2.130 V in increments of 0.005 V
- Memory termination voltage: From 0.420 V to 1.385 V in increments of 0.005 V
- Memory reference voltage: From 0.690 V to 0.810 V in increments of 0.005 V
- Data/Address reference voltage (per channel): From 0.235 V to 1.375 V in 0.005 V steps
For a better understanding of what these options do, please read our Understanding All Voltage Configurations from the Motherboard tutorial.
[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]
The main specifications for the Gigabyte Z68X-UD3H-B3 motherboard include:
- Socket: 1155
- Chipset: Intel Z68 Express
- Super I/O: ITE8728F
- Parallel ATA: None
- Serial ATA: Three SATA-300 and two SATA-600 ports controlled by the chipset (RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10), and two SATA-600 ports controlled by a Marvell 88SE9128 chip (RAID 0 and 1)
- External SATA: One eSATA-300 port controlled by the chipset
- USB 2.0: 12 USB 2.0 ports, four soldered on the motherboard rear panel and eight available through four headers on
- USB 3.0: Four ports, two soldered on the motherboard rear panel and two available through one header on the motherboard, controlled by two EtronTech EJ168A chips
- FireWire (IEEE 1394): Two ports, one soldered on the motherboard rear panel and one available through a header on the motherboard, controlled by a VIA VT6308P chip
- On-board video: Yes, controlled by the CPU; VGA, DVI-D, HDMI, and DisplayPort connectors supporting Lucidlogix Virtu technology
- On-board audio: Produced by the chipset together with a Realtek ALC889 codec (eight channels, 24-bit resolution, up to 192 KHz sampling rate for both the inputs and outputs, 104 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the inputs and 108 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the outputs), on-board optical SPDIF output
- On-board LAN: One Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by a Realtek RTL8111E chip
- Buzzer: No
- Infrared interface: No
- Power supply required: EPS12V
- Slots: Two PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots (16x/0x or 8x/8x, supporting SLI and CrossFireX), three PCI Express x1 slots, and two standard PCI slots (ITE8892 bridge chip)
- Memory: Four DDR3-DIMM sockets (up to DDR3-2133, 32 GB maximum)
- Fan connectors: One four-pin connector for the CPU cooler, one four-pin connector for an auxiliary fan, and two three-pin connectors for auxiliary fans
- Extra Features: Two-ounce PCB power tracks, legacy serial port, dual BIOS
- Number of CDs/DVDs provided: One
- Programs included: Motherboard utilities
- More Information: https://www.gigabyte.com
- Average price in the US*: USD 170.00
* Researched at Google Shopping on the day we published this First Look article.[nextpage title=”Conclusions”]
The Gigabyte Z68X-UD3H-B3 is a very attractive mid-range motherboard based on the new Intel Z68 chipset for your socket LGA1155 processor. In fact, we think it is a far better option than the Gigabyte Z68X-UD5-B3, which is, in theory, a “better” motherboard.
The Z68X-UD3H-B3 supports Lucidlogix Virtu, a technology that the Z68X-UD5-B3 doesn’t support. The Z68X-UD3H-B3 has two SATA-600 ports more than the Z68X-UD5-B3, because on the Z68X-UD5-B3, Gigabyte decided to use these extra SATA-600 ports as eSATA ports, not as regular SATA ones. The audio quality of both is identical (high-end codec, with very high signal-to-noise ratio), the same occurring with the overclocking options, both allowing you to increase the CPU base clock using 0.1 MHz steps, which is unbelievable. (Actually, the Z68X-UD3H-B3 has an advantage here; it allows voltage adjustments in smaller increments.)
The advantages of the Z68X-UD5-B3 include the presence of a third PCI Express x16 slot, eight USB 3.0 ports (even though there are only two “real” USB 3.0 ports; read our article on this motherboard to understand), one additional FireWire port, an on-board coaxial SPDIF output, and a voltage regulator circuit with more phases (20+2 against 4+2+1). Honestly, these extra features don’t justify the extra price you must pay (USD 270 vs. USD 170).
Costing USD 100 less than the Z68X-UD5-B3, we believe the Z68X-UD3H-B3 is the best offering Gigabyte has for the educated user who wants a good-quality socket LGA1155 motherboard, full of additional features, based on the new Intel Z68 chipset.