This motherboard was both among the first Intel Z68-based products made, and the first full-fledged chipset representative we got for tests. As you may or may not remember, we took a first close look at Z68 and Intel Smart Response Technology with the help of Gigabyte GA-Z68X-UD4-B3, but it had no support for integrated graphics of Intel CPUs. Whereas today we shall review a full-fledged motherboard that will also give us a chance to examine Lucid Virtu, the second innovation of Z68 (not implemented entirely by chipset means, though).
Lucid Virtu allows to switch between CPU and discrete graphics while connected to the same monitor by a single cable. Simply put, it allows you to use discrete graphics card for heavy-load 3D games, and use built-in graphics for other tasks, primarily fast video transcoding. Like other technologies from LucidLogix, this looks fine in terms of engineering but is, frankly speaking, totally useless in real life and is only needed for status. However, a Virtu license costs real money (like that of SLI, for example), so we'll hardly see it in every motherboard out there. But in case it will be supported, be sure that it will be presented as nothing less than a life-saver. Whatever the real importance of this technology is, we shall post a dedicated review of it in the near future.
Speaking of the ASUS P8Z68-V Pro motherboard itself, it fits between the ASUS P8Z68 Deluxe and ASUS P8Z68-V. The "Pro" suffix hints at the mid-end or even entry-level nature. But today even entry-level motherboards, especially those based on the top-end Z68 chipset, are so high-end they will suit any regular user. For example, ASUS P8Z68-V Pro, among other things, offers four USB 3.0 ports, four SATA-600 ports, Bluetooth, and supports SLI/CrossFire/Virtu. What else could you wish for?
As you can see, there are many large controller chips and three PCI Express x16 slots — and that's the second lowest-end model in the series. If we forget about the market positioning, what we see is quite familiar. The layout is definitely convenient: low-profile heatsinks, horizontal SATA ports, one-sided memory module latches — all that allows you to easily install expansion cards, processors and coolers and connect cables.
The set of expansion slots is also familiar, although it's more typical for mid and high-end motherboards. The first two PCI Express x16 slots are connected to the CPU and can work together as PCIe 2.0 x8, or channel all the bandwidth (PCIe 2.0 x16) to the first slot. The third slot is connected to the chipset and that's where tricks begin, because the chipset cannot provide enough lanes for all onboard controllers and slots. The reasonable default setting ("Auto") sets the third slot to the PCIe x1 mode and disables the second PCIe x1 slot (adjacent to the first PCIe x16 one). You can also switch to a mode ambiguously named "x1" in BIOS that enables the third PCIe x16 and the second PCIe x1 slots, but disables USB 3.0 controller that handles ports on the front panel. Finally, the "x4" mode sets the third PCIe x16 slot to the x4 mode, but disables both PCIe x1 slots as well as eSATA and USB 3.0 controllers needed for ports on the front panel.
Such intricate schemes may be confusing (Gigabyte especially likes them, by the way), and we generally do not approve of such solutions. But if you're not afraid of reading user's guides to clarify possible variants, such flexibility turns into an advantage. The second advantage related to expansion slots is support for all possible SLI and CrossFire modes (and for the aforementioned Lucid Virtu).
ASUS P8Z68-V Pro is quite advanced in terms of support for legacy interfaces — it doesn't support any. There's no onboard IDE/FDD or COM/LPT, as there's no PS/2 on the back panel. Not very surprising, huh? Of older interfaces there's just a couple of PCI slots handled by an auxillary controller since the chipset doesn't support PCI either.
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