iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






Intel Z68 Express Chipset

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When Intel announced new P67 and H67 chipsets for Sandy Bridge CPUs, a lot of people were disappointed for having to choose between either overclocking capabilities or built-in graphics. This was especially sad, because there were new K-series processors which offered both impressive overclocking potential and faster graphics core GMA HD 3000.

The most demanding users quickly found out that Intel also planned to release the Z68 chipset, and decided to wait. Then the Intel 6th series chipset bug was discovered and the wait suddenly became more reasonable, because Z68-based motherboards would not have that bug, no matter when they were made or what chipset revision they were based upon. (It's funny that some motherboard makers (for example, Gigabyte and MSI) decided to play it safe and added the same "B3" suffix to model names of their Z68-based products as well.)

So, the Z68 chipset was to become an improved combination of P67 and H67, providing overclocking capabilities, full support for SLI and CrossFire (thanks to P67) as well as support for graphics built into processors (thanks to H67). However, Intel decided to further support chipset's high-end status by adding another technology they had been trying to market for quite some time. Let's see what they finally made.


The new chipset got a new, unusual letter, which probably means a disjunction of "P" and "H", and a higher rating corresponding to previous high-end chipsets (X58, for example). And we believe that Z68 deserves it, supporting both the very efficient Sandy Bridge CPUs and probably Ivy Bridge ones as well. Now take a look at the diagram and the list of features:

  • Support for all new Sandy Bridge processors connected via Direct Media Interface (DMI) 2.0 (20 Gbps in each direction).
  • Intel Flexible Display Interconnect (FDI) that connects the processor display engine with the display interfaces on the PCH. The display data from the frame buffer is processed by the display engine and sent to the PCH where it's transcoded and driven out on the panel. FDI has two channels, A and B, for display data transfer.
  • Up to 8 x PCIe x1 ports (full-fledged PCIe 2.0).
  • 2 x SATA 6Gbps ports for 2 x SATA-600 devices and 4 x SATA 3Gbps ports for 4 x SATA-300 devices. Support for AHCI, NCQ, hot plugging, eSATA, port splitters.
  • Support for RAID 0, 1, 0+1 (10) and 5 with Matrix RAID (allows one set of drives to be used in different RAID modes at once).
  • Support for Intel Smart Response Technology for disk caching.
  • Up to 14 x USB 2.0 ports on two EHCI host controllers.
  • Gigabit Ethernet MAC controller and a special LCI/GLCI interface for a PHY controller (i82579 for Gigabit Ethernet, i82562 for Fast Ethernet).
  • High Definition Audio (7.1-channel).
  • Circuitry to support legacy peripherals and such.

Intel Z68

Once again, the Intel Z68 chipset combines the benefits of Intel 6th series chipsets, supporting built-in graphics of new processors and capable of driving images via FDI to displays connected through HDMI 1.4, Display Port, DVI or D-Sub (in two independent streams). It also supports dual graphics cards in the x8+x8 mode and offers overclocking capabilities for CPUs and built-in graphics cores. It also supports two SATA 6Gbps ports, full-speed PCI Express 2.0 bus and features the DMI 2.0 interconnect.

Speaking of drawbacks, the new Z68 doesn't have native USB 3.0 support as well as support for the PCI bus. Both can be fixed by additional onboard controllers.

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Article navigation:

Page 1: Introduction, features

Page 2: Intel Smart Response

Page 3: Intel Smart Response cont'd, final thoughts

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