All the Answers to Intel’s Brand New Z68 Chipset – Part 2 (Feature)

Looking back at our last article, we’ll continue with discussing Intel’s SRT (Smart Response Technology) and this cool feature on the Z68 chipset uses an SSD to cache more frequently used data from an hard drive. One can expect up to a 4x increase in performance over the traditional HDD.

The process of setting up this new tech requires a few simple steps to get it up and running, as you need to ensure that both the SSD and hard drive are hooked up then you need to make sure that the Intel controller default of AHCI is set to RAID in UEFI. After that you can go about installing Windows 7 to your hard drive as normal, but you can’t enable SRT until all the drivers are installed. Finally it’s just a mater of hitting the Accelerate button in the RST driver (see below).

Onwards, simply select the drive you’d like to use as a cache and select the disk you want “accelerated” (would usually be C:\) then choose the mode of Enhanced or Maximized (see following image). First option Enhanced is probably your best bet in terms of being safer, and it offers better read speeds but write speeds remain the same as the HDD used. Second is Maximized and this is a form of caching since data is written to the SSD then synced to the hard drive. This mode should yield similar write speeds as what the SSD used is capable of.

At the end of the day, SRT is ideal for those who can’t afford large capacity SSDs but want that solid state performance. By leveraging this tech, individuals can get smaller SSDs and be able to achieve similar speeds when used in conjunction with a traditional hard drive.

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All the Answers to Intel’s Brand New Z68 Chipset – Part 1 (Feature)

At the a first glance there aren’t a whole lot of changes opposed to its predecessor P67, but there are some significant improvements that make the Z68 platform worth considering. Let’s jump straight in, and they include:

  • Being able to overclock the graphics core in the CPU (Sandy Bridge)
  • A new IPT (Identity Protection Technology) feature that integrates a hardware token in to the PC
  • Support for switchable graphics between external graphics and the integrated solution in Sandy Bridge
  • SSD caching that uses a smaller capacity SSD and traditional hard drive to increase responsiveness

We have to agree with many critics out there that the first two won’t be the main selling points for a typical consumer, but being able to switch between might be more of an interest. The early adopters of the P67 chipset couldn’t utilize the on-die graphics simply because the board didn’t have any outputs as those were only on the H and Q-series chipsets. For the Z68 now, Intel bundles the Flexible Display Interface which allows processor graphics to the chipset and a good example which includes bother DVI and HDMI ports would be ASUS’s P8Z68-V Pro.

Here’s the part that will intrigue most people, since motherboard makers will be bundling LucidLogix’s Virtu tech as we previously mentioned. Two modes available are i-mode and d-mode, we’ll elaborate further.

When in i-mode, you are mainly utilizing integrated graphics and only tapping in to your discrete card for gaming and there is some prep that needs to be done. This includes initializing the integrated graphics port in UEFI, connecting your monitor to the motherboard’s graphics port, and installing graphics for both the on-board Intel graphics portion then your choice of the discrete card. It’s not all that labor intensive with just a couple of straight forward steps, but the problem arises when you need Lucid to make profiles for any game you decide to run in the Virtu mode and we know that several gamers are eager to dive in to the newly released title. Asides from that, power savings are insignificant, and in contrast to a mobile version of switchable graphics the external video card doesn’t shut off completely. Despite all the power management features in high-end graphics solutions today, they still consume quite a bit of power even when it’s idling. The i-mode is also not compatible at the moment with dual-GPU cards and SLI.

As for d-mode? We think that this will be the more useful one of the two. You are start by setting UEFI to initialize the PCI-E graphics adapter first then hooking up your monitor to the graphics card. In this particular mode, the external graphics solution is the main one and games can run without the use of any profiles coming from Lucid. Then you may be wondering now about the usefulness of this mode, well it’s being able to take advantage of the Quick Sync technology built right into Sandy Bridge. It may not shine when it comes to gaming, but it means serious business for encoding and transcoding since Intel dedicated transistors just for those jobs. How good is this implementation you would ask?

In d-mode, Cyberlink MediaEspresso 6.5 took 142 seconds on a GeForce GTX 580 to transcode a single VOB file to a generic WMV file. While the QuickSync mode on the Core i7-2600K took only 109 seconds, and that’s about a 30% difference. If something were to take hours, which option would you rather have?

Another rad feature is Intel’s SRT (Smart Response Technology) which lets the Z68 chipset to use an SSD to cache commonly used data from a hard drive. This supposedly yields up to a 4x improvement in performance over a traditional drive alone. Unfortunately our coverage got longer than we expected, and we’ll discuss SRT in the next segment as our two-part series. Stay tuned.

Roundup: Motherboards

Last week’s roundup was definitely not corny at all. Okay, maybe a little bit (or quite). On the more serious side of things now, and we noticed that we covered almost every part of a desktop computer from all of our roundups in the past. Video cards were no doubtingly a popular topic, especially with new releases from the two graphics giants.

Well, it’s Motherboards (who calls them mainboards?) this week and we have a mix of platforms for both the first and second generation Intel Core chips as well as several others (we’re not leaving you out AMD!). We decided to have a little variety since many retailers listed several “older” parts as an opportunity to clear out inventory when Intel had the recall, but good news is that we’re seeing revised boards now and it looks like MSI was one of the first out the door with them. Something we’d like to bring your attention to are the Sapphire Pure Black boards (X58 and P67), as they’re not among the usual suspects that bring motherboards to market but it looks like they’re introducing quite unique products (P.S. we love the bold color scheme) since having acquired EVGA’s design team.

UPDATE: Threw in a couple more reviews, enjoy!

    Roundup: Intel Chipset Debacle Follow-up

    We thought this would be the most appropriate roundup to finish off the week, and hopefully this can allow everyone to get a better understanding of the problems many manufacturers and early adopters are facing. With us further into the week now, some major OEMs and distributors are somewhat more aware of the issue we have at hand but it surprised us that some were still selling products after Intel issued the notice. We also got official statements from most of the major motherboard companies with also industry leaders like Dell and HP either pulling sales of current models or pushing back announcements of scheduled products. Feel free to check out any of the links below, or the ones in particular that affect you.

    UPDATE: We added a couple more links that may be helpful towards some of you – there is however a “feature” link that we want to mention. Gigabyte actually came up with a small utility that checks your SATA configuration, so you wouldn’t have to pop open your case to take a peek inside. It also makes a recommendation to move any of the devices if you have them plugged into the SATA II (3 Gbps) ports. Here’s the link to the download page for your convenience.

    Intel’s Chipset Debacle: “What am I suppose to do?”

    We totally understand if that’s what you’re wondering right now, but you will only be affected if you recently bought a motherboard or system that contains Intel’s recent Series-6 (aka Sandy Bridge on LGA 1155) chipset. Note that the processor (CPU) itself is not affected, and the issue currently lies on all motherboards that were shipped since the launch of this new line. The discovered major flaw was enough to halt current manufacturing and shipments, but rest assured that other Intel products are not affected (e.g. X58, P55, H55, etc.). Intel estimates total costs for existing replacements and repairs that they will incur is about $700 million.

    So what’s the problem here? The problem is hardware related and affecting the SATA II (3 Gbps) that are on the “Cougar Point” chipsets. Some sort of silicon-based fix will be required at the metal layer, and this includes all products that are currently shipping or have already been shipped (e.g. P67, H67). Also to note that all desktops, notebooks, and servers that are based on the Sandy Bridge chipset are affected.

    What happens if I bought (or built) a Sandy Bridge system recently? Manufacturers are indicating that revised motherboards for both desktops and notebooks won’t be available until April (this year), as Intel won’t be providing revised chipsets until mid-March. As for standalone motherboard purchases, most boards bear a 3 year warranty – so you are most likely to be covered.

    VSPC will be contacting affected clients with the steps they should take regarding this issue, and any of our currently offered builds that has this faulty chipset will be temporary unavailable for the time being. If you are thinking of buying or building a system, we’d recommend that you hold off at least until April.

    Based on what we’re hearing at this point, the chipset may have a higher chance of failing only when it’s under heavy use and to reduce any lost of data or corruption – we advise that all hard drives should be moved to any available Intel or third party SATA III (6 Gbps) ports (e.g. 0 and 1). If you require to use any of the SATA II (3 Gbps) ports, allocate the least critical drive(s) instead (e.g. DVD drive).

    UPDATE: Some companies are also pointing out that with the shortage of copper and other materials required for manufacturing, delays may end up stretching beyond the expected April time frame. We’ll also post any other updates here that are either coming from Intel or any other major manufacturers (e.g. regarding replacements or refunds).

    MSI’s P67 Motherboard Supports 8GB DIMMs

    It all stacks up to quite a bit of RAM! With Intel’s highly anticipated P67 chipset boards featuring the Sandy Bridge processors coming after the start of 2011, a brand new level of memory capacity is to be introduced.

    Boards will still use a standard four slot, dual channel setup however screenshots (below) of CPU-Z shows a MSI P67A-GD65 with a total of 32GB memory. This means that all four slots can in fact take high density 8GB modules.

    Another thing to keep an eye out for is that there’ll be LGA 2011 boards that will have 8 slots that may be able to max out with 64GB of memory. That will make current standards look like nothing!

    ASUS Next with P67 (Sandy-Bridge) Motherboards

    So we saw earlier what ASUS was planning with in terms of the software back end (UEFI) that will be shipping on all the Sandy Bridge motherboards. Now there’s new first shots of these boards, and they look fantastic – we’re not so inclined about the “Tactical Jacket” that’s going to be on the Sabertooth P67 though. The design supposedly enhances airflow throughout the entire board, and helps cools other regions as well. Otherwise the TUF series lives up to their reputation, offering an extended 5-year warranty, military-grade components, and a ton of sensors. Also to mention that nearly all of ASUS’s upcoming motherboards will have USB 3.0 and Bluetooth as standard features. Check out some pics we have below (via HotHardware), you’ll probably notice which stands out the most (if you have no idea, it’s the bottom right one).

    There’s also a Mini-ITX board (P8P67-I) they’ll be launching that’s worth a mention, and it comes packed with a whole range of items on-board except full-sized DIMM slots.
    We also picked out some reasonable to extensive coverage on this lineup, for your convenience sake.

    Gigabyte Announces Sandy-Bridge Motherboards

    Slated for early next year, Gigabyte already has a handful (eight to be exact, take a glimpse at all of them over at PCSTATS.com) of boards ready with the P67 and H67 chipsets that will be compatible with Intel’s currently non-existent Sandy-Bridge CPUs.

    This mid-range line all feature the LGA1155 socket (having support for the 32nm manufacturing process processors), bears Gigabyte’s trademark Ultra Durable 3 copper PCB, takes DDR3 RAM of speeds up to 2200MHz, have two USB 3.0 ports, dual PCIe 16x slots with CrossfireX capability (no mention of SLI), and includes four SATA III 6Gbps ports (only three for the mATX version). Here are a few – we totally admire the classy new black PCB design for the P67A-UD3R, making it comparable with other high-end boards. Check out pictures of the other two motherboards below, the P67A-UD3 (no RAID, sadly) and H67MA-UD2H (with no PCI slots at all).

    Top-view shots and spec sheets:

    P76A-UD3R_resizeP67A-UD3_resizeH67MA-UD2H_resize

    gigabyte_p67a-ud3r_specs gigabyte_p67a-ud3_specs gigabyte_h67ma-ud2h_specs