Enthusiasts who have been holding off on jumping on the Sandy Bridge platform will finally have a reason to do so. Intel's Z68 Express chipset, which promises to merge the best of the P67 and H67 chipsets, is slated to debut early next month and we have already previewed ASUS' P8Z68-V PRO. The next manufacturer to send us a review unit ahead of time is Gigabyte, who kindly offered its high-end GA-Z68X-UD7-B3 board.
You may have read about it online, but apparently, the UD7 has been spotted for sale in retail shops in Taiwan. It's the same model that we'll be looking at here today, though we do have a few more shots than just the box. However, the packaging is indeed attractive enough to deserve its own shot, what with its profusion of logos and marketing slogans:
When we examined the physical Z68 board, we were slightly taken aback at how familiar it seemed. We weren't wrong, as a closer look, along with a check with our older P67 article showed that the new Gigabyte Z68 board was an identical twin to its P67 UD7 model. On hindsight, it's only logical that Gigabyte would replicate its P67 design with a Z68 chipset; the ASUS P8Z68V-PRO was also quite similar to its P67 boards.
There was nevertheless a major difference between this Gigabyte and the ASUS board - the GA-Z68X-UD7-B3 had no integrated display outputs at the rear panel like the ASUS. This makes this Z68 board even more like a clone of Gigabyte's P67 offering, as it offers only a discrete graphics option.
It also begs the question why Gigabyte went with a solely discrete option that appears to undermine the whole point of having a versatile chipset like the Z68 Express. From what we understand from Gigabyte, the manufacturer feels that the UD7 is a high-end SKU where the users are almost certainly going to have a discrete graphics card (or two), especially given the presence of an NF200 controller to allow for up to 3-way SLI/CrossFireX.
As for the other benefits of having the integrated graphics present, which we have highlighted in the ASUS Z68 preview, like Intel Quick Sync and Lucid's Virtu technologies, Gigabyte responded that Intel's Quick Sync was supported by a limited number of software currently for transcoding and it's not that essential for the target audience of the UD7.
The same too applies for Virtu, which while allowing dynamic switching between the integrated and discrete graphics, incurs a slight performance penalty (Gigabyte quotes between 1 to 3%) in the process. This is something that would not fly with users who have chosen to splurge on a high-end motherboard like the UD7. Those who wish to get the best of both worlds and enjoy the full advantages of the Z68 Express chipset, can look forward to Gigabyte's lower-end models, which will have Virtu and integrated display outputs for the Sandy Bridge processor.
Without knowing the rest of Gigabyte's lineup, it's a reasonable explanation for the UD7's design. It does make this Z68 board practically indistinguishable from its P67 cousins, except for the chipset's support for Intel Smart Response, or SSD caching, which should accelerate your system performance by a decent amount, depending on your applications and of course, your SSD.