Zap's Mini Review Gigabyte GA-Z68MX-UD2H-B3 As promised over a month ago, here is my review of the Gigabyte GA-Z68MX-UD2H-B3 motherboard. Newegg currently has it for $160 before a $10 rebate. I purchased mine in a Micro Center store as part of a bundle deal with a Core i5-2500K processor. Micro Center's price was $140 before a $15 rebate, plus $60 off the motherboard when purchased with the processor. My final price (before sales tax) will be $65 if I ever get the rebate. In the rest of this review I wil be referring to this motherboard as the Gigabyte Z68MX for brevity sake. To my knowledge there are no other motherboards with "Z68MX" as part of the model name so there shouldn't be any confusion. I will not be benchmarking the motherboard since I believe that all boards of a similar chipset will perform within a few percentage points of each other, thus in my opinion one should make their purchasing decision on the suitability of the product (meets budget, has desired features and overclockability, no layout issues), and not on whether one board performs 1% better than the next. SPECIFICATIONS Gigabyte GA-Z68MX-UD2H-B3 motherboard Micro ATX form factor Supports all socket LGA1155 desktop processors Intel Z68 chipset Supports 4 DIMM slots up to dual channel DDR3-2133 data rate Three PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots One PCI Express 2.0 x1 slot Supports Nvidia SLI and AMD Crossfire technologies Four SATA 6Gb/s ports Three SATA 3Gb/s ports One eSATA 3Gb/s port Various RAID modes supported Realtek ALC889 audio supporting 8 channels Optical SPDIF output Realtek 8111E gigabit Ethernet Four USB 2.0 rear ports Ten USB 2.0 headers Two USB 3.0 rear ports Two USB 3.0 headers D-Sub, DVI-D, HDMI and DisplayPort video outputs PACKAGING The Z68MX comes in a colorful retail box chock full of marketing. The box touts Touch BIOS Hybrid EFI Technology which I didn't see any signs of. Maybe I need a touchscreen to unlock the feature? Other marketing speak talks about all the standard Intel Z68 features such as SSD caching (Intel Smart Response), Virtu, SLI, Crossfire and unlocked K CPUs. Gigabyte specific marketing beyond the MIA Touch BIOS includes 3 year warranty, all solid caps, special MOSFETs and chokes, DualBIOS, etc. They also mention the board is "Ultra Durale" with "2X Copper PCB," whatever that means. One interesting feature which will be of more use is the claimed 3X USB power. USB 2.0 has a specified power output of 500mA. Some devices such as many smart phones and tablets are unable to charge their batteries using a mere 500mA, so motherboard manufacturers have been upping the output of the USB ports. I'm not 100% positive, but I think that all the rear USB 2.0 ports have this boosted output, plus one set of internal USB 2.0 headers (closest to the USB 3.0 headers). Note that while the price sticker states $155.99, the normal in-store price at Micro Center appears to be $139.99. The accessories include some paper documentation, driver DVD, I/O shield, two 90º SATA cables and an SLI bridge. Not pictured is a "Dolby Home Theater" sticker, which was stuck in the manual and fell out later. The motherboard is the full micro ATX size and is packed chock full of components. It came out of the anti-static bag with a cut-to-fit piece of foam wedged between the rear I/O ports and the VRM heatsink. The likely reason is that the VRM heatsink is wobbly. It is held on by two tiny plastic push pins and the base is 1/2 the size of the upper part. Also, the base is offset. It really does not inspire much confidence. LAYOUT As mentioned the motherboard has nearly every bit of PCB covered either with components or writing. Immediately surrounding the CPU area are two 4-pin fan headers, the VRM heatsink which appears to only cover some of the chips, the 8-pin +12v power plug and the RAM slots. On the other side of the RAM slots are the 24-pin power connector, COM port headers and TPM headers (Trusted Platform Module, click for more information). The two fan headers are the only ones on the motherboard. That is a minor disappointment as many cases have at least front and rear fans to be hooked up in addition to the CPU fan. Note that in the picture I have the CPU fan plugged into the system fan header. The CPU fan header is the other one. The RAM slots are quite close to the first PCI Express slot, so if a graphics card is in the first slot the RAM slots may be difficult to use. I am only mentioning this because some people seem extremely bothered by this. Personally it doesn't bother me a bit as once a system is built I rarely have need to swap out RAM. Plus, it is not some crazy hardship to have to remove the card. In fact, if the card has nothing on the back such as protruding component leads, chips, screws/push pins or a backplate, you can finesse the RAM in and out of the slot with care even with the graphics card installed. The lower portion of the motherboard has the four PCI Express 2.0 slots, Z68 chipset heatsink and seven SATA ports. Six of the SATA ports are angled, while the seventh sticks out of the board normally. The blue ports are SATA 3Gb/s (AKA SATA II) which are linked to three of the four SATA 3GB/s ports provided by the Intel Z68 chipset. The white ports are SATA 6Gb/s ports provided by the Intel Z68 chipset. The grey ports are SATA 6Gb/s ports provided by an additional Marvell chipset. The PCI Express slots are physically oriented as x16, x1, x16, x16. However, electrically they are oriented x16, x1, x4, x8. Additionally, there are limitations depending on which slots can be used. The electrically x4 slot only works in x4 mode if there is no card in the x1 slot, otherwise it falls back to x1 mode. This is a limitation of the Z68 chipset where these two slots are linked to. The Z68 chipset does not have enough PCI Express lanes to provision five lanes for x4 + x1. The other two slots are additionally limited due to being provisioned from the CPU. The CPU only has x16 slots, so it is unable to provision for x16 + x8. Thus, if a card is inserted into the x8 slot, the x16 slot automatically becomes an x8 slot itself. Thus, if you fill all the PCI Express slots on the motherboard, your slots will be running at x8, x1, x1, x8 instead of x16, x1, x4, x8. Got that? There is one additional limitation of this slot layout. Radeon cards are able to Crossfire in x16 + x4 mode with a tiny performance hit, but GeForce cards can only (officially) SLI in x8 + x8 mode. Thus, for SLI or optimum Crossfire peformance you will need to somehow utilize the first and fourth PCI Express slots, not the more common first and third. Most micro ATX cases support only 4 slots. Thus, the lowest slot cannot be a dual slot card, severely limiting your dual graphics options. There are a handful of enthusiast micro ATX cases which supports five expansion slots, but those are rare. Also, the coolers on some dual slot cards will interfere with cables plugged into the headers on the bottom edge of the motherboard. Speaking of the headers along the bottom edge of the motherboard, they start on the left with the front HD audio headers, a near invisible 2-pin SPDIF header, five USB 2.0 sets of headers supporting 10 ports with the white header supporting (I am assuming) extra USB power, one set of USB 3.0 headers for two ports and the front panel LED/button headers. The rear I/O port area of the Z68MX is also quite filled out. On the left are the combo PS/2 port (can use either keyboard or mouse) plus two USB 2.0 ports with extra power. Next are the D-SUB (AKA VGA) port supporting an analog 2560x1440 resolution plus the DVI-D port supporting 1920x1200 digital resolution. While the port looks to be physically a dual-link DVI-D port, the resolution supported is merely single-link. Next is the optical SPDIF output hovering over the HDMI output supporting 1920x1200 digital resolution and the DisplayPort supporting 2560x1600 digital resolution. While this setup can support dual monitors using any two ports, if you are running a 30" monitor with 2560x1600 digital resolution you can only get that from the DisplayPort output. Next up are two more USB 2.0 ports with extra power and an eSATA port. This is not a powered eSATA port. This is the fourth SATA 3GB/s port provided by the Z68 chipset. Next are the gigabit Ethernet port and two USB 3.0 ports, plus six analog audio jacks. My test setup includes a Core i5-2500K processor with stock cooler, 8GB Adata DDR3-1333, Corsair Force Series 3 60GB SSD, Samsung DVD writer and an SFX sized Seasonic 300W power supply.