BIOS is an acronym that stands for Basic Input/Output System. It is meant to control your product at a very low level. As of right now there are three regularly used BIOS formats (there are actually more than that but there are three common ones). These are the AMI (American Megatrends Incorporated), Award, and Phoenix.
Normally our BIOS section is sort of dull. Think about it, we cover the same thing over and over. Here is the overclocking section, here are the peripherals. It is needed and can identify where someone is offering more customizations over another. The same can be said for the actual BIOS on the Z68X-UD3H B3. The BIOS is the same customized Award BIOS that we have come to expect from Gigabyte. This is not completely a bad thing as Gigabyte has done some work to keep things clean and easy to navigate.
As you can see the BIOS layout is pretty much what you would expect from a Gigabyte motherboard.
There is not much new to talk about from this end, but we will cover some of the highlights. As usual the M.I.T. pages are well laid out and keep to the clean and simple.
The rest of the BIOS falls into familiar categories like the Advanced BIOS features, Integrated Peripherals, etc.
We told you that we had more to write about than the normal boring BIOS features that we usually talk about and we do. With the Z68X-UD3H we installed Gigabyte’s TouchBIOS. This is a Window’s based extension of the board BIOS. It looks like an EFI BIOS but runs inside a window in your OS. Unfortunately, the window that it opens up is not resizable. This can make navigation through it a little cumbersome, but it is still a good concept.
Inside the TouchBIOS unlike many overclocking tools you get an exact replication of all of the normal BIOS functions plus a few nice extras. On the down side to apply any of these you have to reboot. Even with this little inconvenience it is still a nice feature.
Overclocking the Gigabyte Z68X-UD3H B3 was as easy as any of the recent chipsets from Intel (P55, P67, Z68 etc). I started off with a 51x multiplier but found that the system was not able to sustain that much of a power draw. Although I was able to get through HyperPi, Cinebench and even Lightwave 3D I was not able to finish my transcoding tests. There was simply too much going on, it would start the parsing and indexing only to bluescreen and then reboot. With a single step down to a multiplier of 50 we were able to get everything stable with the built-in GPU on the Core i7 2600k. We ran into the same thing when we dropped the Asus HD5870 V2 we use in the Lab. Despite the fact that we had stability at 50x we could not maintain that with the HD5870 in the board. Again we had to back things down one notch to 49x to get back our stability. We have both CPUz shots below.
Gigavyte Z68X-UD3H B3 Overclock with CPU Only
Of course overclocking is a picky subject. I can buy to identical CPUs from the store and they will not always perform the same way under stress. This is the same with motherboards, RAM and GPUs. So again it is important to keep in mind that our results represent a specific hardware configuration. Yours may be similar but will rarely be identical.
Overclocking Tools -
Gigabyte’s tools of choice is EasyTune6. This is a suite of tools that are combined in a single UI. I have to say that in my opinion the UI is a little boring and there are pages that get in the way of what it is intended to do. However, this does not take away from the functionality or the performance; this is just a personal thing. The first two pages get you the same information as you find get from CPUz. It is not until the third page (well really the first page when you open the application) that you get into the real workings of EasyTune6.
The third page in is the Tuner Page. You start off on the Quick Boost page. Here you have three options for a one stop overclock. The first two are probably places that you won’t want to go if you bought this board and the third; well that is just a pit stop on the way to higher speeds.
For the people that really bought this board for what it is intended you will want to skip over the “easy” button and head right on into the advanced settings pages. Here you can really do some damage. You have access to the BCLK, Memory, and PCIe frequencies. You also get to play with the Ratios, and a ton of voltage options. Like I said you can do some damage here. Just a note, if you change the memory speed you will need to reboot.
The next three tabs let you OC the GPU (well most of them), setup and work with the Smart Fan settings, and monitor the temperatures and voltages. I have honestly never used the GPU overclocking function but I have tinkered with the smart fans and the H/W monitor.
The Test System and Comments -
Our test system is built on an open bench. This has two effects on testing. First it allows us to see everything and also to setup and disassemble the test rigs quickly. Second it means that we cannot gauge the potential air flow found in a normal case. The air is pretty stagnant; some may say this is a great neutral testing method and it can be. However, it does mean that the temperature reading taken off of the components are not accurate to what an average consumer would see. This means that your thermal performance will vary from what we see here.
Setting up the Z68X-UD3H was extremely simple. Drop the Windows 7 disc into the drive, reboot and you are off and running. The installation of the drivers and utilities was just as simple, after removing the User Account Control (which you should do anyway). One item that we were surprised was not in the installer DVD was the TouchBIOS. To get this handy little feature we had to download it from Gigabyte’s website. Still, once we downloaded it we had no issues getting it installed and running.
Performance testing overview -
Our testing is a little different than most. We combine both synthetic and real-world applications to simulate the types of performance common to the individual products. For motherboards this means that we run roughly six synthetic tests and two real-world. We will be expanding the real-world testing in the near future. But there is more to performance than just the raw numbers. As there are multiple components and sub-components on a motherboard there each item can have a distinct impact on the way the product will perform once you get it in your system. It is important to note not only the actual results but what they mean to you as a potential consumer. We will try to give this information to you. But we do not just cover the performance aspects that are measurable. We also talk about the components that might not have a direct benchmark. These are items like Audio Quality, ease of use and installation.
Section 1 Subsystems -
Memory performance is very important on a motherboard, especially when you have a CPU with multiple cores and threads. If you have slow memory your cores and threads can become starved for data to execute. To test memory performance we run both Sisoft’s SANDRA and AIDA64. These two combine to not only give us accurate numbers but to validate each other. For testing at stock speeds the memory is hard set to 1600MHz while overclocking testing is done at the highest stable speed for the voltage of 1.65v this is due to the different memory dividers for each CPU. As such, the memory speeds will vary greatly. This means that the overclocked numbers are a little misleading and while they can show a trend are really only included to show if a board has a problem with memory performance at high clockspeeds.
The memory performance on the Gigabyte Z69X-UD3H is right where it should be (around 20-21GB/s). This is good for those that are looking for solid and stable performance for everything from general purpose usage to gaming.
AIDA64 shows us what helps to elevate this memory performance to the level it is at. Intel’s caching structure helps to keep the CPU running efficiently and overcomes some of the inherent latency found when you put a memory controller inside the CPU.
|AIDA64 Memory Performance CPU Only||AIDA64 Memory Performance w/HD587|
Drive performance -
Drive performance is also one of the major subsystems that goes to make up the performance of a motherboard. For our testing we use Sandra and AIDA64 again. We only test with single drives for each type of controller present on the motherboard (unless it is a professional product where we will use RIAD 5 and/or 10). We have also begun using a Seagate PS-110 USB 3 external HDD for our USB 3.0 performance. As a side note, we include the overclocked numbers here to make sure (again) that you are not going to see a major drop in performance due to minor instabilities at high clock speeds.
For drive performance the Z68X tops out our scale (at least for SATA 2.0). When you combine this with the solid memory performance we should see some good numbers when we get our main battery of tests going.
AIDA64 backs up the numbers from SANDRA. Solid memory performance and excellent drive speeds are a good combination to have.
|AIDA64 HDD Performance CPU Only||AIDA64 HDD Performance w/ HD5870|
|AIDA64 USB 3.0 Performance CPU Only||AIDA64 USB 3.0 Performance w/ HD5870|
Power efficiency is another of those misnomers that we get caught up in. We hear about idle states and power gates. But what does that mean to you and I? On the surface having power management that reduces idle power sounds great and can be a benefit to someone that leaves their system on for long periods of time (and inactive) but how a system handles power under load and the delta between the two states is often more important than the idle power usage numbers. We use only P3 Kill A Watt instruments for measuring power.
Now this is extremely impressive! The Gigabyte Z68X-UD3H has the lowest power draw out of all the boards we have tested to date. Even overclocked the board does well in comparison to other boards in the same range.
Cooling (Board Level) -
Board level cooling is an important factor in product performance and longevity. Components like the chipset, VRM modules and even capacitors need to be kept relatively cool to prevent failure. As these parts are made of silicon, they have a thermal breakdown threshold; or melting point. At that temperature the actual transistors built into chip will begin to deform and break down. Granted, the threshold is often very high, but you still need to make sure that components stay away from this level of heat for longer product life.
The cooling on the Z68X is pretty good. It is using the new style of heatsink that Gigabyte has put on their 2011 products. It has a great look to is and it is also fairly efficient. We have found that it does not work for every occasion (it can get saturated quickly). If you do not have good air flow across it you tend to get higher temperatures than you would with other solutions.
Audio is highly subjective. What we find pleasing may sound “off” to you. That is always going to the problem with testing audio; results will vary too widely depending on the tastes of the listener. However, there are ways of measuring the audio output with an objective ear. There is also the issue of audio causing performance issues in gaming and video playback. The reason this is a potential source of concern is that all onboard audio CODECs (Compression/Decompression) are CPU controlled. This means that while the audio chip controls the audio levels and effects of the audio the actual work is done on the CPU. Usually this will not be a problem with today’s powerful CPUs. Even the lower and consumer level products can handle high-end audio these days. But again there is the chance that a bad design or software will hinder your system and performance. On the other side the limits of board space, cost, etc will also prevent the level of audio quality you can get from an add-in board. We test all audio parts with three media types, Movie (DVD), MP3 Music, and Gaming. These are pushed to our Tec On model 55 Tube Amp to see if we can detect any signal issues in the reproduction.
As Gigabyte is improving their products for enthusiasts they are also working to improve the overall user experience. To do this they have moved adding in audio CODECs that support higher Signal to Noise ratios as well as other advanced audio features. When we tested this we found that the audio reproduction was very good. It is not audiophile quality, but it is still good. We did not notice anything until we went to our Tube Amp and to be honest with you, if you are planning to use a Tube Amp you will want to drop in an Add-in audio card anyway.
This one is something that is a requirement anymore. If you have a computer, the chances are good (like 99%) that you are also connected to high-speed internet. With this you need a good and solid LAN chip to make sure that your data flows properly out and back.
The networking performance was also very solid. Again you are not going to win any speed awards, but you can certainly get your data back and forth across the network and the internet. Then again, when you consider than even the fastest residential internet connection right now is not over 100MB/s you do have plenty of headroom to play around with.
Section II - Performance Tests,
In this section of testing we cover the synthetics. These are tests that run a scripted sequence of internal APIs or that use another installed application to perform a series of scripted events. They are great in that they can provide reproducible results across various platforms. On the down side, synthetic tests can be fooled with driver tweaks and optimizations. In some cases it is necessary to rename the .exe file to something generic to discover if this is the case. In any event when this is needed (when a test shows a drastic difference in performance over the renamed exe) we will note this and show both results for comparison.
PCMark7 is the latest general performance test from FutureMark. As each generation of this benchmark has evolved and developed we have watched them add more and more realistic tests to this suite. With this generation we find more media tests, (audio and video transcoding) moving of large files, multiple web page rendering, and much more (the even added DX10 gaming). We use the Overall Performance and Common Usage suites in our testing.
The PCMark7 scores for the Z68X are good. They show that the Gigabyte Z68X is able to perform under different performance loads. Although PCMark7 is a synthetic it is still a good indicator of how the system will perform.
3DMark 11 -
3DMark 11 is the other Futuremark test that we run on our motherboards. This test simulates the typical tasks that a GPU (and system) would have to perform to provide you with a good gaming experience. It is based on the DX9, DX10 and DX11 engines but can only be installed on Windows Vista or later. The suite of tests covers DX9, DX10, and of course DX11 rendering; it also covers AI computations and physics. That’s right I said Physics the latest version of 3DMark uses a Havok physics engine. This removes the advantage that nVidia had with 3DMark Vantage.
In an interesting turn of events, the Gigabyte Z68X drops a little bit when we run 3DMark11. It is not a big drop, but it was unexpected considering the performance we saw with PCMark7.
As the Intel GMA graphics processor does not support DX11 we wanted to run 3DMark Vantage to get you an idea of its base performance.HyperPi 0.99b -
HyperPi is a front end application that allows you to easily run multiple instances of the SuperPi application. SuperPi, for those that are not familiar with it, is an application that measures the time it takes to calculate the number Pi out to as many as 32 million places. This calculation is then checked and run multiple times (up to 24 for a 32M run). This test stresses the CPU, Memory and HDD as data is handed off between the three. If there is a weak link, HyperPi will show it. For our testing we run the 32M test on as many cores (and threads) as the CPU has available. The slowest CPU time is then recorded.
The HyperPi times for the Gigabyte Z68X-UD3H are very good. Although not the fastest time we have seen they are very close to the top. Considering the market placement of this chipset and board that is very impressive.
Cinebench R11.5 -
Cinebench R11.5 is the 11th release of Maxon’s rendering test. This test is based off of the Cinema 4D engine, which is one of the industry standard tools for digital animation. It is a powerful product with many different modules that can be “plugged” into it to increase its effectiveness. With Cinebench you get to see how your computer would do using this application. There are two tests; one tests the CPU’s ability to render an image across multiple cores or threads. The other tests your systems ability to handle OpenGL based rendering.
The Gigabyte Z68X-UD3H drops a little in our Cinebench testing. Although the numbers to do not look too far off, they are important when you consider that even small differences in times can be huge over large projects.
Section III - Performance Tests,
Here we have two tests that are designed to put the performance of the motherboard and its subsystems to the test. Both require good CPU, Memory, HDD and even to a lesser extent audio and network performance. The two tests we chose were Lightwave 3D 9.6 and AutoGK 2.55. We will be adding at least one more real-world test to this battery in the near future, but for now these two cover quite a bit.
Lightwave 3D 9.6 x64 -
Lightwave is another industry standard application for 3D animation and rendering. It has a large tool base and the rendering engine is highly threaded (when using the right render model). This application is also capable of expanding to 4k resolutions as well as ray tracing for rending the light sources. For our testing we use frame 470 of the Pinball scene found in the LW 9 Content folder. This uses the newer perspective camera that is better suited to a multi-CPU/Core environment. This camera style also uses ray tracing and a much improved anti-aliasing method. Settings are shown below in the attached screen shot. Of course these are single frame renders and they are not a complete picture; for that you have to take into account the number of frames an average project would have. In a typical 30 second commercial you will have around 840 to 960 frames (at 28 – 32 FPS) this means that you have to multiply the time of a single frame by that number just to get a vague idea of how long that 30 seconds would take. This is because each frame will have a different render time based on complexity.
Well, looks like the performance discrepancies we saw with Cinebench affect our other rendering test Lightwave 3D. This is actually a little odd considering the level of memory and HDD performance we saw. We will have to dig a little deeper to find out the root causes for this, although it could all boil down to a flaky tuning in the BIOS or a flaky driver. We have a feeling it is the former and not the later.
AutoGK 2.55 Transcoding -
AutoGK is a transcoding software that is really multiple parts combined to make an easy to use whole. It combines, items like FDD Show, Xvid encoder, Virtual Dub and others for use in converting one media format to another (usually Xvid AVI). It will not transcode copy protected DVDs or Bluray discs yet (you still need a decrypter for that). But it does an excellent job on everything else. For our testing we use a 2 hour movie that has been placed onto a standard definition DVD for playback; we then transcode this DVD to a 100% quality AVI with the original audio intact. This puts a strain on the CPU, Memory, HDD and the attached DVD ROM drive.
We know that Intel is moving towards a much more multi-media oriented experience. Our AutoGK times represent this very well. The times are even better when we just run the Core i7 all by itself. This is due to some of the optimizations Intel has put into the CPU. This is something we are going to be taking a closer look at in the near future.
Section IV Performance –
Gaming as a test of motherboard performance is sort of a joke these days. The big player in the gaming arena is the GPU. Everyone but a few hardcore PR teams know this. However, it is important to run at least a few (one from each current DX version) to see if there are any issues with the combination of components on a motherboard. These are items like Audio lag, memory lag and of course problems with the PCIe lanes and signal traces. If there are issues in design, drivers or BIOS then you can have odd gaming performance. So without much more preamble let’s dive into the three games we currently use; Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 for DX9 FarCry 2 for DX10 and Battlefield Bad Company 2 for DX11.
Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 DX9 -
This is an excellent but short game that put you right into the action from the beginning and does not let up the pressure until the very end. The graphics are a little better; most notably the night and thermal imaging have been improved. The AI is still the typical COD “bar fight” style AI, with maybe a tad more finesse. All in all it is not a bad game to play and a decent one to use for testing. Our testing run starts at the bridge and ends after you clear the school in the first level of the game. Settings are shown below as are the performance numbers.
Our DX9 game went well although it was 10FPs slower than the leader. We wonder if there is something going on with the way the PCIe lanes are translating through the CPU as we would expect better performance here.
FarCry2 DX10 -
Although not one of my favorite games this tedious game does have some good graphics. The large sandbox style of the game lends to mission based play. The only problem is that the AI is rather low grade. Still the more CPU power the more the bad guys try to do. Over all the game was a little bit of a disappointment to play, but still not a bad DX10 representation. Our testing run starts right after you get your first mission to clean out the safe-house and ends after the hostage rescue. Settings and performance numbers are shown below.
FarCry2 puts a hurting on the Gigabyte Z68X-UD3H and the Intel GMA graphics processor. When we dropped the HD5870 in the Z68X-UD3H FarCry 2 performance was very good. It was 11 FPS faster at its slowest than the other boards we tested.
Battlefield Bad Company2 DX11 –
I have liked many of the Battlefield games. They usually tend to be fast paced and fun. With Battlefield Bad Company 2 you do get some of that, but there is something about the graphics and the movement that just does not sit right. The AI is a less sophisticated form of the bar fight AI, but it gets the job done. Still, the game is good for testing as it can put a strain on the components of the board. Out testing run is the entire first level, from beginning to end. Settings are shown below along with the raw numbers.
And we are back near the middle again. I am honestly not sure why the gaming performance is all over the place. However, on the positive side the frame rate is still over 32FPs minimum so while it is not the fastest board, it will still give you a solid gaming experience.
Gaming wrap-up -
As we have said all along the GPU on the Sandybridge Core i7 and Core i5 are not meant for high-end gaming. They are more than adequate for some mid-range gaming and for many of your RPG and Strategy games. However, when you drop a good GPU into the board things turn around (as you would expect). With the Gigabyte Z68X-UD3H we find performance that is all over the place, but is still consistently over our full fluid gaming frame rate of 32. Meanwhile the audio and networking performance kept the gaming experience immersive and responsive.
Value is another very subjective topic. What is expensive to some might be a deal to others. You can look at this topic in multiple ways. One is raw price and the other is what you get for the money. Each is accurate and both are correct ways to look at price/value. We tend to look at features, performance and real-property when we discuss value. However, we also take into account the raw cash cost of the item. The Gigabyte Z68X-UD3H B3 sells for $150 on most e-tailers which is the price range for the lower end of the middle range products. However, the Gigabyte Z68X-UD3H B3 is far from that market space. In fact with the performance we saw the $150 price tag is quite good. Gigabyte throws some pretty decent features at you as well, but one of the things that I liked was just how overclockable the board was. Yes there is a ceiling around 50x, but that is still very good and if you have a CPU that does not need as much power as the i7 2600k does at that speed you can get even more for your money.
As the second Z68 based board we have tested the Z68X-UD3H gives us a more favorable impression of this new range. We can still safely say that it will not be replacing the X58 any time soon (or indeed at all). However while the X58 is in no danger from the Z68, AMD’s 8xxGX series boards are. At $150 for the board (and CPU prices that are dropping) we can see Gigabyte’s Z68X-UD3H eating away at AMD’s entry level market space even with a lower end CPU. The Z68X-UD3H is not just for the entry level though. Even if you are only running with the GMA GPU on the Core i7/i5 you will get solid performance for general computing and decent performance with workstation applications. If you are looking for an inexpensive board to start out with then the Gigabyte Z68X-UD3H is a good place to start. You will get good results with only a small amount of effort, but still have plenty of room for tuning. In short Gigabyte’s Z68X-UD3H is a good board for many different market spaces.
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