Editor’s note: this is a guest post by Dave at TechRadar.com, one of our favourite sources for tech news and reviews. Here’s his thoughts on the best Intel Sandy Bridge motherboards around today.
Intel’s current best consumer processor is undoubtedly its Sandy Bridge range with the second generation of Intel’s Core architecture. You know, that ‘visibly smart’ stuff.
But, as ever, you need to have the right motherboard in order to get the most out of your CPU. There are a host of motherboards out there capable of playing host to your Sandy Bridge CPU, ranging from £40 all the way up to well over £200.
It’s all down to what chipset you drop your CPU into – the bottom of the range is the H61 chipset, which is about as basic a Sandy Bridge setup as you can get, and at the top you’ve got the all-singing, all-processing Z68. We’ve looked at the lot in our recent Buying Guide on TechRadar.com.
We’ve taken a look at seven of the best Z68 boards around as well as a selection of the lower-end chipsets.
7. MSI Z68A-GD65 – 4 stars
MSI definitely had the enthusiast in mind when it designed the Z68A-GD65. It has some features on the board that only they could appreciate; for example there is a checkpoint block to take direct measurements of various voltages the board is using via a probe.
As usual MSI has gone to great lengths to get the best components for the power circuitry, which it likes to call its Military Class II. These top notch Hi-c Caps, Super Ferrite Chokes and Solid Caps all help to keep the board stable, particularly when it’s being pushed hard during overclocking.
6. Gigabyte Z68XP-UD3-iSSD – 4 stars
Gigabyte has wasted no time in producing boards using the Z68 chipset, in fact you could say it’s gone slightly overboard with the excitement as it has no less that 20 motherboards currently in its line-up.
These iSSD boards though offer something very different, namely a tiny mSATA connection that allows the installation of small form factor SSDs to work alongside Intel’s Smart Response Technology (SRT). The drive bundled with this board comes in the shape of one of Intel’s new 20GB MLC 311 series SSDs.
This isn’t a board for everyone, but if SRT appeals to you, and you can’t afford a serious SSD, the Z68XP-UD3-iSSD is an interesting option.
5. ASRock Z68 Extreme 4 – 4 stars
The Extreme 4 performs about as well as we’ve come to expect from standard Z68 boards: our 2600K happily hitting the 4.6GHz mark. That’s no market leader, but it’s not a bad mark up for a 3.4GHz CPU.
The Z68 Extreme 4 keeps up the tradition of good build quality, using first-rate components and stable performance that has come to represent ASRock boards in recent times. And having reasonable price tag for a board sporting the latest hardware doesn’t do it any harm either.
4. Zotac Z68-ITX Wi-Fi – 4 stars
The Zotac Z68-ITX Wi-Fi really is an ITX board. Zotac, the mad fool, has opted to stick Intel’s latest and greatest tech – the Z68 chipset with Sandy Bridge processor architecture – onto one of the smallest motherboard form factors available, but that’s what Zotac does…
Beautiful build quality, solid if unremarkable benchmarks and a neatly packaged product help justify the pricing of this latest Intel Z68-based motherboard.
3. Asus P8Z68-V Pro – 4 stars
As a whole the Intel Z68 chipset, as represented here by the Asus P8Z68V Pro, does indeed provide the best of both H67 and P67 worlds, with a few extras thrown in for good measure. The combination of iGPU and discrete graphics working together has made the P67 all but redundant unless you’re steadfastly a PC gamer only.
This then is the platform many have been waiting for before they take the plunge into Sandy Bridge, and the Asus P8Z68V Pro handles the responsibility pretty well.
2. Gigabyte Z68AP-D3 – 4½ stars
The Z68 platform has seen a lot of love from Gigabyte since it came about, and the Z68AP-D3 has to be one of the cheapest Z68 boards we’ve ever seen. But does that also mean it’s one of the weakest?
If you’re looking to build a budget Sandy Bridge machine the Gigabyte Z68AP-D3 will give you relevant performance compared with pricier boards and allow you to spend more in other areas of your build.
1. ASRock Z68 Pro 3 – 4½ stars
At the price ASRock can apparently produce motherboards like the ASRock Z68 Pro 3 you might find yourself asking the utterly reasonable question: “what’s the point of anything else?”
It’s not just a winner on price. At stock settings, benchmarks for the ASRock Z68 Pro 3 look good too. It’s got all the hugely desirable features of Intel Z68, including the ability to turn QuickSync on and off, and yet costs less than some low-end H67-based motherboards we’ve seen.
And the rest…
Asus Republic of Gamers Maximus IV Extreme
The P67 was the first performance chipset for the Sandy Bridge era, but unfortunately lacked the later Z68’s ability to access all the processor graphics goodness; namely the QuickSync video for lightening HD video transcoding.
But if that doesn’t float your boat and straight-line performance is your bag then the Maximus IV Extreme will wring every last MHz of speed out of an unlocked, K-series Sandy Bridge chip. It’s all about overclocking here, and if that’s your bag look no further. There is also a Z-series version featuring the Z68 chipset too.
The H67 chipset may not have the overclocking capability of its performance sibling, the P67, but with its full support for the integrated graphics of Sandy Bridge processors it makes an ideal base to build a powerful home theatre PC.
It’s good to see Gigabyte paying as much attention to the small-form factor focused H67MA-UD2H as it does on its full sized ATX motherboards. So this is a well-featured board then, perfect for the HTPC if not the performance crowd.
The H61 chipset is basically a cut down version of the H67, with only SATA 3Gbps support and up to 10 USB 2.0 ports instead of 14, making it an ideal platform for entry-level PCs.
If you are on a very tight budget and want to experience what the Sandy Bridge CPUs are like, then the H61MX might be worth having a look at, but even at this price it does feel like a false economy.
Dave James is the Components Editor for TechRadar.com and as such is a massive PC geek of the highest order. What he hasn’t destroyed through benchmarking, overclocking or general tweakery isn’t worth looking at.