ASRock Z68 Extreme 7
Intel’s development follows their "tick-tock" strategy; that is, one swing represents a new architecture, and the next focuses on process improvements. This development cycle is about 2 years each, so here we are in 2011 with the new architecture: Sandy Bridge. Wtih the launch of Socket 1155 came the H67 and P67 chipsets, H67 was geared to the budget-oriented consumer, with onboard graphics and no overclocking abilities. P67, on the other hand, employed only discrete graphics but came with high performance overclocking capabilities. Each had pros and cons, and users were essentially forced to make a choice when going with a new hotrod Sandy Bridge processor.
The Z68 chipset changes that approach, as users can now benefit from the best of both worlds. The simple explanation is the Z68 is a hybrid of both H67 and P67, bringing onboard graphics and high performance overclocking in a single package.
A block diagram is a quick and clean way of showing the Z68 features.
We see the block diagram illustrates the hybrid setup of H67 and P67, with the onboard graphics in the form of HDMI, DVI, and DP (and lossless digital audio), while bringing PCI Express lanes in the form of 16, 8, and 8. t is this co-existence of sorts, between onboard and discrete, that brings dynamic switching between the two with Lucid’s Virtu technology, and is arguably the most important innovation with Z68.
Another significant innovation with the Z68 chipset is Intel’s Smart Response Technology (SRT), and it relates to storage devices, specifically SSD and HDD setups. While we know that Solid State Drives offer blistering speed boosts to systems, they are quite expensive for the most part, and also don’t offer the high storage capacity of traditional hard drives. SRT essentially allows users to create a dynamic RAID with an SSD, paired to the Operating System’s HDD, thus allowing the SSD to cache the most-accessed files, and therefore speeding up the system.
We really love the idea of the technology, though in practise it may be a bit less practical since we know the argument to make is simply why not use the SSD as a boot drive (and main applications), then the HDD as the data drive. Worthy question, to be sure, but we think SRT is a good step in the right direction for users that may not be able to wipe and reinstall to a new drive, or may not be able to afford a larger capacity SSD to fully take advantage of the speed difference.
Traditional chipsets break the PCIe lanes and downgrade the speed into x 4 or x 1. The PLX PEX8608 chip generates more lanes so PCIe devices can run at the proper speeds. PCIe 3.0 is a substantial upgrade from PCie 2.0 as seen in the lower chart. 3.0 essentially doubles the bandwith as seen in the encoding efficiency of 15% faster however; on the ASRock motherboards, Sandy Bridge will natively run at USB 2.0 and Ivy Bridge at USB 3.0.
What does this mean? The PCIe slots for a Tri Graphics configuration will run 16x/8x/8x on Sandy Bridge where as Ivy Bridge runs 16x/16x/16x.
Let’s take a closer look at the Z68 chipset in action on the ASRock Extreme7 Gen3 motherboard.