MSI launched their first foray into the Intel Z68 chipset in the form of the Z68A-GD80 B3 Military Class motherboard
. While the name might not exactly roll off your tongue, the Z68A hopes to win your heart with a packed feature set and overall enthusiast-class goodness. If you were let down by the lack of integrated graphic support on the P67 Chipset series or the omission of overclocking capabilities on the H67 then the Z68 chipset is here to answer your prayers.Packaging
In an attempt to grab your attention the motherboard comes packaged in a white box covered with a prismatic-psychedelic hologram-style overlay, emblazoned with more technology logos than we care to count. The most prominent branding you will see is the Military Class II logo touting the same "military class" features found on the companies graphic offerings like the MSI N460GTX Hawk we reviewed earlier
.Unlike some motherboard vendors, MSI didn't went overboard with the size of retail packaging
Inside the box you find the usual assortment of cables and adapters. An SLI bridge, 90° latch SATA cables, rear PCI bracket USB 3.0 port, and Molex-to-SATA power cables are present as well as those wonderful little pin header blocks that make connecting front panel headers so much simpler. Along with the assorted cables there is also a software DVD as well as two instruction manuals, a quick start guide and a large fold out motherboard diagram listing the board's prominent features.First Impressions
The black and blue coloring of the board seem to say enthusiast, as opposed the way many other boards SCREAM enthusiast with blinding colors and over the top logos and marketing gimmicks. The ATX motherboard features three PCIE x16 slots allowing the Z68A to support both NVIDIA's SLI as well as AMD CrossFire. Two PCIE x1 slots as well as two standard PCI slots are also present. The physical layout of the board follows standard design cues with features like 90° SATA 3Gb/s and SATA 6GB/s connectors along the board's leading edge. Memory needs are handled by four DDR3 DIMM slots. MSI carries their love of logos and branding to the board itself. In addition to the standard screen printing of connectors and the like commonly found on motherboards, MSI has also made use of any open space on the board for additional branding. Labels such as "Super Charger", "USBSafeguard"," Lossless Audio" are scattered across the boards surface, not to mention the now-standard heat sink branding most board-makers utilize these days. MSI Z68A Board at Glance: Overall a very clean layout given the rich featureset
Enthusiast class boards such as the Z68A are always looking to improve the onboard feature set by adding features that cater to the overclocking enthusiast and this board is no different. In addition to the standard back panel connections MSI has also included a Clear CMOS button which, as you can imagine, allows you to clear the CMOS from the back panel without having to open your case and grab a flashlight, a great timesaver when your overclocking gets a little too ambitious.
Overclocking can be a rather time-consuming process. The possibility of damaging hardware also proves intimidating for many novices. MSI is attempting to streamline the overclocking process and has fitted the Z68A with an overclocking button…that's right a button. MSI boasts that the OC Genie (a button located next to the power button on the motherboard) provides 1 second overclocks. To activate the OC Genie you simply power down the system, depress the button on the motherboard and reboot. Upon reboot a warning screen alerts you that the OC Genie has been activated and suggests you refrain from changing any BIOS settings while the Genie is active. This could prove to be a great feature for users that are looking for some extra horsepower but lack the knowledge/time/desire to overclock the system manually.
For the bench testers out there MSI has included on board Power and Reset buttons, along with motherboard voltage checkpoints located near the ATX 24pin power connector. The voltage checkpoints allow users to monitor the voltages of CPU Core, CPU IO, CPU_GFX, DDR and PCH voltage. One downside to the Power and Reset buttons is that they are located just south of the bottom PCIE x16 slot, meaning that populating this slot will block access to these buttons effective rendering them useless. It would have been nice to see the buttons placed closer to the ATX 24 Pin connector (ala Intel DP67BG), a location that is less obstructed and easier to reach regardless of board installation orientation.Rear panel on MSI's Z68A GD80 B3 board isn't short of connectivity options. Notice the BIOS reset switch
The back panel of the motherboard features four USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports and, two 1000Mb/s LAN ports. Intel HD onboard/on die graphic output is handled by HDMI as well as DVI ports. MSI didn't skimp on the audio goodness either. MSI chose to move beyond standard onboard audio, the Z68A-GD80 sports THX TruStudio PRO onboard audio for high-fidelity sound reproduction.
For the uninitiated a motherboard's BIOS can be an intimidating place. While almost every other facet of computer software and hardware have advanced significantly over the years the BIOS tends to be the solitary stalwart refusing to update its appearance. Traditionally the BIOS has been a text-heavy interface with all the graphical appeal of a PC from the early 1980's. MSI has worked to change that with what they call their Graphical UEFI BIOS. As the name suggests the UEFI BIOS is GUI driven and can be navigated by either standard keyboard keys or your favorite mouse. BIOS-tinkering novices will appreciate the streamlined layout and options that are grouped by category such as Overclocking, Utilities and Settings.
In terms of installation the board posed no issues as all the necessary connectors were easily accessible. One small gripe however we had was that there is a large branding sticker placed over the CPU socket and it was (unknowingly) firmly attached to the CPU socket pin protector. Removing the sticker resulted in the pin protector popping off with a loud "Snap" and a few brief moments of panic while the socket was inspected for any potential pin damage. Thankfully there was none.
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