|MSI Z68A-GD80 Intel Motherboard|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Motherboards|
|Written by David Ramsey|
|Thursday, 02 June 2011|
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Closer Look: MSI Z68A-GD80
The box for the Z68A has a weird kind of "hologram" overlay that makes it shimmer with a diamond pattern. It was hard to get the lighting right so that I could take a clear picture! The front notes the motherboard's support of NVIDIA SLI and "ATI CrossFireX" (I thought it should be "AMD", but confusingly enough, AMD themselves refer to it as "AMD CrossFireX" and "ATI CrossFireX" at different places on their web sites), as well as their overclocking genie feature and "U3/S6", MSI's abbreviation for SuperSpeed USB 3.0 and SATA 6G. Lucid Virtu and switchable graphics isn't mentioned anywhere on the box.
MSI provides a comprehensive accessory bundle for the Z68A: there's a Quick Start Guide, a Quick Installation Guide, a motherboard manual, and a manual for the Windows utilities; an NVIDIA SLI bridge, two Molex->SATA power adapters, four locking SATA cables, a rear USB 3.0 bracket, an I/O ports back plate, wire extensions for the voltage measuring points, a driver and utilities disk, and bunch of secondary quick-connect connectors for various motherboard headers.
The MSI Z68A-GD80 is a standard ATX-form factor motherboard. The PCB is a very dark brown, almost black color, while the heat sinks are dark gunmetal grey with blue trim, and the plastic components are black and blue. There are a total of five fan headers, but only the CPU fan header is a four-pin PWM header. At the left edge of the board are the power, reset, and "OC Genie" buttons.
The slot layout of the Z68A-GD80is identical to that of the ASUS P8Z68-V Pro motherboard, which itself was identical to the older ASUS P8P67 EVO: three PCI-E x16 slots, two PCI-E x1 slots, and two "plain" PCI slots. Are motherboard manufacturers standardizing on slot layouts? This one is pretty good and allows dual-card setups with one slot's worth of breathing room between two double-wide cards, but I'd prefer the first slot be a PCI-E x16 slot rather than an x1 slot. Just to the right of the first x1 slot you can see a PCI-E power connector. This is optional but can provide extra power if you're overclocking your graphics cards. Note the THX audio chip at the upper left: this motherboard packs a full THX TruStudio Pro sound system, which should be vastly superior to the integrated audio of most other motherboards.
The rear ports, from the left, are a combined PS/2 mouse and keyboard port, the optical audio connector, a "clear CMOS" button, a FireWire 400 port with two USB 2.0 and an eSATA port below it, followed by two Ethernet ports with two USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 ports below them. The video out ports for the Sandy Bridge integrated video are DVI and HDMI rather than the VGA connector ASUS uses (although MSI uses a DVI-I dual-link connector for their DVI port, Intel's Sandy Bridge processors only support single-link, so 1920x1200 is the maximum resolution.) Last are the standard analog audio ports. There are only 6 USB ports on the I/O panel: MSI puts the remaining USB ports on headers on the motherboard.
I'll continue looking at this board in the next section.