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MSI Z68A-GD80 Intel Motherboard E-mail
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Written by David Ramsey   
Thursday, 02 June 2011
Table of Contents: Page Index
MSI Z68A-GD80 Intel Motherboard
The Intel Z68 Express Chipset
Closer Look: MSI Z68A-GD80
Closer Look Continued
Motherboard Testing Methodology
AIDA64 Extreme Edition Tests
CINEBENCH R11.5 Benchmarks
PassMark Performance Test
Media Encoding Benchmarks
SPECviewperf 11 Tests
Street Fighter IV and Blender
Z68A-GD80 Overclocking
Z68 Motherboard Final Thoughts
MSI Z68A-GD80 Conclusion

Z68A-GD80 Overclocking

The Cougar Point/Sandy Bridge platform brings major changes to the overclocking process. Here are the bullet points:

  • Overclocking by increasing the base clock is no longer an option.
  • Overclocking by increasing the CPU's base multiplier is no longer an option.
  • Only the P67 and Z68 chipsets support CPU overclocking at all.

Intel's new chipsets derive almost every clock on the motherboard from the base clock (BCLK) frequency. This makes board design simpler and more reliable, but it also means that raising the base clock raises other clocks on the, say, the PCI-E slot clocks, the SATA clock, and so forth. What this means in practice is that you'll be lucky to raise the BCLK as much as 5MHz without crashing your system. An overclocking mechanism enthusiasts have used for more than a decade is consigned to the dust bin of history.

Intel compensates for this by giving all Sandy Bridge processors unlocked multipliers: K-series processors get "fully unlocked" multipliers with no limits, while non-K series processors are "limited unlocked" CPUs that can only have their multipliers increased by a maximum of 4. All Sandy Bridge processors have fully unlocked video cores, RAM multipliers, and power settings, so you can tweak your RAM and the iGPU with any motherboard.

You overclock a Sandy Bridge CPU by increasing the Turbo multiplier: that is, the one the CPU uses to automatically increase the clocks speed of its cores under load. If you raise the multiplier on a Core i7 980X Extreme chip, you're increasing its speed in all situations: idle and load. Raising the multiplier on a Sandy Bridge processor only raises the speed it will ramp up to under load; its idle speed remains the same. While this might seem limiting, in practice it works really well, since Turbo Boost is very, very good at deciding when to ramp up the clock speeds, and you benefit from dramatically reduced power consumption in low-load situations. Initially I didn't like this new overclocking mechanism but have come around after a few months' experience with it, and the older mechanisms now seem primitive. Since most of the overclocking mechanisms are built into the chip, the motherboard itself becomes less of a factor in overclocking than it was in the "raise the BCLK" days. Benchmark Reviews has published an in-depth article on Sandy Bridge overclocking.

MSI provides a number of overclocking mechanisms for the Z68A-GD80 motherboard. The one they're proudest of, however, is the "OC Genie" button: simply turn your system off, press this button so it latches down, and restart your system for an instant overclock. At system startup, MSI displays a warning screen telling you not to mess with BIOS settings while this button is down. On my Intel Core i7 2600K CPU, OC Genie set the turbo multiplier to 42, left the bus speed alone (good call) and increased the memory speed by selecting the first XMP profile, bumping it from 1333MHz to 1600MHz. MSI's scheme also overclocks the integrated GPU.


MSI refers to this as "instant overclocking", and indeed it is. ASUS' automatic overclocking mechanism tries increasing the bus speed and multiplier in tiny steps, running a stress test, then increasing them again. When the system crashes, it reboots with the last known good settings. I don't know if MSI simply uses a table with known safe overclocks for each currently available Sandy Bridge processor, but it achieves similar results much more quickly. Neither system will increase the stock processor voltage, though, which limits the overclocking potential. So, let's see what I can reach "by hand"...


And...the exact same results I've had with this processor on the ASUS Z68 motherboard. Increasing the bus speed or multiplier past these specs would result in crashes during benchmarking, so the 5GHz grail remains out of reach, even with the cooling provided by the massive Thermalright Silver Arrow cooler. Still, this overclock represents a 29% speed increase from the standard 3.8Ghz Turbo Boost frequency, and applies to all four cores under load rather than the single core the stock 3.8Ghz applies to. This performance differential was reflected in the benchmarks. This is the highest "on air cooling" frequency I've seen with an Intel quad-core processor. Note, however, that I needed 1.44V to reach this overclock. Intel specs the maximum voltage for the 2600K as 1.52V, and convention wisdom is that running anything over 1.4V for extended period of time is probably not in the best interests of the longevity of your CPU.

If you prefer to do your overclocking from directly from within Windows, you can use MSI's ControlCenter application:


You can also save and recall multiple overclocking profiles, which is handy.

One more thing: with older processors, you knew your overclock failed when your system crashed. Sandy Bridge CPUs, on the other hand, are very clever about automatically reducing their clock speed when the CPU core temperature gets too high. You might think that overclock is working perfectly, but behind the scenes your processor is clocking itself down when things get too hot. Keeping a utility like CPU-Z open during your stress tests will let you see the core speed "live" so you'll know if this happens.

Let's take a look at how the performance of the stock and overclocked configurations compares:

P8Z68 Z68A-GD80 P8Z68->Z68A % change Z68A-GD80 OC Genie Z68 Stock % change Z68A-GD80 Manual OC Z68 stock % change
AIDA64 Queen 44071 43754 -0.72 52461 +19.90 61988 +41.67
AIDA64 PhotoWorxx 53654 53265 -0.73 61645 +15.73 59190 +11.12
AIDA64 AES 36472 36026 -1.22 41673 +15.67 36984 +2.66
AIDA64 ZLIB 273 273 0.0 321 +17.58 387 +41.76
AIDA64 Hash 2224 2215 -0.40 2652 +19.73 3133 +41.44
CINEBENCH OpenGL FPS 14.5 13.6 -6.21 15 +10.29 14.3 +5.15
CINEBENCH Single Core 1.53 1.5 -1.96 1.7 +13.33 2.0 +33.33
CINEBENCH Multi Core 6.8 6.8 0.0 8.3 +22.06 9.5 +39.71
PassMark CPU Mark 9168 9100 -0.74 10978 +20.64 12685 +39.40
PassMark 2D Mark 669 528 -21.08 658 +24.62 749 +41.86
PassMark 3D Mark 481 408 -15.18 477 +16.91 441 +8.09
Handbrake (lower is better) 121 122 -0.83 102 +16.39 88 +27.87
x264Bench HD Run 1 FPS 90 90 0.0 107 +18.89 120 +33.33
SPECViewPerf Maya 2.1 1.68 -20.0 2.02 +20.24 2.14 +27.38
SPECViewPerf TCVIS 0.80 0.74 -7.5 0.85 +14.86 0.99 +33.78
Street Fighter IV Low FPS 63 60 -4.76 147 +145.0 137 +128.33
Blender times (lower is better) 175 173 -1.14 145 +16.18 129 +25.43
  • P8Z68 to Z68A-GD80 Average Performance Difference: -4.85%
  • Z68A stock to Z68A OC Genie Average Performance Difference: +25.18%
  • Z68A stock to Z68A Manual Overclock Average Performance Difference: +34.25%

The MSI Z68A-GD80 benchmarked slightly slower overall than the ASUS P8Z68-V Pro. The main problem is the strangely low PassMark 2D, PassMark 3D, and SPECViewPerf Maya scores, where the iGPU is more of a factor. The OC Genie added an average of just over 25% better performance, while my manual overclock, although slower than the OC Genie overclock in a few tests that favored the iGPU, was about 34% faster overall.



# still oddresere 2011-06-02 10:03
i don't get it why intel limit pci-e lanes. amd don't (good for them).
Yes, the crown is blue. but the halo seems red.
And it's funny this vertu DON'T manage multi GPU. THAT could be a real deal. if it'll work smooth, which still don't, even in single GPU.
As you said, let's trust the near future.
another interesting thing is the layout identical MSI-ASUS. fortunately, i agree with the choice.
Anyway, a review i've read it with pleasure.
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# oops!resere 2011-06-02 10:06
its vIrtu, not vErtu (glossy gsm :P)
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# LINUXThe Techno Alien 2011-06-04 05:59
I guess the OC software won't work under Linux, eh?
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# RE: LINUXDavid Ramsey 2011-06-04 08:24
MSU's Control Center software is Windows-only, but the OC Genie button and manual overclocking through the BIOS will work for any operating system.
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# Errors on page 3?Sam 2011-06-06 04:21
The FireWire port looks like the 6 pin 400Mb/s not the 800. Also, what is DVI-S referring to, looks like a DVI-I port to me.
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# RE: Errors on page 3?David Ramsey 2011-06-06 10:00
My bad. The 1394 port is indeed 400Mb/s, and the "DVI-S" is a typo. Both have been corrected. BTW, although MSI uses a dual-link connector, the DVI port is only single-link.
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