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Z68 motherboard roundup: AsRock, Asus, Gigabyte and MSI
by Guillaume Louel
Published on November 14, 2011

Memory

We wanted to carry out some memory support tests on our motherboards using a G.Skill memory kit clocked at 2133 MHz. In practice, all the motherboards support the XMP profile of these modules (9-11-9-28 at 1.65V) but it was impossible to go any higher on any of them either by reducing the timings or increasing the clock (at the same time as bringing the timings down).

We also tried to reach the maximum clock at 1.5V and then obtained 1866 MHz with our memory bars, with 9-9-9-28 1T timings on all the boards. The Gigabyte mobo did however stand out in being able to support slightly more aggressive timings: 8-9-8-28-1T.

Automatic overclocking

The Z68 platform enables Sandy Bridge overclocking but with the same restrictions as P67. To recap, the processor clock used for the processor is also used for the different buses. Changing the BCLK quickly makes the system unstable and it's preferable to use the multiplier to overclock with, something that is only fully authorised with the K versions of these processors. We used the Core i7 2600K for our overclocking tests. For cooling we used a Thermalright MUX-120 radiator.

Before beginning our manual tests, we wanted to take a look at the automated solutions supplied by the mobo manufacturers. Various automatic overclocking options are on offer, whether in the BIOS or using a specific application (sometimes both!).
Note also two important points with respect to Sandy Bridge overclocking. First on the multiplier, there are two possible strategies. Turbo mode on these processors varies the multiplier with respect to load. The individual Turbo values (1, 2, 3 or 4 cores in load) can be changed or you can change the multiplier in global terms (the same multiplier on all four Turbo settings).

The second point is in respect of the voltage applied. There's a marked difference between the voltage reading on the motherboard sensor and that reported by the processor VID. This difference of around 0.1V is significant when comparing overclocking values: the manufacturers don’t all use the same readings. MSI and ASRock, for example, report a default voltage of 1.176V, whereas Asus and Gigabyte report theirs at 1.245V. In practice however the processors are all clocked at the same voltage on all four motherboards. When we talk about voltages in this article, we will indicate whether the readings are taken with the sensor or the VID.

Note also that we check the overclockings in Prime95.

ASRock

ASRock gives you two different overclocking options in its BIOS. Firstly it has preselected Turbo modes for different clocks (4.6, 4.8 GHz) which appear as profiles that are supposed to work on all processors. The other is an ‘Advanced Turbo 50' mode, the marketing hook for which is that it gives a performance jump of 50%.

In fact, Turbo 4.8 mode and Advanced Turbo 50 attempt to up the clock to 4.8 GHz with different voltages, though in both cases these modes were unstable in Windows with errors during a test in Prime95 to check stability.

Asus

Asus proposes two solutions, the first in the BIOS with an OC Tuner option in the A.I.Tweaker menu. Activating it reboots the motherboard (sometimes several times) which then looks for the processor and memory clocks automatically, as well as their voltages.

The second is an overclocking application called TurboV which offers two modes, the first a rapid mode which simply requires a reboot. The second attempts to increase the clock in Windows.

In practice the results are identical in the three modes, with a clock of 4429 MHz using a turbo (on all cores) pushed to 43x. The memory is then in 1866 mode (x103, which gives 1922 MHz) at 1.65V, but we don’t know what the XMP profile of the memory modules was. The processor voltage reading was 1.331V (VID).


Gigabyte

There’s no automatic option in the Gigabyte BIOS, but the EasyTune 6 utility in Windows does have an auto mode.


In contrast to Asus, Gigabyte has opted for individual overclocking of the Turbo ratios: 45/44/43/42. The voltage reported in the tool is ‘only’ 1.296V, but this is a sensor type reading. EasyTune doesn’t alter the BCLK, which isn’t an issue, and the memory doesn’t change either but remains clocked at 1600 MHz (its SPD profile) by default.

MSI

MSI provides an overclocking switch, OC Genie, on the motherboard itself. It activates a fairly unaggressive automatic overclocking search.

The voltage is increased to 1.32V and the multiplier to 42. The memory isn't altered and nor is the BCLK, which is probably wise. This overclocking is of course stable, which is no surprise.

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