Since Sapphire returned to the motherboard making business they have produced a steady stream of motherboards supporting the latest technology from both AMD and Intel, and it’s the latter they have turned to for their latest board, the Pure Platinum Z68.
What’s in a number?
Intel’s Z68 Express chipset is the missing link between the P67 and H67 chipsets, in that it features the overclocking support for Sandy Bridge processors of the P67 and the integrated graphics support of the H67 – or, in other words, what a great number of people thought the original launch chipset for Sandy Bridge should have been.
But there’s a little more to the chipset than just being a hybrid of the two previous *67 chipsets, as Intel has added a couple of new technologies in to the mix in the form of Smart Response Technology and Lucid’s Virtu software. Of the two, SRT is probably the most interesting as it allows the use of a small SSD (up to a maximum of 64GB) as a fast cache drive to work alongside a larger capacity standard mechanical drive to give much faster access times for the most frequently accessed files.
If it ain’t broke…
Ever since Sapphire got back into the motherboard market, all of its boards from the Pure Black X58 onwards have had the same look and feel; black PCB, with black and blue used to colour the memory and expansion slots – and it has to be said, it’s an attractive looking scheme.
As with most Sapphire boards, the power design uses top quality components which helps keep the board cool and stable especially when overclocking. For storage purposes there are four SATA 3Gbit/s ports (coloured black) and four SATA 6Gbit/s (red) ports all of which are edge mounted on the board at ninety degrees which helps keep data cable runs tidy.
The Pure Platinum Z68 provides two x16 PCI E 2.0 slots (blue) for Crossfire setups although if you use two cards the speed drops to x8 for both slots. At the bottom of the board there is another grey coloured x16 PCI E slot which runs at x4 speed.
Sitting between the top two x16 slots is a single PCI slot with a further two sitting between the bottom graphics slot and the grey x16 slot. In an ideal world this PCI slot arrangement should be the other way around with two slots between the top two PCI-E slots, as the arrangement as it stands doesn’t leave much of a gap between them for air flow around any pair of dual slot graphics cards.
Not only do you have a choice between single or dual discrete graphics but, as the Z68 supports the integrated graphics core of the Sandy Bridge CPUs, you also have a choice of output from the board itself: DVI, VGA, DisplayPort and HDMI ports are all included on the rear I/O panel.
And because the chipset includes support for Lucid’s Virtu technology you also have dynamic switching between the discrete and integrated graphics depending on what job the graphics have been instructed to do via Lucid’s propriety software. If the software detects that if the graphics are going to be used for a 2D application or for media encryption/playback then the information is directed through the IGP, however should it detect a 3D application is wanting the graphics subsystem it will switch from IGP and push the information through to whatever discrete graphics solution is being employed.
Performance and overclocking
Sapphire’s Pure Platinum Z68 is no slouch when it comes to performance, scoring an impressive 17,556 in Futuremark’s PCMark Vantage using an Intel Core i7-2600K processor, and 4727 in the latest PCMark suite, PCMark 7.
You could use the bundled Sapphire Trixx software to overclock the board – but we decided to do it the old fashioned way by delving into the BIOS, which incidentally doesn’t have one of the new fancy GUI interfaces, so you can’t use a mouse to adjust anything, Sapphire lags behind its competitors in this respect, but it was still a quick tweak in the BIOS to get the i7 2600K running at 4.4GHz rather than the stock 3.4GHz. It gave a nice little boost to our PCMark scores, putting the Vantage score up to 18,357 while the PCMark07 score rose to 5420.
- Very good performance, easy overclocking.
- BIOS lacks UEFI interface.
If you already use a P67 motherboard then there is no real reason to upgrade to a Z68 as the only thing you'll gain is the integrated graphics, but if you planning to upgrade to a Sandy Bridge based system then its well worth thinking about the Z28.
It's not particularly cheap but Sapphire's Pure Platinum Z68 is a well built, fairly well featured addition to the growing range of Sapphire motherboards.