The 32 nm Sandy Bridge processors from Intel, which were introduced at the beginning of the year, arrived alongside the new LGA1155 socket and two associated 6-series chipsets, the P67 and the H67. Each platform offered a different value perspective: the more expensive P67 supported Intel's unlocked "K" series processors with advanced overclocking options, while the cheaper H67 had access to Sandy Bridge's integrated graphics.
Neither chip set offered both functions, which ultimately forced users to evaluate their priorities. However, for the average systems builder, this wasn't a big deal as someone who wants to overclock heavily will likely have a discrete graphics card, while someone using Sandy Bridge's integrated graphics chip probably doesn't want to be bothered with overclocking – mind the word " probably".
There is a third, smaller group of people who want to get extra performance out of their processor and memory, but don't need the graphics muscle of a full-fledged graphics card. To close this gap, Intel has released the Z68 chipset, which is a kind of hybrid of the P67 and H67: It enables overclocking while using the built-in graphics engine. But there's more to it than that …
In addition to combining the features of its earlier chipsets, Intel has packed the Z68 with some impressive new features designed to make it more appealing to a broader segment of the population. By adding more features to the Z68, the company has effectively created a new chipset for the enthusiast, while the P67 has been downgraded to a mid-range offering.
Intel's Smart Response Technology (SRT) is one of the most notable additions as it boosts system performance by using a small solid-state drive for caching purposes. SRT is somewhat similar to what the Seagate Momentus XT hybrid hard drives offer, but is much more flexible. This is an attractive feature for hardware fans, since full-fledged SSDs are still too expensive for a wide range of applications. We will fully test this feature in this review.
Intel also ships the Z68 with LucidLogix Virtu GPU virtualization software, which offers energy savings by allowing your system to switch between a discrete graphics card or Sandy Bridge's integrated graphics engine for a specific task – think Nvidia's Optimus technology on the desktop. Needless to say, we'd like to review both features courtesy of Asrock's newest Z68 Extreme4 motherboard. So let's get this show on the streets.