Launched at the beginning of the year, Intel's 32nm Sandy Bridge processors arrived alongside the new socket LGA1155 and two accompanying 6-series chipsets, the P67 and H67. Each platform presented a different value perspective: the pricier P67 supported Intel's unlocked "K" series enthusiast processors with advanced overclocking options, while the cheaper H67 had access to Sandy Bridge's built-in graphics.
Neither chipset offered both features, ultimately forcing users to assess their priorities. However this hasn't been a major deal for the average system builder because someone who wants to overclock heavily probably has a discrete graphics card, while someone who's using Sandy Bridge's integrated graphics chip likely wouldn't want to be bothered with overclocking -- note the word "likely."
There exists a third, smaller group of individuals who want squeeze extra performance out of their processor and memory, but don't require the graphical muscle of a full-blown video card. To fill that void, Intel has released the Z68 chipset, which is somewhat of a hybrid of the P67 and H67: it allows you to overclock while simultaneously using the baked-in graphics engine. But there's more to it...
Along with combining the functionality of its previous chipsets, Intel has infused the Z68 with some impressive new features that should make it more appealing to a broader demographic. By cramming more features into the Z68, the company has effectively created a new enthusiast-grade chipset, while the P67 has been demoted to somewhat of a mid-range offering.
Intel's Smart Response Technology (SRT) is one of the more noteworthy additions as it boosts system performance by using a small solid state drive for caching purposes. SRT is to an extent similar to what the Seagate Momentus XT hybrid hard drives offer, except it's considerably more flexible. This is an attractive feature among hardware buffs, as full-fledged SSDs are still too expensive for widespread adoption. We'll be fully testing this capability on this review.
Intel is also shipping the Z68 with LucidLogix Virtu GPU virtualization software, which offers power savings by allowing your system to toggle between a discrete video card or Sandy Bridge's built-in graphics engine for a specific task -- think of Nvidia's Optimus technology on the desktop. Needless to say, we're eager to examine both features courtesy of Asrock's latest Z68 Extreme4 motherboard, so let's get this show on the road.