Board Design & Layout
The heatsink on the Z68 measures 3.5" x 2.5" and just 0.25" tall. The die surface of the Z68 chipset -- or Platform Controller Hub -- measures roughly 0.4" x 0.4", so the actual bulk of the heatsink is about 1.2" x 1.2". The larger heatsink cooling the board's power circuitry is 3.3" x 0.9" and 1.1" tall.
Almost all Z68 motherboards support at least two PCI Express x16 slots and the Gigabyte Z68XP-UD3-iSSD is no different, providing gamers with a pair PCIe x16 slots (they run at x8 bandwidth if they're both occupied). The Z68XP-UD3-iSSD also carries three PCIe x1 slots and two traditional PCI slots.
The primary and secondary PCIe x16 slots have been separated by a pair of PCIe x1 slots to help improve air-flow between dual graphics cards, a design that most motherboard manufacturers use today.
We only have one noteworthy gripe with Gigabyte's layout: it puts the CMOS battery between the PCIe x16 slots, making it impossible to access with even one graphics card installed. This design flaw can be found on a number of motherboards and many board makers appear unwilling to correct it.
The rest of the Z68XP-UD3-iSSD board design looks quite good. The 24-pin power connector is well placed on the right hand side of the board, where it is accompanied by the four SATA 6Gb/s ports and four SATA 3Gb/s ports.
The newly added mSATA connector is just below the LGA115 socket and comes outfitted with an Intel SSD 311 20GB drive (model "SSDMAESC029G2"). Considering this is a low-profile interface, the mSATA connector and its drive do not cause any compatibility issues on the ATX motherboard.
Looking at the I/O panel, we have a single legacy PS/2 port, eight USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, Ethernet, a Firewire port, HDMI and S/PDIF-out, along with six audio jacks. Although the Z68 chipset brings support for DisplayPort, VGA and DVI they are not utilized by the Z68XP-UD3-iSSD.
Overall, we are pleased with the Gigabyte Z68XP-UD3-iSSD's design and layout. Its cooling is sufficient, its layout is geared toward multi-GPU setups and its I/O panel provides all the necessary connectivity.
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