With every chipset, there's a call to arms in providing the package that everyone needs. Unfortunately there's never one motherboard which can cater for every possibility, but there are some that come quite close. Our review today is on the Zotac Z68ITX-A-E Wifi - a mini-ITX take on the Z68 chipset, which promises to be a winner right from the start, with dual gigabit Ethernet, USB 3.0, onboard wifi, onboard power/reset buttons, a debug LED, a lot of extras with your motherboard, and all the extras that Z68 offers. For $170, we're looking at a good contender for an award here, as long as the performance and additions compare well to its rivals.

Overview

The most noticeable thing about using the Zotac board for this review is the out-of-spec features used by Zotac. With regards to the turbo of the CPU, the CPU should scale down the multiplier bins the more cores being used - however, the Zotac board likes to apply a 4x multiplier increase, even in full CPU usage. This gives it a distinct advantage in all our stock benchmark suite, and an unfair advantage against every other board in the market. It gives the consumer, however, extra performance without having to do anything. This may set an unhealthy trend, where other manufacturers will similarly produce products out-of-spec in order to jump ahead in performance.

Overall, for $170, Zotac have provided a board full of features that provide a great motherboard for various consumer levels. The addition of dual gigabit Ethernet, onboard wifi, dual HDMI, and that out-of-spec CPU speed are nice additions to such a small product. This situation benefits a non-K Sandy Bridge CPU (which unfortunately negates one of the Z68 features, overclocking, which as we find out isn't that great on the Zotac) where the iGPU is required as well as the PCIe x16 slot. There's not too many SATA ports (two SATA 6 Gbps, two SATA 3 Gbps), which perhaps is ideal for the non-enthusiast consumer (SSD, HDD, DVD/BluRay drive). Also, the lack of overclocking may be a sticking issue for some. I'm unsure if I should label it a gamers' board, a 24/7 machine with various enthusiast applications that require performance, or a multi-monitor setup that needs Sandy Bridge and Z68 and perhaps a GPU for GPU programming. Nevertheless, I've found the board an impressive product at a great price, despite the old fashioned BIOS and lack of software provided.

Visual Inspection

With Zotac's aim of piling as much as it can onto such a small PCB, it is obvious to see that the board is fairly cramped, in a livery with no defined color (yellow, orange, red, blue, black). As a result, the 8-pin 12V CPU power connector is on the far end of the board behind the audio headers of the I/O panel. The CPU socket is also quite small in comparison to full size P67/Z68 boards we've seen this year, negating large CPU coolers but still providing enough space for stock coolers and all-in-one CPU coolers such as the Corsair H50 and H100.

There are two fan headers on board - one by the SATA ports and the other beside the 24-pin ATX power connector. Beside this power connector are the power/reset buttons and a debug LED - it's great to have this on such a small board. The wifi module is in a mini-PCIe (with mSATA compatibility) between the memory slots and the SATA ports - with cables from the wifi card to the I/O panel. A full size mSATA holder is included in the bundle, if the user decides not to use the wifi and takes advantage of the Z68 Smart Caching Technology via this port.

On board are four SATA ports - two SATA 6 Gbps and two SATA 3 Gbps, all from the PCH. Technically the PCH should be able to support two more, but given the size of the board and all the other extras on it, it's understandable that these are not included. Beside the SATA ports are two USB 2.0 headers, and beside them, behind the wifi antenna, is a USB 3.0 header.

The back panel of the board is also similarly cramped, with a combination of wifi antenna, dual gigabit Ethernet, two USB 3.0, four USB 2.0, a clear CMOS button, a PS/2 Connector, dual HDMI and mini-DisplayPort, optical SPDIF output, and the standard audio jacks. The combination of having the heatsink there results in some space lost - perhaps if it wasn't there by design, the HDMI and mini-DP could be stacked and other features could be added.

BIOS and Overclocking
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  • dac7nco - Thursday, September 22, 2011 - link

    I think at this point Zotac has proven that they either don't care about proper MB design, or they just don't care. ASRock has a cheap mITX Z68 board... what was the problem in reviewing that? The fact that a reputable place like Anandtech goes anywhere near Zotac's boards makes me wonder.

    Daimon
    Reply
  • EnzoFX - Thursday, September 22, 2011 - link

    I agree, Zotac boards are overrated and overpriced. They care more about how their specs look on paper. Not a brand I'd recommend or read about in a review =P, unless they seriously step things up in regards to their BIOS and reliability. Reply
  • Ananke - Thursday, September 22, 2011 - link

    I completely understand that this is a great, feature full board. However, in my sole opinion, it is too expensive for the targeted market. Why would somebody use this plus at least a $100 processor for a HTPC, when the same can be done with $300-$400 budget laptop /which comes with the Win OS btw/, or less than $100 AMD E-350 setup?

    Good for the consumer, since it offers a choice. I guess the same type of people who buy BMW Mini - an expensive pretend-to-be sport car, would buy this too.
    Reply
  • DaveSimmons - Thursday, September 22, 2011 - link

    The target is a small-form-factor _gaming_ PC not a simple HTPC -- for a HTPC you don't need Z68 to allow overclocking am i5-2500K. For pure HTPC use a H61/H67 motherboard and possibly nothing more than a socket 1155 Pentium CPU is enough.

    I wouldn't buy one that always runs my CPU out of spec though.
    Reply
  • Ananke - Thursday, September 22, 2011 - link

    Dave, small form factor gaming PC is an oxymoron. Where are you going to put a high end GPU card on this board? Playing WoW on integrated graphics is not "gaming" for God's sake. Hence my thought, for $170 this board is worthless. It might be interesting if it costs $70 or less. Reply
  • Mr Perfect - Thursday, September 22, 2011 - link

    People build plenty of small form factor gaming PCs. Get yourself a Silverstone Sugo 5 or 7 case and you can put any dual slot card you want in it. Reply
  • Breathless - Thursday, September 22, 2011 - link

    You don't know what you are talking about. I have this very board in a Lian Li PC-Q08B with an Asus GTX 580 Direct CUii, 2600k, 8GB's of ram and several SSD's. It is fully acceptable to say I have a small form factor gaming PC. Reply
  • DaveSimmons - Thursday, September 22, 2011 - link

    As they said, Silverstone and Lian-li both make SFF gaming cases for mini-ITX, and you can put a GTX 560 ti or AMD 6870 in all of them, or even a higher-end card in a couple of them.

    You can even buy prebuilt gaming systems from CyberPowerPC in the SG07 case (LAN Party EVO Mini).

    Times change, your SFF knowledge is a little out of date.
    Reply
  • Rick83 - Thursday, September 22, 2011 - link

    Gigabyte has been doing something similar on their Cougar Point boards all summer (now the first BIOS versions fixing this are finally coming out)
    There, once you enabled XMP, the CPU was automatically overclocked and overvolted using, afaik, the same turbo-tweak as on this Zotac.

    Not sure what they've been thinking.
    Reply
  • TrackSmart - Thursday, September 22, 2011 - link

    I understand the need to have comparable test conditions for testing the performance of motherboards. That being said, it would be interesting to many of us to see what you can realistically get away with (in terms of a gaming PC) using this form factor and a small form factor case to match... Running at stock speeds, when gaming, would a decent SFF case be able to keep up with the heat of a Z68 processor plus a mid-range GPU? What about an overclocked Z68 plus whatever the most powerful GPU that would fit the case? Is this a viable platform for that kind of computing power to begin with? If not, then the overclocking results aren't very relevant to your testing.

    Keep up the good work on the motherboard reviews. And if it seems feasible, maybe you could cover some of the questions above in a "SFF/Mini-ITX gaming system" article. The key question being whether a SFF gaming rig is an oxymoron.
    Reply

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