DIY Update: Sandy Bridge - Getting closer with the ASUS P8Z68-V PRO Motherboard

Videoguys by Gary Bettan

Sandy Bridge - DIY9 is Getting closer! (July 2011)

Over the past few months we've taken some heat on some NLE user forums for our recommendation to NOT use Sandy Bridge CPUs for building your NLE workstation. We didn't take this lightly and we understood the frustration it would create for people wanting to build a new NLE workstation. You want to use the latest technology and take advantage of the speed and performance per dollar of the Sandy bridge CPUs.

Our Sandy Bridge concerns where not about the CPU, but rather the available chipsets and motherboards. The first chipsets had very real potential problems that gave us reason for the concern. The two biggest being the shared PCIe bandwidth and the integrated graphics. When building a computer for video editing job number one is to avoid any system bottlenecks.

While a system can be great for gaming, it may not be good for video editing. Gamers want the highest possible video framerates and the quickest possible seek times. For HD video editing we are working with very large files, that can be very heavily compressed. A bottleneck anywhere can create all kinds of performance, stability and workflow issues. So when we post a new DIY build, we are looking for a system that can handle the most rigorous video editing timelines, with as much realtime performance as possible. When we have to render or encode, we want it to be the fastest possible, while delivering files that are 100% defect free. That's why it's important to start with the chipset first, then find the right motherboard and from there add the components that will maximize the performance for video editing.

As I said earlier, the first couple of rounds of Sandy Bridge motherboards did not impress me. While I know that some system integrators and expert DIY builders are using Sandy Bridge today with great success, I wanted to wait until I found a chipset and motherboard that addressed my main concerns without sacrificing Sandy Bridge performance. We may have found it! I've been doing some research on the Asus P8Z68-V Pro and I'm very interested in it. It addresses two of our main Sandy Bridge concerns:

1) PCIe bandwidth:
The Asus P8Z68-V Pro gives you the ability to dedicate PCIe 4x throughput to the bottom slot, rather then all share bandwidth. This does come at a cost, you lose a chunk of USB2 ports. But I think it's a tradeoff worth making for an NLE workstation. This capability means that if we need to dedicate bandwidth for a RAID controller card, or a new I/O device that demands higher data rates, or an add-on Thunderbolt card that requires 4x bandwidth, it will not be a problem.
Videoguys TechNote: As of today Thunderbolt add-on cards do not exist, but from my conversations with engineers in the industry, if and when they do, they will require dedicated bandwidth. The number my guys tell me is 4x!

2) Integrated Graphics:
The Asus P8Z68-V Pro includes a utility from Lucid called Virtu. The Virtu GPU Switching utility is very interesting. It allows you to use graphics card and choose from three modes for your GPU (off, i-Mode and d-Mode).
• Off means that the integrated GPU is disabled.
• i-Mode is for power savings and not recommended for video editing. The dedicated GPU runs idle when the integrated graphics can get the job done.
• d-Mode has some real potential for video editing. It turns off the integrated GPU, but still allows software to use it for the special video encoding instruction sets in the Sandy Bridge chips. In the reviews I found, this has allowed for accelerated encoding. I am very curious to see if this creates conflicts with say the Adobe Mercury Playback Engine or the Matrox MAX technology. If it doesn't, it could be a way to tweak out extra performance.
Videoguys TechNote: This still leaves us with integrated graphics, and as we've said so many times before, this is a concern. My hope is that by having the ability to control how the integrated graphics are used, we'll be able to find the setting that is optimal for video editing.

I'm still not ready to recommend Sandy Bridge or the Asus P8Z68-V Pro motherboard yet for our more advanced editors. If you think you are going to be using one of our advanced NLEs such as Avid or Adobe or Edius or Vegas with hardware I/O and /or a RAID, stick with our Core i7 Hex core.

However:

  • If you plan on using one of these NLEs for DV, HDV or tapeless workflows like AVCH or DSLR footage; and you do not plan on adding an I/O card, then Sandy Bridge is worth considering.
  • If you use consumer level video editing apps like Pinnacle Studio, Sony Vegas Movie Studio or Premiere Elements then Sandy Bridge is a very good choice for you.

It is very new and I want to see more feedback from users. Both for video editing and gaming and just general computers. We are going to keep looking into it, and if it meets our expectations, we will begin our DIY9 build around it. That said, I really want to see a Sandy Bridge motherboard with integrated Thunderbolt!

If you do decide to build a workstation based on this motherboard we recommend the following components:

  • Motherboard: Asus P8Z68-V Pro Motherboard
  • CPU: Intel i7 2600k Sandy Bridge CPU
  • RAM: G.Skill RipjawsX DDR3-2133 9-11-9-28 4x4GB (16GB Kit)
  • GPU: GTX470/570 or Quadro4000
  • Boot Drive: 10K RPM or SSD
  • Video Drive: 2 x 7200RPM or external RAID 0/5
  • Power Supply: 1000 Watt or higher
  • Case: T.B.D.
  • OS: Windows 7 64-bit

Below are links to articles I used in my research on the Asus P8Z68-V Pro motherboard

AnandTech ASUS P8Z68-V PRO Review: Our First Z68 Motherboard
This board from ASUS is a great all-round performer, compared to the P67 boards we have reviewed—space for tri-GPU setups, six fan headers with good OS fan controls, eight SATA ports, six with RAID 0/1/5/10, Intel gigabit Ethernet and it performs well in our benchmark suite. The goods bundled in the box aren't the best we've seen, especially for an expected retail price of $210. But this is a Z68 board—the seemingly logical progression Intel have taken to combine the best bits of P67 and H67, in terms of overclocking. It's thanks to software solutions such as LUCIDLOGIX's Virtu that we can harness both the integrated GPU and discrete GPUs for different work loads—I detail my experiences with Virtu in this review. read more...

AnandTech Intel Z68 Chipset & Smart Response Technology (SSD Caching) Review
The problem with Sandy Bridge was simple: if you wanted to use Intel's integrated graphics, you had to buy a motherboard based on an H-series chipset. Unfortunately, Intel's H-series chipsets don't let you overclock the CPU or memory—only the integrated GPU. If you want to overclock the CPU and/or memory, you need a P-series chipset—which doesn't support Sandy Bridge's on-die GPU. Intel effectively forced overclockers to buy discrete GPUs from AMD or NVIDIA, even if they didn't need the added GPU power.

The situation got more complicated from there. Sandy Bridge's Quick Sync was one of the best features of the platform, however it was only available when you used the CPU's on-die GPU, which once again meant you needed an H-series chipset with no support for overclocking. You could either have Quick Sync or overclocking, but not both (at least initially). read more...

The Guru of 3D ASUS P8Z68 V PRO Intel Z68 review
Hey it's the second week of May, time for something new and refreshing. Intel Sandy Bridge based processors (after a rough start) have been kicking hard and loud in the desktop market. To date it is one of the most impressive processor series we have seen and we can't evangelize enough about it.

With the initial launch, however, Intel for the consumer market allowed two primary chipsets in the mainstream and performance segment, H67 and P67. H67 is directed at mainstream, does not allow any overclocking yet comes with monitor output support like HDMI, DVI and DisplayPort. P67 on the other end is performance and enthusiast tweaking oriented, in combo with a K series processor like the Core i7 2600K we'll be using today you can do some seriously crazy stuff, like overclocking on air close to 5 GHz. But here you do not get the option for monitor outputs. read more...

Hardware Canucks ASUS P8Z68-V PRO Z68 Sandy Bridge Motherboard Review
You’ve been waiting for it and we’ve got it: the first look at Intel’s new Z68 chipset. This is the next evolutionary step for the Sandy Bridge platform and is being used as a testing ground for several new technologies.

Some may wonder why we’re already seeing a PCH with only a few additional features that will augment the P67 but this precedent was already set years ago. However, unlike the “refreshed” P35/P45 and X38/X48 chipsets from the early days of the Core 2 family, both the Z68 and its sibling will live side by side for the time being. Due in part to its similarity with the new PCH, some manufacturers may choose to discontinue motherboards based around P67 while others (like ASUS) will continue offering both yet at slightly different price points. read more...

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