Zotac, and a Z68 E-ATX with almost everything?

The Zotac “Crown Edition-ZT-Z68 U1DU3″ is a Z68 motherboard in the Extended ATX (E-ATX, 330×305 mm) format.  At that size, you know from the start that it will only fit a select number of cases.  But in an attempt to woo gamers, enthusiasts and overclockers, Zotac have piled it all on the details:

- a 26-phase design (24 for the CPU), with driver-MOSFETs, solid chokes, high-C and super ML capacitors,
- 802.11n onboard Wifi mini-PCIe Card (as well as gigabit Ethernet),
- an NF200 chip to support 32 PCIe lanes for a 16x/0x/16x/0x or 8x/8x/8x/8x GPU configuration,
- two onboard USB 3.0 headers offering four ports (as well as two on the back),
- three BIOS chips for backup BIOSes (not sure how this fits in with Gigabyte’s DualBIOS patent),
- a legacy IDE port, and a mSATA port for an SSD,
- quad-SLI support,
- voltage read points

Over recent months, Zotac has been that niche company for the mini-ITX form factor.  If you wanted mini-ITX, chances are Zotac would have a board.  Along the same lines, Zotac are also known for trying to shove everything onto a board, regardless of power consumption or price.  So when I got wind that Zotac were going extreme-full size,  I had to take a look to report on what they would be offering.

 

Important points to note are – how are the 24 CPU power phases managed?  There’s only one 8-pin 12V connector, yet usually on these type of boards (c.f. Gigabyte X58A-UD9) we see two.  Is there a switch to disable the NF200 due to the 2-3% performance loss expected if only one or two GPUs are used?  Sure, the board will support quad-SLI, but the fact that the 2nd PCIe only has a 1-slot width will hamper overclockers?  How much is all this going to cost?  Is it any good?  Do I spot active cooling underneath the connected chipset heatsink?

In my experience, Zotac hardware usually works within specifications, as you would expect.  What can be dissapointing though is BIOS support, and software utilities.  If this board wants some stellar results, Zotac has to nail down those areas solid, otherwise it could fall on its face very fast – assuming that there is actually a market for such a product.