As all products must eventually do, Puget Systems' current micro ATX motherboards for Intel 1155 CPUs will be going EOL in the near future. The replacement lineup of motherboards from Asus is somewhat limited at this time, but one promising candidate is the Asus P8Z68-M Pro. The Z68 chipset used on this motherboard is very flexible and has a good mix of features while being simple enough to be highly reliable. This motherboard is basically the micro ATX version of the popular Asus P8Z68-V Pro/Gen3, but with a few small differences.
Since this motherboard is not yet a Gen3, it does not include PCI-E 3.0 support. The other major difference (besides the physical size) is that there is no internal USB 3.0 header. While this may not seem like a big deal at first, more and more chassis are including front USB 3.0 ports that require an internal header. If the chassis needs an internal header but none are available, you either end up with non-functioning ports or you need to purchase some sort of adapter to change the internal cable to something supported by this motherboard (either USB 2.0 adapter or a pass-through cable that can be routed outside the chassis and plugged into the rear USB 3.0 ports).
Full manufacture specifications are below:
[+] View Manufacturer Specifications
Only a few accessories are included with this motherboard. Due to the simple nature of the motherboard, however, this is really everything necessary to get this motherboard fully up and running. The only accessory not included that we would have liked to see is a dual or quad USB 2.0 bracket to help take advantage of the 5 internal USB 2.0 headers.
The included items are:
Connectivity covers the external ports on the I/O panel, the internal headers, the PCI-E slots on the motherboard, as well as the networking options. Starting with the external and internal ports/headers, let's take a look at what is available on this motherboard:
|USB 2.0||4 Ports||5 Headers (providing 10 ports)|
|USB 3.0||2 Ports||-|
|Audio||7.1 Surround Sound + Optical SPDIF||Headphone/Mic Header|
|E-SATA||1 (ASMedia controller)||-|
|SATA 3Gb/s||-||4 ports (Intel Z68 Controller)|
3 ports (2 on Intel Z68 Controller,
1 on ASMedia Controller)
|Networking||Gigabit Realtek LAN||-|
On the rear I/O panel, this motherboard has 4 USB 2.0 ports along with 2 USB 3.0 ports. It's worth noting that the USB 3.0 ports require a driver to function and will not work in the BIOS; so devices such as keyboards and mice that are needed to make changes to the system's BIOS should always be plugged into the USB 2.0 ports. As stated earlier, there are no internal USB 3.0 headers, but there are an impressive 5 USB 2.0 headers (providing 10 ports). This means that this motherboard can provide a total of 14 USB 2.0 ports and 2 USB 3.0 ports. This motherboard does not come with any USB brackets however, so if you want to use any of the internal headers for anything beyond the chassis USB front ports or internal USB devices, you will need to purchase a separate USB bracket.
For the internal SATA connections, there are 4 SATA 3Gb/s and 2 SATA 6Gb/s ports using the Intel Z68 chipset along with 1 SATA 6Gb/s ports using the AsMedia controller. From our testing, ASMedia and Marvell controller are not as good in terms of performance or reliability as the Intel ports, so we only recommend using the ASMedia port if you are using a SATA 6GB/s SSD and the Intel Z68 SATA 6Gb/s ports are both already in use. For more information on the differences between SATA controllers, we recommend reading our SATA Controller Performance Explored article.
Moving on to the PCI-E slots, here is a list and picture of the slots available on this motherboard:
Most recent micro ATX motherboards tend to have only a single PCI slot and three PCI-E slots of various sizes. This motherboard however has two PCI slots and two PCI-E slots. For the majority of users, this is not likely to cause any issues it is rare for a micro ATX system to require more than one additional PCI-E card (usually a sound card). It is however something to keep in mind if you want to fit more than two PCI-E cards in this system.
Overall, we are very happy with the placement of almost everything on this motherboard. The USB 2.0 and audio headers are all located along the bottom of the board, which is an ideal location for cabling. The power connections are in the standard locations that we have grown accustomed to with the 24-pin ATX power on the right edge of the board and the 8-pin power at the top-left.
The battery for the CMOS is in an ideal location above the top PCI-E slot. A battery in this location means that you do not need to uninstall any PCI cards in order to get to it, which is great in the rare instance that the CMOS needs to be cleared.
The only thing we are not 100% happy with is the SATA ports. While this type of SATA port configuration is very standard on modern motherboards, Asus has lately been using a stacked design for their SATA ports. This design has the ports laying parallel to the motherboard rather than sticking straight out. Really this will only be an issue if you are using a very large PCI card in any of the bottom three PCI slots. This will not happen very often however, which is why this is only a minor consideration.
This motherboard is very nearly the ideal micro ATX motherboard for Intel 1155 CPUs; the chipset is well established to be a great performer with excellent reliability and all of the features present on this board have been well tested on other models. The main issue with this motherboard is the lack of an internal USB 3.0 header. The only micro ATX chassis Puget Systems is currently offering that supports USB 3.0 is the Silverstone TJ08-E however, and that chassis comes with an adapter for the front ports to use an internal USB 2.0 header rather than a USB 3.0 header. So while the ports will not actually be USB 3.0, they would at least be functional.
As with all of our products, we will continue to keep an eye open for other motherboards that would fit even better in our product line. But with current chassis offerings not having a problem with the lack of an internal USB 3.0 headerer, this motherboard is just too well-rounded and reliable for us to pass up.