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[nextpage title=”Introduction”]

ASRock is a manufacturer that was originally established to enter the entry-level market, competing with ECS on this particular segment, although in the recent years they’ve been entering the mainstream and high-end markets as well. It’s been a while since we’ve last took a look at their motherboards, so we were really curious to see their H55 solutions. So far they released four H55-based motherboards. Let’s take a look at H55DE3.

To show you the differences between the four H55-based motherboards from ASRock, we compiled a short table comparing them. As you can see, all H55 motherboards from ASRock have two PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots (the second one working at x4). The most high-end model does not provide video outputs and thus you necessarily have to install an add-on video card on this motherboard, even if you install a CPU with integrated video controller (so far this is the only H55-based motherboard without video connectors we’ve seen).

Model H55M H55M Pro H55DE3 H55 Pro
Form Factor microATX microATX ATX ATX
Memory 2 sockets 4 sockets 4 sockets 4 sockets
PCI Express x16 slots 2 2 2 2
PCI Express x1 slots 1 1 2 2
PCI slots 1 1 2 2
SATA 4, 2 eSATA 5, 1 eSATA 4, 2 eSATA 5, 1 eSATA
Audio Codec VT1718 VT1718 VT1718 VT2020
Video Outputs VGA, DVI-D, HDMI VGA, DVI-D, HDMI VGA, DVI-D, HDMI None

It is important to understand that with socket LGA1156 CPUs the integrated video is produced by the processor and not by the motherboard chipset, as it occurred until now. There are processors with integrated video and processors without this feature. The board has only the interface and connectors necessary to route the video signal generated by the CPU. You can install CPUs with an integrated video processor or without, but with CPUs without a video processor you won’t have on-board video, needing an add-on video card. Of course with a processor with integrated video you still have the option to install an add-on card and disable its video engine. For a more detailed explanation, please read our Core i5-661 review.

One Figure 1 you have an overall look from H55DE3. As mentioned, it is an ATX motherboard.

ASRock H55DE3 motherboardFigure 1: ASRock H55DE3 motherboard.

[nextpage title=”Slots”]

ASRock H55DE3 comes with two PCI Express x16 2.0 slot – the first one always working at x16 and the second one working at x4 –, two PCI Express x1 slots and two standard PCI slots. The x16 PCI Express slots support CrossFire configuration, but not SLI.

ASRock H55DE3 motherboardFigure 2: Slots.

In Figure 2, you can see how H55DE3 has a serial port (header labeled “COM1”), but the motherboard doesn’t come with the adapter to use this port.

[nextpage title=”Memory Support”]

Socket LGA1156 CPUs, like socket LGA1366 and AMD processors, have an embedded memory controller. All other Intel CPUs use an external memory controller, which is located on the north bridge chip (a.k.a. MCH or Memory Controller Hub) from the chipset. This means that with other Intel CPUs the chipset (and thus the motherboard) is the component that says what memory technologies and the maximum amount of memory you can have on your PC.

Since now the memory controller is inside the CPU, it is the processor, and not the chipset, that defines the memory technologies and the maximum amount of memory you can have. The motherboard, however, may have a limitation as to how much memory can be installed.

At the moment, the integrated memory controller of socket LGA1156 processors supports only DDR3 memories up to 1,333 MHz under dual-channel architecture, but ASRock says this board supports memories up to 2,600 MHz under overclocking.

ASRock H55DE3 has four DDR3-DIMM sockets, so you can have up to 16 GB, if you use four 4 GB modules.

The first and the third sockets are white, while the second and the fourth ones are blue. In order to achieve the maximum performance, you should install two or four memory modules to enable the dual-channel architecture. When only two modules are used make sure to install them on the white sockets. If you install them on the blue ones the computer won’t turn on.

ASRock H55DE3 motherboardFigure 3: Memory sockets. Install two or four modules for the best performance.

[nextpage title=”On-Board Peripherals”]

Intel H55 chipset is a single-chip solution. The basic features provided by this chipset include six SATA-300 ports (no RAID support), no support for parallel ATA (PATA) ports, 12 USB 2.0 ports supporting port disable, embedded Gigabit Ethernet MAC (Medium Access Control) and six x1 PCI Express lanes.

ASRock H55DE3 provides four SATA-300 ports with the other two SATA ports being converted into eSATA-300 ports on the rear panel. These eSATA ports share the same connectors with two USB 2.0 ports, as we will show in Figure 5. The four SATA ports are installed on the motherboard lower left corner, so video cards won’t block them.

ASRock H55DE3 motherboardFigure 4: SATA ports.

The chipset doesn’t support a parallel ATA (PATA) port and this motherboard doesn’t come with an external controller supporting this kind of connection. ASRock H55DE3 also doesn’t come with a floppy disk drive controller.

On the other hand, this motherboard comes with a legacy serial port, as we’ve shown in Figure 2 (the board doesn’t come with the adapter to use it). Several H55-based motherboards are also coming with a legacy parallel port, which is not the case of H55DE3.

ASRock H55D3 comes with an infrared circuit, so if you want to have infrared communication you will only need to buy the receiver/transmitter module and install it on the available “IR1” header on the motherboard.

This motherboard has all the 12 USB 2.0 ports supported by the chipset, six soldered on the rear panel and six available through three motherboard headers. As mentioned, two of the rear USB 2.0 ports share the same connectors with the eSATA ports. Being a low-cost product, it doesn’t support FireWire ports.

Audio is generated by the chipset using a VIA VT1718 codec, which is an eight-channel component. Unfortunately V
IA doesn’t publish the technical specifications for this codec on their website. This motherboard comes with an on-board optical SPDIF output, which is great. The motherboard has an SPDIF header, so you can install an I/O bracket containing a coaxial SPDIF output if you need one (this adapter doesn’t come with the board).

The audio jacks provide independent 5.1 analog outputs, but shared 7.1 analog outputs. Translation: if you use a 5.1 analog speaker set, you will be able to use the mic in and line in jacks at the same time. However, if you install a 7.1 analog speaker set, you will have to “kill” either the mic in or the line in jack.

ASRock H55DE3 has a Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by a Realtek RTL8111DL controller, which is connected to the system through a x1 PCI Express lane and thus allowing the Gigabit Ethernet port to achieve its maximum performance.

In Figure 5, you can see the motherboard rear panel with keyboard PS/2 connector, six USB 2.0 ports, VGA output, DVI-D output, HDMI output, two eSATA ports (sharing connectors with two USB 2.0 ports), Gigabit Ethernet port, optical SPDIF output and analog audio jacks (independent 5.1 output or shared 7.1 output).

ASRock H55DE3 motherboardFigure 5: Motherboard rear panel.

This motherboard comes with three video connectors, but only two of them can be used at the same time. This motherboard surely is a good option for building an HTPC (Home Theater PC), as it provides an HDMI output and an optical SPDIF output.

[nextpage title=”Voltage Regulator”]

Since this is supposed to be a cost-effective solution, we wouldn’t expect the voltage regulator circuit to be great, however ASRock seems to be investing to improve the quality of their products, because the main voltage regulator uses only solid capacitors and ferrite chokes, which is great.

The main regulator is comprised of six phases, being four phases for the CPU (Vcore), one phase for the memory controller (VTT bus) and one phase for the integrated video controller.

The rest of the capacitors used on H55DE3 are Taiwanese (from OST and Teapo).

In order to save costs, the voltage regulator circuit doesn’t come with a heatsink.

ASRock H55DE3 motherboardFigure 6: Voltage regulator circuit.

See how this motherboard uses an EPS12V connector for the CPU.[nextpage title=”Overclocking Options”]

ASRock H55DE3 provides a simple overclocking setting on its setup called “Turbo 50,” which promises 50% performance increase on 3DMark06 (this performance increase won’t be that high on other programs). This option can only be enabled if you install a CPU with integrated video controller and use the integrated video controller.

ASRock H55DE3 motherboardFigure 7: Turbo 50 option.

This motherboard brings several overclocking options:

  • Adjustment of the CPU base clock from 100 MHz to 300 MHz in 1 MHz steps.
  • Adjustment of the PCI Express base clock from 50 MHz to 150 MHz in 1 MHz steps.
  • Adjustment of the CPU voltage from 0.84375 V to 1.60000 V in 0.00625 V steps.
  • Adjustment of the CPU VTT voltage from 1.11 V to 1.55 V in 0.06 V steps.
  • Adjustment of the CPU integrated video processor (GFX) voltage from +0 mV to +300 mV in 100 mV steps (on top of the default voltage).
  • Adjustment of the CPU clock generator (PLL) voltage from 1.81 V to 2.18 V.
  • Adjustment of the memory voltage from 1.30 V to 2.05 V in 0.05 V steps.
  • Adjustment of the chipset (PCH) voltage from 1.05 V to 1.25 V in 0.10 V steps.

Below you can see some screenshots from the motherboard setup.

ASRock H55DE3 motherboardFigure 8: Overclocking options.

ASRock H55DE3 motherboardFigure 9: Memory settings.

[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]

ASRock H55DE3 motherboard main features are:

  • Socket: 1156.
  • Chipset: Intel H55 Express.
  • Super I/O: Winbond W83667HG
  • Clock Generator: 9LPRS142AGLF
  • Parallel ATA: None
  • Serial ATA: Two SATA-300 ports controlled by the chipset.
  • External SATA: Two eSATA-300 ports controlled by the chipset, sharing connectors with two USB 2.0 ports.
  • USB: 12 USB 2.0 ports, six soldered on the motherboard rear panel and six available through three headers on the motherboard.
  • FireWire (IEEE 1394): None.
  • On-board audio: Produced by the chipset together with a VIA VT1718S codec (no technical specs are provided by the manufacturer). On-board optical SPDIF output.
  • On-board LAN: One Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by a Realtek RTL8111DL controller, connected to the system through a PCI Express x1 lane.
  • Buzzer: No.
  • Power supply required: EPS12V.
  • Slots: Two PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots (one always working at x16, the second one working at x4), two PCI Express x1 slots and two standard PCI slots.
  • Memory: Four DDR3-DIMM sockets (up to 16 GB up to DDR3-2600/PC3-20800).
  • Fan connectors: One four-pin connector for the CPU fan and two three-pin connectors for auxiliary fans.
  • Number of CDs/DVDs provided: One.
  • Programs included: Motherboard drivers and utilities, CyberLink software (Power2Go 6.1 LE OEM, MediaShow 4.1 SE OEM, PowerDVD 8.0 DTS trial, Power Director 8.0 trial, PowerBackup 2.5 trial) and Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi MB trial.
  • Extra features: On serial port and one infrared port available through headers.
  • More Information: https://www.asrock.com
  • Average price in the US*: USD 94.99

* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this First Look article.

[nextpage title=”Conclusions”]

ASRock H55DE3 is an entry-level motherboard for Core i3 and Core i5 processors with integrated video with some interesting extra features, like eSATA ports, on-board SPDIF output and overclocking options. It should be a product that will please the entry-level user that only runs office style applications and the user building an HTPC (Home Theater PC), especially when you think that Intel reference board, DH55TC, comes with less features and a lower-grade voltage regulator circuit but costs around the same
.

One nice think was to see ASRock improving their overall quality. Even though this brand focuses on low-priced products, the voltage regulator circuit uses only solid caps and ferrite chokes.