Motherboards based on the new H55, H57 and Q57 chipsets are targeted to the new Core i3 and Core i5 processors with integrated video, and Biostar has so far released three different models based on H55. Let’s take a look at the most complete model, TH55XE.
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.
As you can see in Figure 1, Biostar TH55XE is a microATX motherboard.
Figure 1: Biostar TH55XE motherboard.
Biostar TH55XE comes with one x16 PCI Express 2.0 slot, one x4 PCI Express slot (you can install x1 expansion cards on it) and two standard PCI slots.
[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 Biostar TH55XE supports memories working up to 2,000 MHz, through overclocking. You can have up to 16 GB, if you install four 4 GB modules.
The first and the third sockets are orange, while the second and the fourth ones are white. 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 orange sockets. If you install them on the white ones the computer won’t turn on.
Figure 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.
Biostar TH55XE provides five SATA-300 ports. The sixth port was converted into an eSATA-300 port on the rear panel. The SATA connectors are installed on the corner of the motherboard and thus the video card (if you install one) won’t block them. In Figure 4 you can also see how this motherboard has on-board power and reset buttons.
Even though Intel H55 chipset does not provide a parallel ATA port, Biostar TH55XE has one, controlled by a JMicron JMB368 chip.
From the 12 USB 2.0 ports supported by the chipset the motherboard comes with 10 of them, four soldered on the rear panel and six available through three motherboard headers. Two FireWire (IEEE1394) ports are available, one on the rear panel and one through an internal header, controlled by an LSI FW322 chip.
This motherboard has a parallel and a serial port, shown in Figure 5. In order to use them you need adapters that don’t come with the product.
Figure 5: Parallel and serial port headers.
Audio is generated by the chipset using a Realtek ALC888 codec, which has a relatively good audio quality, providing 7.1 audio with 24-bit resolution, 97 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the outputs, 90 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog inputs, 192 kHz sampling rate for its outputs and 96 kHz sampling rate for its inputs. For working professionally with audio capture and editing (converting LPs and VHS tapes to digital format, for example) we recommend you to look for a motherboard with a codec that provides at least 95 dB SNR on its analog inputs.
Biostar TH55XE comes with an on-board optical SPDIF output, which is great. However, this board doesn’t have an on-board SPDIF header, so you can’t install an adapter to have coaxial SPDIF output.
Analog audio outputs use completely independent jacks, so you can hook-up an analog surround speaker system up to 7.1 without needing to “kill” the line in and/or mic in jacks.
Biostar TH55XE has a Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by a Realtek RTL8111BL controller, which is connected to the system through a PCI Express x1 lane, thus allowing this port to achieve its maximum performance.
In Figure 6, you can see the motherboard rear panel with Mouse PS/2 connector, keyboard PS/2 connector, optical SPDIF output, HDMI output, DVI-D output, VGA output, four USB 2.0 ports, FireWire port, eSATA-300 port, Gigabit Ethernet port and independent 7.1 analog audio jacks.
Figure 6: Motherboard rear panel.
This motherboard comes with the three most common types of video connection, VGA, DVI-D and HDMI, but only two of them can be used at the same time.
This motherboard has an on-board infrared interface, so you can just buy and install the sensors to have the ability to communicate using this interface.
[nextpage title=”Voltage Regulator”]
Biostar TH55XE comes with a high-end voltage regulator circuit called “Dura-MAX,” which main feature is the use of high-end MOSFET transistors from a series called DirectFET from International Rectifier (IR), which produces less heat and provides higher efficiency (i.e., lower power consumption). According to the manufacturer, the performance from two voltage regulator phases using this kind of transistor is comparable to five standard phases. These transistors also produce less electro-magnetic interference (EMI).
Figure 7: Highlights from the use of DirectFET transistors.
TH55XE has seven phases on its voltage regulator circuit, five for the CPU, two for the VTT (voltage bus that feeds the CPU L3 memory cache, integrated memory controller and CPU I/O pins) and one for the integrated graphics processor.
All capacitors used on the voltage regulator circuit and on the rest of the motherboard are solid and all chokes are ferrite models, which are better than iron chokes.
Please read our Everything You Need to Know About the Motherboard Voltage Regulator tutorial for more information.
Figure 8: Voltage regulator circuit with the heatsink.
Figure 9: Detail of some of the DirectFET transistors used.
See how this motherboard uses an EPS12V connector for the CPU.
In Figure 10, you can see all the accessories that come with this motherboard.
[nextpage title=”Overclocking Options”]
Biostar TH55XE has several overclocking options on its setup, plus voltage measuring points near the memory sockets, where you can manually measure with a multimeter the voltages from the CPU core, VTT (VTT voltage is the voltage bus that feeds the CPU L3 memory cache, integrated memory controller and CPU I/O pins), integrated graphics processor (VAXG) and memory.
Figure 11: Voltage measuring pads.
The main overclocking features found on this motherboard are:
- Adjustment of the CPU base clock from 100 MHz to 800 MHz in 1 MHz steps.
- Adjustment of the PCI Express base clock from 100 MHz to 150 MHz in 1 MHz steps.
- Adjustment of the CPU voltage from -0.080 V to +0.200 V in 0.020 V steps (on top of the current CPU voltage).
- Adjustment of the CPU VTT voltage from 1.150 V to 1.360 V in 0.015 V steps.
- Adjustment of the CPU clock generator (PLL) voltage from 1.800 V to 2.010 V in 0.015 V steps.
- Adjustment of the CPU integrated video processor (IGD) voltage from 1.18 V to 1.46 V in 0.02 V steps.
- Adjustment of the memory voltage from 1.600 V to 1.810 V in 0.015 V steps.
- Adjustment of the chipset (PCH) voltage from 1.10 V to 1.25 V in 0.05 V steps.
- Adjustment of the chipset clock generator (PCH PLL) voltage from 1.100 V to 1.310 V in 0.015 V steps.
Below you can see some screenshots from the motherboard setup.
Figure 12: Overclocking options.
Figure 13: Overclocking options.
Figure 14: Overclocking options.
[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]
Biostar TH55XE motherboard main features are:
- Socket: 1156.
- Chipset: Intel H55 Express.
- Super I/O: ITE IT8721
- Clock Generator: Realtek RTM885
- Parallel ATA: One port controlled by a JMicron JMB368 chip.
- Serial ATA: Five SATA-300 ports controlled by the chipset.
- External SATA: One SATA-300 port controlled by the chipset.
- USB: 10 USB 2.0 ports (four soldered on the motherboard rear panel and six available through three headers on the motherboard).
- FireWire (IEEE 1394): Two ports, one soldered on the motherboard rear panel and one available through a header on the motherboard, controlled by an LSI FW322.
- On-board audio: Produced by the chipset with the aid of a Realtek ALC888 codec (eight channels, 24-bit resolution, up to 96 kHz sampling rate for the inputs and up to 192 kHz sampling rate for the outputs, 90 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the inputs and 97 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the outputs). On-board optical SPDIF output.
- On-board LAN: One Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by a Realtek RTL8111BL controller, connected to the system through a PCI Express x1 lane.
- Buzzer: No.
- Power supply required: EPS12V.
- Slots: One PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot, one PCI Express 2.0 x4 slot and two standard PCI slots.
- Memory: Four DDR3-DIMM sockets (up to 16 GB up to DDR3-2000/PC3-16000).
- 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.
- Extra features: Dura-MAX voltage regulator circuit, infrared circuit.
- More Information: https://www.biostar-usa.com
- Average price in the US*: USD 110.00.
* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this First Look article.
Biostar TH55XE provides a good cost/benefit for users looking for a motherboard for the new Core i3/Core i5 processors with integrated video
loaded with features. Though not the cheapest board on the planet, it costs only USD 10 more than Intel DH55TC, providing far more features.
The highlights from this motherboard include the good (but not outstanding) audio section with an on-board optical SPDIF output and independent 7.1 analog outputs, three video connector (VGA, DVI-D and HDMI) – although only two can be used at the same time –, and a high-quality voltage regulator circuit. Having also FireWire (IEEE1394) ports, this board is a good pick if you are building an HTPC (Home Theater PC) based on the new CPUs with integrated video from Intel.
In fact when you compare Biostar TH55XE with other motherboards with similar number of features, you invariable find that most competitors cost more, making TH55E a smart choice. Of course there are cheaper H55-based motherboards on the market, but not with so many features and not with a top-notch voltage regulator circuit.
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