Let’s take a look at one of the first socket LGA1155 motherboards that will reach the market, the Biostar TH67XE, based on the forthcoming H67 chipset for future Intel processors based on the “Sandy Bridge” architecture with integrated video.
The next-generation Intel CPUs, codenamed “Sandy Bridge,” will be released in January, 2011, and will use a new socket, called LGA1155 or “socket LGA1155.” To match this new CPU generation Intel will launch two chipsets, the H67 and P67. The first one is targeted to computers with integrated video (keeping in mind that the video itself is produced by the CPU, and not by the chipset), while the second one is targeted to mid-range and high-end motherboards without integrated video.
The TH67XE will be available in the microATX form factor, making it a strong candidate for HTPCs (Home Theater PCs).
Figure 1: Biostar TH67XE motherboard
Socket LGA1155 and 1156 CPUs have an integrated PCI Express 2.0 controller, supporting one x16 or two x8 connections. The Biostar TH67XE comes with two PCI Express x16 slots, but the manufacturer, however, decided to use a different configuration, with the first PCI Express x16 slot (white) always working at x16 and the second PCI Express x16 slot always working at x1 (red). At least the manufacturer used different colors to identify the speed of each slot.
The TH67XE also has one PCI Express x1 slot and one standard PCI slot.
You can install dual-slot video cards in both PCI Express x16 slots, but you will “kill” the PCI Express x1 and/or the standard PCI slot.
It is important to understand that the H67 and P67 chipsets don’t support standard PCI slots anymore, and the PCI slot is provided by an ITE IT8893 bridge chip.
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Intel socket LGA1155 CPUs have an embedded memory controller, meaning that it is the processor – and not the chipset – that defines what 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.
The integrated memory controller from socket LGA1155 processors supports only DDR3 memories up to 1,333 MHz under dual-channel architecture.
The Biostar TH67XE has four memory sockets and, since currently DDR3 memory modules can be found in capacities up to 4 GB, you can have up to 16 GB with this motherboard, if you use four 4 GB modules.
The first and third sockets are red, while the second and fourth are white. In order to achieve the maximum performance you should install two or four memory modules in order to enable dual-channel architecture. When only two modules are used, install them in the red sockets, otherwise your computer won’t turn on.
Figure 3: Memory sockets; install two or four modules for the best performance
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The Intel H67 chipset is a single-chip solution, and is also known as PCH (Platform Controller Hub). This chip supports two SATA-600 ports and four SATA-300 ports, but it doesn’t support RAID. The manufacturer decided to route one of the SATA-300 ports to the motherboard rear panel in order to give the product one eSATA-300 port. The other ports are located on the motherboard edge. A long dual-slot video card installed in the second PCI Express x16 slot may block the SATA ports.
Figure 4: SATA-300 (red) and SATA-600 (white) ports
This motherboard doesn’t come with ATA-133 or floppy disk ports.
This motherboard has 10 USB 2.0 ports, four soldered on the rear panel and six available through three headers located on the motherboard. It also has two USB 3.0 ports soldered at its rear panel, controlled by a NEC μPD720200F1 chip.
The TH67XE also has two FireWire (IEEE1394) ports, one soldered at the rear panel and one available through a header, controlled by a VIA VT6315N chip.
The portrayed motherboard comes with eight-channel audio, generated by the chipset using a Realtek ALC892 codec. Unfortunately Realtek doesn’t publish technical specifications for this codec at their website. The portrayed motherboard comes with an on-board optical SPDIF connector, and you can either install a coaxial SPDIF connector or route digital audio to your video card to have digital audio in the HDMI connector using the available “JSPDIFOUT1” header.
The analog audio jacks are independent, meaning that you won’t have to “kill” the “line in” or “mic in” jacks if you install an analog 7.1 analog speaker set.
The TH67XE motherboard has one Gigabit Ethernet port, controlled by a Realtek RTL8111E chip.
In Figure 5, you can see the motherboard rear panel, with keyboard PS/2 connector, four USB 2.0 ports, optical SPDIF output, DisplayPort connector, HDMI connector, DVI-D connector, VGA connector, eSATA-300 port, two USB 3.0 ports (blue ones), one Gigabit Ethernet port, and independent analog 7.1 audio outputs.
Figure 5: Motherboard rear panel
As you can see, this motherboard has four different kinds of video connectors, allowing you to connect it to any kind of HDTV or video monitor available on the market today.
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Other smaller features present at the TH67XE include the presence of on-board power and reset buttons, a legacy serial port (available through a header labeled “J_COM1;” you need to acquire an adapter to use it), and an infrared interface (you need to buy the optical components to use it).
In Figure 6, you can see all accessories that come with this motherboard.
[nextpage title=”Voltage Regulator”]
The Biostar TH67XE comes with a seven-phase voltage regulator circuit for the CPU. Of the seven available phases, four are used to generate the CPU main voltage (Vcc, a.k.a. Vcore), two are used to generate the voltage required by the integrated memory controller and the L3 memory cache (VTT), and one is used to generate the voltage required by the CPU integrated video controller (VAXG). Therefore, this motherboard has a “4+2+1” configuration.
CPU voltage regulator uses ferrite-core coils, which present less power loss than iron-core coils, meaning higher efficiency, and low RDS(on) transistors, also meaning higher efficiency. All capacitors used on this motherboard are solid. Please read our Everything You Need to Know About the Motherboard Voltage Regulator tutorial for more information.
Figure 7: Voltage regulator circuit
Figure 8: Voltage regulator circuit
The memory voltage uses a circuit with two phases, ferrite-core coils, and low RDS(on) transistors.
This motherboard has two groups of LEDs for you to monitor the phases of the voltage regulator circuit. The main CPU phase LEDs are labeled PH1 through PH4, the video controller phase LED is labeled PHS1, and the memory controller (VTT) LEDs are labeled VTT_LED.
Figure 9: Phase-monitoring LEDs
Figure 10: Phase-monitoring LEDs
[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]
The main specifications for the Biostar TH67XE include:
- Socket: 1155
- Chipset: Intel H67
- Super I/O: ITE IT8728F
- Parallel ATA: None
- Serial ATA: Three SATA-300 and two SATA-600 ports controlled by the chipset
- External SATA: One eSATA-300 port controlled by the chipset
- USB 2.0: 10 USB 2.0 ports, four soldered on the motherboard rear panel and six available through three headers on the motherboard
- USB 3.0: Two ports soldered on the motherboard rear panel and controlled by a NEC μPD720200F1 chip
- FireWire (IEEE 1394): Two ports, one soldered on the motherboard rear panel and one available through a header on the motherboard, controlled by a VIA VT6315N chip
- On-board video: Yes, generated by the CPU
- On-board audio: Produced by the chipset together with a Realtek ALC892 codec (eight channels, no further technical information is provided), on-board optical SPDIF output
- On-board LAN: One Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by a Realtek RTL8111E chip
- Buzzer: No
- Infrared interface: Yes
- Power supply required: EPS12V
- Slots: Two PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots (the first one always working at x16 and the second one always working at x1), one PCI Express x1 slot, and one standard PCI slot (ITE IT8893 bridge chip)
- Memory: Four DDR3-DIMM sockets (up to 16 GB up to DDR3-1333)
- Fan connectors: One four-pin connector for the CPU cooler and two three-pin connectors for auxiliary fans
- Extra Features: Serial port
- Number of CDs/DVDs provided: One
- Programs included: None
- More Information: https://www.biostar-usa.com/
- Average price in the US: This product wasn’t released yet on the day we published this First Look article
The Biostar TH67XE will be an interesting option for users building a fast HTPC based on a forthcoming Intel socket LGA1155 CPU: it has four different video connectors, on-board optical SPDIF output, SATA-600, USB 3.0, FireWire, Gigabit Ethernet ports and an infrared interface for you to add a remote control. The voltage regulator circuit used on this motherboard isn’t bad at all for an entry-level motherboard.
Its main competitor will be the ECS H67H2-M, which has as main advantage having two Gigabit Ethernet ports. The Biostar TH67XE, however, has the advantage of having FireWire ports, an infrared interface and a second PCI Express x16 slot (even though it runs at x1). The voltage regulator circuits of both motherboards are quite similar, with ferrite-core coils, solid capacitors and low RDS(on) MOSFET transistors, but the model from Biostar has two phases for the integrated memory controller and L3 memory cache (VTT voltage), instead of only one as it happens with the ECS H67H2-M.
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