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ECS has released four motherboards based on the Intel H55 chipset, which is targeted to the Core i3 and Core i5 processors with integrated video. H55H-I is a mini-ITX board targeted to users building small home theater computers (HTPC’s). Is this motherboard a good pick? Let’s see.
To show you the differences between the four H55-based motherboards from ECS, we compiled a short table comparing them.
|Form Factor||microATX||microATX||microATX||Mini ITX|
|Memory||4 sockets||2 sockets||4 sockets||2 sockets|
|PCI Express x16 slots||1||1||1||1|
|PCI Express x4 slots||None||None||One||None|
|PCI Express x1 slots||2||2||None||None|
|SATA||6 ports||6 ports||5 ports, 1 eSATA||4 ports, 1 eSATA|
|Audio Codec||ALC662||VIA VT1705||ALC892||ALC892|
|Video Outputs||VGA, HDMI||VGA, DVI-D||VGA, DVI-D||VGA, DVI-D, HDMI|
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 H55H-I. As mentioned, it is a Mini-ITX motherboard.
ECS H55H-I comes with only one PCI Express x16 2.0 slot – it is really tough to squeeze expansion slots on such small motherboard. At least it comes with this slot, so you can install a “real” video card whenever you are tired of the low 3D performance provided by the integrated video from Core i3 and Core i5.
[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.
ECS H55H-I has only two DDR3-DIMM sockets, so you can have up to 8 GB, if you use two 4 GB modules. Having only two memory sockets isn’t a real drawback due to the motherboard reduced size.
The two sockets are orange and you must use two memory modules in order to enable dual channel feature and thus be able to use the maximum performance you system is capable to provide.
[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.
ECS H55H-I provides four SATA-300 ports and one eSATA-300 port.
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. A floppy disk drive controller isn’t available as well.
This motherboard has ten USB 2.0 ports, six soldered on the rear panel and four available through two motherboard headers. Being a low-cost product, it doesn’t support FireWire ports.
Audio is generated by the chipset using a Realtek ALC892 codec, which is a eight-channel component. Unfortunately Realtek does not publish any information about this codec on their website, so we can’t analyze the quality of the on-board audio from this motherboard.
But there are terrific news about H55H-I: it features independent 7.1 analog audio outputs, coaxial SPDIF output and optical SPDIF output. The motherboard also has an SPDIF output header, allowing you to route digital audio to the DVI-D/HDMI outputs from NVIDIA-based video cards.
ECS H55H-I has a Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by a Realtek RTL8111DL controller, which is connected to the system through a x1 PCI Express lane.
In Figure 5, you can see the motherboard rear panel with six USB 2.0 ports, HDMI output, VGA output, DVI-D output, eSATA-300 port, Gigabit Ethernet port, coaxial SPDIF output, optical SPDIF output and independent 7.1 analog audio jacks.
As you can see, this motherboard doesn’t have PS/2 connectors for mouse and keyboard, so you must use USB devices.
This product comes with three different kinds of video outputs, including HDMI. Together with the presence of SPDIF outputs and the small physical size of the board, this makes this product clearly targeted to users willing to build home theater computers (HTPC’s).
[nextpage title=”Voltage Regulator”]
We always like to analyze the voltage regulator
circuit, as it gives us an idea of the manufacturing quality of the motherboard. H55H-I voltage regulator circuit has five phases, three for the main CPU voltage (Vcore), one for the VTT voltage (used for feeding the memory controller and L3 cache inside the CPU) and one for the video controller. Four of the phases use ferrite chokes, but one uses an iron choke.
On the other hand, all capacitors used on the voltage regulator circuit are solid. The electrolytic capacitors used on the other circuits from the motherboard are Taiwanese from OST.
The voltage regulator circuit doesn’t come with a heatsink.
This motherboard uses an ATX12V connector for the CPU.
[nextpage title=”Overclocking Options”]
Being a product targeted to home theater PCs, we were not expecting to see a look of overclocking options, but ECS H55H-I brings a few:
- Adjustment of the CPU base clock from 133 MHz to 600 MHz in 1 MHz steps.
- Adjustment of the PCI Express base clock from 100 MHz to 200 MHz in 1 MHz steps.
- Adjustment of the CPU voltage from +0.01 V to +0.63 V in 0.01 V steps.
- Adjustment of the CPU VTT voltage from +0.01 V to +0.63 V in 0.01 V steps.
- Adjustment of the memory voltage from +0.01 V to +0.63 V in 0.01 V steps.
It also allows you to tweak memory timings.
Below you can see some screenshots from the motherboard setup.
[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]
ECS H55H-I motherboard main features are:
- Socket: 1156.
- Chipset: Intel H55 Express.
- Super I/O: ITE IT8758E
- Clock Generator: ICS RS4180BL
- Parallel ATA: None
- Serial ATA: Four SATA-300 ports controlled by the chipset.
- External SATA: One eSATA-300 port controlled by the chipset.
- USB: Ten USB 2.0 ports (six soldered on the motherboard rear panel and four available through two headers on the motherboard).
- FireWire (IEEE 1394): None.
- On-board audio: Produced by the chipset together with a Realtek ALC892 codec (eight channels; unfortunately Realtek doesn’t publish technical specification for this chip). On-board coaxial and optical SPDIF outputs.
- On-board LAN: One Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by a Realtek RTL8111DL chip, connected to the system through a PCI Express x1 lane.
- Buzzer: No.
- Power supply required: ATX12V.
- Slots: One PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot.
- Memory: Two DDR3-DIMM sockets (up to 8 GB up to DDR3-1333/PC3-10600).
- Fan connectors: One four-pin connector for the CPU fan and one three-pin connector for an auxiliary fan.
- Number of CDs/DVDs provided: One.
- Programs included: Motherboard drivers and utilities.
- Extra features: None.
- More Information: https://www.ecs.com.tw
- Average price in the US: We couldn’t find this motherboard being sold in the US market yet.
ECS H55H-I is clearly targeted to users that want to build a small computer or an HTPC (home theater PC), and will certainly please customers that pick this product, as it has everything one should expect from a motherboard targeted to this kind of computer: small footprint, three different kinds of video outputs – including HDMI –, optical and coaxial SPDIF outputs and analog 7.1 audio output with independent jacks. The presence of an eSATA port completes the package.