Let’s take a look at one of the first socket LGA1155 motherboards to reach the market, the ECS P67H2-A, based on the forthcoming P67 chipset for Intel’s “Sandy Bridge” processors. The highlights of this motherboard include three PCI Express x16 slots – allowing any kind of video card to be installed in parallel, even if they are from different vendors, thanks to a Lucid HydraLogix 200 processor – , six USB 3.0 ports, and more. Let’s check it out.
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.
As expected on a high-end product, the portrayed motherboard comes in the ATX form factor, and we were happy to see that ECS is definitely reading our reviews and decided to stop using 300 different colors on their motherboards. The P67H2-A uses gray and white parts, giving it a very sober and professional looks.
Figure 1: ECS P67H2-A motherboard
The ECS P67H2-A comes with three PCI Express x16 slots. The first one always work at x16, and the second one works at x16 when two video cards are installed, but at x8 when three video cards are installed. The third slot always work at x8.
This high-end configuration is achieved by the use of a Lucid LT24102 (a.k.a. “HydraLogix 200”) processor, which is more than a PCI Express switch: it allows you to run multiple video cards in parallel, allowing you to mix and match not only different cards from the same vendor (which is usually not possible with SLI configurations), but allowing you to mix NVIDIA- and AMD-based video cards and make them to run in parallel, similar to what happens on MSI’s Fuzion motherboard series. We were impressed to see ECS, which traditionally manufactures entry-level products, coming with such high-end solution.
You can install dual-slot video cards on all the PCI Express x16 slots, but you “kill” one of the PCI Express x1 slots when a dual-slot video card is installed in the first PCI Express x16 slot. You will need a case with at least eight expansion slots if you want to install a dual-slot video card in the third PCI Express x16 slot (cases usually have seven expansion slots).
The P67H2-A also has two PCI Express x1 slots and two standard PCI slots.
Figure 3: Lucid HydraLogix 200 processor
[nextpage title=”Memory Support”]
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, however ECS says the P67H2-A supports DDR3 memories up to 2,133 MHz through overclocking.
The ECS P67H2-A 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 white, while the second and fourth are gray. 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 white sockets, otherwise your computer won’t turn on.
Figure 4: Memory sockets; install two or four modules for the best performance
[nextpage title=”On-Board Peripherals”]
The Intel P67 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. These ports are located on the motherboard edge rotated 90°, so video cards won’t block them. The problem here is that the SATA-300 ports are white and the SATA-600 ports are black, being the opposite color scheme used by all other manufacturers, confusing users. We hope ECS can fix this.
Figure 5: SATA-300 (white) and SATA-600 (black) ports
Additionally, this motherboard has two eSATA-600 ports, controlled by a Marvell 88SE9128 chip. This motherboard doesn’t come with ATA-133 or floppy disk ports.
This motherboard has 12 USB 2.0 ports, six soldered on the rear panel and six available through three headers located on the motherboard.
One of the highlights of the P67H2-A is the presence of six USB 3.0 ports, four available at the rear panel and two on a front panel header. The Intel P67 doesn’t support USB 3.0 ports, so these ports are controlled by external chips. The two external USB 3.0 ports and two of the four rear ports are controlled by two NEC μPD720200 chips, while the other two rear USB 3.0 ports are controlled by a VIA VL810 chip. The motherboard comes with a 3.5” front panel adapter made in aluminum for you to use the two front USB 3.0 ports, but you can remove these ports of the adapter and install them at the rear part of your case, using a bracket that comes with the product.
Figure 6: Front USB 3.0 adapter
No FireWire ports are available.
The P67H2-A 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 “SPDIFO” head
The analog audio jacks are independent if you use a 5.1 speaker set, but if you have a 7.1 analog speaker set you will have to “kill” either the mic in or the line in jack. This isn’t necessarily a problem, because if you want to have a 7.1 speaker system you will probably connect your computer to a home theater receiver or a digital speaker set.
The portrayed motherboard has two Gigabit Ethernet ports, controlled by two Realtek RTL8111E chips, which are connected to the system using a PCI Express x1 lane and thus not presenting any potential performance issues. These ports support the teaming feature, which allows your computer to connect at 2 Gbps with your network, if your network switch also supports this feature.
In Figure 7, you can see the motherboard rear panel, with external clear CMOS button, shared keyboard and mouse PS/2 connector, six USB 2.0 ports, four USB 3.0 ports (blue ones), two Gigabit Ethernet ports, shared analog 7.1 audio outputs, and optical SPDIF output.
Figure 7: Motherboard rear panel
[nextpage title=”Other Features”]
Other smaller features present at the P67H2-A include the presence of on-board power and reset buttons, POST diagnostics display (which shows the CPU temperature after the system correctly passed the POST testings), the use of 15µ gold contacts (usually motherboards use 5µ gold contacts), eJiffy (an operating system stored inside the motherboard read-only memory that allows you to access the Internet without needing to load the operating system or even without having a hard disk drive installed, being equivalent of ASUS’s Express Gate and MSI’s Winki), and voltage monitoring points, where you can read the CPU main voltage (labeled as “VCORE”), memory voltage (“DIMM”), CPU integrated memory controller voltage (VTT, labeled as “IMC”), chipset voltage (“PCH”), and clock multiplier voltage (“PLL”) using a multimeter. Phase-monitoring LEDs are available and we will talk about them in the next page.
Figure 8: POST diagnostics display
Figure 9: Voltage monitoring points
This motherboard also features a legacy serial port (you need to acquire an adapter to use it).
In Figure 10, you can see all accessories that come with this motherboard.
[nextpage title=”Voltage Regulator”]
The ECS P67H2-A comes with a 13-phase voltage regulator circuit, which is an impressive improvement for ECS. Of the 13 available phases, 12 are used to generate the CPU main voltage (Vcc, a.k.a. Vcore), while the other one is used to generate the voltage required by the integrated memory controller, the QPI controller, and the L3 memory cache (VTT). Therefore, this motherboard has a “12+1” configuration.
The motherboard comes with passive heatsinks on top of the voltage regulator transistors, connected to the passive heatsink used on top of the Lucid HydraLogix 200 processor using heatpipes.
Figure 11: Voltage regulator circuit
Figure 12: Voltage regulator circuit
The P67H2-A comes with a series of 12 LEDs to indicate which phases of the voltage regulator circuit are being used at the moment.
Figure 13: Phase-monitoring LEDs
All capacitors used on this motherboard are solid made in Japan and the voltage regulator circuit uses ferrite chokes, which are better than iron chokes. Please read our Everything You Need to Know About the Motherboard Voltage Regulator tutorial for more information.
[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]
The main specifications for the ECS P67H2-A include:
- Socket: 1155
- Chipset: Intel P67
- Super I/O: ITE IT8728F
- Parallel ATA: None
- Serial ATA: Four SATA-300 and two SATA-600 ports controlled by the chipset
- External SATA: Two eSATA-600 ports controlled by a Marvel 88SE9128 chip (RAID 0 and 1)
- USB: 12 USB 2.0 ports, six soldered on the motherboard rear panel and six available through three headers on the motherboard, and six USB 3.0 ports, four controlled by two NEC μPD720200 chips and two controlled by a VIA VL801 chip
- FireWire (IEEE 1394): None
- On-board video: No
- 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: Two Gigabit Ethernet ports controlled by two Realtek RTL8111E chips, connected to the system through PCI Express x1 lanes, supporting teaming
- Buzzer: Yes
- Infrared interface: No
- Power supply required: EPS12V
- Slots: Three PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots (the first one always working at x16, the second one working at x16 when two video cards are installed and at x8 when three video cards are installed, and the third one always working at x8), two PCI Express x1 slots, and two standard PCI slots, Lucid HydraLogix 200 processor, supporting SLI, CrossFireX, and mixing NVIDIA- and AMD-based video cards
- Memory: Four DDR3-DIMM sockets (up to 16 GB up to DDR3-2133 through overclocking)
- Fan connectors: One four-pin connector for the CPU cooler, one four-pin connector for an auxiliary fan, and one three-pin connector for an auxiliary fan
- Extra Features: POST diagnostics display, serial port
- Number of CDs/DVDs provided: One
- Programs included: Norton Internet Security 2011
- More Information: https://www.ecs.com.tw
- Average price in the US: This product wasn’t released yet on the day we published this First Look article
We were really happy to see ECS not only improving the quality of their motherboards, but adding true high-end features, especially the Lucid HydraLogix 200 processor, which allows you to run any video cards in parallel, even if they are different and from different chip vendors. We were also impressed to see ECS using a 13-phase voltage regulator circuit and adding monitoring LEDs on them. The other highlights of this product include the three PCI Express x16 slots (working at x16/x16 or x16/x8/x8) and six USB 3.0 ports. And we also must congratulate ECS in their (long awaited) change in the color scheme of their motherboards (ECS is known for using 300 different colors in their motherboards and it seems that the finally realized that this doesn’t look good).
Of course there are small things here and there that ECS could have done better, especially the color scheme on the SATA ports, where they used white for the SATA-300 ports and black for the SATA-600 ports, the opposite of what all other manufacturers use. We also would like to see more fan power connectors (it only comes with a total of three, and one is obviously used by the CPU cooler), a feature that is imperative in a high-end motherboard.
ECS is known for one thing: bringing products that don’t cost an arm and a leg. Therefore, we anticipate the P67H2-A to come with a good price for all the features it carries.
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