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 Gigabyte has so far released three different models based on the Intel H55 chipset. Today we are going to take a look at H55M-USB3, which brings as main feature the presence of USB 3.0 ports.
To show you the differences between the three H55-based motherboards from Gigabyte, we compiled a short table comparing them. As you can see, H55M-USB3 is the most complete model.
|Memory||2 sockets||4 sockets||4 sockets|
|PCI Express x16 slots||Two||Two||Two|
|PCI Express x1 slots||None||None||None|
|SATA||6 ports||5 ports, 1 eSATA||7 ports, 1 eSATA|
|USB 3.0||No||No||Yes, 2 ports|
|Video Outputs||VGA, DVI-D, HDMI||VGA, DVI-D, HDMI, DisplayPort||VGA, DVI-D, HDMI, DisplayPort|
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 listed on the above table, Gigabyte GA-H55M-USB3 is a microATX motherboard. It features only solid capacitors and 2 oz (56 g) copper tracks, which is the double of the thickness usually used on motherboards. Benefits of this feature include lower temperature and lower electromagnetic interference (a full list of benefits can be seen here).
Gigabyte GA-H55M-USB3 comes with two x16 PCI Express 2.0 slots and two standard PCI slots. The second PCI Express x16 slot works at x4 and can also be used for installing x1 video cards. These two x16 slots support CrossFire configuration, but not SLI. As you can see, no PCI Express x1 slots are provided.
[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. The manual says this motherboard supports memories working up to 1,666 MHz through overclocking, but the product page on Gigabyte’s website says it supports 2,200 MHz or more (“2200+”).
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.
[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.
Gigabyte GA-H55M-USB3 provides a total of seven SATA-300 ports, five (blue connectors) controlled by the chipset and two (white connectors) controlled by a “Gigabyte SATA 2” chip, which is actually a relabeled JMicron JMB363 chip. The sixth SATA-300 port supported by the chipset was converted into an eSATA-300 port on the rear panel from the motherboard. The two SATA ports controlled by the JMicron chip support RAID (0, 1, 0+1 and JBOD).
The SATA connectors are positioned between the two x16 PCI Express slots and the installation of long video cards won’t block them (we tested).
Even though Intel H55 chipset does not provide a parallel ATA port, Gigabyte GA-H55M-USB3 has one, controlled by the JMicron JMB363 (a.k.a. “Gigabyte SATA 2”) chip. This motherboard also comes with a floppy disk drive controller, feature not present on several H55-based motherboards.
From the 12 USB 2.0 supported by the chipset, this motherboard has 10, four soldered on the rear panel and six available through three motherboard headers (the manual says this board has 12 USB 2.0 ports but this information is not correct).
The main feature of this motherboard is, of course, its two USB 3.0 ports, which are controlled by a NEC μPD720200 chip and available on the motherboard rear panel (blue connectors).
GA-H55M-USB3 also has two FireWire (IEEE1394) ports, one on the rear panel and one through an internal header, controlled by Texas Instruments TSB43AB22A chip.
Like several other H55-based motherboard, this model from Gigabyte comes with a legacy serial port, but not with a legacy parallel port. To use this port you need an I/O bracket, which doesn&rsqu
o;t come with the product.
Audio is generated by the chipset using a Realtek ALC889 codec, which is a professional-grade component, allowing you to professionally work with this motherboard for audio editing and conversion (e.g., converting LPs and VHS tapes to digital format) without the need of an add-on audio card. The audio section provides 7.1 audio with 24-bit resolution, 108 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the outputs, 104 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog inputs and 192 kHz sampling rate for both inputs and outputs.
This motherboard from Gigabyte comes with an on-board optical SPDIF connector, making it a good choice if you are building a home theater PC (HTPC).
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.
Gigabyte GA-H55M-USB3 has a Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by a Realtek RTL8111D controller, which is connected to the system through a PCI Express x1 lane, thus allowing this port to achieve its maximum performance.
In Figure 5, you can see the motherboard rear panel with four USB 2.0 ports (the ones that are black or yellow), a shared mouse/keyboard PS/2 connector, VGA output, DVI-D output, HDMI output, DisplayPort output, optical SPDIF output, FireWire port, eSATA port, Gigabit Ethernet port, two USB 3.0 ports (the blue ones) and independent 7.1 analog audio jacks.
This motherboard comes with four types of video connection, VGA, DVI-D, HDMI and DisplayPort.
[nextpage title=”Voltage Regulator”]
The voltage regulator circuit from Gigabyte GA-H55M-USB3 has four phases for the CPU main voltage (Vcore), two phases for the CPU integrated memory controller (VTT rail) and one phase for the CPU integrated video controller. This configuration is better known as “4+2+1.”
All capacitors used on the voltage regulator circuit and on the rest of the motherboard are solid, all chokes are ferrite models, which are better than iron chokes, and the transistors provide low RDS(on) – i.e., low power loss, making the CPU/motherboard to consume less. Please read our Everything You Need to Know About the Motherboard Voltage Regulator tutorial for more information.
This motherboard features a technology called “Dynamic Energy Saver 2” that reduces the number of phases from the voltage regulator circuit as needed in order to save energy. This board has four LEDs that display the number of CPU phases being used.
See in Figure 6 how this motherboard uses an EPS12V connector for the CPU.[nextpage title=”Overclocking Options”]
Gigabyte GA-H55M-USB3 has several overclocking options on its setup. The main overclocking features found on this motherboard are:
- Adjustment of the CPU base clock from 100 MHz to 600 MHz in 1 MHz steps.
- Adjustment of the CPU integrated video controller clock from 0 to 2000 MHz in 1 MHz steps.
- Adjustment of the PCI Express base clock from 90 MHz to 150 MHz in 1 MHz steps.
- Adjustment of the CPU voltage from 0.5000 V to 1.9000 V in 0.00625 V steps.
- Adjustment of the CPU VTT voltage from 1.050 V to 1.490 V in 0.050 V steps.
- Adjustment of the CPU integrated video controller voltage from 0.200 V to 1.680 V in 0.050 V steps.
- Adjustment of the CPU clock generator (PLL) voltage from 1.600 V to 2.540 V in 0.100 V steps.
- Adjustment of the memory voltage from 1.300 V to 2.600 V in 0.100 V steps.
- Adjustment of the chipset (PCH) voltage from 0.950 V to 1.500 V in 0.05 V steps.
There are way more overclocking options, we only listed the main ones.
Below you can see some screenshots from the motherboard setup.
[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]
Gigabyte GA-H55M-USB3 motherboard main features are:
- Socket: 1156.
- Chipset: Intel H55 Express.
- Super I/O: ITE IT8720F
- Clock Generator: Realtek RTM885N-914
- Parallel ATA: One port controlled by a JMicron JMB363 (“Gigabyte SATA 2”) chip.
- Serial ATA: Seven, five SATA-300 ports controlled by the chipset and two SATA-300 ports controlled by the same JMicron JMB363 chip (these two ports support RAID 0, 1, 0+1 and JBOD).
- External SATA: One eSATA-300 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) and two USB 3.0 ports controlled by a NEC μPD720200 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 Texas Instruments TSB43AB22A chip.
- On-board audio: Produced by the chipset together with a Realtek ALC889 codec (eight channels, 24-bit resolution, up to 192 kHz sampling rate for both the inputs and outputs, 104 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the inputs and 108 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the outputs). On-board optical SPDIF output.
- On-board LAN: One Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by a Realtek RTL8111D 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 working at x16 and the second one working at x4) and two standard PCI slots.
- Memory: Four DDR3-DIMM sockets (up to 16 GB up to DDR3-2200/PC3-17600).
- Fan connectors: One four-pin connector for the CPU fan and one four-pin connector for an auxiliary fan.
- Number of CDs/DVDs provided: One.
- Programs included: Motherboard drivers and utilities.
- Extra features: Phase usage LEDs, active phase controller (“Dynamic Energy Saver 2”), 2 oz. (56 g) copper tracks, serial port.
- More Information: https://www.gigabyte-usa.com
- Average price in the US*: USD 110.00.
* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this First Look article.
We simply can’t believe that this motherboard costs only USD 110 in the United States! It brings tons of features only found on more expensive models, like the USB 3.0 ports, four video connectors (VGA, DVI-D, HDMI and DisplayPort) and professional-grade audio codec, making this motherboard the perfect pick if you are building a PC with integrated video for a “home theater PC” (HTPC) and/or professionally editing audio and video. Plus we have the outstanding overall construction quality, with only solid caps, ferrite chokes, low RDS(on) transistors and 2 oz. (56 g) copper tracks.
From the H55-based motherboards we’ve seen so far, this is the one that presents the best cost/benefit ratio for users looking for a motherboard with lots of extra features for their Core i3 or Core i5 with integrated video.