So far we’ve looked at three different mini-ITX motherboards here at Anandtech over the past 6 months. While each of the products we’ve reviewed have ticked a certain number of boxes, when you look at the feature sets of similarly priced m-ATX boards one of the irksome common denominators (among other things) with the mini-ITX offerings is that you essentially pay more for less. Well, ECS may just have delivered the perfect cost to feature ratio with the H55H-I, a $79 mini-ITX motherboard based on the Intel H55 chipset:

Ordinarily you might sneer at the mention of ECS, but in this instance basic functionality and layout very much fits; especially when you consider what vendors like Intel and DFI are offering on their boards for a price premium – those boards cost over $120.


No PS/2, but everything else you need is there...

All ECS need to do with the H55H-I is provide a workable BIOS and good plug-in functionality to steal the show. Of course, those two things are often easier said than done...

Overview/Summary

One thing we’ve learned while reviewing mini-ITX boards thus far, is that anything related to overclocking is best left as a minor consideration if you want the boards to last. The reason is simple; the SFF of these boards and vendor desire to keep manufacturing costs down leads to power handling that is just about sufficient to handle today’s processors at stock operating frequencies. With that in mind, most vendors have taken a few precautions to ensure that users cannot push things too far. Most of the time, this involves the removal of key voltage options from BIOS and/or by limiting the range of supported processors to keep current draw within bounds.

ECS’s approach to this situation is to throw caution to the wind. Full i3/i5/i7 support is currently offered according to this link - though there's supposed to be an 87w TDP cap.  Over-voltage options for CPU VCore, VTT and VDIMM are also allowed for all processors. This somewhat gutsy move allows ECS to keep their nose out ahead of Intel in both the number of supported processors and the overclocking department. It is a little concerning though that the VRM solution used for VCC is probably only good for 90 amps at best (its three phase using 30 amp FETs). This is enough to take Clarkdale processors to 4GHz and perhaps a little beyond, but we’re a little dubious in recommending you push further because we’ve yet to see an over-current protection circuit that works as it should on a motherboard - quite often you’ll pop a FET before OCP kicks in. In light of this, the Lynnfield processors are certainly best left at stock.

One of the things needing attention on the current BIOS is the “broken” CPU multiplier ratio control. ECS provides an option to control CPU multipliers, but if you set anything other than stock the board fails to POST. This obviosuly limited our ability to test S3 resume states anything higher than 160 BCLK, because we’d be pushing the CPU past a point where we feel comfortable. We can confirm that it does work up to that point though, which is better than nothing and at the very least competitive with all the other mini-ITX boards we’ve tested to date.

Overclocking concerns aside, basic testing passed without a glitch. There’s nothing bad for us to report on the peripheral front or when it comes to comparative performance; the grouping of numbers is within bounds – meaning the H55H-I is a capable runner...

Performance Summary and Overclocking
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  • yyrkoon - Thursday, May 06, 2010 - link

    The CPU multiplier ratio control option should either be removed altogether, or it should be made to work. In its current state the option is useless, serving only to create non-POST situations


    Like the subject line says. I have this CRAAAAAZY idea. How about instead of trying to OVERCLOCK the dammed board. How about you try and do something insane such as use the board for it intended purpose, and *maybe* underclock / undervolt the board ?

    But Gee, I guess that would make too much sense eh ? Just because you can try and do something. Does not mean that you *should* do it.
    Reply
  • Rajinder Gill - Thursday, May 06, 2010 - link

    I had flashes of those ideas too. They were swiftly tempered when i found that the BIOS has no undervolt options, a minimum BCLK of 133 and broken control of CPU multiplier ratios.
    With regards to underclocking and undervolting; power gating on C-States is pretty good, so there's not much if any saving to be had in very light load situations when you've got no effective multiplier control and a minimum BCLK of 133. Best thing you can do with the board in its current state if you want to encourage ultra-low power consumption and low levels of heat is to use Windows power options to set a high load threshold for SpeedStep ramping (low multiplier VID is programmed around 0.85V on the Clarkdale CPUs).

    Hope that helps.

    Raja
    Reply
  • xrror - Tuesday, June 01, 2010 - link

    I have this crazy idea too, that this is the first time I've seriously considered an ITX board because ECS was cool enough to allow real overclocking. I also find it pretty great that they do allow you to overspec the power. I wish there was some way to send a "bravery" award to the BIOS engineer(s) who slipped that through.

    So either heatsink like mad and hope you can stave off burning the power section with your 4.5Ghz i7 - or admit the fact that burning up 2 of these boards is STILL CHEAPER than most other ITX boards that don't even have this much overclocking flex.

    Wow, really ECS maybe IS getting back to it's overclocking roots. ECS boards were common overvolt-mod fodder because of this. Which is a good thing - just to clarify that I'm NOT slamming ECS.

    Since otherwise it's just time to get a Dell.
    Reply
  • cjs150 - Friday, May 07, 2010 - link

    At least for me as I am about to build a home server box.

    Boards like this are perfect. Stick a RAID card in the PCI-Ex16 slot then add 4x2TB HD and works just as I want.

    Now all I have to understand is how to set Linux as my primary domain controller for a network of Windows box (window 7, vista and XP pro) and I will be rocking
    Reply
  • jillsean - Friday, May 07, 2010 - link

    Just a quick one Raja.

    Would you say this is a better board than the Zotac H55 mini ITX, especially when it comes to overclocking and stability? Also, do you know if you can change the IGP clock ratio on the Zotac H55 board?

    Many thanks in advance.
    Reply
  • Rajinder Gill - Friday, May 07, 2010 - link

    Hi,

    Assuming ECS don't back-track, the H55H-I is probably a tad better for overclocking Clarkdale processors. Zotac's board is limited to using stock VTT.

    If you can look past the overclocking/underclocking stuff, the only reason I can see to buy the Zotac relates to the additional USB ports on the rear I/O panel (10) and the inclusion of WiFi. Otherwise, it's ECS all the way.

    Raja
    Reply
  • jaydee - Friday, May 07, 2010 - link

    What does it take to switch between a graphics card and the IGP? If you have a discrete card in, but want to use the IGP (for power savings), can you reboot and change something easily in the BIOS? With monitors coming with more than one DVI or HDMI input, this would be handy.

    Or is it the case, that as long as the discrete card is detected, it will always be on, no matter what?
    Reply
  • Rajinder Gill - Friday, May 07, 2010 - link

    Hi,

    As soon as you plug a discrete card into the PEG slot, the IGP switches off - and there's now way to activate it again unless you remove the discrete card. BIOS does not offer any option for switch-over unfortunately. I don't have a discrete PCIe soundcard here, but suspect that would have a similar effect on this board too (I should have a soundcard here soon I can test this).

    regards
    Raja
    Reply
  • Rajinder Gill - Friday, May 07, 2010 - link

    As soon as you plug a discrete card into the PEG slot, the IGP switches off - and there's *no* way to activate it again unless you remove the discrete card. Reply
  • strikeback03 - Friday, May 07, 2010 - link

    Really? That would be a massive mistake if plugging in ANY PCIe device kills the onboard video, a discrete GPU isn't the only thing a user might want in that slot. Reply

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