Choosing the Best H55/H57 Motherboard, Part 2by Rajinder Gill on February 22, 2010 2:00 AM EST
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It's finally ready: part 2 of our H55/H57 coverage. After battling it out with eight motherboards, we decide which ones we'd be happy to live with on a daily basis. If you missed part 1, we'll take this opportunity to re-direct you.
The short recap is that we found a couple of good candidates in part 1, namely the ASRock H55M-Pro and the P7H55D-M Evo. The late January BIOS releases for both of these boards delivered good all round performance and functionality, with only a couple of things needing improvement or change. For ASUS, we felt their board was a touch too pricey at $134; ASUS have since dropped the MSRP of the H55 Evo $119. In a typical Newegg maneuver, the board retails at $124 with a shipping cost of $2.99, while boards from other vendors are shipped at MSRP + $7.87 with the same delivery deal—strange.
Meanwhile, ASRock managed to add a touch more overclocking headroom for 8GB memory configurations by adding support for Quick Path Interconnect multiplier changes, delivering a great all around performer at an asking price of $95. The other two boards from part one are the ASUS P7H57D-V Evo and the MSI H55M-ED55. ASUS' H57 is simply too expensive at $200 in our opinion; we'd put $100 towards a discrete GPU rather than fork out the extra money for a full size ATX board offering SATA 6G at this stage (at least until SATA 6G peripherals are affordable). MSI's H55M-ED55 hasn't received a new BIOS since our last test (nor can we find it on sale in the States), and remains a little finicky to set up in comparison to boards from ASUS and Gigabyte.
Part two's line-up consists of two very attractively priced boards from Gigabyte, the H55-USB3 and H57M-USB3 models coming in at ($110 and $119), together with ECS's super cheap stock runner called the H55H-V1.0 ($80). Finally, we just about managed to squeeze BIOSTAR's TH55XE ($115) into the fray after it arrived late in our labs this week. All of these boards have a head-start of sorts over the boards we tested in part 1, as they had an extra four weeks for vendors to get to grips with the H55/H57 chipsets and tackle some of the common issues that plague chipset launches. And it's the subject of issues that leads us nicely into our summary section before we delve deeper into the workings of each board.
Board Summary and Overview
BIOSTAR have a tough sale on their hands; you've got product from ASUS and Gigabyte straddling the $115 mark while offering USB3 as a key feature. That means BIOSTAR have to do something a little bit better to justify their price-point. We looked hard, but have yet to find it. PCI-E slot layout is an oddity, because the PCI-E x4 slot sits too close to the x16 PEG connector, limiting upgrade options if you choose to go with a discrete GPU. Overclocking performance is not class leading in any department either. High memory speeds are possible, but S3 resume is limited somewhere between 160~165 BCLK if you try to keep a grip on memory controller performance. Boards from all other vendors do better in this department, with most cruising over 180 BCLK with high QPI speeds intact. In its current state, we think ASRock's H55M-Pro is a better all round buy if you don't need USB 3.0, and it's hard to ignore boards that are priced similarly to the TH55XE with more features.
No budget oriented motherboard roundup is complete without taking a look at a board from ECS. The H55H-V1.0 is the kind of board that suits a person who is not interested in overclocking and wants bare-bones functionality and low cost. At $80, that's exactly what you get, from package contents to onboard features—it's all "light". There are a couple of areas we think ECS skinned the H55H-V1.0 too far. Firstly, there's no HDMI output connector; you'll need to buy a DVI-to-HDMI adaptor for HTPC use. Analog audio output is limited to 2 channels, so HDMI audio out is a must for multi-channel setups. Secondly, you only get two DIMM slots when it would not have cost ECS much to provide four. Overclocking is also limited by a very basic BIOS that can be rather frustrating to use at times. When you look at what ASRock are offering at $95, it makes the $80 that ECS are asking for the H55H-V1.0 seem expensive.
Gigabyte were already on the F3 BIOS releases when the H55M-USB3 touched down in our test labs. We flashed over to that BIOS straight away expecting good all-round functionality. We hit a snag pretty quickly though, finding that setting SATA ports to AHCI mode for the Intel H55 PCH resulting in our DVD drive failing to be recognized as a valid boot device unless all ports were set to IDE. Our Pioneer DVR-215BK works fine with AHCI mode selected on all other vendor boards, so it was a simple case of Gigabyte needing to update their BIOS (again). Another point of contention was firstly pointed out to us by an AnandTech reader who discovered that Gigabyte's bundled Dolby Home Theatre package would not work with Windows 7. It turned out that Gigabyte had forgotten to enter the BIOS string to unlock the Dolby software package. It's the kind of stuff that shouldn't make it out of the test lab really—assuming vendors properly validate BIOSes before public release.
The F3 BIOS was pulled and replaced with F4 a couple of days later fixing the Dolby software and AHCI optical drive issues. The F3 BIOS release did have a couple of redeeming qualities, in that memory clocking on the H55M-USB3 seemed to be the most consistent of any H55 board we've tested to date. F4 and later releases continue this trend, and now that the other fixes are in place, this board is the strongest contender out of today's test subjects.
When this board touched base with us, we felt it was going to be the board to beat. We think Gigabyte nailed everyone on pricing by offering H57 and USB3 features at $119—a perfect fit for Clarkdale. Unfortunately, the H57 hasn't received the same level of BIOS attention as Gigabyte's H55M-USB3 and is still prey to the AHCI optical drive issue we experienced on the H55 model when using the latest F4 BIOS release. Our Pioneer optical drive won't boot our Windows installation disk when we set AHCI mode in BIOS. The only way to get the drive to boot is to select IDE mode for all SATA ports, which makes installing an operating system painful if you want to take advantage of AHCI features for SSDs/HDDs. The fix is probably a five minute affair for Gigabyte, but it's not here yet.
Moving on to other areas, although stock operation with memory and processors is fine, the H57-USB3 needs some attention for 8GB memory overclocking. It doesn't seem to handle higher memory frequencies with the ease displayed by the H55M-USB3 when using the same components and BIOS settings. If overclocking is important to you, we'd advise you to consider the H55M-USB3 or boards from other vendors until these areas are improved.
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michal1980 - Monday, February 22, 2010 - linkSounds good.
I always wondered how the referance board's preformed. And now as I get older, would consider one if its more stable out of the box then some 3rd party boards.
When I was younger, ie worked less, had more time to tweek systems, an issue or two, or even a few wasnt a big deal. Now I'd like to be installing the OS as soon as everything is screwed togther, and not have to worry about some setting not working.
7Enigma - Monday, February 22, 2010 - linkThank you for finally putting these mobo companies in their place. The inability to release these boards with even rudimentary function has gone on long enough and by you not only mentioning the issues, but more importantly, by not giving awards is more than a small step in the right direction.
While I did not fully read each and every page (I'm not currently in the market so the overview of the platform and conclusions were relevant), your analysis seemed very thorough.
FATCamaro - Monday, February 22, 2010 - linkIt still doesn't seem like any of these boards is ready to build a ROCK solid stable system around like in the era of the old BX-chipset days. That said why did you not compare the intel H55 board. I would like to know how good and stable they are. I don't just mean that it can run a CPU benchmark, but how does the network and sound and usb handle wake from suspend, memory compatibility etc. I am leaning towards the intel H55 board.
marc1000 - Monday, February 22, 2010 - linkwhy is it so hard to choose a good board for this platform, that it takes two articles with almost 10 pages each in a graduated site like this to aid people in the choice???
i say this platform is bogus, by design. not that the system is faulty and etc, but everything was made "so fast" that intel did not test the design properly... so, i repeat what i said in the first article: I, as consumer, will simply "skip" this generation of CPU's. maybe in the next iteration everything will be more polished.
Rajinder Gill - Monday, February 22, 2010 - linkHi Marc,
There's probably some blame on both sides (Intel & sub-vendors), for some of the required fixes. Stuff like AHCI, and testing if four memory modules boot or are stable are a responsibility of the sub-vendor prior to public BIOS/board release though.
It's always wise to wait a few months before jumping on a new platform. There is room for improvement in some areas as pointed out above, but the advice to wait is ALWAYS sound.
The reason it took 10 pages per article and the time it did is mainly down to how much testing is involved (stability, peripherals, benchmarks + the time it takes to pen it all down).
JonnyDough - Wednesday, February 24, 2010 - linkAny idea how we can get OEM vendors to update their bios's for longer periods of time? Why is it we have to pay a fee to Phoenix for updated bios' when the OEM is no longer willing to carry the updated version?
semo - Monday, February 22, 2010 - linkThey keep doing the same thing over and over again. If they have that many problems with their most popular products imagine what happens to their lesser known parts.
We've finally noticed a trend in a batch of PCs at work that keep crashing or failing to boot with Asus P5LD2-TVM-SE-SI-1394 mobos. They've admitted it finally but we've had this issue for 2 years already. We're lucky our OEM supplier can put big pressure on them but if we were a small company then we'd stand no chance of even getting an acknowledgment
cactusdog - Monday, February 22, 2010 - link"at least until SATA 6G peripherals are affordable"
Western Digital have just released a 1T Sata 6Gbs drive and its not much more expensive than a Sata2 drive. A review on it would be nice.
Anyway nice roundup.
Ben90 - Monday, February 22, 2010 - linkBecause it has the exact same performance as a SATAII drive
Rajinder Gill - Monday, February 22, 2010 - linkThanks. You're right - I should have written SATA 6G SSD's..