Gigabyte H55N-USB3 : Mini-ITX done the Gigabyte way...by Rajinder Gill on June 15, 2010 7:49 AM EST
Not a bad start from Gigabyte overall, barring a few glitches we found with current BIOS releases and a couple of very minor things in bundled software. The first BIOS glitch is the AHCI SATA optical drive time-out - the work around for this is easy enough and a patched BIOS that sorts the problem should soon be available. The second issue relates to the problems that surfaced when changing to multipliers between 23x and 25x on an i7-875K Lynnfield; which results in the board POSTing at speeds other than what you’ve actually set – it should be a quick fix.
Had these issues not have surfaced; we’d be conducting a silver or bronze award ceremony at this point. However, we’re still on a crusade to encourage vendors to perform a little more in-house testing before they release products to retail so we’re holding back. Out of the sixteen other boards we’ve reviewed this year, there was only one other we considered for an award (ASUS’s excellent M4A89GTD Pro), and we held back there too, because we had to suggest a BIOS fix. Consider what we’ve said here today a part-accolade for the H55N-USB3 - it missed out on an award by a whisker.
Other than those gripes, the H55N-USB3 is a smooth operator in every way. All of our plug-in peripherals work and overclocking/stability with Clarkdale processors is also excellent. The whole journey is made very easy by Gigabyte’s BIOS, needing very few changes to reach high bus speeds. That alone makes the H55N-USB3 the board to go for if you’ve got any kind of Clarkdale overclocking or underclocking in mind – the boards we’ve tested from ECS, DFI, Intel and Zotac don’t have the same level of options, finesse or control.
Headroom for overclocking Lynnfield processors isn’t going to set the world on fire, but is bang on-par with DFI’s P55 MI-T36. Both boards have similar limits in power delivery, so it’s going to come down to subjective preferences; either Gigabyte’s BIOS (assuming the multiplier issues cited above are fixed), and slightly higher memory speed possibilities, or DFI’s component layout which leaves more room for processor cooling.
Looking at things in a more discerning manner, there are a few things we’d liked to have seen Gigabyte do to really elevate the H55N-USB3; a cleaner under-socket area for aftermarket coolers, onboard WiFi, and perhaps the addition of the Dolby up-scaling package that Gigabyte bundles with their micro-ATX motherboards - as they’re essentially the same price as the H55N-USB3. The other reason we can think of that you might want to look past the H55N-USB3 is if you’re looking to run RAID – Intel’s DH57JG is the only out-of-box mini-ITX choice for socket 1156 at present.
Apart from that, when we focus on what each vendor is offering on their mini-ITX boards as a total package, we think there are far more reasons to choose the H55N-USB3 than to shirk it. On balance, this is the best mini-ITX board currently available for Clarkdale and certainly the one we’d go for – it’s a keeper.