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Intel’s 32nm Clarkdale – Nehalem for Everyone
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by Rob Williams on January 3, 2010 in Intel Processors

To help kick 2010 off right, Intel has filled out the rest of its current-gen processor line-up with the help of Westmere. We’re taking a look at the desktop variant here, which brings a lot to the table compared to the previous generation. For those who’ve been holding out for that next affordable PC upgrade, the wait has been worth it.

ASUS' P7H55D-M EVO

When I received a package from ASUS and discovered the P7H55D-M EVO inside, I was stoked, and couldn’t wait to get it installed. I have little against Intel’s board for simple use, but I knew ASUS’ offering would blow the doors open for greater customization, features and of course, overclocking. While Intel’s board offers very little in terms of overclocking, the P7H55D-M EVO is all about it.

At the time of writing, I am unsure of the retail price of this board, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it at around $130, or even a bit higher, given its feature-set. It’s a robust board in all regards, from its connectivity options, to its layout and feature-set. It aims to be the ultimate board for either an HTPC user, gaming enthusiast or simply a regular desktop user who wants the most from their PC.

By looking that the board, you can see that ASUS has loftier goals than Intel. ASUS supplies a an 8+3 power phase solution, with the 3 being dedicated to the GPU/IMC. Unlike Intel’s board, ASUS’ requires an 8-pin power connector, proving that the board is built for overclocking, and as we’ll see later, it does a great job in the regard.

If there’s just one thing I notice right off about this board that I’d change, it’s that it only has three on-board fan connectors. Given this is an mATX board, that’s not a huge problem given that it’s destined to be used in a smaller chassis, but with one for a memory cooler, and another for the CPU, that only leaves one for the chassis. Fortunately, many chassis fans today include molex power connectors that plug into the PSU cables, so this still shouldn’t be much of a problem for many people.

Like Intel’s and all other Westmere-based boards to be released, the P7H55D-M EVO includes 4x DIMM slots with support for up to 16GB of RAM at DDR3-1333 speeds. In the picture below, you can see two of the phases that are dedicated to the memory. Hidden right above the 24-pin motherboard connector is the MemOK! button, which when pushed, allows the PC to boot up with memory that may be riddled with bad SPD information, or is designed to run at much faster speeds than the CPU or motherboard could handle at a given voltage.

ASUS includes a total of six S-ATA connectors on this board, all of which are 3Gbit/s, not 6Gbit/s. ASUS will offer other H55 boards that offer S-ATA 3.0 (6Gbit/s) support, but this one doesn’t have it. Instead, this board includes just USB 3.0 support, which we’ll see shortly. Unlike Intel’s DH55TC, this board does include an IDE port, for those who still wish to hold onto their older drives.

Once again, our PCI configuration is almost identical to Intel’s, except ASUS has opted to put the PCI-E graphics slot in the middle of the two PCI-E 1x. This was likely done so as to not cover the BIOS battery, which is highly appreciated as that’s an issue commonly overlooked by many motherboard vendors. Along the bottom, you’ll find the FireWire and USB 2.0 internal headers. The USB headers would allow for 6 extra ports in total.

Most of the power phases available on this board are located right around the CPU socket, with futuristic-looking heatsinks behind them. As we’d expect, there’s an ample amount of room around the CPU socket for most any cooler on the market – especially those that will typically be used for an mATX motherboard.

Because the H55 chipset limits the overall USB port count to 12, six are dedicated as internal headers, while the other six are found at the back I/O section. Along with those, ASUS includes a FireWire, eSATA, LAN, full audio ports (including S/PDIF), PS/2 keyboard and of course, the three same display connectors we saw on Intel’s board. Though Intel is pushing DisplayPort, we’re likely only to see that connector available on higher-end H55/H57 motherboards.

The P7H55D-M EVO is the board I used throughout the majority of my testing, and from a design to features standpoint, I couldn’t have been much happier. The layout is great, installation was made easy, and I ran into no single hitch during my use. Fortunately, the BIOS stacks up to the rest of the board, so let’s take a look at that next.