Date: February 1, 2010
Author(s): Rob Williams
With Intel’s recent Clarkdale processor launch, the itch to build that new HTPC is no doubt greater than ever. Not only does Intel offer a wide-range of processors, but motherboard vendors are currently offering an incredible amount of H55 models. We’re taking a look at two here, Intel’s own DH55TC and ASUS’ P7H55D-M EVO.
When we took a look at Intel’s latest Clarkdale architecture earlier this month, we received two H55-based motherboards at around the same time; ASUS’ P7H55D-M EVO and Intel’s DH55TC. Thanks in part to CES and other things, we haven’t received a follow-up board in that time, but there are more en route, so stay tuned to the site in the near-future for even more H55-based articles.
In our Clarkdale launch article, I went over most of the details for both of these boards, and because of that, I’ll be borrowing a fair bit of text from there, rather than re-write almost the exact same thing. The biggest changes I’ll be making are on the BIOS pages, so please re-read those if you didn’t pay close attention in our launch article.
The motherboards we’re looking at here aren’t exactly that comparable, but for the sake of killing two birds with one stone, I chose to review them both together. The board we’re looking at from Intel is its DH55TC, and at current time, it’s the company’s only mATX H55 offering. For those looking for something similar in an ATX format, there’s the DH55HC. Intel targets this board at the mainstream crowd, with an easy-to-stomach $100 price-tag.
ASUS’ offering is the P7H55D-M EVO, a slightly more expensive offering, but one with a far more robust feature-set. It rolls in at $135 and includes a sweet board layout, superb overclocking (including Clarkdale’s GPU) and also USB 3.0 support. It doesn’t support SATA 3.0, but I can’t fault ASUS there as that’s a technology that’s likely to take off even slower than USB 3.0, so there’s little need for adding extra cost to the board for it.
To get right into things, let’s take a look at ASUS’ board and BIOS, and then Intel’s, and then we’ll move straight into our testing results.
As briefly mentioned above, the P7H55D-M EVO caters to those who aren’t looking for a barebones board, but rather one replete with features, smart design and robust BIOS. It would go well with enthusiasts of any stripes, or someone who simply wants a reliable and feature-rich board for their new HTPC build.
You can tell that ASUS doesn’t intend this as being a low-end board simply by looking at it. Unlike most other mATX offerings, this one includes an 8-3 power phase solution, along with an 8-pin motherboard connection. These two factors alone are enough to suggest that this board is designed for overclocking, and as we saw in our special overclocking article, it sure doesn’t disappoint.
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 since 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.
The PCI configuration is almost identical to Intel’s DH55TC, 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.
Overall, I have little bad to say about the P7H55D-M EVO. I’ve used the board quite a bit since our Clarkdale article, and it was the only board used during testing there, and I’ve come to enjoy it quite a bit. There’s nothing glaring that bothers me, so that’s a good sign. 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.
For as long as I’ve been reviewing motherboards, I’ve praised the BIOSes that ASUS includes on its boards. To be fair, though, BIOSes seem to be a matter of opinion, because while I like using ASUS BIOSes more than any other, I’ve heard the opposite from people who like Gigabyte’s BIOSes, or others. It’s hard to explain the exact reason behind why I like ASUS’ BIOSes, but I simply find them easier to use than anything else out there, and that’s important.
When using an mATX board, you might imagine that the options in the BIOS couldn’t compare to regular desktop offerings, but that’s not the case at all. In fact, I found that the BIOS here was just as robust as what I’m used to, and there’s virtually no real limit to functionality or overclocking. The board’s packaging boasts DDR3-2133 support, and with the 8+3 phase solution, you already know that ASUS built this board to be a great overclocker.
It’s important to note that the photographs of the BIOS on this page are a little out-of-date, because ASUS has released a couple of updates since. The reason I didn’t update the images is simply due to time, and ambition. It’s not at all fun taking BIOS screenshots with a camera, let me tell you! So, what’s changed?
For beginners, ASUS has figured out a way to enable AHCI support, so that’s now available. Officially, H55 doesn’t support AHCI, and I’m completely unsure of how ASUS ended up enabling it, but it’s here. In addition to this, the updated BIOSes improves voltage options, memory options and displays the frequency while overclocking. Although we didn’t benchmark using the latest BIOS (we completely benchmarked the board earlier this month), ASUS stresses that improvements have been made since the launch in terms of both overclocking and HD playback.
The BIOS is fairly self-explanatory, so I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves:
When Intel launches a processor built on a new architecture that requires an also-new socket, it will send along its mainstream board in order for us to get our testing done. In some ways, this could be considered a “reference” board, but unlike reference cards in the graphics world, Intel actually sells all of the boards it creates, so there’s no reference, or prototypes here.
Though Intel has two current H55 models, the one sent to us is the ~$100 DH55TC, an mATX offering with a focus on media. It offers all we’d expect a Clarkdale board to have, and lacks little that might be of some use. It’s interesting to note that this board does not offer an IDE or floppy connector, which is something I’m sure will bother few.
Like most other Intel boards, this one is designed for a mainstream audience, and not for overclocking. You can tell this by the lack of power phases, and also thanks to the fact that it only uses a 4-pin motherboard connector. The DH55TC is instead designed for those who want a non-complicated board that offers all of the features they need. In that regard, this board delivers, and at a reasonable price-point.
If you’ve seen Intel boards before, the DH55TC will come as no surprise to you. It’s mATX, it features many of the same colors as other Intel boards, and it’s pretty simple in design, with no emphasis on bling (this isn’t entirely a bad thing).
Since Clarkdale, like most other current CPU architectures out there, utilizes a dual-channel memory controller, we’re given a 4x DIMM configuration, with support for up to 16GB of DDR3-1333.
For storage connectivity, Intel provides six S-ATA ports for use with hard drives or optical storage. Note that the board does not include an IDE or floppy connector.
For discrete graphics, the board includes a single PCI-E 16x slot, along with two PCI-E 1x and a single legacy PCI slot. To the right of these slots is the Southbridge, in all its passive glory.
Around the CPU socket, we can see there’s plenty of room for even the beefiest of coolers. We can also see some old-school voltage regulators, which aren’t all too common on mainstream boards today. As mentioned before, this board requires a 4-pin motherboard connector, not an 8-pin. If you have a PSU with an 8-pin cable that cannot be split into two parts, you can still properly plug in the appropriate four.
Looking at the back I/O port, we see six USB 2.0, a LAN, PS/2 Keyboard/Mouse and audio connectors (this is the first time in a while I’ve seen three connectors on any board, in lieu of the usual six). Aside from all this, for display purposes there’s HDMI, VGA and DVI. It’s interesting that despite DisplayPort being required for any resolution higher than 2048×1536, there’s no such connector here.
Intel’s boards are generally always simple compared to the competition, and to many, that’s part of the appeal. Intel focuses highly on stability, not overclocking, so when you pick up one of its boards, you know you’re going to be getting a reliable product. As long as you don’t try to overclock it, of course. But, that’s going to be hard to do anyway, given some of the limitations in the BIOS, as we’ll see next.
I have mentioned many times in the past, most recently in our DP55WG review, that I’m not entirely a fan of Intel’s BIOSes. All of the issues I have with them have to do with clunkiness, which rears its ugly head in various ways. For one, switching from one top menu to another actually redraws the screen. It’s not a quick transition like on most other boards. Second, the overclocking options are totally lacking, and the DH55TC takes that to a new level.
I won’t explain everything about the BIOS here, because the pictures do a good job of making less work for me in that regard. All of the important options are here, but interestingly enough, the overclocking options are highly limited. You can adjust the BCLK and CPU voltage, but not much else. Want to tighten your memory timings? You can’t. No joke. With my DDR3-1333 kit, I was forced to use 9-9-9 timings, rather than the 7-7-7 timings the kit is capable of.
At CES, I had the opportunity to meet up with the marketing engineer of desktop motherboards at Intel, and I was re-assured that the company takes its motherboards very seriously, and things are only going to get better. With regards to overclocking, Intel boards haven’t been known as being the best choice for the job, but this is yet another thing the company has focused on more and more, and even though it may not bling out its boards like the others, it definitely wants to provide decent overclocking ability to those who want it.
After this chat, I found myself pleased in knowing that Intel takes its motherboards so seriously, because as I have mentioned before, while I appreciate the stability the company’s boards offer, the complete lack of overclocking hurts. Perhaps with the company’s seemingly renewed vigor, we’ll see some very interesting things happen to its boards in the coming months and years, and I can’t wait.
At Techgage, we strive to make sure our results are as accurate as possible. Our testing is rigorous and time-consuming, but we feel the effort is worth it. In an attempt to leave no question unanswered, this page contains not only our testbed specifications, but also a fully-detailed look at how we conduct our testing.
If there is a bit of information that we’ve omitted, or you wish to offer thoughts or suggest changes, please feel free to shoot us an e-mail or post in our forums.
The table below lists the hardware for our current motherboard-testing machine, which remains unchanged throughout all testing, with the exception of the motherboard. Each motherboard used for the sake of comparison is also listed here, along with the BIOS version used. In addition, each one of the URLs in this table can be clicked to view the respective review of that product, or if a review doesn’t exist, you will be led to the product on the manufacturer’s website.
Intel LGA1156 Test System
|Processors||Intel Core i5-661 – Dual-Core, 3.33GHz, Stock Voltage|
ASUS P7H55D-M EVO – H55-based, 0503 BIOS (12/08/09)
Intel DH55TC – H55-based, 0026 BIOS (11/13/09)
Corsair XMS3 DHX 2x2GB – DDR3-1333 7-7-7-20-2T, 1.65v
ASUS Radeon HD 5850 1GB (Catalyst 9.12)
Intel HD Graphics (for non-gaming tests)
When preparing our testbeds for any type of performance testing, we follow these guidelines:
Because it gives a more realistic interpretation of motherboard/CPU performance, we leave all of the power-related options in the BIOS to their default selection. This means that for Intel boards, SpeedStep is left in tact, and Cool’n’Quiet for AMD-based boards.
Our Windows 7 Desktop for Motherboard-Testing
To aide with the goal of keeping accurate and repeatable results, we alter certain services in Windows 7 from starting up at boot. This is due to the fact that these services have the tendency to start up in the background without notice, potentially causing slightly inaccurate results. Disabling “Windows Search” turns off the OS’ indexing which can at times utilize the hard drive and memory more than we’d like.
To help test out the real performance benefits of a given processor, we run a large collection of both real-world and synthetic benchmarks, including 3ds Max 2010, Adobe Lightroom 2.5, ATTO, PCMark Vantage, Sandra 2010, 7-Zip and more.
Our ultimate goal is always to find out which processor excels in a given scenario and why. Running all of the applications in our carefully-chosen suite can help better give us answers to those questions. Aside from application data, we also run two common games to see how performance scales there, including Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and Crysis Warhead. For a synthetic point-of-view, we also use Futuremark’s 3DMark Vantage.
In an attempt to offer “real-world” results, we do not utilize timedemos in any of our reviews. Each game in our test suite is benchmarked manually, with the minimum and average frames-per-second (FPS) captured with the help of FRAPS 3.0.1.
To deliver the best overall results, each title we use is exhaustively explored in order to find the best possible level in terms of intensiveness and replayability. Once a level is chosen, we play through repeatedly to find the best possible route and then in our official benchmarking, we stick to that route as close as possible. Since we are not robots and the game can throw in minor twists with each run, no run can be identical to the pixel.
Each game and setting combination is tested twice, and if there is a discrepancy between the initial results, the testing is repeated until we see results we are confident with.
The two games we currently use for our motherboard reviews are listed below, with direct screenshots of the game’s setting screens.
Although the screenshots reflect a 1680×1050 resolution, we also test using 2560×1600.
Synthetic benchmarks have typically been favored for performance testing, but the results they provide can be fairly abstract, and the methods they use to assign their scores can be dubious at times. By contrast, real-world application benchmarks provide performance metrics that apply directly to real-world usage, and we endeavor to apply both in our performance comparisons.
SYSmark 2007 Preview from BAPCO is a special case, because its synthetic scores are derived from tests in real-world applications. However, we still believe that synthetic benchmarking scores are best used to directly compare the performance of one piece of hardware to another, and not for developing an impression of real-world performance expectations. SYSmark is more useful than most synthetic benchmarking programs in our opinion, because its tests emulate tasks that people actually perform, in actual software programs that they are likely to use.
The benchmark is hands-free, using scripts to execute all of the real-world scenarios identically, such as video editing in Sony Vegas and image manipulation in Adobe Photoshop. At the conclusion of the suite of tests, five scores are delivered: an E-learning score, a Video Creation score, a Productivity score, and a 3D Performance score, as well as an aggregated ‘Overall’ score. These scores can still be fairly abstract, and are most useful for direct comparisons between test systems.
A quick note on methodology: SYSmark 2007 requires a clean install of Windows 7 64-bit to run optimally. Before any testing is conducted, the hard drive is first wiped clean, and then a fresh Windows installation is conducted, then lastly, the necessary hardware drivers are installed. The ‘Three Iterations’ test suite is run, with the ‘Conditioning Run’ setting enabled. Then the results from the three runs are averaged and rounded up or down to the next whole number.
It’s hard to get an overall worth from a comparison between just two motherboards, but oddly enough, Intel’s board came out ahead just a wee bit. I don’t entirely believe that this represents the true performance of each board, but what’s important is that we don’t see any glaring issues, which is basically the only point of motherboard benchmarking as far as I’m concerned.
Futuremark is no stranger to most any enthusiast out there, as the company’s benchmarks have been used to gauge our PC’s worth for many years. Although the company’s 3DMark Vantage (which we also use for testing) is arguably more popular than PCMark Vantage, the latter is a great tool to measure a system’s overall performance across many different scenarios.
Unlike SYSmark, PCMark is more of a synthetic benchmark, as very little is seen to the user during the run. However, each test tackles a specific and common scenario that’s typical of many computer users – enthusiasts and regular users alike – such as photo manipulation, gaming, music conversion, productivity, et cetera.
The main problem right now with PCMark is its inability (at least for us) to produce an overall score when being run under Windows 7. Even when run in compatibility mode (which is required by 3DMark), the application will crash during the Memories test, despite that particular test executing fine when run as its own suite. So, no overall score is produced, but the seven individual scores are.
While SYSmark uses modest numbers for their scoring, ranging in the hundreds, Futuremark opts for much higher scores with their entire suite, with the lowest being the TV and Movies, ranging around the 6,000 mark. On the high-end, our Intel SSD is capable of pushing the test’s HDD scenario well beyond 20,000.
Intel’s board may have come a bit ahead in our SYSmark run, but ASUS struck back and placed ahead of Intel in PCMark. Overall, each test sways a fair bit from run to run, but both boards overall perform extremely well.
Photo manipulation benchmarks are more relevant than ever, given the proliferation of high-end digital photography hardware. For this benchmark, we test the system’s handling of RAW photo data using Adobe Lightroom, an excellent RAW photo editor and organizer that’s easy to use and looks fantastic.
For our testing, we take 100 RAW files (in Nikon’s .NEF file format) which have a 10-megapixel resolution, and export them as JPEG files in 1000×669 resolution, similar to most of the photos we use here on the website. Such a result could also be easily distributed online or saved as a low-resolution backup. This test involves not only scaling of the image itself, but encoding in a different image format. The test is timed indirectly using a stopwatch, and times are accurate to within +/- 0.25 seconds.
Autodesk’s 3ds Max is without question an industry standard when it comes to 3D modeling and animation, with DreamWorks, BioWare and Blizzard Entertainment being a few of its notable users. It’s a multi-threaded application that’s designed to be right at home on multi-core and multi-processor workstations or render farms, so it easily tasks even the biggest system we can currently throw at it.
For our testing, we use two project files that are designed to last long enough to find any weakness in our setup and also allows us to find a result that’s easily comparable between both motherboards and processors. The first project is a dog model included on recent 3ds Max DVD’s, which we infused with some Techgage flavor. This is rendered at an 1100×825 resolution.
When it comes to video transcoding, one of the best offerings on the market is TMPGEnc Xpress. Although a bit pricey, the software offers an incredible amount of flexibility and customization, not to mention superb format support. From the get go, you can output to DivX, DVD, Video-CD, Super Video-CD, HDV, QuickTime, MPEG, and more. It even goes as far as to include support for Blu-ray video!
There are a few reasons why we choose to use TMPGEnc for our tests. The first relates to the reasons laid out above. The sheer ease of use and flexibility is appreciated. Beyond that, the application does us a huge favor by tracking the encoding time, so that we can actually look away while an encode is taking place and not be afraid that we’ll miss the final encoding time. Believe it or not, not all transcoding applications work like this.
For our test, we take a 0.99GB high-quality DivX H.264 AVI video of Half-Life 2: Episode Two gameplay with stereo audio and transcode it to the same resolution of 720p (1280×720), but lower the bit rate in order to attain a modest file size. This test also utilizes the SSE instruction sets, either SSE2 or SSE4, depending on what the chip supports.
Once again, with results so close, it’s hard to pick a board out of the pile and declare it a winner.
In the world of benchmarking, there seem to be many tools that can accomplish the same thing as a hundred others, and where storage is concerned, that couldn’t be more true. Although we’ve used HD Tune Pro, HD Tach and others in the past, we’ve opted to begin using ATTO, as it’s incredibly lightweight (at less than 100KB), yet offers a fair amount of flexibility.
For our run with ATTO, we leave all options at default, except the Queue Depth, which is increased to the max value of 10. It’s also important to note that we’re benchmarking the OS drive, which happens to be Intel’s X25-M 80GB (Gen 1).
Thinking back about a decade ago, archiving applications were kind of scarce. Well, the free ones were. Applications such as WinRAR and WinZIP have been available for a while, but a free solution is going to appeal to a far greater audience, especially if you don’t need or want the extra features that come included with the aforementioned options.
While 7-Zip may not be the most robust archiver out there, in looks or in features, it’s free, and offers a great amount of functionality and performance given that fact. For our test with 7-Zip, we take a 4GB folder littered with just over 5,000 files and archive it to our secondary drive, the mechanical Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 500GB.
Like Futuremark, SiSoftware is another company that needs no introduction. As far back as I can remember using Windows, I was using Sandra to check up on my machine, and to stress it. Over time, the company has added in numerous ways to benchmark your PC, and there’s pretty much nothing it can’t tackle. The company even recently added in GPGPU benchmarking, so they’re really on top of things.
There’s nothing out of the ordinary here with any of the results, although it seems rather clear that when dealing with SSDs, the storage performance can vary quite a bit from board to board and situation to situation. The forced loose memory timings on the Intel board really shows itself in the Sandra Latency test.
When the original Call of Duty game launched in 2003, Infinity Ward was an unknown. Naturally… it was the company’s first title. But since then, the series and company alike have become household names. Not only has the series delivered consistently incredible gameplay, it’s pushed the graphics envelope with each successive release, and where Modern Warfare is concerned, it’s also had a rich storyline.
The first two titles might have been built on the already-outdated Quake III engine, but since then, the games have been built with improved graphical features, capable of pushing the highest-end PCs out there. Modern Warfare 2 is the first such exception, as it’s more of a console port than a true PC title. Therefore, the game doesn’t push PC hardware as much as we’d like to see, but despite that, it still looks great, and lacks little in the graphics department. You can read our review of the game here.
The level chosen is the 10th mission in the game, “The Gulag”. Our teams fly in helicopters up to an old prison with the intention of getting closer to finding the game’s villain, Vladimir Makarov. Our saved game file begins us at the point when the level name comes on the screen, right before we reach the prison, and it ends after one minute of landing, following the normal progression of the level. The entire run takes around two-and-a-half minutes.
As PC enthusiasts, we tend to be drawn to games that offer spectacular graphics… titles that help reaffirm your belief that shelling out lots of cash for that high-end monitor and PC was well worth it. But it’s rare when a game comes along that is so visually-demanding, it’s unable to run fully maxed out on even the highest-end systems on the market. In the case of the original Crysis, it’s easy to see that’s what Crytek was going for.
Funny enough, even though Crysis was released close to a year ago, the game today still has difficulty running at 2560×1600 with full detail settings – and that’s even with overlooking the use of anti-aliasing! Luckily, Warhead is better optimized and will run smoother on almost any GPU, despite looking just as gorgeous as its predecessor, as you can see in the screenshot below.
The game includes four basic profiles to help you adjust the settings based on how good your system is. These include Entry, Mainstream, Gamer and Enthusiast – the latter of which is for the biggest of systems out there, unless you have a sweet graphics card and are only running 1680×1050. We run our tests at the Gamer setting as it’s very demanding on any current GPU and is a proper baseline of the level of detail that hardcore gamers would demand from the game.
Although we generally shun automated gaming benchmarks, we do like to run at least one to see how our GPUs scale when used in a ‘timedemo’-type scenario. Futuremark’s 3DMark Vantage is without question the best such test on the market, and it’s a joy to use, and watch. The folks at Futuremark are experts in what they do, and they really know how to push that hardware of yours to its limit.
The company first started out as MadOnion and released a GPU-benchmarking tool called XLR8R, which was soon replaced with 3DMark 99. Since that time, we’ve seen seven different versions of the software, including two major updates (3DMark 99 Max, 3DMark 2001 SE). With each new release, the graphics get better, the capabilities get better and the sudden hit of ambition to get down and dirty with overclocking comes at you fast.
Similar to a real game, 3DMark Vantage offers many configuration options, although many (including us) prefer to stick to the profiles which include Performance, High and Extreme. Depending on which one you choose, the graphic options are tweaked accordingly, as well as the resolution. As you’d expect, the better the profile, the more intensive the test.
Performance is the stock mode that most use when benchmarking, but it only uses a resolution of 1280×1024, which isn’t representative of today’s gamers. Extreme is more appropriate, as it runs at 1920×1200 and does well to push any single or multi-GPU configuration currently on the market – and will do so for some time to come.
Like the vast majority of our benchmarks throughout this review, neither motherboard totally overcomes the other in terms of performance, and gaming isn’t much different.
It goes without saying that power efficiency is at the forefront of many consumers’ minds today, and for good reason. Whether you are trying to save money or the environment – or both – it’s good to know just how much effort certain vendors are putting into their products to help them excel in this area. Both AMD and Intel have worked hard to develop efficient chips, and that’s evident with each new launch. The CPUs are getting faster, and use less power, and hopefully things will stay that way.
To help see what kind of wattage a given configuration draws on average, we use a Kill-A-Watt that’s plugged into a power bar that’s in turn plugged into one of the wall sockets, with the test system plugged directly into that. The monitor and other components are plugged into the other socket and is not connected to the Kill-A-Watt. For our system specifications, please refer to our methodology page.
To test, the computer is first boot up and left to sit at idle for five minutes, at which point the current wattage is recorded if stable. To test for full CPU load, LinX is run with 2560MB memory usage for a total of five minutes. During that run, the highest point the wattage reaches on the meter is captured and becomes our “Max Load”. Please note that for our H55 testing, no graphics card is installed. Instead, we use the IGP on the processor.
It’s not too often we see a system draw such a low amount of power, but thanks to the fact that we’re dealing with both a dual-core CPU and integrated graphics, our machine idles at well below 100W. Interestingly enough, even though the Intel board is rather barebones compared to ASUS’, it drew more power at full load. That certainly looks great on ASUS.
By this point in the article, you’re likely already aware of what I’m going to say about each motherboard, but for the sake of writing a “Final Thoughts” that’s longer than 20 words, I’ll explain my likes and dislikes here. First up is ASUS’ P7H55D-M EVO, a board that costs a bit more than typical mATX offerings, but has a good reason to. I’ve spent many hours with this board in particular, and I have no immediate downsides to mention.
As far as mATX boards are concerned, this one from ASUS is about as packed as they come. There are 6 USB ports found on the back, alongside FireWire, eSATA, 8-channel audio, et cetera. If anything at all could be considered lacking, it may be that DisplayPort is not found here, neither is SATA 3.0. But as mentioned in the intro, with SATA 3.0 offering rather minor benefits to the end-consumer at this point in time, its omission is no big deal.
One sweet perk is the addition of USB 3.0, so should you be investing in such devices in the near-future, you’ll already be good to go. This is especially important on a motherboard where PCI-E expansion may not be that feasible down the road. Aside from overall connectivity, the P7H55D-M EVO is simply a well-designed and well-rounded motherboard. I have no major qualm about the layout that ASUS designed, although there are just two minor things I would have liked to have seen.
First, is just one additional fan header. It seems a little greedy of me to complain, given there are three, but with one located beside the memory slots, we could assume that some people may choose to use a RAM fan. The other two headers are located right under the CPU cooler, one for the CPU cooler itself, and another for a chassis fan. If there was just one more header, then two important chassis fans could be taken care of, the front and back.
The other minor complaint is the lack of vertically-mounted SATA ports. The reason ASUS chose to omit those is obvious… room had to be made for an IDE port. But, I can’t help but think that most people would prefer to see an IDE connector gone and vertical SATA ports instead.
ASUS’ board retails for around $130, and at that price, I wholeheartedly recommend a consideration. It may cost a bit more than other mATX boards, but it’s packed with features, includes a wide-range of ASUS software (none of which we looked at in this article), has major overclocking potential and a great layout. There’s nothing to truly dislike.
ASUS P7H55D-M EVO
While ASUS’ offering above seeks to please those who want a truly robust motherboard for their home PC or HTPC, Intel’s board targets a slightly different audience; one that wants a stable board at a great price. In the case of the DH55TC, the retail price is $100. What you get for that is a clean-looking board that, like ASUS’ offering, features a smart layout and lots of functionality.
The board doesn’t feature quite as much functionality as the P7H55D-M EVO, but that’s to be expected for a board that costs $30 less. From a performance standpoint, the DH55TC delivers, and despite the fact that we were forced to use loose memory timings, our benchmarks weren’t affected to a great degree. Unfortunately, the DH55TC doesn’t feature DisplayPort either, which I find a little strange given that Intel is pushing the technology so greatly.
As much as I would like to be able to heartily recommend Intel’s board, at its current price, it’s pretty difficult to. If the board was closer to $85, it would be a no-brainer to recommend it, but at $100, the competition is far too tight. On one e-tailer, for example, there’s a Foxconn H55 motherboard (H55MXV) that’s quite similar to Intel’s, but it costs $14 less. Or, for $5 more, there’s a Gigabyte offering (H55M-UD2H) that is in all regards a better choice. Plus, there’s the fact that Intel’s board allows almost no overclocking, which Gigabyte’s would.
In my review of Intel’s DP55WG from a few months ago, I came to very similar conclusions. I like Intel’s boards for certain reasons, but for the price they’re being offered at, it’s almost impossible to settle on choosing one over the competition. I’m not really sure why Intel charges a premium on its boards, but I truly believe it hurts the sales, because it only takes a quick look at an e-tailer to understand that competition is much too fierce.
So while I can’t outright recommend Intel’s board over another, one thing’s for sure… if you want a no-nonsense offering, the DH55TC isn’t going to be a poor choice. I just wish the price was at least $10 – $20 lower, so I could feel more inclined to recommend it.
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