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Gigabyte H55M-USB3 – The Ultimate $100 H55 Board?

Date: March 8, 2010
Author(s): Rob Williams

Finding a great H55 board to match up with your Clarkdale CPU isn’t hard, as the market currently has a great selection. But Gigabyte’s H55M-USB3 stands out, as it has a superb feature-set for its ~$100 price tag, and also proves itself in our tests as being a great all-around board, and one that seems to have no limit in overclocking.



Introduction

When Intel’s Clarkdale-based processors were released just this past January, there was certainly no lack of motherboards available to pair the new chips with. Shortly after we posted our in-depth look at the company’s latest micro-architecture, I took a close look at both ASUS’ P7H55D-M EVO and Intel’s own DH55TC. In the same article, I made the promise that I’d soon follow-up with a look at Gigabyte’s most popular H55 offering, and so here it is.

Alright, yes, I’m a bit behind on things, that much is true. But over the course of the past couple of weeks, I’ve managed to spend a good deal of time with Gigabyte’s H55M-USB3, and I’ve been able to form some solid conclusions on where it stands in today’s gamut of H55-based offerings. At just above $100 (e-tailer’s I have checked have offered instant-rebates to bring it to $99.99, and then even cheaper with mail-in rebates), we can generally jump to conclusions on what we’ll see from the board. But given Clarkdale’s huge HTPC focus, I’d like to think of $100 being the absolute sweet spot for an mATX motherboard.

Fortunately, the H55M-USB3 offers quite a bit for the price-tag, making it a model well worth taking a look at in your quest for a great motherboard for either your regular PC or HTPC. I’m willing to guess that by the end of this review, you’ll have a pretty good idea as to whether or not this board is right for you. With its beefy feature-list, it not only targets HTPC goers, but enthusiasts and even overclockers (proof is on page 10).

Closer Look at Gigabyte’s H55M-USB3

The H55M-USB3, as we’ll soon see, sports a huge number of features and various Gigabyte-specific technologies. One example is Ultra Durable 3, which denotes the fact that the board utilizes high-grade components, such as Ferrite Core chokes, Japanese solid capacitors, and of course, 2oz of copper to line the PCB. In addition to this, there are other interesting features such as Smart 6, Dynamic Energy Saver and USB power 3x. As that latter feature would imply, yes, this board includes USB 3.0 support (but not SATA 3.0).

By simply taking a quick look at the H55M-USB3, it’s clear to see that Gigabyte really packed in a lot of features into such a small board. There are two full-sized PCI-E 16x slots, IDE and floppy connectors for those who want them, 7 SATA ports, multiple power phases and something that’s always a good sign of a board designed for overclocking… an 8-pin motherboard power connector.

Gigabyte H55M-USB3 H55-based Motherboard

The first thing that caught my eye on this board was the lack of vertically-mounted SATA ports. I cannot stress enough just how useful those are, because rather than your SATA cables stick upward, they stick out the side of the board, freeing up room and making installation a lot easier, and cleaner. Sadly, no H55 motherboard we’ve taken a look at has had them, so I hope that changes soon.

In the same corner, we can see the full gamut of ATX chassis connectors, 3x USB internal connectors and also the tab required to manually reset the CMOS, should you need to take that route. The board does offer a FireWire internal connector, but it’s closer to the PCI slots.

Gigabyte H55M-USB3 H55-based Motherboard

Moving up the board we find ourselves at the IDE and Floppy connectors, the 24-pin motherboard power connector, and of course, the four DIMM slots, capable of supporting up to 16GB of DDR3. In total, this board has 10 power phases, with 2 dedicated to the IMC/DDR3 as you can see in the photo below. While the H55M-USB3 looks innocent enough, in all its mATX glory, successful overclocking isn’t just a possibility, but a given.

Gigabyte H55M-USB3 H55-based Motherboard

As mentioned before, this board includes 2x PCI-E x16 slots for dual-GPU (the bottom x16 slot could utilize other PCI-E devices if you don’t want a dual-GPU configuration), and also two legacy PCI slots. Below these, you can see the internal FireWire connector.

Gigabyte H55M-USB3 H55-based Motherboard

Given the ample amount of space around the CPU socket, and the complete lack of an exotic board heatsink, most any of today’s CPU coolers could be used without much of an issue.

Gigabyte H55M-USB3 H55-based Motherboard

As you can probably tell by now, the H55M-USB3 truly does lack little in terms of overall functionality, and the back I/O panel only furthers this idea. Here we can see no less than 8 USB ports (2 being 3.0-capable), a FireWire, eSATA, 7.1 channel audio and a PS/2 keyboard or mouse.

Oh, but what’s this? Four display connectors? That’s right, despite being a ~$100 offering, this board includes support for VGA, DVI, HDMI and of course, DisplayPort. The latter is required if you want to run a resolution higher than 1920×1200 with the graphics built into a Clarkdale GPU.

Gigabyte H55M-USB3 H55-based Motherboard

For the price that the H55M-USB3 retails for (~$100), it really is one feature-rich offering. In fact, I can’t look at it and pick out a single real fault. I’d still like to see vertically-mounted SATA ports, but those seem to be used only on higher-end (and higher-priced) boards. What I really liked to see here is all four common display connectors being used. Even ASUS’ higher-priced P7H55D-M EVO lacked DisplayPort.

Can we expect the same kind of feature-set from the board’s BIOS? There’s only one way to find out…

Gigabyte’s H55M-USB3 – BIOS

In some of my reviews for Gigabyte motherboards in the past, I’ve mentioned a slight distaste I’ve had for their layout and design. But like with many other things, it really comes down to personal preference. Over the past couple of months, though, the company has made some changes that have made it much more of a joy to use, and it’s inching ever-closer to competing with ASUS’ BIOSes, which I’ve come to enjoy the most over the years.

A huge reason for my liking of Gigabyte’s recent BIOSes is the “MB Intelligent Tweaker” menu. This menu (and sub-menus) give us two sweet perks. First, there’s the “MIT Current Status” sub-menu, which gives an overview of your PC’s CPU speeds, memory speeds, memory timings, and other various information immediately, all on one page.

For information like voltages and temperatures, you can simply go back to the main MIT page which has it, along with the BIOS version and frequencies listed. The second perk to the whole MIT setup is simply the fact that it condenses what is one page on many other boards into five or so here. This is hugely helpful if you are overclocking and know you only need to increase the voltage… because you won’t have to first scroll through a whack of other options that really don’t matter at the time. Overall, Gigabyte’s BIOSes are simply becoming more convenient, at least to me.

The rest of the BIOS is fairly self-explanatory, so I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves:

Gigabyte H55M-USB3 BIOS

Gigabyte H55M-USB3 BIOS

Gigabyte H55M-USB3 BIOS

Gigabyte H55M-USB3 BIOS

Gigabyte H55M-USB3 BIOS

Gigabyte H55M-USB3 BIOS

Gigabyte H55M-USB3 BIOS

Gigabyte H55M-USB3 BIOS

Gigabyte H55M-USB3 BIOS

Gigabyte H55M-USB3 BIOS

Gigabyte H55M-USB3 BIOS

Gigabyte H55M-USB3 BIOS

Gigabyte H55M-USB3 BIOS

Test System & Methodology

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.

Test System

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.

Component
Intel LGA1156 Test System
ProcessorsIntel Core i5-661 – Dual-Core, 3.33GHz, Stock Voltage
Motherboard
ASUS P7H55D-M EVO – H55-based, 0503 BIOS (12/08/09)
Gigabyte H55M-USB3 – H55-based, F6 BIOS (02/12/10)
Intel DH55TC – H55-based, 0026 BIOS (11/13/09)
Memory
Corsair XMS3 DHX 2x2GB – DDR3-1333 7-7-7-20-2T, 1.65v
Graphics
ASUS Radeon HD 5850 1GB (Catalyst 9.12)
Intel HD Graphics (for non-gaming tests)
Audio
On-Board Audio
Storage
Intel X-25M 160GB G2 SSD
Power Supply
Corsair HX1000W
Chassis
SilverStone TJ10 Full-Tower
Display
Gateway XHD3000 30″
Cooling
Thermalright MUX-120
Et cetera
Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit

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.

Application Benchmarks

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.

Game Benchmarks

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.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

Crysis Warhead

Although the screenshots reflect a 1680×1050 resolution, we also test using 2560×1600.

System: SYSmark 2007 Preview

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.

In tests like these, it’s hard to find an overall worth for a particular board given the scores are so close to one another, but again, that’s the point of tests like these. We don’t expect boards to perform horribly compared to another, but if that was the case, we’d see it here. For what it’s worth, though, Gigabyte’s board took the crown, beating Intel’s board by a single point.

System: PCMark Vantage

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.

Once again, the three boards here come extremely close to one another in most tests, and then flip-flop in some others (this is typical of most Futuremark benchmarks). Interestingly enough, Gigabyte’s board scores a bit lower in the overall PCMark score, likely due to the lower overall HDD score. For some reason, all Gigabyte motherboards of late have scored a bit lower in this test, and I’m unsure as to why. It’s of little concern, however, as the rest of our benchmarks proves there’s no real issue.

Multi-Media: Adobe Lightroom, 3ds Max 2010

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 3ds Max 2010

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.

As usual, it’s hard to pick a board from the pack, given the lead keeps flip-flopping from one board to the next.

Multi-Media: TMPGEnc XPress, Blu-ray Playback

TMPGEnc Xpress 4.5

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.

The results are once again close, but Gigabyte’s board comes out on top, but just barely.

Blu-ray Playback

Intel’s Clarkdale is built with HD content in mind, so it’s only right that we exercise that between our motherboards to see which one fares best overall. For all intents and purposes, Blu-ray or other HD playback on any of these motherboards won’t prove to be an issue, but our goal is to see overall which board performs better where overall CPU usage is concerned. Like with most of our other tests, we don’t expect huge variations here, but we again want to make sure that one motherboard doesn’t have a significant issue worth pointing out.

To help track our CPU usage, we use Everest 5 Ultimate Edition, from Lavalys. It allows us to keep track of the CPU usage on an overall and per core basis, with the former being the number we report below. For our testing, we use the Blu-ray movie Fast & Furious, which is encoded in VC-1. We begin recording our CPU usage with Everest as soon as we begin the main movie, and we stop recording after 30 minutes has elapsed.

Fast & Furious

The average result for the Gigabyte board is rather interesting, given it proved to be almost 3% lower than both the ASUS and Intel offerings. Even the max value is lower than both of the others. Not a bad showing (no pun of course)!

Storage & Memory: ATTO, 7-Zip, Sandra

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).

7-Zip

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.

SiSoftware Sandra 2010

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.

Gaming: CoD: Modern Warfare 2, Crysis Warhead, 3DMark Vantage

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.

Crysis Warhead

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.

Futuremark 3DMark Vantage

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.

Overclocking Gigabyte’s H55M-USB3

Before discussing results, let’s take a minute to briefly discuss what I consider to be a worthwhile overclock. As I’ve mentioned in past content, I’m not as interested in finding the highest overclock possible as much as I am interested in finding the highest stable overclock. To me, if an overclock crashes the computer after a few minutes of running a stress-test, it has little value except for competition.

How we declare an overclock stable is simple… we stress it as hard as possible for a certain period of time, both with CPU-related tests and also GPU-related, to conclude on what we’ll be confident is 100% stability throughout all possible computing scenarios.

For the sake of CPU stress-testing, we use LinX. Compared to other popular CPU stress-testers, LinX’s tests are far more gruelling, and proof of that is seen by the fact that it manages to heat the CPU up to 20°C hotter than competing applications, like SP2004. Also, LinX is just as effective on AMD processors. Generally, if the CPU survives the first half-hour of this stress, there’s a good chance that it’s mostly stable, but I strive for a 12 hour stress as long as time permits.

If the CPU stress passes without error, then GPU stress-testing begins, in order to assure a system-wide stable overclock. To test for this, 3DMark Vantage’s Extreme test is used, with the increased resolution of 2560×1600, looped nine times. If this passes, some time is dedicated to real-world game testing, to make sure that gaming is just as stable as it would be if the CPU were at stock. If both these CPU and GPU tests pass without issue, we can confidently declare a stable overclock.

Overclocking Gigabyte’s H55M-USB3

I admit, and have admitted in the past, that I’m not much of an overclocker. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it, but rather that I feel like I’m not that good at it, and also that I never seem to achieve a truly impressive overclock. So when I sit down to test out the overclocking-ability of a new motherboard or CPU, I usually expect little more than a 4.0GHz overclock, since it’s been rather typical up to this point. But with the H55M-USB3, I quickly realized that there’d be no simple 4.0GHz overclock here. Oh no… not at all.

After a couple of hours worth of tweaking, and I mean very simple tweaking, I ended up hitting 4.55GHz which proved to be about 50 minutes LinX stable, twice over. The reason I did it twice and not straight through, was because believe it or not, doing the first run Windows 7 ended up putting the PC to sleep after about 40 minutes (usually I disable these power modes, but I forgot on this particular install), so I felt it necessary to let that finish, then start over for double assurance.

Gigabyte H55M-USB3 Overclock

To my knowledge, this is the highest overclock I’ve ever hit “stable”, even for a dual-core. I’ve often been able to reach sky-high clocks, but rarely will one ever pass through a stress test for even a minute, but this one here lasted almost an hour, twice! To be fair, it did require some extra voltage (1.4375V), but never did the CPU cores hit even 90°C (I am used to them hitting the red-line, which tends to be around 100°C).

I’m beyond impressed with the overclocking performance seen here, and after all is said and done, I’m fairly confident the board and chip could have been pushed a bit further. Unfortunately, I had to cut my OC’ing session a bit short due to other testing that had to take place. But with about the same amount of effort, I gained about 210MHz over what I could achieve with ASUS’ P7H55D-M EVO. That’s rather impressive.

Power Consumption, Final Thoughts

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.

Of the three H55 boards we’ve tested so far, neither differentiates too much from the other where power consumption is concerned. Gigabyte’s board performs the best while at full load, while Intel’s far less feature-rich DH55TC shaves 2W off the idle power draw.

Final Thoughts

Over the past couple of months, I’ve taken a look at a fair number of motherboards spanning multiple chipsets, and no particular board comes to mind as being terrible. Compare that to how things were just five years ago or more, where many boards were almost luck of the draw. Today, all of the available offerings are extremely well-designed, and if you’re willing to spend $100 or more on an mATX offering, you’re going to get a sweet product.

As I mentioned on the first page, the official price for this board is $110, but currently an e-tailer is selling it for $100, and then will give a mail-in rebate to make it $90. Even at $100, this board is simply fantastic. It offers a wide-range of features (even including four display connectors), has a great design, has a robust and easy-to-use BIOS, and as seen on the previous page, can overclock like no one’s business.

Gigabyte H55M-USB3 H55-based Motherboard

Regardless of whether you are looking for a sweet mATX board for the sake of an HTPC build, or you simply want a smaller PC for your regular PC or gaming rig, it’s hard to go wrong with the H55M-USB3. If there are two minor nicks (which can’t even be considered nicks, given the price), it’s the lack of vertically-mounted SATA ports and also the lack of SATA 3.0. Both of these omissions are understandable given the price, but they’re important to point out in case you need either of them.

It’s boards like this one that really, really make me try to convince myself to build a killer SFF PC. Trying to resist the urge…

Gigabyte H55M-USB3 - Techgage Editor's Choice
Gigabyte H55M-USB3

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