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ECS Z270H4-I Review

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Category: Motherboards
Price: $110-140
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ECS Z270H4-I: Introduction

Today we take a look at the newly released Z270 ITX motherboard from ECS (Elitegroup Computer Systems). With Intel's introduction to the 7th Generation Core series comes a refresh of motherboards under the Z270 chipset. While it is common that many motherboard manufacturers will put out a BIOS update to allow for forwards compatibility on the previous chipset, it is generally a gesture of courtesy. The refresh chipset always builds upon the previous generation and adds support that may have not been available for the platform launch, like faster memory or Optane SSDs. So there you have it, if you are planning on buying a i7 7700K or any of the 7th Generations Intel CPUs, it is always better to buy something specifically built for it. This brings us to the ECS Z270H4-i motherboard review.

Before getting to the meat and potatoes of this review, I want to bring up a bit of nostalgia. In July 2002 I built my first computer with an ECS K7S5A Socket A motherboard coupled with an AMD XP 2000+ CPU. Fast forward 15 years later and my first major motherboard review for OCC shows up in the mail. It just so happens to be from ECS. I have owned many ECS-branded motherboards since my first introduction to computers. You know that hobby that consists of draining you of every penny, nickle, and dime so you can buy the next best thing on the market just to play around with it. I had a blast playing Quake 3, Unreal 99, and Counter-Strike 1.3 on an NVIDIA Riva TNT 16MB. Back than I couldn't stop thinking of the next great experience in games could offer. VR headsets and flexible TVs are now real; it seems anything is possible now.

Alright, I've become sidetracked and at this point either you are experiencing heavy nostalgia from going down memory lane or I completely lost you, so let me start over with the actual review portion of this article.

ECS Z270H4-I: Video Review

If you are interested in watching a video instead of reading this article, I made a video that covers mostly everything written here. If you need a refresher or more information, you can always return to the article after watching. Us reviewers at OCC want to make the best content and that only comes with practice and feedback. If you have suggestions for future videos, make sure to leave a comment after watching!

 

 

ECS Z270H4-I: Closer Look

I like to keep this part simple because personally, it could be presented in a brown box for all I care. Anyways, this is for those who want a bit of flash before checking out the real prize inside. It seems ECS has hit the mark and kept it simple. The front has the designated name and the back follows up with features the board offers. These include supported memory up 3200MHz (OC), Hybrid VRM system, and everything else you generally expect it to say under the ECS Durathon 2 series. However, the box strangely put the ITX form factor part in very small print and that is the main selling point! I guess the size of the box would give it away.

 

After opening up the box, you can see in the pictures ECS has placed the motherboard on top in an anti-static bag. Once removed, the extras like I/O shield, two SATA cables, manual, and WiFi antennas are present.

 

 

Now once taken out of the box, you can see the full PCB. ECS has provided a good amount of features for a reasonable price point. The ability to use higher speed memory, a 6-phase power delivery, and even a M.2 slot supporting Intel's new Optane SSDs. All within an ITX form factor.

 

 

Moving on the I/O area of the Z270H4-I motherboard, it seems ECS is all over the place with this one. Starting from the left is a PS/2 port for those who still have those type of peripherals. Below the PS/2 port are two ulta-low latency USB 2.0 ports color coded yellow. Next is a space for the WiFi antenna. Depending on the bundle you get, ECS may include a WiFi card. For this sample it did not include a WiFi card, but a 40mm M.2 slot (keyed E) is available for use below the 1151 socket. My best guess is ECS figured it would save on manufacturing costs since not everyone wants or needs WiFi support; it was easier to leave it as a option rather than included it in everything.

After the WiFi allocated space are both Display Port and HDMI 1.4a for those who intend to take advantage of Intel Graphics Unit (iGPU), which is present on many of the Intel processor lineup. But just to be clear for those who wonder, If the processor does not have a iGPU than those ports will be inactive and a video card will be necessary for video output.

Next up are a series of USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A ports and a single Type-C port. I wrote about this in the ECS LIVA Z review, but I will reiterate for those who are unfamiliar with the naming scheme of USB (Universal Serial Bus) these days. To keep it short, originally any USB 3.0 that had up up to 5GB/s of bandwidth was named SuperSpeed. Now that 3.1 has come around with 10GB/s bandwidth, everything was renamed and now is known as 3.1 Gen 1 with a maximum throughput of 5GB/s, while Gen 2 is rated for 10GB/s. What's the big difference? Well, more bandwidth for one and more amps / voltage in the Gen 2 port to allow for bigger external drives to be powered solely by a single connection. I could keep going on about the poor choices of naming schemes across the industry as a whole, but to wrap this segment up I shall continue with the I/O ports. Next to the USB are two Ethernet ports, one being powered by an Intel I-219V NIC and the other a KILLER NIC alternative: the Realtek Dragon 8118AS chip. Last is more or less what I considered a standard these days on any motherboard - audio jacks for surround sound.

 

 

On the subject of surround sound, ECS has implemented the Realtek ALC1150 in this motherboard. While it is technically just an audio codec, a lot more goes into this to make it sound good than a single chip.The Z270H4-I has a dedicated section of Nichicon MW series electrolytic audio capacitors, seen in the corner with yellow caps. After looking up the part number, these Nichicon capacitors are listed as "general audio purpose" with a heat rating of 85 °C. With it being so close to the PCIE slot, I would have like to see ECS use something with a higher rating, but without moving it, these higher quality capacitors would get in the way because of height restraints. The motherboard also has the audio sectioned off from the rest of the motherboard with a tracer that lights up red when the motherboard is on. This is to keep the electrical noise from bleeding across and can overall help sound reproduction quality.

It is nice to see this on a ITX form factor and since space is so limited manufacturers have to pick and choose what is appropriate for the projected price point. However, digging deeper I couldn't find any information about this besides the manual listing it as "Compliant with HD audio specification". Intel's HD Specifications lists it has needing to support 32-bit sampling and 192KHz playback. I think this onboard solution is going to suit most users, unless you have some really high-end Hi-Fi headphones. That, plus, the addition of most HTCP being connected to the TV or receiver are done via HDMI, the audio jacks will not be used for many of its users.

 

Here you can see the Z270H4-I packed with a host of connectors with most of the action lined up parallel to the two DDR4 memory slots. First up is the power delivery system, which includes the standard 24-pin ATX connector with the 4-pin EPS above the 1151 socket. Being a Z270 chipset, the Z270H4-I has four SATA 6Gb/s ports along with USB 3.1 and USB 2.0 headers for those extra USB ports present on most computer cases. Once everything is installed, space becomes a bit cramped, but that is completely expected for an ITX layout.

 

 

Even though this is an ITX form factor, ECS included a 6-phase power design seen under those heat sinks. While it isn't a very large area for cooling, the case airflow should dissipate the heat generated. Don't be fooled by the heat sinks on the VRMs, because this is still considered a budget ITX motherboard. The BIOS does have overclocking features, which I'll go into detail later, the focus of most ITX setup is not overclockability, but rather saved space.

 

Flipping over the motherboard reveals an M.2 slot. This is first time I have seen this on an ITX form factor, or any setup. It is close enough to the socket that clearance is not an issuen unless the case you are using has an extremely small back plane cut-out. However, cooling is an issue and those faster NVMe SSDs will thermally throttle fairly quickly without a heat sink or good airflow. Both of which are not usually present behind the motherboard. Quick bursts will be fine, but sustained high performance NVMe is unlikely. I like to point out that this M.2 slot is most likely strictly designed for a Intel Optane SSD, due to the placement and low power draw, so thermal throttling would not be an issue. It is a shame that the slot will most likely go unused, however, when these Optane SSD become cheaper, you can always add one in later.




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