H55 & H57 Motherboard Roundup Reviewjlqrb -
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Closer Look (ECS H55H-I):
The ECS H55H-I comes packaged in a small box that lists many of the important features on both the front and back panels. The front portion of the packaging lists what type of processors are supported as well as some of the highlighted features of the H55H-I. The back portion of the packaging lists some of the same information, but this panel also has an image of the product as well as explanations of some of the more interesting features. One such feature is the Mini-ITX form factor. With the small form factor, the packaging of the H55H-I is much smaller than that of an ATX or even mATX board so the motherboard and accessories are packaged in close proximity to each other, with a thin cardboard layer separating them. All inner contents of the package come though the top of the box and once they are out you can see that the included accessories are SATA cables, an I/O back-plate, a manual, installation guide and a drivers CD.
The H55H-I is a Mini-ITX form factor motherboard that uses the H55 chipst and has measurements of just 6.69 x 6.69 inches. This small form factor will be ideal for multimedia users with a SFF case, but the loss of real estate does come with some limitations. As you can see, the ECS H55H-I can only support two memory modules and doesn't include any IDE or FDD ports. All of this is to be expected from a board of this size though. Also, what's impressive is not what is left out, but rather what's included. For a Mini-ITX motherboard to have a full PCI-E x16 slot, a decent amount of phase units, and use solid capacitors throughout the CPU area is impressive.
In terms of appearance, ECS has decided to go with function over style. For this reason the H55H-I comes with a very basic color scheme. This includes the use a green PCB with the expansion slots being orange, yellow and red. Black is also used throughout the board and is found in some of the phase units as well as the passively cooled heatsink that cools the H55 Chipset.
The CPU area on the board is a little tight as it sits in close proximity to both the PCI-E x16 slot and memory DIMMs. The should not be an issue for those using SFF cases though as large heatsinks wouldn't fit in the case anyway. The socket type used is a Foxconn LGA1156 that supports Intel Core i3/i5/i7 processors. Like with all H55 based motherboards there are video options found on the back panel that require the use of a processor with a built-in IGP. This does make for some versatility as this board can be used in ways that are beneficial to home theater users with the built-in IGP of the Core i3/15 line. It can also be set up to be a powerful system for multipurpose users with the i7 series processor. Directly to the left of the socket are four phase units with two additional units above. These are used to regulate the voltage to the CPU, IGP and memory controller. The amount of phases units found on the H55H-I are good for the boards size, but it might not be able to produce the overclocking headroom of a motherboard with a stronger voltage regulation area.
The ECS H55H-I comes with two red DIMM slots that support 1066/1333MHz dual-channel DDR3 memory with a max capacity of 8GB. The use of two memory slots over four could be a draw back for some users, but it will still be more than enough for HTPC users especially when each slot can use up to 4GB. The voltage supplied to the memory slots is 1.5V by default.
The rear expansion area of the ECS H55H-I shows that at least in this area no compromises were made. With an HDMI port, DVI port, VGA port, eSATA port, LAN, Coaxial SPDIFO port, Optical S/PDIF port, 8-channel audio ports and six USB 2.0 ports this board is quite capable when it comes to expansion. However, the same cannot be said for the rear expansion slots as the size of the board only allows for one slot. Many Mini-ITX boards use a standard PCI slot. So, the fact that ECS has included a PCI-E x16 slot that is fully compatible with the PCI-E 2.0 standard is an added bonus. With the option to install an add-on discrete graphics card and support for core i7 processors, the H55H-I could be a very strong gaming board despite its small size.
The top portion of the H55H-I includes the expansion options that are usually found at the bottom of mATX and larger motherboards. The options here are four SATA II ports, two USB headers, the front panel headers as well as the clear CMOS jumpers. The four SATA II ports are run directly though the H55 chipset. Unfortunately, this means the board will be void of any RAID options. The headers used on the H55H-I will allow for additional expansion and should be more than enough for users of small form factor cases. In addition to the USB 2.0 and front panel headers, the H55H-I also has a front audio header and S/PDIF which are both found on the other side of the board.
To power the board, ECS has included a main 24-pin ATX power connector and a 4-pin +12V power connector. The use of a 4-pin connector in place of an 8-pin connector and a good, but not great, VRM might reduce the overclocking potential. This is typically not the type of board that is picked for its overclocking headroom though.
With a Mini-ITX form factor, the ECS H55H-I could be a great option for HTPC users. This board has a retail price of $79.99, but can be found for as low as $64.99 with mail-in rebates.