H55 & H57 Motherboard Roundup Reviewjlqrb -
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Closer Look (ECS H57H-MUS):
The ECS H57H-MUS is part of the Black Series and as such it comes packaged in a mostly black box with a menacing dragon on the front. Surrounding the image of the dragon ECS has listed the model name, support and some of the features of the motherboard with the largest icon being one that highlights the included USB 3.0 and SATA 3.0 add-on expansion cards. On the back of the packaging there are images of the motherboard and expansion cards. Below the images of the add-on cards you will find an explanation of how the new technologies are faster than the previous versions and why they are beneficial to the end-user. To the right of these are five listed features of the motherboard and a short description of how each is used. What is listed is the use of a graphic sensor, Dual Giga LAN ports with teaming, Qooltech III cooling solutions, HDMI/DVI connections and Intelligent power saving technologies.
The inner packaging of the ECS H57H-MUS box has a few layers with the add-on cards on the top, the motherboard in the middle and the accessories at the bottom. To protect the USB 3.0 and SATA 3.0 cards from damage they are wrapped in an antistatic bag and secured into the upper layer of the packaging. With these out the next layer houses the motherboard which also comes wrapped in an antistatic bag. After you have remove the motherboard the cardboard insert slides out, allowing access to the accessories that are found at the bottom of the box.
The ECS H57H-MUS comes with a mATX form factor that has a nice layout and uses ECS's Qooltech III dual-pipe heatsink to cool the MOSFET. With the use of a cooler on the voltage regulation area, the ECS H57H-MUS should maintain a low operating temperature even while overclocking. The heatsink is large and with its close proximity to the CPU bracket there could be spacing issues with aftermarket coolers. Other than this though the layout is very spacious which will allow for easy installation of add-on components. As for the design, ECS uses the standard color scheme of the Black Series motherboards. This includes a black PCB with red, yellow and orange throughout the expansion slots. Also, because of the board's series, ECS uses all solid capacitors throughout the entire PCB and an 8-pin 12V power connector in place of the 4-pin connectors found on entry-level ECS boards.
The ECS H57H-MUS, like the ASUS motherboard, uses the H57 chipset. The H57 is still a single chip solution and for the most part it is identical to its H55 counterpart. They both use the same architecture and share many of the same features, but there are a few small differences. The most noticeable of these is that the H57 comes with optional support for Intel® Rapid Storage Technology, which allows for native RAID support though the on-board H57 chip. Other than this, the differences are very small and mainly deal with additional peripheral expansion support. So, since RAID is the only technology that really separates the two chips in terms of performance, this board, when used at stock, should perform at the same level as the H55 models in the roundup.
The CPU area on the ECS H57H-MUS comes with a very robust VRM area that uses all solid capacitors, nine phase units with a 3+2+1 design and all solid ferrite core chokes. To ensure that this area is properly cooled even during extreme situations, ECS uses its very efficient dual heat-pipe Qooltech III cooler. ECS has been using this design on a few of its recently release Black Series motherboards and it is a design I tend to like in both style and function. The CPU socket is made by Foxconn and supports all LGA1156 Intel Core i3, i5 and i7 processors types.
Next to the CPU area are the four memory DIMM slots that work in a dual-channel configuration. These slots have a max capacity of 16GB of memory allowing for up to 4GB to be installed in each memory slot. The memory slots, like the other ECS boards, support speeds of up to 1333MHz, but will have the ability to scale higher as long as you use the 1333MHz memory multiplier and raise the speed by adjusting the CPU base clock. Also, like the other motherboards, these DIMMS are set to 1.5V by default. This setting will need to be adjusted if you use memory that has a higher power requirement. One thing to note about this board is that the memory slots were not color coded correctly and when I installed the memory in the orange DIMMS they would only run in single-channel mode. This was fixed by moving one of the sticks into a yellow slot and once this was done the memory was set to dual-channel. This is said to be an issue with the review samples only and the retail version of the board should have the memory setup in an orange/yellow configuration as opposed to the orange/orange one shown.
The rear expansion area of the ECS H55H-MUS is packed with more USB 2.0 ports and video options than most users would need. This is just how we like it though! This includes a DVI port, VGA port, HDMI port, eSATA port, Dual Giga LAN ports, Optical S/PDIF output, five audio jacks and eight USB 2.0 ports. Again, to use the rear video options on the back panel, a processor with an integrated graphics unit must be used. To make sure there is no confusion as to whether or not your chip does come with a IGP, ECS has employed a on-board Graphics Processing Sensor (GPS). The function of this sensor is simple. If you have a processor with a built-in IGP an LED light will glow green and if there's no IGP it will glow red. The LED lights are found just above the PCI-E x16 slot. Another feature that ECS has included on the back panel allows the Dual Giga LAN port to use a technology called teaming. This will allow dual LAN connection to act as one for double the bandwidth.
For add-on card expansion the ECS H57H-USB again delivers. With PCI-E x16, PCI-E x1, PCI-E x4 and standard PCI slots, this board should be able to handle HTPC and mainstream users' needs with ease. Since the H55/H57 chipsets support 16 lanes for a single card solution the PCI-E x16 slot will be able to run at full bandwidth. Just below the PCI-E x16 slot is an on-board diagnostics LED that goes though a series of codes from the initial start to the final post. Diagnostics tools like this are great to have when your system fails to boot, but ECS has placed the LED in a location that will be covered when using a dual-slot graphics card. Also, there was no listing of the codes in the manual so they will not be readily available.
Like most motherboards, the expansion headers are found on the bottom of the PCB and once again ECS has included plenty of options to choose from. The included options along the bottom of the board consist of a front audio header, S/PDIF out header, fan connector, power/reset buttons, CASE open header, front USB 2.0 headers and the front panel headers. Again, this is a decent amount of expansion and the use of on-board power and reset switches is very beneficial to DIY system-builders. The SATA ports are found at the lower right portion of the board and positioned at a 90° angle. With the ports being at this angle, they will still be usable even when a large dual-slot graphics card is installed. Also, since this board uses the H57 and not a H55 chipset it comes with support for RAID 0/1/5/10.
Another nice feature that is included on this board is a small red CMOS Reset button. This button is located just below the 24-pin power connector and is a huge time saver when your system freezes from corrupt settings or excessive overclocking.
To support the latest USB and SATA technologies, ECS has included an SATA 6Gb/s card and a USB 3.0 add-on card, both of which utilize the PCI-E x1 interface allowing them to be placed in the rear expansion slots. Once in place, you simply insert the data cable into the port on the card and it will work no differently than as if it was integrated onto the motherboard itself.
As part of the Black Series the H57H-MUS is very well designed and rich in features, but at $149.99 it is more expensive than the H55 based motherboards. Still, it's $50 less than the ASUS EVO.