P67 Motherboard Roundupccokeman -
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ECS comes to market with its latest Black Series offering - the P67H2-A. ECS has really moved to upgrade their image and the performance capabilities of their lineup. From that of a manufacturer of economical boards to that of a high-end performance builder with top end offerings such as the P55H-AK and this offering the P67H2-A "Black Extreme" series motherboard for use with Intel's second generation Core processors. The packaging used goes all out to deliver this message with a metallic blue background and a full list of the technologies supported on the front panel. Items shown include support for a three card multi-GPU solutions and Hydra core technology for a cross manufacturer multi-GPU solution via use of a Lucidlogix Hydra SoC. The back side of the packaging gives added detail about ECS Hydra Core technology , ECS M.I.B. X BIOS, Gold Contacts, the ECS software package and Hyper HDD. THe extensive feature set is further illustrated along the bottom of the back panel. The front panel flips open to show off the P67H2-A Black Extreme while the data on the flap shows the overclocking and graphics performance potential.
Inside the packaging, the motherboard is in a plastic shell while the accessory bundle is housed in a box below the board. The bundle included with this board is pretty substantial and supplies both the basics such as the manual and driver disk to the SATA 6Gb/s cables and USB 3.0 expansion port bracket and 3.5 inch bay housing for using the additional connectivity from the front of the chassis. One of the interesting additions to the bundle is a set of what ECS calls connector caps that cover up ports on the I/O panel to protect them.
The ECS Black Extreme is a full featured motherboard built for use with Intel's second generation Core series processors. Specifically the K-sku processors for some incredible overclocking fun. The graphing on the front panel touts a 147% increase in the operating frequency of the Core i7 2600K so ECS puts out an expectation of performance that is achievable. The ECS P67H2A is an ATX form factor board targeted at the high-end user with features such as solid capacitors, DDR3 2133MHz support, an on board diagnostic display, USB 3.0, SATA 6Gb/s connectivity and three way multi-GPU support with an interesting twist via the LucidLogix Hydra core technology. The color scheme is shades of grey and black that really present a unique look that works. The large Qooltech III dual heat pipe cooling solution is the dominant feature on this board. The back side shows the Lotes CPU socket bracket and that the Qooltech III heat sinks are held on with screws rather than push pins. A more robust solution.
The rear I/O panel contains a wealth of connectivity. You have the clear CMOS button on the top (left), a legacy PS/2 port that can be used with either a keyboard or a mouse, a total of six USB 2.0 ports, two eSATA ports, four USB 3.0 ports in blue, Dual Realtek 8111E controlled RJ-45 Gigabit LAN ports that support teaming, the audio jacks for the Realtek HD 8 channel sound solution and an optical S/PDIF output. This is pretty much what you see on the majority of higher end enthusiast boards. Expansion capabilities come in the form of three 16x PCIe 2.0 slots that support up to a three way graphics solution, two PCIe 1x slots and a pair of PCI slots. The 16x slots will run at x16 x x16 when running two video cards and x16 x x8 x x8 when a three card solution is used. CrossfireX is supported as well as a hybrid setup but there is no mention of SLI support for up to three cards. Installing the connector caps into the USB ports is as simple as pushing them in with removal just as simple with the small handle on the cap.
Along the bottom of the board is added connectivity. From left to right you get the front panel audio header, S/PDIF header, a comm port header, system fan header, S/PDIF debug header, a total of four front panel USB 2.0 headers and the front panel switch header. Of the four USB 2.0 front panel headers, three are white and one is gray. This gray header supports the EZ Charger function allowing enough current to flow to properly charge your portable device such as a cell phone or iPod. Right around the corner of the PCB is the ADD or Advanced Dual Display Indicator that functions as both a debug LED during the post sequence and as a system temperature display once into the operating system.
Coming up the right side of the PCB you have the front panel USB 3.0 header used with the USB 3.0 expansion kit right above the ADD, the four SATA 3Gb/s (white) that support RAID0, RAID1, RAID5 & RAID 10 and two 6Gb/s (gray) ports supporting RAID 0 and 1. Moving on up we get to the onboard power and reset buttons for use when this board is on a tech station or open bench. Power is supplied through the 24 pin ATX power connector with another fan header located just above this connection. The four DIMM slots will support up to 32GB of DDR3 2133MHz memory in a dual channel configuration but ECS states they have tested only to 16GB due to the availability up to 4GB density modules.
Another interesting addition when you swing around to the top of the PCB from ECS comes in the form of voltage measuring points that are being implemented on more and more high-end enthusiast grade boards. Even with the implementation of this feature I have to say this feature needs to be setup with a pocket that will hold the probes of your multimeter for full time monitoring. Something that has been addressed by MSI and now finally by ASUS on the Maximus IV Extreme. Next is another addition in the form of LEDs that light up to show the power circuit phase loading. The eight pin auxiliary power connector rides the edge of the PCB. Just behind it you can see the dual heat pipes of the Qooltech III cooling solution.
The LGA 1155 socket uses a Lotes retention bracket to hold in the Intel second generation Core series processors. The area around the socket is filled with solid capacitors, even so I did not notice any issues with either large heat sinks or a waterblock. The power design for this board is a VRD12 compliant 12 phase implementation. The ferrite chokes are hidden up under the massive cooling solution. The Qooltech III cooling solution used by ECS looks like overkill at first glance but is in reality quite functional because the VRM circuit will get warmer than the CPU in most instances. The dual heat pipe design offers a second conduit to transfer the thermal load to the aluminum heat sink body.
ECS has a surprise player here with this offering. The key is how will the multi-GPU implementation perform as well as how expansive are the overclocking options? All questions to be answered. Now the last board we have in this roundup is the MSI P67-GD65.