ECS H55H-CM Motherboard
By Gabriel Torres on January 28, 2010
ECS has released four motherboards based on the new Intel H55 chipset, which is targeted to the new Core i3 and Core i5 processors with integrated video. Although they also have high-end products, ECS is definitely better known for providing motherboards with the lowest price tag on the market. Let’s see what you can expect from H55H-CM.
To show you the differences between the four H55-based motherboards from ECS, we compiled a short table comparing them.
PCI Express x16 slots
PCI Express x4 slots
PCI Express x1 slots
5 ports, 1 eSATA
4 ports, 1 eSATA
VGA, DVI-D, HDMI
It is important to understand that with socket LGA1156 CPUs the integrated video is produced by the processor and not by the motherboard chipset, as it occurred until now. There are processors with integrated video and processors without this feature. The board has only the interface and connectors necessary to route the video signal generated by the CPU. You can install CPUs with an integrated video processor or without, but with CPUs without a video processor you won’t have on-board video, needing an add-on video card. Of course with a processor with integrated video you still have the option to install an add-on card and disable its video engine. For a more detailed explanation, please read our Core i5-661 review.
In Figure 1 you have an overall look from H55H-CM. As mentioned, it is a microATX motherboard.
The product page from H55M-CM on ECS website doesn’t go very detailed on several aspects of the board, like the exact chips that are used.
ECS H55H-CM comes with one PCI Express x16 2.0 slot, two PCI Express x1 slots and one standard PCI slot.
Socket LGA1156 CPUs, like socket LGA1366 and AMD processors, have an embedded memory controller. All other Intel CPUs use an external memory controller, which is located on the north bridge chip (a.k.a. MCH or Memory Controller Hub) from the chipset. This means that with other Intel CPUs the chipset (and thus the motherboard) is the component that says what memory technologies and the maximum amount of memory you can have on your PC.
Since now the memory controller is inside the CPU, it is the processor, and not the chipset, that defines the memory technologies and the maximum amount of memory you can have. The motherboard, however, may have a limitation as to how much memory can be installed.
At the moment, the integrated memory controller of socket LGA1156 processors supports only DDR3 memories up to 1,333 MHz under dual-channel architecture.
ECS H55H-CM has four DDR3-DIMM sockets, so you can have up to 16 GB, if you use four 4 GB modules.
The first and the third sockets are yellow, while the second and the fourth ones are orange. In order to achieve the maximum performance, you should install two or four memory modules to enable the dual-channel architecture. When only two modules are used make sure to install them on the yellow sockets. If you install them on the orange ones the computer won’t turn on.
Intel H55 chipset is a single-chip solution. The basic features provided by this chipset include six SATA-300 ports (no RAID support), no support for parallel ATA (PATA) ports, 12 USB 2.0 ports supporting port disable, embedded Gigabit Ethernet MAC (Medium Access Control) and six x1 PCI Express lanes.
ECS H55H-CM provides all the six SATA-300 ports. If you install a dual-slot video card that is more than 7 ½” (19 cm) long, the video card will block two of the SATA ports.
Like several other motherboards based on the Intel H55 chipset, ECS H55H-CM supports the old serial and parallel communication ports. A parallel port is actually soldered on the motherboard rear panel, as we will show you in a bit, and two serial ports (and not only one) are available, through headers on the board (the green headers shown in Figure 4). So in order to use them you will need to install adapters, which don’t come with the product.
The chipset doesn’t support a parallel ATA (PATA) port and this motherboard doesn’t come with an external controller supporting this kind of connection, however ECS H55H-CM does come with a floppy disk drive controller, feature not supported by most H55-based motherboards.
This motherboard has all the 12 USB 2.0 ports supported by the chipset, six soldered on the rear panel and six available through three motherboard headers. Being a low-cost product, it doesn’t support FireWire ports.
Audio is generated by the chipset using a Realtek ALC662 codec, which is a six-channel component. Other H55-based motherboards we’ve seen so far support eight-channel audio, but since this is a low-cost product we don’t see this as a drawback. In fact the signal-to-noise ratio provided by this chip isn’t bad at all for an entry-level product, with 90 dB for its analog inputs and 98 dB for its analog outputs. Other specs include a 24-bit resolution for its outputs but only 20-bit resolution for its inputs and 96 kHz sampling rate for its outputs and inputs.
The main problem with the on-board audio from this motherboard is the use of shared connectors, meaning that if you install an analog 5.1 speaker set you “kill” the mic in and line in connectors.
Luckily this motherboard has an on-board SPDIF output header, allowing you to add SPDIF outputs to this motherboard by installing an adapter that doesn’t come with the product.
ECS H55H-CM has a Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by the chipset, with an Intel 82578 chip making the interface with the physical layer.
In Figure 5, you can see the motherboard rear panel with keyboard and mouse PS/2 connectors, parallel port, HDMI output, VGA output, eight USB 2.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet port and shared 5.1 analog audio jacks.
We were quite surprised to see a parallel port on this motherboard, an I/O connection that is dead for the end-user.
This motherboard comes with an HDMI and a VGA output, so you can use this motherboard to build an HTPC (Home Theater PC) without using adapters for the video output. If your home theater setup isn’t able to extract digital audio from the HDMI output, you can add an SPDIF output to this motherboard, as explained before.
Since this is an entry-level motherboard, we wouldn’t expect the voltage regulator circuit to be great, however ECS seems to be worried in improving the quality of their products, because the main voltage regulator uses only solid capacitors and ferrite chokes, which is great (the voltage regulator for the memories still use an iron choke, although it also uses solid caps).
The main regulator is comprised of five phases, being three phases for the CPU (Vcore), one phase for the memory controller (VTT bus) and one phase for the integrated video controller.
The rest of the capacitors used on H55H-CM are a mix of Japanese (from Sanyo) and Taiwanese (from Teapo) caps.
In order to save costs, the voltage regulator circuit doesn’t come with a heatsink.
See how this motherboard uses an ATX12V connector for the CPU.
Being an entry-level product, ECS H55H-CM doesn’t provide lots of overclocking options, but at least it allows you to do:
Below you can a screenshot from the motherboard setup.
ECS H55H-CM motherboard main features are:
ECS H55H-CM is definitely an entry-level motherboard for Core i3 and Core i5 processors with integrated video. What it lacks in features compared to other H55-based motherboards, it gains in price. So if you are trying to save the maximum you can and don’t mind its limited (but adequate for the regular user that will only run office-style applications and access the Internet) number of features, this is probably one of your best bets.
One nice think was to see ECS improving their overall quality. Even though this is an entry-level product, the voltage regulator circuit uses only solid caps and ferrite chokes and we could see some Japanese capacitors spread on the board (the memory voltage regulator still uses an iron choke, though).