ECS H57H-MUS Motherboard
By Gabriel Torres on April 14, 2010
Intel H57 is a more “complete” version of the Intel H55 chipset, supporting RAID, 14 USB 2.0 ports (against 12 on H55), and eight PCI Express 2.0 x1 lanes (against six on H55). H57H-MUS from ECS comes with two PCI Express x1 expansion cards to add USB 3.0 ports and SATA-600 (a.k.a. SATA 6G) ports on the motherboard. Let’s what you should expect from this product.
This motherboard supports integrated video, but 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 H57H-MUS and, as you can see, it is a microATX board.
ECS H57H-MUS comes with one PCI Express x16 2.0 slot, one PCI Express x1 slot, one PCI Express x4 slot and one standard PCI slot. It is important to keep in mind the particularities of the PCI Express technology to understand that it allows you to install any kind of expansion card on any kind of slot. For example, you can install x1 cards on x4 slots or even on x16 slots. Since this motherboard comes with two x1 expansion cards, an untrained user might think that there is no place for installing the second card, since this motherboard has only x1 slot. This is far from the truth: the second card can be installed either on the x4 or on the x16 slot.
If you pay close attention to the x4 slot from this motherboard in Figure 2, you will see that it has its rear side open, allowing you to install a x16 video card on it (of course the video card will run at x4), which is another expansion capability supported by this particular motherboard.
In Figure 2, you can see other features supported by the product: a POST display, which allows you to detect through a two-digit code what is wrong if your computer doesn’t turn on, and power and reset buttons.
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 H57H-MUS has four DDR3-DIMM sockets, so you can have up to 16 GB, if you use four 4 GB modules.
ECS made a mistake on the sample they sent us. Usually motherboards based on Intel chipsets have the first and third sockets with one color and the second and fourth sockets with another color, allowing you to easily identify which sockets must be used when installing two memory modules in order to enable the dual channel feature: simply install the modules on sockets with the same color.
On the sample we've got however, sockets one and two are yellow and sockets three and four are orange (ECS also counts the sockets starting with the one closest to the CPU socket, instead of starting with the one closest to the power supply 24-pin connector like other manufacturers). If you are installing two memory modules you have to install the first one on the second socket (yellow) and the second one on the fourth socket (orange) – translation, install one module on the orange socket closest to the power supply 24-pin connector, skip one socket, and then install the second module on the first yellow socket. Any other configuration the computer won’t turn on or you won’t have dual-channel enabled.
ECS contacted us explaining that this huge mistake will be corrected on the final product that will reach the market (we got a pre-production sample), where sockets 1 and 3 will be yellow and sockets 2 and 4 will be orange. So on the final product you will need to install memory modules on the yellow sockets if you have two memory modules and want to enable dual channel configuration.
Intel H57 chipset is a single-chip solution. The basic features provided by this chipset include six SATA-300 ports with RAID support (0, 1, 5 and 10 – the product manual and the manufacturer website fail to mention RAID support), no support for parallel ATA (PATA) ports, 14 USB 2.0 ports supporting port disable, embedded Gigabit Ethernet MAC (Medium Access Control) and eight x1 PCI Express lanes.
ECS H57H-MUS provides all the six SATA-300 ports, which are installed on the motherboard edge and rotated 90°, so installing video cards won’t block them. An eSATA-300 port is available on the rear panel, controlled by a JMicron JMB360 chip. Two SATA-600 ports are available on one of the companion expansion cards, which we will be talking about next page.
In Figure 4 you can also see the buzzer behind the SATA ports and the clear CMOS button next to the 24-pin power supply connector.
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. The same goes for a floppy disk drive controller.
This motherboard has all the 14 USB 2.0 ports supported by the chipset, eight soldered on the rear panel and six available through three motherboard headers. Two USB 3.0 ports are available on one of the expansion cards that come with the product and that we will be covering in the next page. H57H-MUS doesn’t support FireWire ports.
Audio is generated by the chipset using a Realtek ALC892 codec, which is a eight-channel component. Unfortunately Realtek doesn’t post detailed information about this codec, so we can’t talk about the audio quality of this motherboard. ECS H57H-MUS comes with an on-board optical SPDIF output and you can add a coaxial SPDIF output installing an adapter on the motherboard “SPDIF01” header (see it in Figure 2). You will have to “kill” either the mic in or the line in jacks if you want to install an analog eight-channel speaker set.
ECS H55H-CM has two Gigabit Ethernet ports, controlled by two Realtek RTL8111DL chips, which are connected to the chipset using one x1 PCI Express lane each. They support the teaming feature, that allows them to operate in parallel to double the available bandwidth to 2 Gbps, if you have a compatible switch.
In Figure 5, you can see the motherboard rear panel with VGA output, DVI-D output, HDMI output, eight USB 2.0 ports, eSATA-300 ports, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, optical SPDIF output and shared 7.1 analog audio jacks.
As you can see this motherboard doesn’t have keyboard and mouse PS/2 connectors, so you will need to use a keyboard and a mouse with USB connection.This motherboard comes with an HDMI, a DVI-D 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 use the optical SPDIF output.
ECS H57H-MUS comes with two PCI Express x1 expansion cards, one with one SATA-600 port and one eSATA-600 port, controlled by a Marvell 88SE9128 chip (which supports RAID 0 and 1), and another with two USB 3.0 ports, controlled by a NEC μPD720200 chip. The motherboard comes with a bracket to allow you to install the USB 3.0 card in half-height (slim) cases, but no half-height bracket is provided for the SATA-600 card.
As already explained, even though this motherboard comes with only one PCI Express x1 slot, you can install the second card on the x4 slot or on the x16 slot, at your convenience.
We were quite surprised to see ECS improving their manufacturing quality here. This motherboard uses only solid capacitors (not only on the voltage regulator circuit) and ferrite chokes, which are better than iron models. The regulator has six phases for the CPU (Vcore), two phases for the memory controller (VTT bus) and one phase for the integrated memory controller.
Two passive heatsinks are used to cool down the MOSFETs and they are connected together using two heatpipes.
See how this motherboard uses an EPS12V connector for the CPU.
ECS H57H-MUS brings some overclocking functions:
Plus memory timings, which can be highly tweaked.
Below you can see some screenshots from the motherboard setup.
ECS H57H-MUS motherboard main features are:
It is always good to see a manufacturer improving the quality of their products. On H57H-MUS ECS added only solid capacitors, did a decent job on the voltage regulator circuit and add some overclocking options (this particular manufacturer has always been shy on overclocking).
We had mixed feelings about the two add-on cards to enable USB 3.0 and SATA-600 ports. Why not adding these features on the motherboard itself? Of course the manufacturer would have to kill two USB 2.0 ports to fit the two USB 3.0 connectors, but we think 12 USB 2.0 ports is already more than enough. Probably the chips and sockets wouldn’t fit this motherboard – we have to keep in mind that this is a microATX board.
The SATA-600 card may also cause trouble for some users: the second port is installed as an eSATA-600 port, making it hard for you to build a RAID array with two SATA-600 internal drives. On the other hand, the external SATA-600 can be handy for some users.
In summary, although it wasn’t love at first sight, this motherboard can be a good option for users looking for a fully-loaded microATX socket LGA1156 motherboard for Intel CPUs with integrated video.