EVGA H55 Motherboard
By Gabriel Torres on January 27, 2010
Motherboards based on the new H55, H57 and Q57 chipsets are targeted to the new Core i3 and Core i5 processors with integrated video, and EVGA has so far released two different models based on H55, simply named H55 (the most complete model, USD 170 MRSP) and H55V (entry-level model, USD 100 MRSP). By the way, wouldn’t be nice if all motherboard manufacturers used simple product names? Let’s take a look at the most complete model, H55 (a.k.a. 123-CD-E635-KR – we knew our happiness wouldn’t last forever).
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.
As you can see in Figure 1, EVGA H55 is a standard ATX motherboard, not microATX like H55-based products from other manufacturers.
EVGA H55 comes with two x16 PCI Express 2.0 slots and three standard PCI slots. The second PCI Express x16 slot works at x4 and can also be used for installing x1 video cards. These two x16 slots support CrossFire configuration, but not SLI.
In Figure 2, you can see how this motherboard has big reset and power buttons soldered straight on the board, which certainly helps when the computer is dead and you are troubleshooting your system. A clear CMOS button is also provided.
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. EVGA says this motherboard supports memories working above 1,333 MHz, but was incapable of making it clear what speeds above 1,333 MHz are supported (they only say “1333MHz+”).
The first and the third sockets are gray, while the second and the fourth ones are black. 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 gray sockets. If you install them on the black 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.
EVGA H55 provides eight SATA-300 ports, six controlled by the chipset and two controlled by a JMicron JMB363 chip. The six SATA connectors controlled by the chipset and the available PATA connector are installed on the edge of the board, rotated 90°, so the video cards (if you install one) won’t block them. The other two SATA connectors are located on the left edge of the motherboard, in a position where they won’t be blocked by expansion cards.
The two SATA ports controlled by the JMicron chip are red and support RAID (0, 1, 0+1 and JBOD).
Even though Intel H55 chipset does not provide a parallel ATA port, EVGA H55 has one, controlled by a JMicron JMB363 chip.
This motherboard has all the 12 USB 2.0 ports supported by the chipset, eight soldered on the rear panel and four available through two motherboard headers. Two FireWire (IEEE1394) ports are available, one on the rear panel and one through an internal header, controlled by Texas Instruments TSB43AB22A chip. This motherboard comes with an I/O bracket containing one FireWire port and two USB ports.
Differently from other H55-based motherboards we’ve seen so far, this motherboard does not support legacy parallel and serial ports.
Audio is generated by the chipset using a Realtek ALC889 codec, which is a professional-grade component, allowing you to professionally work with this motherboard for audio editing and conversion (e.g., converting LPs and VHS tapes to digital format) without the need of an add-on audio card. The audio section provides 7.1 audio with 24-bit resolution, 108 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the outputs, 104 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog inputs and 192 kHz sampling rate for both inputs and outputs.
EVGA H55 doesn’t come with on-board SPDIF connectors, which is flaw for a motherboard on this price range. You can, however, install these connectors by buying an I/O bracket containing them and connecting to the SPDIF out header available on the motherboard. Since this board does not provide an HDMI output, this motherboard simply doesn’t come with any on-board digital audio connection.
Analog audio outputs use completely independent jacks, so you can hook-up an analog surround speaker system up to 7.1 without needing to “kill” the line in and/or mic in jacks.
EVGA H55 has a Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by a Marvell 88E8057 controller, which is connected to the system through a PCI Express x1 lane, thus allowing this port to achieve its maximum performance.
In Figure 5, you can see the motherboard rear panel with keyboard PS/2 connector, eight USB 2.0 ports, clear CMOS button, DisplayPort output, VGA output, DVI-D output, FireWire port, Gigabit Ethernet port and independent 7.1 analog audio jacks.
EVGA says that their H55 motherboard has a “6+1+1” voltage regulator circuit, however by following the traces on the printed circuit board we found out that the voltage regulator circuit has six phases indeed, with four of them for the CPU, one for the integrated memory controller (VTT bus) and one for the integrated video controller. Two other phases are available for the memories. So we couldn’t quite understand this “6+1+1” configuration announced.
All capacitors used on the voltage regulator circuit and on the rest of the motherboard are solid and all chokes are ferrite models, which are better than iron chokes. Please read our Everything You Need to Know About the Motherboard Voltage Regulator tutorial for more information.
This motherboard has some other smaller features. For instance, it has holes that match socket LGA775 CPU coolers, so if your favorite CPU cooler doesn’t support socket LGA1156 processors you can still install it on this particular motherboard.
This motherboard comes with a two-digit POST display, which allows you to know why your computer is not turning on.
In Figure 10, you can see all the accessories that come with this motherboard.
EVGA H55 has several overclocking options on its setup. The main overclocking features found on this motherboard are:
Below you can see some screenshots from the motherboard setup.
EVGA H55 motherboard main features are:
* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this First Look article.
We think EVGA H55 is a little bit overpriced for what it is. Of course it isn’t a vanilla H55 motherboard, however we expected it to have an HDMI output and on-board SPDIF connectors. The absence of these features prevent you from using this motherboard for building an HTPC (Home Theater PC) out-of-the-box (you still can convert the included DVI-D output into HDMI and add SPDIF outputs by adding an I/O bracket).
On the good side, EVGA H55 has a professional-grade audio codec, providing astonishing 104 dB signal-to-noise ratio on its analog inputs and 108 dB signal-to-noise ratio on its analog outputs, allowing you to work professionally editing and converting audio (e.g., converting VHS tapes and LPs to the digital format) without the need to buy an add-on audio card.
As already explained, the manual was able to be useless in six different languages together with the spec sheet on the manufacturer website and the product specification page on the manufacturer website. EVGA doesn’t go very specific about the hardware configuration of this motherboard anywhere (e.g., audio codec and other chips are not specified, support for CrossFire is not mentioned, the speed of the second PCI Express x16 slot isn’t clear enough, RAID support is not mentioned), which is quite frustrating, especially when you think about the price tag of this motherboard.
If you are looking for a fully loaded socket LGA1156 motherboard targeted to Core i3 and Core i5 CPUs with integrated video, we advise you to wait unit the forthcoming MSI H57M-ED65 arrives on the market. It will provide more features than EVGA H55 and a better voltage regulator circuit at a comparable price.