Intel DH55TC Motherboard
By Gabriel Torres on January 19, 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 Intel has released two different socket LGA1156 motherboards based on H55: DH55TC and DH55HC. Let’s take an overall look at DH55TC.
While DH55TC is a microATX motherboard, DH55HC is a standard ATX board. Both carry exactly the same features, except that DH55HC has three standard PCI slots, while DH55TC has only one.
All major motherboard manufacturers also have released motherboards based on these new Intel chipsets and since Intel is traditionally very conservative on their motherboards, it will be nice to take a look at one of their models so we can tell what additional features each manufacturer added on their models later when we post articles about other H55/H57-based boards.
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.
Intel DH55TC has only one x16 PCI Express 2.0 slot, two x1 PCI Express 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. You can have up to 16 GB, if you install four 4 GB modules.
The first and the third sockets are blue, while the second and the fourth 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 blue 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.
Intel DH55TC provides all the six SATA-300 ports. The SATA connectors are placed in a position where the first two ports (SATA 0 and SATA 1) can be blocked if you install a dual-slot video card longer than 8” (20 cm). Two of these SATA ports (the red ones) can be converted into eSATA ports using adapters that don’t come with the product.
In Figure 4, you can see that this motherboard has a parallel port, an I/O connection that is practically dead. In order to use this port you need an adapter that doesn’t come with the product. A serial port is also available near the PCI slot (see the green connector in Figure 2), also needing an adapter that doesn’t come with the board.
Since Intel H55 chipset does not provide parallel ATA port and Intel H55TC doesn’t have any additional PATA controller chip, this motherboard doesn’t have any parallel ATA port. It also lacks a floppy disk drive controller.
All 12 USB 2.0 ports supported by the chipset are present on this motherboard, six soldered on the rear panel and six available through three motherboard headers. No FireWire (IEEE1394) port is available.
Audio is generated by the chipset using a Realtek ALC888 codec, which has a relatively good audio quality, providing 7.1 audio with 24-bit resolution, 97 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the outputs, 90 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog inputs, 192 kHz sampling rate for its outputs and 96 kHz sampling rate for its inputs. For working professionally with audio capture and editing (converting LPs and VHS tapes to digital format, for example) we recommend you to look for a motherboard with a codec that provides at least 95 dB SNR on its analog inputs.
The main problem with this motherboard is that it only offers three shared analog audio jacks. So if you install a six-channel analog speaker set you won’t have the line in and mic in inputs available. And this motherboard doesn’t come with SPDIF outputs soldered on the board, even though you can install these outputs as the motherboard has an SPDIF header (you will need to buy this adapter). Digital audio is obviously provided on the on-board HDMI output, so the absence of on-board SPDIF outputs may not be a limitation if your home theater system is capable of extracting audio from the HDMI output.
Intel DH55TC has a Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by the chipset and using an Intel 82578DC chip to make the interface with the physical layer.
In Figure 5, you can see the motherboard rear panel with PS/2 connector for either a keyboard or a mouse, six USB 2.0 ports, VGA output, DVI-D output, HDMI output, Gigabit Ethernet port and shared analog 5.1 audio outputs.
Intel DH55TC comes with a five-phase voltage regulator circuit, and everything leads us to believe that three phases are for the CPU, one phase is for the integrated memory controller and one phase is for the integrated video processor. All capacitors used on the voltage regulator circuit are solid, but like other motherboards from Intel, DH55TC uses iron chokes, which are not as good as ferrite chokes. The reduced number of phases and the use of iron chokes are not the best combination. Please read our Everything You Need to Know About the Motherboard Voltage Regulator tutorial for more information.
See how this motherboard uses an ATX12V connector for the CPU.By the way, all other capacitors used on this motherboard are Japanese from Chemi-Con.
Intel DH55TC has only one overclocking option: the adjustment of the CPU base clock from 133 MHz to 240 MHz in 1 MHz steps.
Intel DH55TC motherboard main features are:
* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this First Look article.
Intel DH55TC is a very basic motherboard for the new Core i3 and Core i5 processors with integrated video. Its highlights include the presence of three video connectors (VGA, DVI-D and HDMI, although only two of them can be used at the same time) and a mix of Japanese and solid capacitors.
Its drawbacks include the presence of only three shared analog audio jacks, no on-board SPDIF connectors (it has an SPDIF header, so you can easily have SPDIF outputs by buying and installing an adapter, though), a voltage regulator circuit that could be better designed and only a very basic overclocking option (although for the target-audience of this board the lack of more overclocking features isn’t a problem).
At USD 105 we think this motherboard is too expensive for what it is and thus we can’t recommend it, as there are similar boards from other manufacturers costing less.