A Closer Look
If you aren’t aware, the new 2010 Core i5 600 Series processors have on-die graphics processing. Read more about the i5 661 processor here. The Intel H55 Express chipset is designed to be able to utilize the onboard graphics from LGA 1156 processors sporting on-die graphics.
Looking at the CPU support list, there is quite a bit of versatility built into the H55 chipset, and by virtue of that, this motherboard, more than I expected anyway. Besides the new i5 600 Series, the P7H55D-M EVO also will accommodate other LGA 1156 processors, though you will have to add a separate video card via the PCI-E x16 slot. So we’re talking about being able to build a powerful mATX gaming system with a Core i7 800 series/Core i5 750 CPU and your choice of gaming video card, an HTPC/other-than-gaming enthusiast system using one of those processors and a lower-end (mainstream) video card, or finally an HTPC/other-than-gaming system with integrated graphics using one of the new 2010 i5 600 series processors. All of that with this same motherboard!
The H55 chipset is very simple, this is the least detailed block diagram for a chipset I’ve ever seen.
The Asus P7H55D-M EVO sports the color theme of earlier EVO boards, metallic blue and silver heatsinks and light blue hardware on a black PCB. Not much of a cooler on the Southbridge, but it isn’t needed.
The main cooling is for the MOSFET voltage regulators in the motherboard’s power supply. The P7H55D-M EVO has 8 phases of voltage regulation, ensuring steady clean power to the CPU and other motherboard components, creating an environment for overclocking stability and long component life.
As I would expect, the layout of the P7H55D-M EVO is excellent. The absence of a Northbridge gives plenty of extra room, nice for a standard ATX board, awesome for an mATX board. Many mATX boards have connectors in the center of the board because there just isn’t enough room around the perimeter for everything, but no problem here. There are only two fan connectors besides the CPU_fan, one is 4-pin PWM. You probably aren’t going to find that many mATX cases needing more than one case fan connector, so you should be covered.
Besides the MOSFET coolers, we see lots of ferrite chokes and solid capacitors around the CPU socket, hoping to catch a little exhaust from the CPU cooler. We also see Intel’s new CPU retainer, found on all LGA 1156 motherboards.
If you weren’t aware, the cooler mounting holes for LGA 1156 are different from both LGA 1366 and LGA 775. Most aftermarket coolers now support LGA 1156, but if you are not using the stock cooler you need to check compatibility before buying.
Besides the PCI-E x16 slot, the P7H55D-M has a pair of PCI-E x1 slots and a traditional PCI slot. No need for any more expansion as you don’t have much extra room in an mATX case. If you don’t use a video card in the x16 slot, it doubles as another x1 slot.
The H55 chipset allows for 6 x SATA2 ports. The Marvell chip takes care of the IDE port and the eSATA on the I/O panel. Rather than facing the edge of the board, the SATA ports are of the traditional style, you don’t always have room in an mATX case to have the ports on the edge.
The H55 chipset supports up to 16 gigs of DDR3 memory. Of course you must use a 64-bit operating system for Windows to see more than about 3.2 gigs of system memory. The new i5 600 Series processors only support up to DDR3-1333 memory, but the P7H55D-M has provisions for memory overclocking in the Asus DRAM OC Tuner, the board supports up to DDR3-2133 memory.
The board also has one of Asus’ newer features, MemOK. During POST, the system loads and tests a set of failsafe memory settings. If the memory is incompatible with those tests, MemOK tunes the motherboard’s memory settings to greatly increase the probability that memory not tested on the motherboard will still be compatible.
The I/O panel is quite full for an mATX motherboard. Besides a PS/2 keyboard (only) port, there are six USB 2.0 ports, optical S/PDIF, a pair of USB 3 ports, a powered eSATA port, IEEE 1394, a LAN port, and HD Audio. For display, there is DVI, HDMI, and Sub-15.
Not much of a bundle here, but really, what do you actually need for an mATX rig? A pair of SATA cables, a ribbon IDE cable, Asus Q-connectors, and an I/O shield. I’ll miss Asus’ nice padded Q-shield, but I realize they are trying to keep the cost down.