Ok, so the Intel H5x chipset is nothing new. However, as there are a ton of boards based on these there is no shortage of new boards popping up. We have taken a look at a few from GIGABYTE, ASUS, ASRock and Foxconn. Today we are returning to take another look at an H55 offering from ASUS.
The new toy is called the P7H55D-M EVO. It is one of ASUS' mid-range products. As an ASUS product there is a not so much a distinction between entry, mid and high-end products as there is a blurry space between each division. As an example, the P7H55D-M EVO we received still has the TurboV software, O.C. Profiles, Express Gate, 7.1 audio, EPU-6 software and much more. All of this for only $120 from Newegg.com.
Well, let's take a new look at an old friend.
The Box and What's Inside
Package and Contents
The box the P7H55D-M arrived in was the usual pale blue for Intel products that ASUS now uses for their mid-range products. On the front we find some of the now typical logos and labels to indicate what you are getting inside the box.
The back of the box highlights some of the more important features. These are USB 3.0, TurboV software and GPU boost capabilities. There are others of course, but they will be detailed a little more later.
Inside the box we find a very sparse gathering of goodies.
The P7H55D-M EVO is a Micro ATX board but it is a fairly clean one. As this board does not have options for Crossfire ASUS has some room to organize things and keep them cleaned up.
Taking a close look at the RAM slots and CPU socket we see the now friendly 'one-arm" style slots the 24-Pin power connector and the "MemOK!" button. As we have talked about before you can use this button to overcome issues with RAM compatibility.
Looking at the top of the CPU socket we find the awkward placement of the 8-pin Aux power connector. It is very close to the heatsink and is fairly easy to get on, but a pain to get off.
Down on the peripheral side we can see there are two 4-pin fan headers side by side for extra cooling. This worked well for our Hyper 212 with the extra fan. More importantly we find two PCIe x1 slots, a single x16 PCIe slot and a single PCI slot.
The other side of the board has the SATA and PATA ports. There are two clusters of SATA ports there are four near the RAM slots and another two near the bottom edge of the board.
For I/O ports on the P7H55D-M only two things stand out. The first is the use of a DVI-D port. For many people this means buying a new cable. The majority of cables that ship with monitors are DVI-I. As you can see from the diagram below, well they are not compatible. The other items of note are the two USB 3.0 ports.
To wrap up our walk around, the P7H55D-M appears to be designed for the mid-range home system or perhaps a higher end HTPC. It has enough slots to cover a few extra peripherals like a TV tuner (or two). It has a clean layout so that you can stuff this into a small form factor case and still expect good airflow.
BIOS and Overclocking
I have a feeling that ASUS does not know how to make a product with no overclocking controls. Even in something that is clearly for the mid-range user we find the usual AI Tweaker page. Although the typical CPU LevelUP is missing we still get a pretty good deal of overclocking options handed to us on the P7H55D-M.
Inside the AI Tweaker page is the DRAM Timing Control page. This one is pretty self-explanatory.
The Advanced page contains the CPU configuration page. On this page are options for C-States, SpeedStep, Hyper Threading, and much more.
Also on the Advanced page is the Uncore Configuration. On this page you find all the adjustments for the HD GMA found on the Clarkdale CPU.
One thing that we want to mention again here (as it is very important to HTPC owners) are the Q-Fan controls. These things are great for someone looking to control all of the fans that can plug into the P7H55D-M EVO. The manual controls are exceptional. Although it was not part of the scope of this review we tinkered around with them at stock speeds and were very impressed.
Ok, it's an ASUS board. It overclocked like a dream. We started off high as we knew our Core i5 661 was capable of hitting at least 4.4GHz. So we began our overclocking journey at 176MHz BCLK and a 25 multiplier. This gave us a clock of 4.415GHz which is not bad at all. Getting over this speed was a little bit of an issue though. We found that pushing past this meant we had to bump the voltage over 1.35V at this voltage the GPU began to have serious stability issues. We saw artifacts on the desktop and even watched the display driver crash several times. This means that the motherboard is capable of much more, just that the CPU is not when you are using the IGP.
You can see the validation for the P7H55D-M EVO here.
The TurboV implementation on the P7H55D-M EVO is different from what you would normally expect. The Auto Tune and even the easy OC controls are absent. You only have the manual controls here.
You also have a GPU boost mode that lets you kick up the speed of the HD GMA. Although I have to be honest; I have no idea why you would want it. It is not going to get you much performance.
Another departure from the typical TurboV is that the Turbo Key functions have been broken out into a separate application. This is a little odd but nothing that would prevent you from using the software just like you would with the normal TurboV.
Important Editor Note: Our maximum overclocking result is the best result we managed in our limited time of testing the motherboard. Due to time constraints we weren't able to tweak the motherboard to the absolute maximum and find the highest possible FSB, as this could take days to find properly. We do however spend at least a few hours overclocking every motherboard to try and find the highest possible overclock in that time frame. You may or may not be able to overclock higher if you spend more time tweaking or as new BIOS updates are released. "Burn-in" time might also come into play if you believe in that.
Test System Setup and Comments
We would like to thank the following companies for supplying and supporting us with our test system hardware and equipment Intel, ASUS, AMD, Kingston and Cooler Master and Sceptre.
The installation and setup of the ASUS P7H55D-M EVO was fast and easy. We had not problems getting everything to work for us. The EPU-6 software for this board was nice and was also able to throttle the GPU to help reduce the power consumption from the board.
Having said that, there were a few issues that made us a little concerned. When we first powered on the board it seemed to stutter, the fans would spin up, then seems to stop only to restart less than a second later. It was very odd to see that happen.
Our next little issue came in the form of the GPU, for some reason it would read 700MHz on some apps but would be set to 900MHz in the BIOS. This one seems to be related to the EPU-6 software. When set to auto it will throttle the GPU down to 700MHz, which is a good thing. The problem comes from when you check the GPU speed. Even if you have something graphical running (like Cinebench OpenGL test) the speed kicks in, but is not reported properly.
Still, this did not affect performance at all.
Synthetic Tests - Part I
With any system you will want to see a combination of synthetic testing and real-world. Synthetics give you a static, easily repeatable testing method that can be compared across multiple platforms. For our synthetic tests we use Everest Ultimate, Sisoft Sandra, FutureMark's 3DMark Vantage and PCMark Vantage, Cinebench as well as HyperPi. Each of these covers a different aspect of performance or a different angle of a certain type of performance.
Memory is a big part of current system performance. In most systems slow or flakey memory performance will impact almost every type of application you run. To test memory we use a combination of Sisoft Sandra, Everest and HyperPi 0.99.
Version and / or Patch Used: 2010c 1626
Developer Homepage: http://www.sisoftware.net
Product Homepage: http://www.sisoftware.net
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With the exception of the GA-890GPA we find that memory performance across the board is very similar.
Version and / or Patch Used: 5.30.1983
Developer Homepage: http://www.lavalys.com
Product Homepage: http://www.lavalys.com
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Everest Ultimate is a suite of tests and utilities that can be used for system diagnostics and testing. For our purposes here we use their memory bandwidth test and see what the theoretical performance is.
Everest, as usual, backs up the numbers we get from Sandra. Everest does offer us much more detail though.
Version and / or Patch Used: 0.99
Developer Homepage: www.virgilioborges.com.br
Product Homepage: www.virgilioborges.com.br
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HyperPi is a front end for SuperPi that allows for multiple concurrent instances of SuperPi to be run on each core recognized by the system. It is very dependent on CPU to memory to HDD speed. The faster these components, the faster it is able to figure out the number Pi to the selected length.
For our testing we use the 32M run. This means that each of the four physical and four logical cores for the i7 and the four physical cores of the i5 is trying to calculate the number Pi out to 32 million decimal places. Each "run" is a comparative to ensure accuracy and any stability or performance issues in the loop mentioned above will cause errors in calculation.
To put this one simply, Intel has had the advantage in SuperPi since the Conroe. The ASUS P7H55D-M EVO merely continues the trend.
Synthetic Tests - Part II
Disk Drive Controller
The system drive controller is an important part of system performance. In most modern boards your drive controller will run off of the PCI-e bus. The PCI-e bus performance can be affected by poor trace layout as well as many other design choices that show up on different boards.
For testing we use Sisoft's Sandra and Everest.
Oddly enough our Sandra numbers for HDD performance appear to be backwards. We see that the stock performance is right in the middle, while the HDD performance with the HD 5870 installed takes a step back and the overclocked HDD performance drops way behind. We see the same pattern with the USB 3.0 speeds. This could be an issue later in our testing.
Even more interesting. Everest shows us something completely different. Instead of dropping in performance between stock and overclocked states we see a slight increase.
Synthetic Tests - Part III
Here is where we dig out the FutureMark tests.
Version and / or Patch Used: 184.108.40.206
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/
Product Homepage: www.futuremark.com
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For overall system performance we use PCMark Vantage. This is run in both x86 and x64 mode to give the best indication of performance.
The ASUS P7H55D-M EVO does ok in PCMark Vantage. We are seeing excellent scores for the overclocked and HD 5870 testing, but not so good for the stock performance.
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.1
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/
Product Homepage: www.futuremark.com
Buy It Here
For synthetic gaming tests we used the industry standard and overlockers bragging tool 3DMark Vantage. This is a test that strives to mimic the impact modern games have on a system. Futuremark went a long way to change from the early days of graphics driven tests to a broader approach including physics, AI and more advanced graphics simulations.
3DMark Vantage uses the DX10 API in addition to having support for PhysX. As we are no longer using an NVIDIA GPU for testing (at least until we can get a GTX 4xx card) you will only see the CPU based PhysX results in the scores. For testing we use the Performance test run.
The scores here are very telling. While the Core i5 661 is no match for the Phenom II X6 we used on the 880GM board, the GPU under the IHS is still able to beat out the AMD IGPs on both the 890GX and the 880G.
Cinebench R11.5 x64
Version and / or Patch Used: R11.5 x64
Developer Homepage: http://www.maxon.net/
Product Homepage: www.maxon.net
Download It Here
Cinebench is a synthetic rendering tool developed by Maxon. Maxon is the same company that developed Cinema4D, another industry leading 3D Animation application. Cinebench R11.5 tests your systems ability to render across a single and multiple CPU cores. It also tests your systems ability to process OpenGL information.
Here the Intel Core i5 661 (even on the higher end H5x boards) is just not a match for the true quad core AMD CPUs. However, we do see that the ASUS P7H55 is able to hang up there at the top of the H55 boards.
Real-World Tests - Part I
Real-world testing allows us to see how well a product will perform when used in the same manner as it would be in your house or office. It is an important side to performance testing as it can uncover hidden glitches in the way a product performs.
It is especially true when testing a mainboard; there are so many components of a board that have to interact that any problems between parts can cause a failure of the whole.
For real-world testing we use some common applications and functions. We test with LightWave 3D for rendering performance, AutoGK for transcoding from DVD to AVI and two games for gaming testing.
Rendering of 3D Animation is a system intensive endeavor. You need a good CPU, memory and HDD speed to get good rendering times. For our testing we use LightWave 3D. This software from Newtek is an industry standard and has several pre-loaded scenes for us to use.
Version and / or Patch Used: 9.6
Developer Homepage: http://www.newtek.com
Product Homepage: http://www.newtek.com/lightwave/
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The ASUS P7H55D-M does well in our rendering tests, at least for the H5x systems. When you stack it up against the true quad and the one sexa core CPUs, well it just cannot perform as well.
Version and / or Patch Used: 2.55
Developer Homepage: http://www.autogk.me.uk/
Product Homepage: http://www.autogk.me.uk/
Download It Here
AutoGK stands for Auto Gordian Knot; it is a suite of transcoding tools that are compiled into an easy to install and use utility. It allows you to transcode non-protected DVDs and other media to Xvid or Divx format. For our testing purposes we use a non-DRM restricted movie that is roughly 2 hours in length. This is transcoded to a single Xvid AVI at 100% quality.
The P7H55D-M EVO did an excellent job in our render testing. It came in right at the top of the list with only the ASUS H57 board breaking up the set.
Real-World Tests - Part II
Here we have our real gaming tests. Each of the games we chose use multiple cores and GPUs. They are able to stress the system through use of good AI. Both have decent positional audio that adds impact to the sound subsystem of the board. We ran each game through the level or parts listed and recorded frames per second using FRAPS. This brings the whole game into play.
As most IGPs are not meant for high-end gaming we have swapped out one of our First Person Shooters for a more mainstream game. We have also adjusted down the testing resolution from 1920x1200 to 1280x960. In order to keep full measure of the board we return to 1920x1200 when we test the board with our HD 5870.
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0
Timedemo or Level Used: Ten Minutes of Game Play in Sunset Valley
Developer Homepage: http://www.ea.com/
Product Homepage: http://www.thesims3.com/
The SIMS 3 is the third complete edition of this popular game. In it you create a personality for use in a virtual world. The town we chose was Sunset Valley, we created a basic character and off we went. We performed as many actions as we were able to in order to give the board and GPU as much to think about as we could. The settings we used are shown below.
When using the HD GMA the P7H55D-M does good enough to game with (at least with SIMS 3) but there will be some small stuttering and slowdowns.
Far Cry 2
Version and / or Patch Used: V1.00
Timedemo or Level Used: Clearing the Safe house through to the Rescue
Developer Homepage: http://www.ubi.com
Product Homepage: http://farcry.us.ubi.com
Far Cry 2 is a large sandbox style game. There are no levels here so as you move about the island you are on you do not have to wait for the "loading" sign to go away. It is mission driven so each mission is what you would normally think of as the next "level".
In the game you take the role of a mercenary who has been sent to kill the Jackal. Unfortunately your malaria kicks in and you end up being found by him. Long story short, you become the errand boy for a local militia leader and run all over the island doing his bidding. The settings we used for testing are shown below.
Although the ASUS P7H55 has a decent showing here, it is still not playable at this resolution. We have found (in past testing) that to get playable frame rates in most First Person Shooters you would have to drop the resolution to 800x600 and then disable most of the eye candy. At that point, it is just not worth it.
Although (as we mentioned above) you are not going to get good gaming out of the P7H55D-M EVO while using the GMA HD, you can be certain that dropping in a discrete GPU will give you a nice boost. The rest of the board will not hold you back for gaming. The audio is decent and does not impact performance (for gaming). Still, the reality is that a board like the P7H55D-M EVO with the Core i5 Clarkdale CPUs in sue is not intended for high performance gaming.
Power Usage, Heat Tests and Final Thoughts
We are now able to find out what kind of power is being used by our test system and the associated graphics cards installed. Keep in mind; it tests the complete system (minus LCD monitor, which is plugged directly into an AC wall socket).
As the ASUS board has the EPU-6 software we are not surprised to see it at or near the top of the list for stock speeds. When we overclocked the CPU that is when things get interesting. We see dramatically increased power usage from the system. The same thing can be said once we dropped the HD 5870 on to the board and asked it to perform for us.
As a new measure, we are now monitoring the heat generation from the key components on the motherboard; this being the Northbridge, Southbridge (if it contains one) as well as the Mosfets around the CPU. The results are recorded at idle and load during the power consumption tests.
Heat generation was something of an issue on the P7H55D-M. Due to the small size of the heatsink on the H55 chipset we saw temperatures that were much higher than expected. It was something of a shock to see them in the 40c range to be honest. However, this was on an open stand without the normal air flow patterns you would have inside a case. It is possible that you would see better thermal performance there.
The ASUS P7H55D-M EVO is a nice little board. You will not win any gaming or overclocking medals (although it does clock well), but it will serve you well in the function of a mid-range or business system when you combine it with one of the Clarkdale CPUs.
Of course, if you are using this as an inexpensive base for a system then you can get quite a bit more from it. As a socket 1156 board you would potentially drop even a Core i7 in and then add on a great GPU. After all, with a cost of only $120 from Newegg.com you are getting a great board for not a lot of cash.
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