Four LGA-1150 Motherboards Under $60

Here at Tom's Hardware, we have a lot of fun testing the most expensive, highest-end gear. So can we really get excited about $60 motherboards?

Top-tier tech is simply alluring. Whether we're talking about benchmark bragging rights, multi-GPU rigs with high refresh monitors or eight-core CPUs for hardcore number-crunching, we love exploring premium components. But the cold truth is that a vast majority of enthusiasts don't buy those flagship components. Quite frankly, most of us don't even need the latest and greatest. Yeah, yeah, that's heresy. But put away the torches and pitchforks for a second. How many of you have built computers for family or friends? And how many of those builds were for simple office use? How many parents have pieced together a mini rig for little Jimmy? How many would like to have a cheap project computer to tinker with? And really, how many people simply have tight budgets, but still want something as a daily driver that runs more than just Excel and PowerPoint?

In the Q3 and Q4 2014 System Builder Marathons, Paul Henningsen explored some low-budget LGA 1150 motherboards that supported unofficial CPU overclocking. We received encouraging feedback on those stories, along with requests to do more. So, Tom's Hardware sent out invitations hoping to identify a few "sleeper" motherboards. The rules were simple: we wanted LGA 1150 boards that sold for $60 or less that unlocked CPU multipliers. These boards also needed publicly-available firmware, not beta builds cooked up specifically for our story. Three companies let us know they had hardware that qualified.

Features
ChipsetIntel B85Intel H81Intel H81Intel H81
PCB Revision1.011.051.031.0
Voltage Regulator3-Phase4-Phase3-Phase3-Phase
100.0MHz BCLK99.94 (-0.06%)99.94 (-0.06%)99.98 (-0.02%)99.98 (-0.02%)
I/O Panel Connectors
PS/21222
USB 3.02224
USB 2.04442
Network1111
CLR_CMOS ButtonNoNoNoNo
Digital Audio OutNoNoNoNo
Digital Audio InNoNoNoNo
Analog Audio3333
Video OutVGA, DVI-DVGA, DVI-D, HDMIVGA, DVI-DVGA, DVI-D, HDMI
Other DevicesNoneNoneNoneNone
Internal Interfaces
PCIe 3.0 x161000
PCIe 2.0 x160111
PCIe 2.0 x11122
USB 3.01101
USB 2.02222
SATA 6.0 Gb/s4222
SATA 3.0 Gb/s0222
4-Pin Fan2222
3-Pin Fan1101
Front Panel Audio1111
S/PDIF I/ONoneNone1None
Internal ButtonsNoneNoneNoneNone
Internal SwitchNoneNoneNoneNone
Diagnostics PanelNoneNoneNoneNone
Other DevicesNoneNoneNoneNone
Mass Storage Controllers
Chipset SATA4x SATA 6Gb/s2x SATA 6Gb/s
2x SATA 3Gb/s
2x SATA 6Gb/s
2x SATA 3Gb/s
2x SATA 6Gb/s
2x SATA 3Gb/s
Chipset RAID ModesNoneNoneNoneNone
Add-In SATANoneNoneNoneNone
Add-in USB 3.0NoneASMedia ASM1042NoneVIA VL805
Networking
LAN ControllerRealtek RTL8111GR GigabitRealtek RTL8111G  GigabitRealtek RTL8111G GigabitRealtek RTL8111G Gigabit
Wi-FiNoneNoneNoneNone
BluetoothNoneNoneNoneNone
Audio
HD Audio CodecALC662ALC662ALC887ALC887
DDL/DTS ConnectNoneNoneNoneNone
WarrantyOne yearOne yearThree yearsThree years

The Limitations Of H81/B85

These are all H81- and B85-based boards. That means you give up a few features you otherwise may not think about with a Z87/97 or even H87/97 board. Until now, the biggest limitation of a non-Z chipset was the locked CPU multiplier. But the boards we're testing were selected specifically for overclocking, so that's no longer a limiting factor. 

I did run into one common problem with these platforms, though: OS- and application-level overclocking. Changing the CPU multipliers in each company's overclock utility imposed significant restrictions and more than a little funny behavior. I'll get into more detail later, but suffice it to say that any overclocking and tuning done on these boards should be done in the UEFI and not through software. We contacted ASRock, Asus and MSI about these problems and they all said basically the same thing. While you can bypass the multiplier lockdown on H81 and B85 through software, there are limits to how you can do it. This applies to all chipsets in the 8- and 9-series outside the Z and X lines.

While this constraint is something to consider, I won't hold it against a $60 motherboard. Each of today's contenders is admirable in its overclocking capabilities. None of them have near the power regulation circuitry that premium Z models sport, so I'm not recommending you crank a Core i7-4790K to the max in one of these. And speaking of VRMs, none of today's contenders include a heat sink or fan cooling those hot components. That means downdraft coolers are your friend. As the Pentium G3258's stock cooler is the same model bundled with the Core i7, featuring a big copper slug, there's usually no reason to swap it out.

If a G3258 and single PCIe x16 slot don't turn you off, then the lack of Small Business Advantage and Rapid Storage probably isn't a concern either. The table below outlines the differences between H81, B85, H87 and Z87. The H97 and Z97 chipsets add support for M.2, SATA Express and Thunderbolt, as well as baked-in support for Intel's Haswell refresh.


H81B85H87Z87
Chipset PCIe Lanes (from PCH Controller)6888<
Supported PCIe Lane Configurations(from CPU PCIe controller)1 x 161 x 161 x 161 x 16
2 x 8
x 8/x 4 /x 4
No. of Displays (iGPU)2333
No. of DIMMs per channel / Maximum DIMMs1/22/42/42/4
SATA Ports / SATA 6Gb/s Ports4/26/46/66/6
USB Ports / USB3 Ports10/212/414/614/6
Supported CPU PCIe Revision *2.03.03.03.0
Rapid Storage TechnologyNoNoYesYes
Smart Response TechnologyNoNoYesYes
Small Business AdvantageNoYesYesNo
Rapid Start TechnologyNoYesYesYes

*Per Intel's site, "The processor's actual PCI Express revision will be determined or limited by the value of this chipset attribute, even if the processor is designed to a higher revision."

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  • MasterDell
    The best H81 board IMO, is the DS2V.
    1
  • colinstu
    on the conclusion page, the the four motherboards with the pros and cons are all mixed up.
    2
  • Crashman
    Anonymous said:
    The best H81 board IMO, is the DS2V.
    Gigabyte doesn't agree with your, or else they would have sent one.
    Anonymous said:
    on the conclusion page, the the four motherboards with the pros and cons are all mixed up.
    I think it's fixed now.

    Oh, and about his voltage comment in the article, I believe the board he tested is the first in several years on this site to not force a higher-than-set DIMM voltage.
    3
  • terion
    At last! Thanks!
    2
  • terion
    But there is still huge gap between $55 mobos here and 155$+ mobos in "Best Motherboards". Some recommendations in price range in between would be great.
    Something with solid power section, lasting capacitors, good component layout, silent, but intended for mainstream gaming, so no M.2, no SLI, single network interface etc. Basic features, but solid foundations.
    3
  • Crashman
    Anonymous said:
    But there is still huge gap between $55 mobos here and 155$+ mobos in "Best Motherboards". Some recommendations in price range in between would be great.
    Something with solid power section, lasting capacitors, good component layout, silent, but intended for mainstream gaming, so no M.2, no SLI, single network interface etc. Basic features, but solid foundations.
    You mean $60 and $120 boards, right? Because that's the bottom of our current range of Z97 reviews. We get that. We have guys working on it. But to be honest, we wanted to get this article done first

    The plan from here is to cover Z97 Micro ATX, then $80 to $120 Z97 boards. We've also gone "sideways" with boards that aren't designed to overclock. And, there's a Z97 Mini ITX article in the publishing queue as we speak :)

    And then, after all that has been done, we'd still like to get back to a $120-$160 segment repeat, to cover the new products that have been released since the last round of mainstream LGA 1150. motherboards
    4
  • vaughn2k
    I am still using Core2 Quad Q9650. I can still bear it's power hungry character though... Until I see that there is a big advantage to upgrade, I will stay this way.
    2
  • PaulBags
    Needs more sata ports, and I'd prefer to see the main x16 on the second slot.
    0
  • Memnarchon
    Great article. We needed a comparison of low cost 1150 mobos for budget builds.
    2
  • CaedenV
    Quote:
    I am still using Core2 Quad Q9650. I can still bear it's power hungry character though... Until I see that there is a big advantage to upgrade, I will stay this way.

    It all depends on what you are doing. I had to abandon my C2Q as my main machine a long time ago because it simply choked on bandwidth when doing HD video editing and some games... But it still had a few years left over as my wife's main computer and was perfectly adequate for audio editing, office apps, light games, etc. I eventually replaced her system with an i3 Ivy Bridge setup due to a GPU failure and complaints of the C2Q being too loud in general... so now the C2Q is running as my home server, and will probably remain as my home server for a few years yet until it is a 10 year old chip (and 10GbE becomes more affordable).

    Point being, it is an extremely capable 8 year old chip, with a long life ahead of it still. But to say that there is no advantage to upgrading is a bit short-sighted. New chips allow for much smaller silent (or near silent) systems that literally sip power in comparison. New chips have enough iGPU power to compete with some of the midrange dGPUs from 8 years ago... and again as part of the 50-70W CPU package rather than a separate 150-250W GPU card. Not to mention the perks of being able to install faster/cheaper/more RAM with DDR3/4 compared to DDR2, or having lots of SATA3, USB3, and PCIe3 interfaces. Even running as a NAS the Core2Quad is limited to a max of 3TB HDDs where even the cheap motherboards listed here can take 8TB drives if you wanted to. Things like sound cards were still a necessity in the C2Q era, but now onboard audio is so good that even ardent audiophiles would be hard pressed to tell the difference. RAID was a costly feature back in the day, and now it is built into most motherboards (even the B-series chipsets, though it is listed as not having it on the charts here for some reason).

    I guess what I am trying to say is: If the older platform still meets your needs, then great! Enjoy it as long as you can, because there is value in that. But saying that the chip and the platform are not starting to show their age, or that there are not lots of advantages in moving to a newer platform (granted those advantages may not directly apply to you) is overlooking a lot of considerations.
    4
  • Onus
    I don't think the B-series has RAID, unless you're talking about strictly software-based RAID. The H-series does have RAID.

    There was a much higher level of detail than I'd have expected to describe these low-end boards. Good to know about that fan cable placement. As non-tweaker boards though, I suspect most people who buy one of these will set it once and forget it.
    5
  • chlamchowder
    I wonder how far an i7-4790K could be pushed on one of these boards. Maybe you could get a mild overclock with an AIO water cooler, and a fan aimed at the VRMs.
    3
  • Onus
    I don't believe they offer "K" series overclocking; it's just the Pentium they can tweak. I'm not betting my life on it, but I thought that's how they are. The BIOS screen references "non-K overclocking."
    1
  • goinginstyle
    Yet another sub-par motherboard article with questionable test results and lack of leading product from both Asus and Gigabyte. I am not surprised as all the ads around here are Asrock or MSI based now.

    Also, comments on VRM temps are a joke, a few degrees difference does not matter, especially when you do not explain how testing was completed nor the rated specs for the VRMs.

    Why not test the Asus H81M-D Plus board with the front USB 3 header and significantly better overclocking than the older -E board, even at $55. Same for the Gigabyte HD2 or DS2V boards, still better choices than the flaky MSI or Asrock products.


    I had the MSI E34 board (which cost $65 a couple of months ago) and it had flaky USB 3 ports, a problem that is well known in their support forum and online. It also had issues with power management on a core i-3 that was never fixed. Sent that board back in two weeks after nothing but troubles but hey, guess that fits right in with it being recommended here now.

    Do you guys even test or is it just run four benchmarks now and name a winner based on price and advertising. I used to think the reviews here were worth something but it has gone downhill in a hurry the past few months. Not coming back unless I need a good laugh.
    -6
  • Onus
    Many companies are invited to participate, but choose not to. That's not the site's problem, nor the reviewers'. It might be helpful to add in the beginning of such reviews who was invited, and who specifically declined.
    On a single-board sample, there is no way to test for general quality issues. Ahead of any review, on any site, for any product, readers should add "Assuming it works;" that is something we have to do. Unless a review indicates that the product possesses a liar label, there's really no way to meaningfully comment on QA issues.
    As far as "questionable test results," did you expect the benchmarks to show large differences? In all the years I've been reading motherboard reviews, I don't recall seeing big differences, and often skip over the benchmarks because I don't believe they're going to show me anything remarkable.
    3
  • MasterDell
    @crashman

    They didn't send one at all bud. Same as ASUS. So yes, let's not have the industrie's leading motherboards there, great comparison.
    0
  • Vlad Rose
    Pretty good review. I do like how component placement is considered since it becomes a major factor when you get into very small enclosures. Any chance of doing a review of H81 Mini-ITX boards where power consumption is compared as well for those trying to build a mini HTPC/emulation setup using cases such as the Antec ISK 110? Also, if it can be compared to an equivalent AMD setup, which would be the best for the price?
    4
  • Onus
    Vlad, I believe part of your wish is likely to be granted soon.
    2
  • Vlad Rose
    Anonymous said:
    Vlad, I believe part of your wish is likely to be granted soon.


    That would be great! I guess I need to hold off on my next build until then. ;)
    1
  • Calculatron
    When I took at a look at the specifications, I kind of figured that the MSI was going to take a win, since it had the most modern connectivity - referring to having a better audio codec, more USB 3.0 ports, and an HDMI port. It's unfortunate that it didn't have a PCIe-x16 3.0 slot, but we know that the difference is negligible, so we can write that off.

    I'm surprised that ASRock sent two boards, while Gigabyte sent nothing. Have they been losing in the low-end market, or something else that I do not know about?

    On a similar note, I am disappointed in Biostar for not sending in a sample! They have several offerings at this price point which could have been quite competitive in their feature-set, not to mention their overall cost.
    2