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ECS P67H2-A2

P67 Motherboard Roundup: Nine $150-200 Boards
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ECS’ continued effort to crack the enthusiast market has produced its most advanced design to date, the P57H2-A2. The design begins with a rear-panel port selection that offers the greatest possible amount of connectivity and extends to a well-organized PCB packed with added features.

ECS knows that a knowledgeable enthusiast probably won’t likely cripple a third graphics card by using a four-lane slot, and instead focuses on providing a good layout for two cards at triple-slot spacing. The company similarly knows that high-performance graphics cards require two slots, so leaving the position under the top card vacant allows for a cleaner design. Automatic switching between single x16 and dual x8 modes allows good SLI and CrossFire performance without the added cost of an NF200 bridge.

An added SATA 6Gb/s controller expands internal ports to eight, while a second added controller provides two eSATA 6Gb/s ports. This is one of the few boards within its price class to include two controllers and, better still, both have been upgraded to RAID-capable versions. Combine that added drive support with dual gigabit Ethernet and two of EtronTech’s improved-performance USB 3.0 controllers for dual front-panel plus dual rear-panel ports, and the P67H2-A2 begins to look out of place in a market full of stripped-down competitors.

The popularity of Windows 7 is well-deserved by contrast to Windows Vista, and that means legacy connectors that were often used with Windows XP are no longer significant. ECS gets rid of most of that stuff, retaining a serial port for use with the legacy diagnostics devices of some corporate customers. A single PS/2 port is also retained for finicky owners of clicky-keyboards or legacy mice.

The lack of a four-lane graphics card slot at the bottom of this board means that we need not worry about graphics card coolers conflicting with front-panel connectors, but we can still make our almost-universal complaint about the front-panel audio connector being too far away from the front-panel jacks of most cases, since it’s tucked away in the usual bottom-rear corner location.

ECS was the first motherboard manufacturer we’ve known to provide a convertible front-panel/slot plate USB breakout, but that was way back in the USB 2.0 days. Its USB 3.0 bracket is improved both electrically and visually, featuring a black-dyed brushed-aluminum finish. ECS adds even more value to its installation kit by being the only manufacturer to include a full set of internal SATA cables.

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