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ECS P67H2-A2

P67 Motherboard Roundup: Nine $150-200 Boards

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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  • 0 Hide
    Tamz_msc , January 10, 2011 4:25 AM
    Nice review.That ASUS came up with the highest CPU overclock wasn't surprising.
  • 0 Hide
    reprotected , January 10, 2011 4:27 AM
    I thought that the ECS looked pretty sick, and it did perform alright. But unfortunately, it wasn't the best.
  • 0 Hide
    rantsky , January 10, 2011 4:29 AM
    You guys rock! Thanks for the review!

    I'm just missing benchmarks like SATA/USB speeds etc. Please Tom's get those numbers for us!
  • 2 Hide
    Tamz_msc , January 10, 2011 4:30 AM
    When will we see an overclocking article on these CPUs?
  • 3 Hide
    rmse17 , January 10, 2011 4:31 AM
    Thanks for the prompt review of the boards! I would like to see any differences in quality of audio and networking components. For example, what chipsets are used for Audio in each board, how that affects sound quality. Same thing for network, which chipset is used for networking, and bandwidth benchmarks. If you guys make part 2 to the review, it would be nice to see those features, as I think that would be one more way these boards would differentiate themselves.
  • 0 Hide
    VVV850 , January 10, 2011 4:50 AM
    Would have been good to know the bios version for the tested motherboards. Sorry if I double posted.
  • 1 Hide
    flabbergasted , January 10, 2011 5:25 AM
    I'm going for the ASrock because I can use my socket 775 aftermarket cooler with it.
  • 0 Hide
    VVV850 , January 10, 2011 5:25 AM
    I was wrong. The BIOS version is posted.
  • -4 Hide
    stasdm , January 10, 2011 5:47 AM
    Do not see any board worth spending money on.

    1. SLI "support". Do not understand why end-user has to pay for mythical SLI "sertification" (all latest Intel chips support SLI by definition) and a SLI bridge coming with the board (at least 75% of end users would never need one). The bridge should come with NVIDIA cards (same as with AMD ones). Also, in x8/x8 PCIe configuration nearly all NVIDIA cards (exept for low-end ones) will loose at least 12% productivity - with top cards that is about $100 spent for nothing (AMD cards would not see that difference). So, If those cards are coming as SLI-"sertified" they have to be, in the worst case, equipped by NVIDIA NF200 chip (though, I would not recommend to by cards with this PCIe v.1.1 bridge). As even NVIDIA GF110 cards really need less than 1GB/s bandwidth (all other NVIDIA and AMD - less than 0.8GB/s)and secondary cards in SLI/CrossFire use no more than 1/4 of that, a normal PCIe v.2.0 switch (costing less than thrown away with x8/x8 SLI money) will nicely support three "Graphics only" x16 slots, fully-functional x8 slot and will provide bandwidth enough to support one PCIe v.2.0 x4 (or 4 x x1) slot(s)/device(s).

    2. Do not understand the author euphoria of mass use of Marvell "SATA 6G" chips. The PCIe x1 chip might not be "SATA 6G" by definision, as it woud newer be able to provide more than 470GB/s (which is far from the standard 600GB/s) - so, I'd recommend to denote tham as 3G+ or 6G-. As it is shown in the upper section, there is enough bandwidth for real 6G solution (PCIe x8 LSISAS 2008 or x4 LSISAS 2004). Yes, will be a bit more expensive, but do not see the reason to have a palliative solutions on $200+ mobos.

  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , January 10, 2011 6:37 AM
    I was hoping that the new Asus Sabertooth P67 would be included. Its new design really is leaving people wondering if the change is as good as they claim.
  • 0 Hide
    stasdm , January 10, 2011 7:12 AM
    To rmse17
    Do not think they use anything better than native southbridge or Realtec controller. Adding better chip will add some cents to the board cost. And, anyway, these boards are not positioned as "Hard gaimer" ones - more like low-middle class (though, with proper design LGA1155 boards may be exellent gaming boards.
  • 0 Hide
    Lutfij , January 10, 2011 7:18 AM
    oh, yeah, wheres the ROG boards?!?!?!
  • 0 Hide
    Vatharian , January 10, 2011 7:48 AM
    @Lutfij - they're over the price limit for this article.
    @stasdm - SLI - it's a trick nVidia pulls to make money from every mobo sold (with SLi support). Mythical or not, intel's PCHs DO NOT support SLi by default - they do not support SLi at all. It's all by means of nV's driver and BIOS-included string. Everything is supported by the fact that PCI-Express has enough bandwidth to sustain two cards - that wasn't exactly always possible with PCIe 1.0 lower bandwidth on previous-gen chipsets. About SATA 6G - most of the crowd won't utilize even half of the SATA ports at all. If they will, then probably they'll treat them only as additional sata ports with no regard to their speed. Enthusiasts will attach their SSDs to PCIe in extreme cases or at least to intel's own controller, which in turn handles SATA internally in PCH without using PCIe. External controllers are out of scope for 99% of the crowd, mind you. For example - show me PCIe based 4x SATA (or SAS, for availablity sake) controller with RAID 5 support below 300$. Any? Don't think so, save one crappy LSI. It's budget side, man. If you want top-of-the-line, get server board for storage and second, gaming, or performance rig, but that's not what's this article about.

    @Author - Thank you for great comparison. Too bad it ended on counting what does not work on the boards. It seems that atm intel and ASUS have the most mature and reliable products. However, I'd still wait for second-gen P67 boards (in Q2?), before upgrading. Still wondering what to do with my 1366 rig.
  • 0 Hide
    stasdm , January 10, 2011 8:30 AM
    1. As SLI is software only solution (BIOS string is just a trick), that is why it is by default supported by Intel (AMD too).
    2. Even PCIe 1.1 bandwidth is over the head to support four-way SLI/CroaaFire. They use a few administrative tools from 2.0 now - but that's all. The difference between AMD and NVIDIA is that for at least two generations already AMD uses standard PCIe protocol, but at 1/4 of the standard speed. NVIDIA used even slower speed at pre-GF110 chips (that's why they decided not to issue 512-cores NF100 cards - they would not be faster than "abridged" version), with non-stsndard "Graphics PCIe" protocol (Basically PCIe, but w/o parity control, using parity bits for data, w/o distributed clock support and some other "speed-up" tricks. On x8 bus their cards have to return to standard PCIe protocol and automatically loose the "no parity" part of the bandwidth.
  • 0 Hide
    stasdm , January 10, 2011 8:36 AM
    As for "budget mobos - carrent dual-core Atoms are enough for most non-heavy graphics tasks. To position LGA1155 processors along with them - to insult Intel engineers, created these chips. That's the hi-end product, improperly used.
  • -1 Hide
    belardo , January 10, 2011 9:11 AM
    Good article... But these are still 1st gen boards and at $150~200 for feature sets that's the same for an AMD Chipset board is not impressive. Obviously, the new CPUs are usually faster than AMD of course. Which helps to regulate AMD into the low-end ~ mid-range computer systems.

    Still not impressed with intel's locking down flexibility of their boards & CPUs. But that's intel for you. Sandy Bridge would be great for my video encoding... but it most likely not work for me... blah blah.

  • 1 Hide
    feeddagoat , January 10, 2011 9:36 AM
    A quick look at overclock results and tbh intel SB has killed the excitement of motherboards. After looking for features you want (even then they're all similar to a degree) all that's left is to match up the colour of your curtains.
  • 0 Hide
    aaron88_7 , January 10, 2011 9:50 AM
    The Deluxe version of that Asus board comes with a USB 3.0 drive bay, but I was a little confused as to why one would want that if their Case already has front faced USB 3.0 ports like the one I got does.

    I'll have to look at the connections again, but can you use that same cable to plug into the board on the inside or do those case USB 3.0 ports have to be connected to the rear of the board? Personally I think the drive bay including just 2 USB ports looks kind of lame and I'd much, much rather use the ports on my case....even if that means running a cable out the back of the case, (nobody looks at the back anyway).
  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , January 10, 2011 9:59 AM
    Front-panel USB 3.0 header:

    First introduced by ASRock in response to a request by Tom's Hardware, using an Intel design according to ASRock's engineers.
  • 0 Hide
    Vatharian , January 10, 2011 10:03 AM
    @stasdm - Dual core Atoms are strangely rare. To be honest their performance is an insult considering the price you pay for them. For compact PC in ITX case, sure, but SFF is pricey, I'd say, comparable to far-faster normal microATX format. Also very simple, common situation: I want to use budget mobo, decent CPU (not the slowest one), and I'd like to have TV tuner card, some SB Audigy2 lying around, (or ASUS Xonar :p  ), still better than the dreaded Realtek. Maybe some used PCIe graphics, so my daughter can play Sims 3 without a problem. So there is a problem, because I do not know any not-SFF Atom board. It's either PCIe or PCI, and only single slot. If you want a typing machine, go buy used PC for 40$ or even less.
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