Four LGA-1150 Motherboards Under $60

Asus H81M-E

Overview

Asus' entry into this round-up looks a lot like the other competitors at first glance. While I've been pleased with this company's products in the past, this particular board left me dissatisfied, though. Let's get to why.

The four-pin EPS connector is in the usual top-left corner. And while the other three models put their VRMs across the top, Asus moves its down to the side, right next to the CPU interface. This seems like an excellent idea, since it puts the VRMs partially under the CPU cooler for extra ventilation. Straight down from the VRM is a four-pin chassis fan header. The only other fan header is intended for the CPU cooler, and it's right above the two DIMM slots. Halfway down the front edge is the ATX power plug, just above the PCIe slot.

Like the other H81-based boards, PCIe transfer rates are limited to 5GT/s through the 16-lane slot. Again, that's plenty. Asus does give you a second PCIe x1 slot, whereas ASRock only offers one on each of its boards. That extra slot is only useful if a graphics card doesn't cover it.

Along the bottom edge, you have the HD Audio header, a TPM header, two USB 2.0 headers and four SATA ports. The 6Gb/s links are color-coded yellow, while the slower ports are grey. Their orientation leaves the latches facing up so you can detach the SATA cables, even if you tuck them under the motherboard. Thankfully, the CLR_CMOS jumper is much more accessible than ASRock's; it's right between the bottom PCIe slot and a USB 2.0 header. Just above the TPM header, you find an S/PDIF connector, though you're forced to buy a separate break-out card to use it. Still, if you really need TOSLINK or coax digital connectivity, this gives you that option. 

The front-panel header, speaker header and socketed BIOS are all on the lower-front edge. Pins for those front-panel lights and switches are lower than on ASRock's H81M-HDS, but they cut it close to the graphics card. The speaker header is definitely underneath. But I'm willing to excuse that placement, since anyone with a long, double-slot graphics card probably prioritizes their case speaker lower anyway.

The I/O panel is exactly what we've come to expect from these boards. You get two PS/2 connectors for keyboards and mice, VGA and DVI-D outputs for the HD Graphics engine and six total USB ports (two of which are USB 3.0-capable) for peripherals. Again, Realtek handles networking and audio duties. The RTL8111G is similar to what we found on ASRock's H81M-HDS, and Asus steps its audio subsystem up with the ALC887, supporting up to eight-channel audio over a combination of front- and back-panel 3.5mm jacks.

Notice that I haven't mentioned an internal USB 3.0 header. That's because there isn't one. If this was the cheapest board in our round-up, I might understand. But an S/PDIF header and extra PCIe slot that probably won't get used aren't worth $5 more than a third fan header and front-panel USB 3.0 that you'll use every day. Not even factoring in the ALC887's better audio.

The box contents are the same as our other contenders, including an I/O shield, two SATA cables (one angled), an instruction manual and an installation CD. Asus gets style points for the two-tone cables. However, they're about four inches shorter than the competition's.

Firmware

The H81M-E has an interesting BIOS, with both basic and advanced interfaces. The basic screen provides CPU temperature and voltage information, a few RAM profile configuration options (default or XMP) and fan speed presets (silent, standard, turbo or manual). The three big buttons across the middle offer system performance presets that slightly adjust CPU voltage, fan speed and BCLK (in Power Saver, BCLK drops to 99.76MHz, while in performance it's 99.98MHz). Across the bottom is a graphical boot sequence bar that lets you to drag drive icons into a desired boot order.

Advanced mode is the layout most enthusiasts are familiar with. The AI Tweaker tab is where you'll find CPU and RAM settings, including primary, secondary and tertiary timing options. Asus doesn't offer any overclocking presets like ASRock, but that's not exactly a loss. You're presented a pick list for RAM voltage, but just about everything else is fully manual.

On the right side of every screen are two buttons called Quick Note and Last Modified. The first is your personal notepad for recording tips and tricks. Though limited to a single page, that doesn't diminish its utility. The other keeps track of everything you've changed since entering the UEFI. It also lets you know what you're saving or discarding. Very useful indeed.

There's another tab called "My Favorites", which you can load up with the settings you most often change. Instead of hunting all over the UEFI, you have one page with everything you need. The Advanced tab hosts the expected PCIe, SATA and other I/O device settings.

The Monitor tab gives you a quick hardware status overview and fan control. Asus only facilitates two-point control with minimum and maximum temperature points, but you can at least set a minimum fan speed.

Under Tool you find the BIOS flash utility. While it can't connect to the Internet to download new firmware versions, it does let you browse your hard drive for a file, meaning you don't even need a thumb drive. Also, whereas ASRock only exposes three BIOS profiles, Asus gives you 10. They can be imported from and exported to a USB drive.

The AI Suite 3 is similar to what we covered in our X99 Pro review, albeit stripped down. And like all overclocking apps in this round-up, software-specified CPU multiplier settings largely don't work due to the H81 chipset. The DIGI+ VRM section covers CPU power management and monitoring, while the Turbo EVO panel controls basic CPU overclocking (or at least it should). Be aware that the Turbo EVO section doesn't even appear if you haven't set your BIOS to Asus Performance mode on the EZ tab.

Fan Xpert lets you customize your fan curves. Interestingly, you get three points this way, while the UEFI only allowed two. EPU allows you to set power profiles for performance, power saving and away modes (that last one is for people who leave their computers on 24/7 and want to limit power consumption during idle periods). Installing AI3 also puts a small sliding pop-up at the bottom-right of your desktop for quick changes to the fan and power profile.

Across the bottom you get four constant monitoring panels for CPU frequency, voltage, CPU temperature and fan speed. The CPU temperature reading was completely wrong on my board; I never saw it report more than 37 degrees C, even when I was stress testing.

Overclocking

After two boards that maxed out at the exact same overclocking settings, I had an idea where the H81M-E should end up. As before, I started with a 40x CPU multiplier. Sure enough, I had no problems, though temperatures were warmer than I saw previously. I went straight for 4.2GHz at 1.215V, which worked so well on the ASRock platforms. Surprisingly, this time I ran into stability issues. The temps were admittedly hot, but I knew I wasn't hitting my thermal ceiling yet. I upped the voltage to 1.220V and still had problems. Increasing the CPU current capability to 110 percent resolved everything.

I wanted to try for 4.3GHz. However, the VRMs were already reading 59 degrees C. I made a few quick attempts and watched the temperatures quickly rise to 65 degrees C. The board was crashing barely two minutes into the stress test. Considering the VRMs are directly under the cooling fan, I was hoping for better thermal readings. But the H81M-E actually had the hottest VRMs of all the boards when overclocking.

Overclocking the RAM went much smoother. Like the H81M-HDS, the H81M-E doesn't cheat on RAM voltage. Reaching 8-8-8-24 at 1.5V was no problem. Of course, since the board wasn't artificially boosting its voltage, I had to increase this setting to 1.55V for stability at 7-7-7-21 timings using a 1400 MT/s rate.

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56 comments
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  • MasterDell
    The best H81 board IMO, is the DS2V.
  • colinstu
    on the conclusion page, the the four motherboards with the pros and cons are all mixed up.
  • Crashman
    1539951 said:
    The best H81 board IMO, is the DS2V.
    Gigabyte doesn't agree with your, or else they would have sent one.
    525395 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.
  • terion
    At last! Thanks!
  • 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.
  • Crashman
    386878 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
  • 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.
  • PaulBags
    Needs more sata ports, and I'd prefer to see the main x16 on the second slot.
  • Memnarchon
    Great article. We needed a comparison of low cost 1150 mobos for budget builds.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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?
  • Onus
    Vlad, I believe part of your wish is likely to be granted soon.
  • Vlad Rose
    47340 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. ;)
  • 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.
  • Onus
    It seems to me that ASRock is a lot more willing to cater to mainstream and budget builders than some of its competitors. Reviews of their products I've seen on multiple sites consistently give them kudos for high bang/buck.
  • TNT27
    So what is the best mobo around 60$ or under mobo for g3258 oc?

    b85/h97 anniversary can be found close to them prices sometimes, and are marketed for the oc pentium.
  • ShutyerLips
    I'd really be interested in ATX boards under $100. For some reason, I can't stand the smaller form factor system boards.
  • Wisecracker
    Quote:
    ... I'd really be interested in ATX boards under $100. For some reason, I can't stand the smaller form factor system boards.


    I want an mATX board with more fan headers, eSATA dual GLAN, everything, especially from AMD. Striped-down low-budget mATX motherboards, without a decent BIOS, are OEM specials that got away.

    It doesn't matter so much where they came from but that they all share the same low price, limited features, low ceiling for OC (4GHZ), and likely lack of future support. The key being Same. Low. Price. Point.

    It's a good way for OEMs to clear out old components themselves like USB3 controller chips, audio chips, even analog video connectors. A 1-yr warranty is kinda lame, though.