Biostar Gaming H170T
Biostar's Gaming H170T ATX board looks nice, but we'll see if judging this book by its cover makes sense. It appears to possess eight VRM phases, based on the number of exposed chokes and eight visible control ICs under the board, but the VRMs themselves are covered by heat sinks.
The codec is the ALC892, an upper-mainstream part, with 90dB S/N on the input, and 97dB S/N on the output. It isn't professional quality, but most users should find it satisfactory. One thing I found irritating is that the six audio jacks on the backplate are not color-coded, but are all black, so you'll need to refer to the manual at least once to know which is which.
In the box, you get the board, driver CD and an 8 1/4 x 5 13/16-inch, staple-bound manual, which does not lie flat. It covers this board, and also the B150T and Z170T Gaming boards. Languages include English, German, Chinese, Spanish, Thai, Russian and Arabic.
Accessories include four SATA cables (finally!), the I/O plate and a small bag with three screws. Although I did not initially find an obvious use for them, a reading of the manual suggests they might be used to mount an optional Gaming Commander front panel, which was not included with the review sample. Port and fan headers are all around edges in typical locations, except for one fan header to the right of the first PCIe X1 connector. There is a two-digit diagnostic display between the SATA and SATA Express connectors in the left front, and the ATX power connector just right of middle.
On the other side of the power connector is an illuminated panel with power and reset touch switches. This panel glows red when the board is receiving +5VSB power. To the left of the CPU socket, below the first PCIe slot, is the M.2 slot. Two SATA ports are disabled if you use the M.2 slot with a PCIe drive, and a single, different SATA port is disabled if you use it with a SATA drive. The only obstruction on the board is the lithium coin battery, which will be occluded by a double-slot graphics card in the PCIe 3.0 X16 slot.
Above those are the four DIMM slots, and here was my first surprise; they are DDR3L, not DDR4. Fortunately, I had some DDR3L on hand, so my testing could proceed.
My second surprise is that I was unable to obtain BIOS screen shots; the board locked up at any attempt I made, using a known good USB thumb drive, which was otherwise correctly recognized by the BIOS.
The third surprise concerned the included Toverclocker utility. When I started looking at H170 boards, rumors swirled over which of them might allow BCLK overclocking, and this looked to be one of them. I incrementally ran the built-in test on BCLK up to 120 and obtained rapid "success" messages, before actually attempting a 105 BCLK. Essentially, nothing happened. The utility said it was applying the change, but after an extended period of time, it never came back. Windows never crashed, and the utility itself could be closed, but it simply didn't work. I even returned to this board, after testing three of the others, to see if maybe there was a BIOS update to fix this as well as the screenshot lockup problem. Nope, the shipping BIOS is the only one.
I have to wonder, if BIOS changes were rushed through to deal with Intel's concerns about BCLK overclocking, that could account for these issues. I don't think either of them seriously affects the utility of this board, however. Still, after being pleasantly surprised by a Biostar B85 board I wrote up some time ago, I was a little disappointed in this one. The potential is there, but it appears to need some polish. So, what else might Biostar have up its sleeve?