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ASRock, Biostar, Gigabyte, MSI H170 Motherboard Round-Up

Cheaper than Z170 but packed with features, the H170 motherboards try to be "high end on a budget." Today, we compare the ASRock H170M Pro4, Biostar Gaming H170T, Biostar Hi-Fi H170Z3, Gigabyte GA-H170-D3HP, and MSI H170I Pro AC in features and value.

ASRock H170M Pro4

ASRock sent a total of five samples. My selection of the H70M Pro4 was somewhat arbitrary. I would have used the company's mini-ITX offering, but MSI's single submission was in that form factor, so I chose what was probably the next one in the shipping box.

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In the box, you get the board, rear I/O plate and a paltry two SATA power cables. There is a driver CD, and a glue-bound 7 1/8 x 5-inch manual that will not lie flat. The text is very small. You get English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, Turkish and four pictographic Asian languages, plus Bahasa Indonesian.

There is a tiny screw for the M.2 slot, which has not been preinstalled on the board. One thing that is present on the board is a jumper cap for the CLR_CMOS function. That jumper is on the left edge, just behind the front panel and speaker headers. Other than a chassis fan connector (which is to the left of the VRM heat sink), all other jumpers are arranged on the outer edges of the board, convenient to cable management openings.

The battery is between the CPU socket and the PCIe X16 slot, and will not be blocked by a graphics card. Four of the SATA 6Gb/s ports are on the left of the front edge, facing forward, so long cards will not block them. The other two are to the left of the ATX power connector, and point straight up. They're behind a long graphics card, though, and would not be blocked. These two ports are disabled if a SATA drive is installed in the M.2 slot, which is to the left of the PCIe X16 slot. The four DIMM slots accept DDR4, and have latches only on the right side. ASRock claims this board has six VRM phases, however there are five chokes in front of the VRM components that are covered by a heat sink, and there are two more to the right, each with a pair of solid state parts suggesting there may be seven phases. Speaking of the heat sinks, that orange really stands out, and I rather like it.

I've always found the ASRock BIOS easy to use.  In easy mode, it looks like this:

If you choose Advanced mode using the F6 key, you will see this:

If you've used an ASRock board before, this will look familiar.  The OC Tweaker tab brings you to further screens.  The one for CPU settings is here:

Since this is not an overclocking chipset, there isn't much to actually do here. The RAM settings are on this screen:

The Tool page has a number of useful functions, from driver installation and BIOS updates to a feature parents can use to limit when this machine may be online:

  • SpAwNtoHell
    1. Valid for who upgrades their system from older platform and have already win 8.1 bought not relevant for who upgrades to win 10 or buying a new win10...

    2. H170 supposed to be cheaper is not entirely true... So myself i do not see the point paying for a cut chipset not less or almost no difference compared to z170... As this is inteded for budget build...
    Reply
  • Onus
    Thanks to Kasia for some quick fixes in the text.
    Otherwise, I take full blame (or credit) for the results! These are decent boards for most people.
    Reply
  • Snipergod87
    Do people buy BioStar products? I have never seen them used in PCPartPicker builds or really recommended on the forums.
    Also I don't see why a lack of SATA-Express is a problem on the ASRock board as there are no devices to utilize it.
    Reply
  • turkey3_scratch
    17750886 said:
    Do people buy BioStar products? I have never seen them used in PCPartPicker builds or really recommended on the forums.
    Also I don't see why a lack of SATA-Express is a problem on the ASRock board as there are no devices to utilize it.

    Not really, they're considered to be not as reliable, just like EVGA boards. Though there is no factual data I can think of to back up this claim, it is general consensus.
    Reply
  • Onus
    17750935 said:
    17750886 said:
    Do people buy BioStar products? I have never seen them used in PCPartPicker builds or really recommended on the forums.
    Also I don't see why a lack of SATA-Express is a problem on the ASRock board as there are no devices to utilize it.

    Not really, they're considered to be not as reliable, just like EVGA boards. Though there is no factual data I can think of to back up this claim, it is general consensus.
    Exactly. I think they're still recovering from some bad S775 and AM2 boards they put out (I got some myself) some years ago. Their latest boards that I've seen have used the same quality caps and chokes as the Big Boys, and the boards are similarly well-made and don't feel cheap. A few minor BIOS glitches don't explain it; ASRock has had those too, as has MSI, and ASRock has also put out some really thin boards (with otherwise decent components), but they've had no serious call-outs for it. Biostar probably needs to determine whether or not their marketing and sales droids have been doing their jobs.
    Reply
  • jtd871
    I'm pleased that you reviewed a H170 mITX mobo. But I don't know why you list 1) "Limited expandability due to size" and 2) "M.2 is only PCIe" as cons for the MSI board.
    1) People buying a mini-ITX board don't want (or expect) much, if any, expandability. Limited expandability is arguably the whole point of mITX.
    2) The only compelling reason to go with an M.2 interface is to use a (PCIe x4) NVMe SSD. If the M.2 interface *wasn't* PCIe, only then it should be called out as a con.
    Reply
  • Onus
    Yes, point #1 is self-evident, but it is fair to point out, as it is a sufficient con that many people will not be able to go with a mini-ITX build. Although there are many USB3.0 peripherals available, a builder who already has a PCI video capture card, or a PCIe wireless NIC, may not wish to re-buy USB versions. I will disagree about point #2 on the basis of all the other boards' M.2 interfaces working with both card types. Someone building new would likely insist upon PCIe for the M.2 slot (as you say), but someone moving a drive, even if he plans a future upgrade, initially needs mSATA as well. To be fair, a slot that can only take a mSATA drive would also be listed as a con.
    As always, a given Pro or Con may not apply to you, so it might not affect your decision at all. If it does apply, it could be a dealbreaker to some.
    Reply
  • 80-watt Hamster
    17750886 said:
    Do people buy BioStar products? I have never seen them used in PCPartPicker builds or really recommended on the forums.
    Also I don't see why a lack of SATA-Express is a problem on the ASRock board as there are no devices to utilize it.

    I had a Biostar 754 board back in the day. Never gave me a bit of trouble, though I didn't exactly push it particularly hard. It powered the last iteration of my Linux box (still have the drive with the /home partition, swear I'll resurrect it... someday), and was in service for probably 4-5 years. In fact, I think it's hanging out in a box destined for electronics recycling, and would probably still work if plugged back in. No time/motivation to find out, though. *sigh*

    Digressions and nostalgia notwithstanding, I'd have no problem using one again. Hard to justify, though, when Biostar's availability is so spotty, and equivalent products from the majors regularly undercut them when on sale.
    Reply
  • RedJaron
    One thing the memory bandwidth benchmarks can help point out is the difference in board auto RAM timings. A lot of boards advertise they can supported OC'd RAM, but not all of them have the best performance at those speeds. I've seen plenty of Z97 boards that can run RAM at 2800 and 2933 frequencies, but they actually have poorer bandwidth than at 2666. Typically this is because the auto values for the secondary and tertiary timings are set very loose to make it easier to run the RAM modules at higher speeds. The RAM is stable, but it's not performing as quick as it could.
    Reply
  • jlake3
    This isn't unique to these boards, but does anyone know why so many boards are still including PCI slots? While they're nice in certain cases for backwards compatibility, I feel like they shouldn't be quite as prolific as they still seem to be.

    In an ATX board it's not a huge problem unless you're running a particularly large number of expansion cards, but on an mATX board like the Biostar this roundup it gets a little constraining.
    Reply