Biostar Hi-Fi B85S3+ Motherboard Review

Introduction

Most people who buy big-box computers on a tight budget are probably going to end up with an H81 system, capped at PCIe 2.0 and with minimal expansion options, sometimes limited to USB 2.0 and only a couple of SATA ports. For not a whole lot more money, B85 fixes all of this. Today, we're looking at an offering from Biostar, which is actually not much more expensive than a lesser H81 system. In fact, if I were ordering in the $60-$80 range today, I’d have to skip this board, because it is now down to a mere $58 on Newegg.

This motherboard uses the ALC892 codec, but utilizes better surrounding components, and claims 100dBA S/N on the outputs. Typical for this codec is 97dBA S/N, so this board should punch a little over its weight in audio output quality. It's an omission, then, for the board to not include optical SPDIF Output, but it is still going to beat the usual ALC662 found on budget boards. This board uses a Realtek network controller for its RJ-45 port, and does not include a wireless NIC.

Layout

You get only the minimal accessories you need: the board, a 5 3/4 x 8 1/4-inch staple-bound manual (it will not lie flat), a driver CD, an I/O shield and a couple of SATA 6Gb/s cables. In truth, I think three cables ought to be standard. In the DIY market, a single optical drive and a system drive are just not enough, especially if that system drive is a small SSD.

Although it doesn't lie flat, the manual is otherwise reasonable. I did not need a magnifying glass to make out the illustrations. The manual offers 10 languages; English, Arabic, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.

The board's layout is fine. Other than one fan header, all pin headers and other connections are near edges, where most cases will have their cable management openings. As is common on mATX boards, a double-slot video card will block the adjacent expansion slot, in this case the first PCIe x1 slot. Unfortunately, it will also partially obstruct the battery, so plan to remove the video card if you replace the CR2032 lithium-coin cell. The back edge of a long video card will not obstruct the RAM latches, nor is this card near the SATA ports, so they will also remain unobstructed.  The SATA ports are clustered in the bottom left corner. Those that operate at 6Gb/s are alternated, so any clips will face out. If you use a SATA 3Gb/s port, though, you'll need to remove its cable to get to the clip on a 6GB/s port's cable behind it. Chassis fan headers are of the 3-pin variety, although the CPU fan header is the usual 4-pin PWM.

The CLRCMOS header comes with a jumper block, and is easy to reach on the left edge. There is another 3-pin header next to it, also with a jumper block on it. This header is not illustrated nor described in the manual (I left it alone). The 4-pin CPU power cable is close enough to the right edge that nothing blocks access to a cable management opening. All capacitors are solid, and the chokes are ferrite core. The front-panel header is in the usual place on the bottom left, and includes pins for a speaker. The audio header is on the very edge at the back left, which is a cleaner placement than the more central position many boards use. There are no indicator LEDS on the board, such as a diagnostic display or a +5VSB pilot. Be sure you've switched your PSU off or unplugged it before adding or removing expansion cards, to be sure the +5VSB is off.

How We Test

Test System Components

As before, this motherboard was set up on an open-bed test case. All components were the same as those used in recent write-ups.






Drivers & Settings

GraphicsNvidia 347.25                

Stock and 4.2GHz overclock settings will be used to generate comparative data. I found only one anomaly, which was repeatable, otherwise the numbers were unremarkable. As usual, I used a Kill-A-Watt meter to read power usage at the wall. With the system off, the UPS on its own draws about 6 watts. I realize I may not have been perfectly clear what this means; for all boards, subtract 6W to get actual consumption of the test systems (although if you plan to use a UPS yourself, the added 6W may tell you what to expect).

Benchmark Suite

PCMark 8Version: 2.3.293, Work, Home, and Creative Benchmarks
SiSoftware SandraVersion: 2015.01.21.15, Memory Bandwidth
Crystal DiskMark 3.03Sequential Read
Unigine Heaven 4.0Version 4.0, Built-in Benchmark
DirectX 9, Low Detail, 1280x720, 2xAA, No Tessellation
DirectX 11, High Quality, 1280x70, 0xAA

Also as before, I ran only the sequential test in CrystalDiskMark, because I was interested in testing the chipset SATA and USB3.0 throughputs, not the attached drives. Similarly, I only looked for bandwidth differences in the RAM.

Comparison Motherboards

For comparison purposes, the results obtained will be examined against those from the original three-board mini-ITX review I wrote, and that you may read here.

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Test Results

The motherboard doesn't make a big difference to performance. We've seen this before, although overclocking on this board provides a nice 12 to 16 percent boost over its stock performance.

The differences are not significant, although overclocking moves today's board from last to first, with a 6 percent improvement.

As before, it would take a very tight scale to make the differences between boards at stock look like anything. When this board is overclocked, however, there are some substantial and unexpected changes. Although the SATA performance improves by 9 percent, which is nice, the USB3.0 performance tanks, losing a whopping 40 percent. This did not make sense, but was repeatable. On my open case, nothing should be overheating (I didn't see over 39.2 degrees Celsius -- 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit -- on the VRMs at their hottest, and the CPU OC temp, coming up soon, is not unreasonable). Oddly, the last board showed the opposite effect, but to an insignificant degree. I'd love to read some suggestions in the Comments as to why this drop-off might appear.

Today’s board is dead last at stock on both the DX9 basic and DX11 custom settings, but overclocking moves the DX9 results into first, while the DX11 still trails. The differences are still only 1 to 2 percent.

Power consumption is higher than the H81 boards tested previously, but lower than the other B85 board, until overclocking. That adds another 8W-19W, depending on the application, but does not appear inordinate, nor are the temperatures coming up next.

CPU temperature mirrors the power usage results; higher than H81 boards, and lower than another B85. I think 77 C (170.6 F) is a bit high for routine use, but a better cooler should fix that.

Once again, this test is of limited value due to my lack of control over the variables. However, there are no surprises here, which I'll take as a good thing. I ran this test repeatedly at different times and after doing different tests, and these numbers are from a typical set.  There was little variance between sets.

Overclocking

This simple screen gives us basic information, including the version number (BRC04.BSS). On the left is some overview information on frequency and voltage. Here is where I found this board's only real irritant, although I ran into another glitch when taking BIOS screenshots. The device selection showed a couple of gibberish characters instead of a drive letter, device name or port identifier. Since I had just one thumb drive plugged in, that's where the screenshots ended up, which is what I wanted. Still, what I saw was not consistent with a finished product.

I went for the standard 4.2GHz overclock I've been using, by setting the multiplier as I had on past boards. Here I got a surprise, and was getting set to unload on this board, but I caught another setting to tweak (after taking a frustration break) on a triple-check. It cost me a few hours to rerun all my overclock tests, but CPU Ratio Mode must also be set to "Fixed."  Otherwise, the BIOS screens will show 4.196GHz as expected, and 1.26V, but CPU-Z and HWMonitor will show the CPU never going over 3.2GHz, although the higher voltage raises the temperatures considerably.

Conclusion

If H81 is just missing something, then B85 may be the way to go. More native SATA 6Gb/s ports is probably the biggest addition; if you need it, well then….  Although Biostar may not be a top-tier brand, the component quality on this board is comparable to the boards of the "big guys." And you may like having four RAM slots rather than the two that are more common on micro-ATX boards. This board has all video connector types except DisplayPort, and isn't missing anything you'd really expect to find in a mainstream, budget-friendly option. There are a couple of cheaper B85 boards, but you'll lose RAM slots and at least one PCI expansion slot going with one of those.  Paying another $10 may get you something different, but not visibly better; you may still lose ports and/or RAM slots.

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Joe Trott is an Associate Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware, covering Motherboards.

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