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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15 comments
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  • Sakkura
    Why no info on the fan control for case fans? Do the 3- pin headers allow voltage control, and if so, how does the BIOS handle fan curves?
  • DonkeyOatie
    Is the BIOS updated enough to run chips like i5 4460?
  • SuperVeloce
    you're joking, right? Practically every motherboard that left the factory in Q1/Q2 2014, has the support for "haswell refresh" cpus.
  • Onus
    551379 said:
    Why no info on the fan control for case fans? Do the 3- pin headers allow voltage control, and if so, how does the BIOS handle fan curves?

    This is a good question. Although there are no case fans on my testbed case, there ought to be a way I can check for this in the future. I'll keep this in mind; thanks.
  • Calculatron
    I think this is the motherboard that I said Biostar should have submitted for the sub-$60 LGA-1150 motherboard round-up, back in April.

    Better late than never, I suppose!
  • Onus
    Since I was asked to look at the $60-$80 segment, I suspect this board was in that range when THG ordered it; the price may have come down some. It is a nice board, it would not have been unreasonable to make it "Recommended" rather than merely "Approved," although I suspect that one of the ASRock H97 boards may be close enough in price to make that a higher bang/buck proposition.
  • quilciri
    I remember back in 2011, with the Llano chips, if you overclocked them, the USB 3.0 controller would switch to USB 2.0 mode.
  • RedJaron
    1294514 said:
    I think this is the motherboard that I said Biostar should have submitted for the sub-$60 LGA-1150 motherboard round-up, back in April.
    I wouldn't have minded having it come across my bench back then. But I think Joe is right, it was probably just above the price range back then. This would have been tough competition for those other four boards, especially with the four RAM slots. That's something you get with a full-width board. That and a secured board edge ( I really don't like boards that are narrower than the spec and just hang off the edge ). Then again, the H81 chipset can't handle more than two DIMMs, even if you have the space. That's yet another advantage B85 has.

    The lack of a TOSLINK doesn't bother me. The board does have the header if you want to buy the break out adapter. But if you don't have Dolby Digital Live or DTS-Connect, you can only get 5.1 audio over the S/PDIF from pre-encoded sources, like a movie DVD. Game sounds and every other generated audio is reduced to 2.0, which you can get from the 3.5mm jack. So unless you're using your computer to watch a lot of movies, and you're using fiber optic cables for audio instead of HDMI, there's not a lot of need for it.
  • DonkeyOatie
    550181 said:
    you're joking, right? Practically every motherboard that left the factory in Q1/Q2 2014, has the support for "haswell refresh" cpus.



    I wanted a definite statement. There are boards in distant parts of the world that lack this feature.


    Firstly, apologies for not making my intention clearer. I knew exactly what I meant but, as a teacher, I should have been less hasty.

    I advise a lot of people around the world on system builds as so many of us do. What often comes up for budget systems is the PCPartpicker note. – Some Intel B85 chipset motherboards may need a BIOS update prior to using Haswell Refresh CPUs.

    Many of these posters are spending all the money they have on their first build and are full of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) Often, nothing I can say will persuade them that they do not need a Z97 board like their mate told them to get.

    My statement was intended to prompt the reviewer to add wording to the review similar to what SuperVeloce suggested. Say This motherboard supports haswell refresh cpus.

    We regulars use this site a lot and 'know' all this stuff, but it is also important to remember the first-timers.
  • beetlejuicegr
    He is right, DonkeyOatie i mean, i also built a system for a friend and i was stressed up until the system booted if i would have to run around to use another cpu to bios update so that the haswell refresh cpu i had would work.
  • ozicom
    Hey everyone,
    It's good to see an article about something i'm already using. I looked for a lot of mainboards around and bought this one about 1 year ago. I decided on this one because it has 4 dimm slots and PCI slot. I looked H81 and found out that it's only has capability of PCIe 2.0 - which manufacturers forgot to mention - and after this discovery i started to look for B85 or cheap Z87 option. After a while I found this mainboard.
    After using 1 year I can tell it's a good buy but i have a problem and could not solve this. At time I started using there's no problem but after sometime passed it started. When I make cold start it hangs on F9 state and i have to make a hard reset to start it normally. If you guys have a clue to fix it i'll be appreciated.
    Have a good day.
  • Onus
    Although it is only a year old, you might try replacing the CMOS battery. Do that, reset the BIOS to defaults, and see how it goes.
  • ozicom
    47340 said:
    Although it is only a year old, you might try replacing the CMOS battery. Do that, reset the BIOS to defaults, and see how it goes.


    Sorry I mispelled. My mainboard hangs on BIOS state 9C. I tried to CMOS reset, changed memory banks, change all memory, make memory test, change operating system but nothing has changed. It stucks at 9C and when I reset it starts without any problem. It has warranty but i don't want to send it if I can fix it.
  • mjmill13
    this isn't a mini-itx motherboard. it's micro-atx.
  • Onus
    Thanks, I've edited this thread title. The article appears to be correct.