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Four LGA-1150 Motherboards Under $60

Can We Call A Sub-$60 Motherboard Enthusiast-Class?

Top-tier tech is simply alluring. Whether we're talking about benchmark bragging rights, multi-GPU rigs with high refresh monitors or eight-core CPUs for hardcore number-crunching, we love exploring premium components. But the cold truth is that a vast majority of enthusiasts don't buy those flagship components. Quite frankly, most of us don't even need the latest and greatest. Yeah, yeah, that's heresy. But put away the torches and pitchforks for a second. How many of you have built computers for family or friends? And how many of those builds were for simple office use? How many parents have pieced together a mini rig for little Jimmy? How many would like to have a cheap project computer to tinker with? And really, how many people simply have tight budgets, but still want something as a daily driver that runs more than just Excel and PowerPoint?

In the Q3 and Q4 2014 System Builder Marathons, Paul Henningsen explored some low-budget LGA 1150 motherboards that supported unofficial CPU overclocking. We received encouraging feedback on those stories, along with requests to do more. So, Tom's Hardware sent out invitations hoping to identify a few "sleeper" motherboards. The rules were simple: we wanted LGA 1150 boards that sold for $60 or less that unlocked CPU multipliers. These boards also needed publicly-available firmware, not beta builds cooked up specifically for our story. Three companies let us know they had hardware that qualified.

Features
ChipsetIntel B85Intel H81Intel H81Intel H81
PCB Revision1.011.051.031.0
Voltage Regulator3-Phase4-Phase3-Phase3-Phase
100.0MHz BCLK99.94 (-0.06%)99.94 (-0.06%)99.98 (-0.02%)99.98 (-0.02%)
I/O Panel Connectors
PS/21222
USB 3.02224
USB 2.04442
Network1111
CLR_CMOS ButtonNoNoNoNo
Digital Audio OutNoNoNoNo
Digital Audio InNoNoNoNo
Analog Audio3333
Video OutVGA, DVI-DVGA, DVI-D, HDMIVGA, DVI-DVGA, DVI-D, HDMI
Other DevicesNoneNoneNoneNone
Internal Interfaces
PCIe 3.0 x161000
PCIe 2.0 x160111
PCIe 2.0 x11122
USB 3.01101
USB 2.02222
SATA 6.0 Gb/s4222
SATA 3.0 Gb/s0222
4-Pin Fan2222
3-Pin Fan1101
Front Panel Audio1111
S/PDIF I/ONoneNone1None
Internal ButtonsNoneNoneNoneNone
Internal SwitchNoneNoneNoneNone
Diagnostics PanelNoneNoneNoneNone
Other DevicesNoneNoneNoneNone
Mass Storage Controllers
Chipset SATA4x SATA 6Gb/s2x SATA 6Gb/s 2x SATA 3Gb/s2x SATA 6Gb/s 2x SATA 3Gb/s2x SATA 6Gb/s 2x SATA 3Gb/s
Chipset RAID ModesNoneNoneNoneNone
Add-In SATANoneNoneNoneNone
Add-in USB 3.0NoneASMedia ASM1042NoneVIA VL805
Networking
LAN ControllerRealtek RTL8111GR GigabitRealtek RTL8111G  GigabitRealtek RTL8111G GigabitRealtek RTL8111G Gigabit
Wi-FiNoneNoneNoneNone
BluetoothNoneNoneNoneNone
Audio
HD Audio CodecALC662ALC662ALC887ALC887
DDL/DTS ConnectNoneNoneNoneNone
WarrantyOne yearOne yearThree yearsThree years

The Limitations Of H81/B85

These are all H81- and B85-based boards. That means you give up a few features you otherwise may not think about with a Z87/97 or even H87/97 board. Until now, the biggest limitation of a non-Z chipset was the locked CPU multiplier. But the boards we're testing were selected specifically for overclocking, so that's no longer a limiting factor. 

I did run into one common problem with these platforms, though: OS- and application-level overclocking. Changing the CPU multipliers in each company's overclock utility imposed significant restrictions and more than a little funny behavior. I'll get into more detail later, but suffice it to say that any overclocking and tuning done on these boards should be done in the UEFI and not through software. We contacted ASRock, Asus and MSI about these problems and they all said basically the same thing. While you can bypass the multiplier lockdown on H81 and B85 through software, there are limits to how you can do it. This applies to all chipsets in the 8- and 9-series outside the Z and X lines.

While this constraint is something to consider, I won't hold it against a $60 motherboard. Each of today's contenders is admirable in its overclocking capabilities. None of them have near the power regulation circuitry that premium Z models sport, so I'm not recommending you crank a Core i7-4790K to the max in one of these. And speaking of VRMs, none of today's contenders include a heat sink or fan cooling those hot components. That means downdraft coolers are your friend. As the Pentium G3258's stock cooler is the same model bundled with the Core i7, featuring a big copper slug, there's usually no reason to swap it out.

If a G3258 and single PCIe x16 slot don't turn you off, then the lack of Small Business Advantage and Rapid Storage probably isn't a concern either. The table below outlines the differences between H81, B85, H87 and Z87. The H97 and Z97 chipsets add support for M.2, SATA Express and Thunderbolt, as well as baked-in support for Intel's Haswell refresh.

H81B85H87Z87
Chipset PCIe Lanes (from PCH Controller)6888<
Supported PCIe Lane Configurations(from CPU PCIe controller)1 x 161 x 161 x 161 x 16 2 x 8 x 8/x 4 /x 4
No. of Displays (iGPU)2333
No. of DIMMs per channel / Maximum DIMMs1/22/42/42/4
SATA Ports / SATA 6Gb/s Ports4/26/46/66/6
USB Ports / USB3 Ports10/212/414/614/6
Supported CPU PCIe Revision *2.03.03.03.0
Rapid Storage TechnologyNoNoYesYes
Smart Response TechnologyNoNoYesYes
Small Business AdvantageNoYesYesNo
Rapid Start TechnologyNoYesYesYes

*Per Intel's site, "The processor's actual PCI Express revision will be determined or limited by the value of this chipset attribute, even if the processor is designed to a higher revision."


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