GIGABYTE H55M-USB3 Motherboard Review

GIGABYTE's newest Micro- ATX release, the H55M-USB3, packs a good mix of features and performance in a small package. Will this mighty might be able to hang with the big boys though?

Introduction

GIGABYTE is a well known brand both inside and out of the enthusiast circles. Since its inception, the company has strived to deliver the highest performance products without risking overall product stability. GIGABYTE has mastered this tactic through its use of high quality components and innovative design wins with both its hardware and accompanying product support software and drivers. Their latest motherboard exemplifies this trend, delivering a very stable high performance product in smaller than you'd expect packaging.

The GIGABYTE H55M-USB3 motherboard was implemented using the Intel H55 chipset. This chipset offers support for the following technologies: Intel LGA 1156 Core i7, Core i5, and Core i3 processors, and DDR3 memory operating in Dual Channel mode up to 1333MHz officially.

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GIGABYTE offers the following integrated devices on the H55M-USB3 motherboard: 5 SATA II ports and 1 e-SATA port on the Intel H55 controller; 1 ATA-133 IDE and 2 SATA II ports on the GIGABYTE controller (RAID 0 and 1 capable); 10 USB 2.0 capable ports (4 in rear panel, and 3 onboard headers supporting 2 ports each); 2 hybrid USB 2.0 / 3.0 capable ports in rear panel; 2 IEEE 1394 capable ports (1 in rear panel, and 1 onboard header supporting 1 port each); 1 Realtek GigE Ethernet port in the rear panel; Realtek 8-channel HD audio codec with integrated S/PDIF optical output port; integrated VGA, DVI-D, HDMI, and DisplayPort output ports in the rear panel; and a PS/2 keyboard / mouse port in the rear panel.

Main Specifications Overview:

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Detailed Mainboard Specification List:

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Packaging

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GIGABYTE chose a minimalist design for the H55M-USB3's box art, with the board name and supported technologies clearly labeled across the box front. They packaged the following accessories in with the board: IDE and locking SATA drive cables; the rear panel shield; and the normal complement of manuals and drivers discs.

Board Layout

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GIGABYTE did a good job with the H55M-USB3's layout, with room to spare around all critical components and no real tight spots to speak of. That's quite an achievement, given the small form factor nature of the board. From what I could tell, the board's serial number is on a white sticker along the outside edge of the 24-pin ATX power connector, while the board revision is silk screened in the upper left corner of the board. The board used in testing was a version 1.0 model. For the H55M-USB3's power regulation requirements, GIGABYTE chose to use high quality polymer solid-electrolyte capacitors throughout.

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The area surrounding the CPU socket is fully free of obstructions, with low profile power circuitry put to use for those capacitors closer to the socket itself. The CPU cooler is held fast to the socket through the standard LGA1156 4-hole based mechanism. The CMOS battery is located directly to the left of the socket, with the front panel audio header to its upper left just under the rear panel header. The SYS_FAN and CPU_FAN headers, in addition to the 8-pin ATX12V power connector, are to the upper right of the CPU socket.

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The four integrated DDR3 memory slots are below the CPU socket area, in a 2x2 bi-colored configuration with the white colored slots reserved for the primary memory modules. Dual Channel memory mode activates with matching modules placed in like colored slots. The onboard floppy and ATA-133 IDE ports, as well as the 24-pin ATX power connector, are located to the lower left of the DIMM slots.

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The board's Intel H55 chipset is located directly below the two PCI slots, covered by a passive low profile heat sink. While there is no active air flow over the chipset under normal operation, we found that the chipset heat sink barely got warm even under overclocked scenarios. The CMOS reset jumper and onboard SATA-2 slots are to the lower left of the chipset, with the five blue colored ports controlled by the chipset. The white colored SATA-2 ports are controlled by the onboard GIGABYTE RAID controller. Note that to clear the CMOS, you simply jumper the poles of the header, with its normal operating mode being left un-jumpered. The front panel header is located in the lower left corner of the board, with the three onboard USB 2.0 headers direct above it.

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GIGABYTE includes a total of four card slots on the H55M-USB3: two PCI-Express x16 style slots and two PCI slots. The IEEE 1394, COM port, and CD_IN headers are located along the outside edge of the secondary PCI-Express x16 slot. The S/PDIF headers for both input and output are located to the upper left of the secondary PCI slot.

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The H55M-USB3's rear panel is comprised of the following ports: a shared PS/two keyboard / mouse port; four dedicated USB 2.0 ports; two hybrid USB 3.0 / 2.0 ports; one IEEE 1394 port; one Realtek GigE Ethernet port; VGA, DVI-D, HDMI, and DisplayPort graphical output ports; and six analogue and S/PDIF optical output ports. Note that the graphic output ports remain inactive unless an Intel CPU 600-series processor with integrated graphics seated in the board's CPU socket.

GIGABYTE EasyTune 6

For windows based monitoring and overclocking, GIGABYTE packages version 6 of their EasyTune software on the install DVD with the version shown being revision B09.1120.1. The application functionality is accessed via a series of tabs in located at the top of the application window.

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The CPU tab shows real time system statistics on the various bus speeds, and well as detailed CPU and BIOS related information. The memory tab shows memory statistics for all onboard slots on a slot by slot basis. Note that the information shown in both tabs in very similar in nature to the data you would see in the freeware CPU-Z application.

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The Tuner tab allows for user controlled manipulation of the various board bus speeds and voltages with 3 modes of operation available - Quick Boost, Easy mode, and Advanced mode. The Quick Boost mode is active by default, allowing the user to select from 1 of 3 overclocking scenarios.

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The Easy and Advanced mode of operation allows for full user control of board bus frequencies, devices speed setting and ration, and board voltages, with settings shown similar in nature to those shown in the BIOS. Note that the screenshots shown show Advanced mode active only. Easy mode operation is similar in nature, with less configuration options to choose from

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The Smart tab contains settings for manually setting the CPU Smart Fan temperature thresholds for optimal CPU cooler performance.

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The HW Monitor tab displays statics on all BIOS monitored voltages, fan speeds, and temperatures. This screen also allows for the configuration of alert settings for the monitored fan speed and temperature devices.

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Clicking on the summary icon in the upper right corner of the application display the Quick Summary window, which displays high level information on board device and bus speeds, voltages, and memory.