BIOSTAR TH55XE Motherboard Review

BIOSTAR has decided to jump in to the Intel H55 fray with a solid offering in the TH55XE board. While this board is of a micro-ATX form factor, it performs well enough to take on the big boys. And yes, this is one mirco-ATX motherboard that delivers overclocking for the enthusiast.

Introduction

BIOSTAR has been delivering product offerings in the US for some time, but has historically maintained a lower profile retail presence compared with the top tier retail manufacturers. The company itself is based in mainland China and has built an overseas reputation in the mainstream retail market.

It continues to push into new markets though, delivering on highly innovative designs and product performance rivaling that of ASUS. Its latest motherboard keeps nicely to this trend, and is likely to draw the attention of the enthusiast crowd. "Biostar" is still not considered an enthusiast brand, but the fact of the matter is that it has continued to build solid enthusiast motherboards for some time.

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The BIOSTAR TH55XE motherboard was designed around the Intel H55 chipset, offering integrated 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. BIOSTAR chose to integrate the following device list in to the TH55XE's design: 5 SATA II ports and 1 e-SATA port on the Intel H55 controller; 10 USB 2.0 capable ports (4 in rear panel, and 3 onboard headers supporting 2 ports each); 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, and HDMI output ports in the rear panel; integrated power and reset buttons; and PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports in the rear panel.

Main Specifications Overview:

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Detailed Mainboard Specification List:

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Packaging

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BIOSTAR chose a simple black and white design for the artwork on the TH55XE's box, with the board's supported technologies clearly shown across the bottom front of the box itself. The TH55XE came with a minimal amount of packaged accessories, including SATA drive and power cables; the rear panel shield; and the normal complement of manuals and drivers discs.

Board Layout

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The layout and design of the TH55XE was well thought out, with adequate space between most of the critical components and board problem spots. The one area you may run to trouble with is the left side memory locks when using a full sized video card. The board's revision and serial number are located in between the primary PCI-Express x16 slot and the CPU socket, with the serial number located on a white sticker. The board revision used for test was a version 5.0. BIOSTAR chose to implement the TH55XE's power regulation circuitry using high quality polymer solid-electrolyte capacitors.

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The CPU socket area is free of obstructions, with low profile type circuitry used in close proximity to the socket where necessary. The CPU cooler is held in place using the standard Intel LGA1156 4-hole method. Notice that BIOSTAR placed low profile copper heat sinks on the critical power components above and to the right of the CPU socket. The SYS_FAN2 header is to the left of the socket, with the front panel audio header to its upper left. The standby power jumper for the rear panel USB 2.0 ports is directly above the socket, while the ATX12V 8-pin power connector and CPU power phase LEDs are to its upper right. These LEDs give an easy to see indicator of how much power the CPU is using.

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The onboard DDR3 memory bank is located directly below the CPU socket, arranged in a bi-colored 4-by-1 configuration. Note that Dual Channel memory mode is activated by placing matching memory modules in like colored slots, with the orange colored slots being the primary set. Directly below the DIMM slots are the 24-pin ATX power connector, the CMOS reset jumper, and the CPU_FAN header.

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The integrated Intel H55 chipset is located to the left of the board's DIMM slots, covered by a low profile copper heat sink. Note that while the chipset is passively cooled, it was found that heat dissipation was not an issue even under the most strenuous overclocking conditions. Directly below the chipset are the onboard power and reset buttons, as well as the debug LED bank. These LEDs can be used to trouble shoot boot related issues using a table included in the manual to decode the LED illumination patterns. To the lower left of the chipset are the 5 onboard SATA 2 ports and the front panel header. To the upper left of the chipset are the standby power jumper for the onboard USB 2.0 headers, the 3 USB 2.0 headers, and the onboard IEEE 1394 header.

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BIOSTAR chose to include a total of 4 card slots with the TH55XE: 1 PCI-Express x16 style slot, 1 PCI-Express x4 slot, and 2 PCI slots. The SYS_FAN1, serial port, and parallel port headers are located along the outside edge of the secondary PCI slot. The S/PDIF headers for both input and output are located to the upper left of the secondary PCI slot. The CMOS battery is located just below the PCI-Express x4 slot.

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The TH55XE's rear panel includes the following integrated ports: PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports; 4 USB 2.0 ports; 1 IEEE 1394 port; 1 Realtek GigE Ethernet port; VGA, DVI-D, and HDMI graphical output ports; and 6 analogue and S/PDIF optical audio output ports. Note that the graphics output ports remain inactive unless an Intel CPU with integrated graphics processor is currently seated in the board's CPU socket.