Biostar TH55XE H55 Page: 1

Introduction

Still struggling to find the perfect motherboard for your soon to be assembled midrange computer? There's no denying that the introduction of Clarkdale Core i3/i5 processors and their constituent motherboards are in full swing. This means more sensible pricing due to competition in the market. However, this also introduces a level of confusion for consumers. There's already plenty of motherboards to choose from with similar specifications and prices, but which one should you pick? So far we've tried two H55/H57 based items but that this simply isn't enough to gain a full insight of the general quality of Intel H55/H57 based products.


Having been locked in the OC3D basement testing components for some time now with nothing more than a testbed machine, tins of spaghetti hoops and a human sized hamster wheel, I was somewhat saddened that my escape will have to wait another day due to the arrival of yet another Clarkdale compliant motherboard. On that bombshell, let me introduce you to today's review item - The Biostar TH55XE Motherboard.

Processor Support Intel® Socket 1156 Core™ i7 Processor/Core™ i5 Processor/Core™ i3 Processor/ Pentium® Processor
Chipset Intel® H55 Express Chipset
Memory 4 x DIMM, Max. 16 GB 2000(OC)/1800(OC)/1600(OC)/1333/1066 Non-ECC,Un-buffered Memory
Dual Channel memory architecture
Supports Intel® Extreme Memory Profile (XMP)
Expansion Slots 1 x PCIe 2.0 x16
1 x PCIe 2.0 x1
2 x PCI
VGA Multi-VGA output support: HDMI, DVI-D, RGB
Supports HDMI with max. resolution 1920 x 1200@60Hz
Supports DVI with max. resolution 1920 x 1200@60Hz
Supports RGB with max. resolution 2048 x 1536@75Hz
Maximum shared memory of 1748 MB
Multi-GPU Support n/a
Storage

Intel® H55 Express Chipset built-in
5 x SATA 3.0 Gb/s ports
Intel Matrix Storage Technology Support RAID 0,1,5,10

One Ultra DMA 66/100/133 IDE controller integrated in JMicron® 363.
- Supports PIO, Bus Master operation modes.
- Can connect up to two Ultra ATA drives.

LAN Supports one PCI Express LAN 10/100/1000 Fast Ethernet by Realtek 8111DL.
Audio Realtek® ALC888 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC
USB Intel® H55 Express Chipset:
- 10 x USB 2.0 ports (4 x Rear, 6 x Internal)

 

On paper, it would appear as though the Biostar TH55XE has very much in common with the MSI H55 ED55 that we reviewed just last week and with similar price tags we'll be pitching the Biostar head to head with it.



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Packaging & Initial Impressions

Arriving in a dark themed box, our TH55XE had successfully survived  Royal Mail's postal system without any significant damage.

      

Biostar include a fairly basic bundle with this particular motherboard. As part of the package you will find a Driver CD, Mainboard Manual, I/O shield and two SATA cables.

     

The motherboard in the flesh. The TH55XE is of a fairly conventional layout, however not quite as well thought out as the MSI H55 HD55 that we previously reviewed. At the rear you will find just four USB2.0 ports and it would have been nice to have had at least two 90* side mounted SATA ports.

     

It is also noteworthy that the Biostar TH55XE does not feature a second PCI-Express 16x sized port. Understandably, it is not possible to operate graphics cards in SLI/Crossfire with a Core i3/i5 dual core processor, you may wish to look elsewhere if you're contemplating the use of a Core i5 750 or higher and are possibly considering Multi-GPU solutions in the future.


The installation process was painless and trouble free. Let's crack on with the review itself!



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Testbed

Intel Core i3 530 2.93GHz Processor
MSI H55M ED55 Micro ATX Motherboard
4GB Corsair PC3-12800C8 RAM
320GB Samsung Spinpoint F1 SATA II Hard Disk Drive
22x Samsung DVD+/-RW
nVidia GeForce 8800GT 512mb GDDR3 Graphics Card
Windows 7 Home Premium x64

BIOS

Asus users will be able to accustom themselves to this particular BIOS without much hassle as it sports a very similar layout. For others however, the general navigation is intuitive enough and most if not all parameter names are easy to find and recognise.

The TH55-XE offers both manual and automatic overclocking modes. Over the years, it has become apparent that the focus of CPU Overclocking has expanded from the "hard core" all singing all dancing hardware enthusiasts, to those who...aren't. Frankly, I think this is great as CPU Overclocking is a great way for users to squeeze substantial amounts of additional performance out of their machines and everyone should be entitled to at least a small slice of that rewarding pie. Biostar's "AutoMate OverClock" mode offers three preset overclocks labelled V6, V8 and V12 Tech Engines, which raise your processor's Base Clock Frequency from it's nominal 133MHz to 135MHz, 140MHz and 145MHz respectively. Using our Core i3 530 2.93GHz processor, this results in clockspeeds of 2.97GHz, 3.08GHz and 3.19GHz respectively. For those who are educated in CPU overclocking, these speed bumps may appear somewhat feeble but as far as light tweaks are concerned, they appear to be very useful additions.

    

As some of you may know by now, it is not possible to apply a DDR3 frequency upwards of 1333MHz at default CPU frequencies on the Core i3/i5 platform. However, with XMP compliant memory and a motherboard that takes advantage of it, you're merely one click away from making the configuration of faster memory easier. Enabling XMP on our Biostar TH55-XE automatically applied our memory's parameters of 1600MHz by raising the CPU's BCLK frequency to 160MHz and applying the recommended latencies of 8-8-8-24-1T.

Now that we're done with overclocking for pansies (for now), let's get to the real business. For this motherboard to be considered a good overclocker, certain criteria must be met. First and foremost, it must feature sufficient BIOS parameters to make the overclock happen. Secondly, it must be able to attain our processor's sweetspot clockspeed of 4.10GHz but most importantly, the motherboard must also be capable of reaching as high a Base Clock Frequency as possible. With that in mind, let's continue digging through BIOS.

It goes without saying but I think we've established that the Voltage ranges are sufficient enough to satisfy all air and water cooling focused overclockers.

Overclocking - Max BCLK

Our overclocking experiences were relatively trouble free, however the maximum BCLK fell short of the previously reviewed MSI H55 ED55 and Asus P7H57D-V Evo motherboards, at just 188MHz

With our 22x Multiplier CPU, this would result in a hypothetical frequency of 4136MHz, which is not a poor show at all.

Overclocking - Max CPU Frequency

As the motherboard was capable of 188MHz BCLK, we had no trouble attaining our processor's sweetspot frequency just shy of 4100MHz.

Let's discuss some of the Biostar TH55-XE's Software Features



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Toverclocker

Toverclocker is a nifty software application for CPU Overclocking within the Windows operating system. Not only are you able to view current processor and memory status', you are also able to adjust processor BCLK frequency and both CPU and DDR voltage.

Much like in BIOS, there are also preset overclocks available for users who want an easy speed bump. Each variable labelled V3, V6, V9, V12 offer Base Clock Frequency increases in increments of 2MHz each.

While the options V3 to V15 offer preset frequency increases, the AUTO function is an actual automatic overclocking tool. The process seemed relatively simple. Auto increased our processor's base clock frequency by 2MHz at a time...until it crashed. Intrigued at the sight of my testbed machine automatically overclocking itself and locking up, I was looking forward to seeing what might appear when I next booted into Windows. Upon reopening the Toverclocker program, the processor had been assigned a clockspeed just shy of 3.40GHz. Not a bad effort at all.

eHot-Line

Another interesting feature from the Biostar Package also includes a tool named eHot-Line. This is very useful for those who are less savvy from a diagnostics perspective and require assistance with a potential hardware issue. The application attaches a text dump of your system's statistics and allows you to send a descriptive email about your problem to Biostar's support team. It is also possible to copy this email to someone else.


...and now for the benchmarks.



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SiSoftware Sandra (the System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) is an information & diagnostic utility capable of benchmarking the performance of individual components inside a PC.

PhotoWorxx as the name may suggest tests processors by means of invoking functions that are common to Photo Manipulation including Fill, Flip, Crop, Rotate, Difference and Colour to B&W conversion.

CPU Queen is based on branch prediction and the misprediction penalties that are involved.

This is an integer based benchmark that will test the CPU and Memory by means of the CPU ZLib compression library.

WinRAR

WinRAR's embedded Benchmark focuses on the processor's File Compression capability.

 

Our Biostar sample shows no sign of holding back our trusty Intel Core i3 530 processor, with figures that near enough match those of the MSI and Asus motherboards.



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SiSoftware Sandra (the System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) is an information & diagnostic utility capable of benchmarking the performance of individual components inside a PC.

HDTune

HDTune analyses the performance and health of your Hard Disk Drive. It's comprehensive test will determine minimum, maximum and average transfer rates.

Everest Ultimate Edition's memory testing suite determines the performance of your memory and your system's memory controller. Both Read and Write operations are tested.

 

 

All in all the Biostar TH55XE has performed very well in the aforementioned memory and storage I/O tests. The memory bandwidth figures also confirm our suspicions that the Asus P7H57D-EVO's figures were abnormally low. Do note that like the MSI H55 ED55, the TH55XE does not include a SATA3 (6.0Gbps) controller yet it is further reinforced that today's conventional Hard Disk Drives do not take advantage of the additional bandwidth.



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PCMark Vantage

PCMark Vantage is Futuremark's flagship "System Wide" benchmark. With a large focus on day to day operations, it's an excellent means of judging the capability of a computer as a whole.

 

Passmark paints a picture about the system as a whole by testing processor, memory, hard disk drive, optical drive and graphics card.

 

Futuremark's 3DMark06 is a means of testing a system's capability as a gaming machine. It has aged a little, however remains to be an excellent benchmark for all round 3D testing.

 

Microsoft's HD Suite contains a variety of 720p and 1080p video clips. We selected one 1080p Video Clip and gauged performance on the basis of CPU utilisation and fluidity.

 

Flash HD Video - wwww.youtube.com


Watching Flash based High Definition video is often more tasking on a system than you'd be led to believe. Let's see how our test setup performs here.

 

Left 4 Dead is a very popular hit and as such was a game that we wanted to throw at our Core i3 530's Integrated GPU. Let's see how well it performs.

The Biostar TH55XE has performed consistently on par with our previously tested H55/H57 motherboards under Multimedia/Gaming conditions. Let's conclude.



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Conclusion


We conclude this review with a general thumbs up. Our Biostar TH55XE sample proved to be a very consistent performer throughout all aspects of testing by matching previously tested H55/H57 based motherboards in all but maximum Base Clock Frequency. At it's retail price of £80, it also represents reasonable value for money and given it's general lack of performance based shortfalls, there's no way of discriminating the product from that perspective.

It does however lack a second PCI-Express 16x slot, that the similarly priced MSI H55 ED55 motherboard includes and arguably it's motherboard layout isn't quite as good. It should also be mentioned that the Biostar does not include quite as elaborate power regulation cooling for the motherboard. Such features are arguably useless for certain users however I feel that the TH55XE is priced too close to motherboards such as the MSI H55 ED55 to choose one over the latter. That said, Biostar have pulled out a very well polished product that could potentially suit the purposes of many users.

Great work.

The Good

- Consistent performer
- Novice friendly Overclocking
- Respectable manual overclock performance
- Minimal VDroop

The Mediocre

- No second PCI-Express 16x slot
- Not enough rear USB 2.0 ports
- Occasionally poor at recovering from overclocks

The Bad

- None

We would like to thank Biostar for the review today, you can discuss this and many other reviews in our forums.