Gigabyte H55N USB3 Page: 1

Introduction

As we have previously said, the less than pint size Mini ITX form factor has gathered a huge following across a variety of users. Not only has Mini ITX brought affordable computing into the hands of low income families, it has also found a place in living rooms as discrete home theater computers, and most recently, performance users. Around 12 months ago Zotac broke the silence of Mini ITX with it's Core 2 Quad and PCI-Express 16x ready GeForce 9300-ITX WiFi motherboard and it was clear that a fair proportion of individuals liked what they saw. Of course technology has moved on and this year, we also saw a Core i3/i5/i7 compatible rendition known as the H55 ITX WiFi. Motherboards such as these make it possible to assemble a surprisingly compact performance PC, but is this sector a little too niche for today's largest manufacturers? All we know for sure is that Gigabyte think otherwise as they have been kind enough to send us a potent competitor to the H55 ITX WiFi. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Gigabyte H55N USB3 motherboard.

As the name suggests, the motherboard is also a LGA1156 Core i3/i5/i7 compliant item and also supports USB 3.0. As always however there is more to a product than meets the eye...

Specifications

Processor Support Intel LGA1156 Pentium/Core i3/Core i5/Core i7 Processors
Chipset Intel H55
Memory 2 x DIMM, Max. 8GB DDR3-1333/1066/800
Expansion Slots

1 x PCIe 2.0 x16

VGA Multi-VGA output support: HDMI, DVI-D, RGB
Multi-GPU Support None
Storage

Intel H55 Chipset
4 x SATA 3.0 Gb/s ports

LAN Supports one PCI Express LAN 10/100/1000 Fast Ethernet by Realtek RTL8111E.
Wireless LANN/A
Audio Realtek® ALC892R 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC
USB Intel H55 Chipset
- 8 x USB 2.0 ports (4 x Rear, 4 x Internal)
NEC USB Controller
- 2 x External USB 3.0 ports


All in all the motherboard appears to have the right recipe to prove successful but, as per usual, we'll never know until it has been put to the test. Does the H55N USB3 have what it takes to best our review of the Zotac H55 ITX? Let's find out...



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Packaging & Initial Impressions


Arriving directly from our friends in Taipei, the H55N USB3 sports a thick cardboard outer packaging, decorated in a rather predictable white, blue and orange livery. Suffering not so much as a dent it's quite clear that the motherboard's protective shell has served its purpose.

Gigabyte H55N USB3     Gigabyte H55N USB3

Opening upwards, the first article that we found was a warning leaflet that explained that the motherboard's video outputs are only usable when paired with Core i3 or i5 dual core processors. Following on from this, we found our accessory set which consists of two SATA cables, an I/O shield, Driver Disc and manual.

Gigabyte H55N USB3    

...and here's the H55N USB3 in the flesh. The board appears very smart in it's blue and white colour scheme, which is arguably more mature than Zotac's bright orange and black theme. In terms of motherboard layout, there is only a few ways in which a Mini ITX item can be arranged. On that basis it comes to no surprise that it's layout of components is strikingly similar to the H55 ITX.

Gigabyte H55N USB3     Gigabyte H55N USB3

There isn't a huge amount of clearance around the CPU socket for wider heatsinks however this is to be expected. What's more noticeable is that the H55N USB3 doesn't offer quite as much integration as the previously reviewed Zotac. There is no onboard WiFi and there is a smaller USB and SATA port count. Regardless, this is not necessarily a deal breaker as we will discuss later.

The installation itself was relatively painless and the system drivers installed quickly from the bundled CD. In terms of general usage, the testbed appeared responsive and stable. The Realtek ALC889 audio module sounds very clear and all onboard devices appear functional.



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Testbed

Intel Core i3 530 2.93GHz Processor
Intel Reference Cooler
Gigabyte H55N USB3 Motherboard
4GB Corsair PC3-12800C8 Memory
XFX Radeon HD 5670 1GB GDDR5
Samsung Spinpoint F1 320GB Hard Disk Drive
Samsung 22x DVD+/-RW
BeQuiet Dark Power Pro 850W PSU
Windows 7 Home Premium x64
 

BIOS

One of the drawbacks of the Zotac H55 ITX was it's comparatively spartan BIOS, which inevitably lead to it's disappointing overclock. Thankfully we are pleased to say that Gigabyte have done quite the opposite. I will not bore you with the main menu or other constituent subcategories; let's delve straight into Motherboard Intelligent Tweaker (M.I.T).

Gigabyte H55N USB3

Gigabyte H55N USB3     Gigabyte H55N USB3


Within M.I.T, the user is provided with a small list of sub menu's that separate overclocking parameters into more managable (and less daunting) lists. First of all, Gigabyte have included a main overview page that indicates just about every important overclocking variable and it's current setting. If you are even a slightly forgetful individual, we believe that you would quite like this feature.

Gigabyte H55N USB3     Gigabyte H55N USB3


Gigabyte offer a reasonable level of tweaking ability. Bearing in mind that a Mini ITX machine is more than likely air cooled, higher voltage ranges aren't necessary. We were mostly pleased to see that Gigabyte have included a parameter to adjust Quickpath Frequency as this was inevitably what doomed Zotac's offering to the bin of appauling overclocks. With a better engineered BIOS, let's see just how far the H55N USB3.0 can go.

Max BCLK


The answer to the above is "very far". We commenced our overclocking attempts in a modest fashion by raising the BCLK in 5-10MHz increments, while maintaining low CPU and Memory frequencies. It was not long until we exceeded the Zotac H55's maximum BCLK of 150MHz and from then onwards the testbed felt like a ticking timebomb. Needless to say we had a long wait ahead of us as the ticking had not turned into a "BOOM" until a stunning 220MHz BCLK frequency. Later we were able to verify a max stable frequency just 10MHz shy of this at a pleasing 210MHz.

Gigabyte H55N USB3

Given that we have tested fully fledged Micro ATX and ATX H55/H57 motherboards that have struggled to break 200MHz, Gigabyte have done incredibly well to offer such a capable overclocker on a 17cm x 17cm PCB.

Max CPU Frequency

Given the nature of the test setup, the maximum CPU overclock was bound to be on the low side. Equipped with Intel's low profile reference cooler, we found our maximum stable frequency at 3.60GHz and an operational voltage of 1.175V.


With the formality of overclocking now completed, let's commence the testing.

 



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CPU Performance

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.

CPU Arithmetic

The CPU arithmetic test ascertains the processor's capabilities in terms of numerical operations. Two subtests named Dhrystone and Whetstone are carried out respectively. This is not a measure of latency and thus higher is better



The Gigabyte board sets itself up for an excellent start, performing competitively against the Zotac and pulling well ahead with the 3.60GHz overclocked Core i3.

CPU Multimedia

The CPU Multimedia Test focuses on CPU based operations that may occur during multimedia based tasks. The magnitude of the score depends on the processor's ability to handle Integer, Float and Double data types. 

The Core i3 performs very well despite being a dual core. Regardless both boards perform very closely against each other.


CPU Queen

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

CPU Photoworxx

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 ZLib

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

Across the entire Everest suite, the trend of results remain very much the same between the two boards on test. That said, the Photoworxx test identifies an oddball result for the Core i3 @ 3.60GHz. Multiple repetitions of the test yielded results within the same range.

 WinRAR

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

This test has successfully captured Hyperthreading technology in action with a performance speed up in excess of 2.0x from single thread to multi thread operation. The greater overclocking headroom of the Gigabyte H55N USB3.0 has shown a rather disproportionate performance increase here.



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Memory & Hard Disk Drive Performance

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.

Circa 11GB/sec on such LGA1156 systems are very much what you would expect in SiSoft Sandra's Memory test. Both systems are predictably on par with each other here.

Interestingly the HDD Test outputted identical results for both motherboards. While this is to be expected when both use the same H55 chipset, it indicates a very low error margin within the test itself.


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.

Do bear in mind that these results cannot be compared with SiSoft Sandra's test. Regardless, these results are very much the expected results for the aformentioned platform.

Hard Disk Performance

HDTune

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

The H55 chipset has little trouble at making the most of our Samsung Spinpoint F1 Hard Disk Drive.



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Integrated Graphics Performance

Flash HD - Youtube.com


Watching Flash based High Definition video is often more tasking on a system than you'd be led to believe. Without Flash Player 10.1 which enables GPU acceleration, many systems would have otherwise grinded to a halt. Let's see how our test setup performs here.

Generally we are quite impressed by the performance that the Core i3's integrated GPU offers. We're happy to say that unlike the older units used on Intel's Atom platform, these systems will not falter under Flash HD operation.

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.

If you are hoping to avoid the purchase of a dedicated graphics card for your Home Theater PC, then you might be in luck. We had very little trouble at powering 1080p video with the integrated GPU.

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.

Now we all know that Gaming and Integrated GPUs go hand in hand as well as a nuclear powered car but we have found that older hits such as Left 4 Dead are borderline playable. Both systems perform very much on par with each other.



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Dedicated Graphics Performance

3DMark Vantage

3DMark Vantage is Futuremarks flagship gaming oriented benchmark at present and is considered to be a demanding one at that. Our tests were carried out under the "Performance" prefix.

Both the Zotac and Gigabyte systems perform very similarly though naturally, the Core i3 @ 3.60GHz takes a considerable performance lead over the 3.30GHz overclock on the Zotac.

Left 4 Dead

Left 4 Dead is a very popular hit and should be an interesting choice to take our testbed for a spin. Let's see how well it performs.

We were most interested to see that the L4D chart was quite level regardless of clockspeed.

Microsoft Flight Simulator X

Flight Simulator X remains to be a terribly demanding game for it's age. Known for being very demanding on the CPU but also requiring a level of GPU power in the process, we thought it'd be interesting to see how it faired.

For those who are interested in this particular benchmark, it comes to no surprise that the Gigabyte @ 3.60GHz offers a noticeable lead in this CPU limited game.

Crysis Warhead

Crysis Warhead is without a doubt one hard nut to crack, especially at higher resolutions and a dash of Anti Aliasing and Anisotropic Filtering.

Given Warhead's heavy GPU dependency, both boards perform almost identically and regardless of CPU Frequency.

DiRT 2

DiRT2 is a very recent race driving game, known for it's Direct X 11 support.

Once again, the Radeon HD 5670 doesn't quite cut it at this resolution and so the test equipment remains very similar in performance. In general it is fair to say that both the Zotac and Gigabyte perform very similarly and I suppose one shouldn't be surprised by this. Let's wrap this up...



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Conclusion

Another day, another motherboard... Today we have taken the Gigabyte H55N USB3 through our testing process and now it's time for a conclusion.

This board is Gigabyte's first entry into the performance Mini ITX sector and it goes without saying that they have done a fantastic job at doing so. Quite predictably our favourite selling point is it's fantastic overclocking headroom. With a maximum BCLK frequency at or around the 200MHz mark, you are free to purchase just about any Core i3/i5/i7 CPU and theoretically be guaranteed an overclock of at least 4.00GHz. If overclocking is part of your master plan then forget about the Zotac H55 ITX as this is for you.

The board isn't a total winner however. As mentioned previously, the H55N USB3 lacks in terms of onboard hardware when compared to it's Zotac competition. There is no onboard WiFi and if you intend on fitting a dedicated graphics card, you will have to opt for a USB dongle instead. Also there aren't near as many USB or SATA ports and notable touches such as an external CMOS clear button are absent. That said, we found our sample to recover from overclocks better than the Zotac and unless you plan on building a NAS BOX with up to six Hard Disk Drives with something like the Fractal ITX case, the four SATA ports available on the Gigabyte will more than suffice. Finally, we would also like to point out that Gigabyte's offering can be bought for as little as £89.99, which is as much as £10-15 cheaper than the previously reviewed Zotac.

All in all, Gigabyte have truly pulled one out of the bag with the release of this Mini ITX motherboard. While I'm sure that there are individuals who would prefer the superior integrated features of the Zotac H55 ITX, we strongly believe that the choice for most performance orientated individuals should be very simple.

The Good
- Price
- Competitive Performance
- Overclocking ability

The Mediocre
- None

The Bad
- None



Thanks to Gigabyte for the sample today, you can discuss this review and many others in our forums.