Zotac H55-ITX Review Page: 1

Introduction - "The Ultimate LGA1156 Mini-ITX Platform Unleashed"

 

Does size really matter? Well contrary to popular belief, manufacturers have successfully disproved this theory as over the last 18 months there has been a rising popularity for Mini ITX machines. With a footprint of just 17cm either side and a growing availability of quality chassis and motherboards we have never been this close to pint sized performance machines. Since last year, Zotac has been the ring leader of Mini ITX motherboards, including the critically acclaimed ION-ITX and performance oriented LGA775 GeForce 9300-ITX boards. Having already established their winning formula, they have moved on to produce a true successor to their Intel Core 2 Duo/Quad compliant solution... Meet the Zotac H55-ITX.

 

For a board of it's size you will be surprised to see what Zotac have been able to implement. When one considers that just a couple of years ago the Micro ITX market was mostly littered with embedded VIA C7 or entry level Intel/AMD platforms, it's clear that the times have really changed.

 

Specifications

 

Processor Support Intel LGA1156 Pentium/Core i3/Core i5/Core i7 Processors
Chipset Intel H55
Memory 2 x DIMM, Max. 8GB DDR3-1600/1333/1066/800
Expansion Slots

1 x PCIe 2.0 x16
1 x Mini PCIe (Occupied)

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 VGA with max. resolution 2048 x 1536@75Hz
Multi-GPU Support None
Storage

Intel H55 Chipset
6 x SATA 3.0 Gb/s ports

LAN Supports one PCI Express LAN 10/100/1000 Fast Ethernet by Intel Controller.
Wireless LANAtheros 802.11n 300Mbps Wireless LAN Controller (Mini PCIe)
Audio Realtek® ALC892 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC
USB Intel H55 Chipset
- 14 x USB 2.0 ports (10 x Rear, 4 x Internal)
 

 

Yowzzza!  Onboard this little wonder you will find no less than 10 rear USB ports, 6 x SATA II, e-SATA, 300Mbps 802.11n WiFi and full PCI-Express 2.0 16x support. With the exception of USB 3.0/SATA 6.0Gbps or Multi-GPU, the Zotac H55-ITX is as feature rich as any other Intel Core i3/i5/i7 motherboard on the market. Now don't go incontinent on us just yet as the real surprises lie in the photographs that follow.



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Packaging and Initial Impressions

 

Zotac H55-ITX     Zotac H55-ITX

 

Zotac H55-ITX

 

 

After greeting your friendly delivery man and clawing apart (like a honey badger, perhaps) any outer packaging you will find a relatively strong, black and orange, Zotac themed box. At this stage you should have already realised quite how small this motherboard is, as the box is about as large as a small birthday cake.

 

Zotac H55-ITX

 

 

When you open the box, the first thing you'll find is the board itself and underneath it you will find it's respective accessories. Speaking of accessories, the H55-ITX comes with an I/O shield, Manual, Driver CD and 3 x SATA II cables.

 

Zotac H55-ITX     Zotac H55-ITX

 

Fully unravelled, here lies the Zotac H55-ITX in the flesh. With a component density similar to that of the population density of Tokyo Japan, it's quite evident that not so much as a square inch of real estate has gone to waste. Zotac have been able to cash in on the absence of a physical southbridge chip to  allow for the implementation of other devices. With some further arrangement they have managed to implement a wide range of features.

 

Zotac H55-ITX     Zotac H55-ITX

 

How about a shot of it's I/O panel? Fully populated with Video, Audio, USB, e-SATA and even legacy PS/2 outputs, Zotac could not have offered any more to the end user... except Firewire perhaps.

 

The Atheros 802.11n Adapter features two Antennae outputs for optimised transfer rates and reliability. Router allowing, it is possible to operate a transmission rate of 300Mbps. Not too shabby at all.

 

 

The installation process was mostly trouble free. However, I did happen to note a problem with the Driver Disc in that it's Autorun function doesn't work. In order to install the drivers, I had to navigate through the CD and manually locate them.



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Testbed

Intel Core i3 530 2.93GHz Processor
Zotac H55-ITX WIFI Motherboard
4GB Corsair PC3-12800C8 RAM
XFX Radeon HD 5670 1GB GDDR5 Graphics Card
320GB Samsung Spinpoint F1 SATA II HDD
22x Samsung DVD+/-RW SATA
Silverstone Sugo SG05 Case
Silverstone 300W 80PLUS PSU
Windows 7 Home Premium x64

BIOS & Overclocking


 

Zotac H55-ITX     Zotac H55-ITX

 

 

The Zotac H55-ITX includes a fairly intuitive BIOS Menu, sharing a similar structure to menu's on Asus and Biostar boards. We are pleased to see that the board does offer CPU Overclocking functionality, however the variables are somewhat limited. That said, with CPU BCLK, DRAM Frequency and their respective Voltage parameters, it's not a complete disaster. About the only major missing piece of the overclocking puzzle was the absence of a QPI Multiplier which will inevitably hold back the maximum BCLK.

 

Zotac H55-ITX     Zotac H55-ITX

 

We were right. The motherboard failed to POST at a BCLK frequency of just 160MHz and we were unable to reach a stable BCLK any higher than 150MHz. A modest but noticeable 366MHz overclock was achieved with our Core i3 530 2.93GHz CPU. For a board of it's size, this is not a poor show at all.

 

With a maximum overclock verified, let's get 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 Core i3 530 performs very well in the CPU Arithmetic test pulling considerably ahead of it's Core 2 Duo predecessors. The overclock has exhibited a clear 10% performance increase, which is near enough in line with the increase in CPU frequency.

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.

Once again the Core i3 530 is performing as it should. Scores in this range suggest that the processor in question is a strong performer.


CPU Queen

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

Like in the SiSoft Sandra suite, the Core i3 holds up very well against it's predecessors.


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.

The 17MHz FSB bump represents a proportional performance increase. Both scores suggest that the CPU is of a respectable calibre.

CPU ZLib

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

The CPU ZLib benchmark also identifies the Core i3's strengths. Once again, a sizable increase is seen by the overclock.

 WinRAR

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


Thus far, the Zotac H55-ITX WIFI has shown little sign of holding back our Core i3 530 Processor. Next, we'll examine Memory and SATA Hard Disk Drive performance.

 



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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.

Synthetic bandwidth results of around 12GB/sec are an indication of both fast memory and a capable CPU Memory Controller. We are pleased with the result

A HDD Read speed of around 90MB/sec is a typical result for our Samsung Spintpoint F1 drive.


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.

As previously exhibited, the Everest Memory Read and Write benchmarks seem to be less optimistic as far as bandwidth figures are concerned. Rest assured however that these are very good results

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.


These figures are in line with those achieved with other H55 motherboards and also equivalent AMD Socket AM3 motherboards. We are generally impressed by the H55 chipset's I/O performance.

 



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Integrated Graphics Performance

3DMark06

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.

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.

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.

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.


Intel's Integrated Graphics have come a long way since previous generations. With high definition performance such as this, you should have little trouble using your Core i3/i5's GPU for Home Theater purposes. This could free up the PCI-E slot for a TV Tuner perhaps?



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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.

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.

 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.

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.

DiRT 2

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

And so we complete our round of games testing with very promising results. Let's conclude.



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Zotac H55-ITX

Conclusion


With our testing complete we are pleased to be able to conclude on a positive note. All in all, the Zotac H55-ITX's performance was on par with just about every H55 board that we have previously tested. While's it's overclocking performance was less than stellar when compared to it's bigger siblings, you can expect to achieve a 10-15% performance boost for free. Alright, so it appears to be a great product... But who is it for?

 

From a gamer's perspective, it is possible to fit higher performance Core i5 7xx and i7 8xx series processors and it's PCI-Express 16x slot will have little trouble at driving the latest and greatest from nVidia and Ati. If you're a storage junky too, you may fit your H55-ITX based machine with up to six SATA II Hard Disk Drives. There's much scope for expansion with this little motherboard however, one really wonders how an end user intends on fitting multiple Hard Disk Drives and a Radeon HD 5970 in a Mini ITX chassis. In a nutshell, this board is limited by the form factor that surrounds it...

 

Then there's our entry level and mid range users. Out of the box you will receive integrated graphics support when bundled with a Core i3/i5 dual core CPU, 7.1 channel sound and a high speed wireless adapter. When you also consider that the PCI-Express slot could also be used for a DVB-T tuner it becomes quite apparent that this board is ideal for a discrete general media or Home Theater PC.

 

It would seem that the Zotac H55-ITX could serve as a suitable platform for a range of system configurations, from both entry level to the higher end. I dare say however that the length of graphics cards and the number of Hard Disk Drives you wish to use will be the deciding factor for the use of this board in a more powerful machine. If, for example, your proposed configuration cannot fit in cases such as the Silverstone Sugo SG05 or Lian Li PC-Q07, it would appear as though Mini ITX is a step too small and Micro ATX remains to be the solution for you.

Regardless of the type of user that you fall under you will be know that the Zotac H55-ITX can be yours for just £109.99 inclusive of delivery. Given its features and unique selling points, we feel that this is a very competitive price. Combine this with its proven performance and a five year warranty, it seems that Zotac have truly hit the nail on the head with this one.

 

The Good

- Inclusion of PCI-Express 16x
- Plenty of USB & SATA II
- Performance
- Price

 

The Mediocre

- Poor Overclocker

 

The Bad

- None

 

   

Thanks to Zotac for the sample today, you can discuss our findings in our forums.