Asus' P7H55-M EVO motherboard
Lancer not included
As one of the biggest names in the business, one might expect Asus to have a whole slew of different motherboards available based on the H55 Express. Indeed, Asus is offering four different H55 boards at the moment, including the range-topping P7H55-M EVO we snagged for today's round-up.
With a street price hovering around $138, the EVO resides at the high end of the microATX motherboard spectrum. But then this isn't your average microATX board; the EVO has ornate VRM heatsinks, tastefully colored slots and ports, a generous assortment of connectivity options, and a lot of the little touches you'd expect from one of Asus' full-sized ATX boards.
Despite the microATX form factor's shorter dimensions, the EVO doesn't look overly cramped or crowded. Asus has Intel to thank for moving traditional north-bridge functionality onto the CPU package with its latest processors. Without a north-bridge component, all that's left of the chipset is a single-chip PCH that's easier to implement than a two-chip set.
Looking down on the board as a whole, it's apparent Asus has used solid-state capacitors throughout. The EVO also falls under Asus' Xtreme Design brand, which denotes the use of higher-quality electrical components and two-ounce copper layers. Such things are extremely important in the always-competitive world of motherboard manufacturer one-upmanship.
The area surrounding the EVO's socket looks positively bare compared to some high-end mobos we've seen lately. Still, the board features an 8x3-phase power solution and very similar voltage circuitry heatsinks to some of Asus' mid-range enthusiast models. The heatsinks are relatively low-profile designs, so you should have no problem slapping a massive aftermarket CPU cooler onto the board.
South of the socket, we find the EVO's storage cluster, which neatly encircles the Marvell controller chip responsible for the board's IDE port and eSATA connector. The internal SATA ports are well placed, ensuring that longer double-wide graphics cards won't block access to any of the six ports on offer.
Remember when five expansion slots were standard for ATX motherboards? The EVO nearly matches that mark with four, including two PCIe x1 slots, a single x16, and one standard PCI slot. The x16 slot is driven by the PCIe controller integrated into Intel's LGA1156 CPUs, so it's a full-speed PCI Express 2.0 affair. However, because the x1s are connected to the PCH, they're more like second-gen 0.5x slots.
Asus generously endows the EVO's port cluster with a range of connectors, including three flavors of video output, analog and digital audio jacks, FireWire, and USB ports of the 2.0 and 3.0 variety. The blue USB ports are backed by NEC's SuperSpeed controller, while the others, along with onboard headers for an additional six ports, are tied to the H55's USB controller.
An external Serial ATA port provides an added measure of expansion capacity, although Asus hasn't gone with one of the new hybrid eSATA ports that incorporates USB plugs for power. I can see making an argument for dropping eSATA in favor of USB 3.0 connectivity, but if you're going to go with an external Serial ATA port at all, it might as well be of the USB-powered hybrid variety. Sadly, none of the eSATA-equipped boards we're looking at today feature hybrid connectors.
Drop into the BIOS of one of Asus' motherboards, and you'll be greeted with an interface that's been incrementally improved, massaged, and otherwise tweaked for many years. The refinement shows, not only in a wealth of overclocking and performance tuning options but also in the time Asus has spent recently on improving its automatic fan speed controls. This fresh batch of fan speed controls lets users set a temperature trigger point in addition to high and low fan speed limits. However, only the CPU fan is affected at the moment. The system fan can only be toggled between three preset profiles.