Counting Down to 2011 - Sandy Bridge Motherboards Preview



ECS has managed to raise its enthusiast profile with its more extreme, Black series in recent years, like this ECS P55H-AK and continuing with this trend, it has pulled out another Black motherboard bristling with premium features and components. In fact, looking at the packed PCB, we can pick out touches and details that could be seen as 'inspired' by the competition. However, that's all part of the industry as the good ideas eventually make their way to all board vendors though implementation may be a different story.

First, this ECS P67H2-A comes with a Lucid Hydra chip onboard. That's right, Lucid has found its wares becoming more popular since MSI first featured it in its Fuzion series and ECS has followed suit with this chip that allows for the installation of non-homogeneous graphics cards (meaning you can now mix and match between ATI and NVIDIA graphics cards for multi-GPU performance, provided you're running Windows 7 OS). For this board, you can have up to three such graphics cards, due to its three PCIe 2.0 x16 slots (in a x16/x8/x8 configuration).

The first rule of premium boards - do things in pairs. Hence, the dual Gigabit LAN controllers from Realtek, dual NEC USB 3.0 controllers on this board. There are only four SATA 3Gbps and two SATA 6Gbps ports from the Intel chipset, but ECS has thrown in a Marvell controller for an extra two eSATA 6Gbps ports at the rear panel. HD audio is done by a Realtek ALC892 chip while ECS has ditched FireWire.

 With a similar dark gray and black color scheme as its previous generation of P55 boards, ECS is hoping to continue to improve on its premium offerings with this Hydra powered P67 board.

Four USB 3.0 ports here at the rear, with dual Ethernet LAN and eSATA 6Gbps ports. It's certainly plenty of ports, though there's only optical S/PDIF.

All six of these SATA ports, including the two SATA 6Gbps ones in black, are from the Intel P67 chipset and aligned the right way. Power and reset buttons are also found nearby.

The four memory channels (up to a total of 16GB) are rather standard, with the 24-pin ATX power connector below.

As you can see, the black PCIe 2.0 x16 slots are arranged to allow for dual-slot graphics cards. There's sufficient clearance here that you can use all the available slots if they are all of the single card variety.

An LED that displays POST messages. It has a big Celsius sign painted at its side, which makes us wonder if it will display CPU or board temperatures after POST. You can also see the USB 3.0 front panel connector, which connects to a separate panel for the USB 3.0 functionality.

And here's the included USB 3.0 front panel bracket from ECS.

More indications of what this board has, like its HD audio, dual Gigabit LAN and of course, Hydra!

The cooling system consists of dual heat pipes stretching across three heatsinks surrounding the CPU socket. Notice the quality of the components and chokes used here.

Like some other vendors, ECS has marked these voltage measuring points to make it easier for enthusiasts and their voltmeters.

Despite a PCB that appeared to be cramped with features and onboard ICs, we found the overall layout to be quite well-done. ECS has managed to fit three PCIe 2.0 x16 slots for dual-slot graphics cards while ensuring that the SATA ports are aligned out of way. The power and reset buttons may be a touch close to the tangle of cables from the ATX power connector and SATA ports but it's again placed to avoid any interference. True, there are some onboard USB headers that may be affected by a third, dual-slot graphics card, but there are enough of them that it shouldn't matter.

Meanwhile, the heatsinks look a bit more heavy duty than the ASUS board, which hopefully can translate to lower temperatures. Overall, it looks pretty promising so far for ECS' P67H2-A.