Intel P55 Motherboard Shootout - The New Mainstream



The next vendor on our list is ECS, which offers up the P55 entrant in its Black series, the P55H-A. Despite looking the least attractive aesthetically, it has the same basic features as the other P55 motherboards. It is in fact, very standard, with few frills thrown in to make it worthy of its 'top' billing from ECS.

ECS's P55H-A is not the most attractive of motherboards, with a brown, dull PCB. But what matters of course are the performance and features.

ECS kept with two PS/2 ports when most boards have ditched at least one. We're personally fine with that, since there are still eight USB ports here, along with the eSATA and Gigabit LAN ports. Optical S/PDIF is also found along with the standard audio jacks. The small red button here is the Clear CMOS switch.

In terms of storage options, you'll find the standard six SATA ports that's supported on the chipset, with an extra JMicron controller giving some love to the IDE interface. It's also responsible for the rear eSATA port. But other extras like FireWire is not available and like the ASUS, we're glad that there's only one Gigabit Ethernet controller since one is all most users ever need.

Yes, one of the SATA ports here got chipped during the trip to our labs. ECS supports the minimum six provided by the Intel chipset, not including the rear eSATA port that is powered by a JMicron controller.

Again, a rather standard layout, with the power connector near the four DIMM slots. No word from ECS on how much the memory frequencies can be raised during overclocking unlike the bigger brands. The memory options in the BIOS are also not as numerous as the competition.

The older IDE interface is retained on the ECS P55H-A, with a JMicron JMB361 controller responsible for this and the eSATA port.

Multi-GPU configurations are supported of course with two PCIe graphics slots where one of them operates in full x16 mode with a single GPU or in x8/x8 mode when running a pair of cards. The other expansion slots include PCI and two PCIe (x1 and x4). Adequate spacing between the graphics slots ensures that dual-slot graphics cards are compatible.

We counted six chokes around the CPU, which presumably means this board has a six-phase power design. Solid capacitors dot the rest of the board. The twirl design of the heatsink seems to be cosmetic and there are no heat pipes connecting them.

One thing that appears to be lacking on this board is the passive cooling aspect. The heatsinks onboard are quite modest and while we believe that they can do their tasks adequately, that's all we expect from them. Cooling this board could be an issue with such a basic design.

As seen from our previous experience with ECS's Black series boards, the vendor has stepped up the game with more quality components like solid capacitors and some enthusiast touches like LED indicators, onboard switches and even a Linux-based quick boot utility known as eJiffy that is functionally similar to what ASUS and MSI have done. There's still some way to go however, especially for the P55H-A in terms of implementation.

An LED indicator for boot up status along with power and reset buttons show that these features are almost standard issue among manufacturers nowadays.

Another standard and must-have feature - the Clear CMOS jumper/button.

Placing the ATX 12V power connector in this location in the middle of the board is a big turnoff. There's even an ATX 4-pin connector here for some reason.

Finally, some of the layout issues we have noticed from previous ECS boards return, though the P55H-A was mostly decent here with no major flaws noticed. Overall, it's a pretty generic board that's likely to get buried by the big vendors but there's no denying its value. At just US$120, it's the most affordable of the boards gathered today and half that of the most expensive ASUS and Gigabyte boards.