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For an LGA1156 board, the Gigabyte H55N-USB3's energy efficiency when idle and on CPU load is smack dab in the middle, only impressive if you ignore the boards from Intel which apparently run only partially on electricity with the slack being picked up by what we can only assume is fairy dust. It's a good choice for a multipurpose or gaming machine, but is less so for a system that needs to stay on for long periods of time like a server. The H55N also suffers from the same unusual high power draw we encountered on the Zotac H55-ITX when Intel GMA HD graphics are put on full load, but luckily that scenario is unlikely to play out often for most users.
The options available in the BIOS were a pleasant surprise. We have not seen a mini-ITX board with such a wide range of frequency and voltage settings. In theory, this makes it a daring enthusiast's dream for overclocking... but the lack of VRM cooling may bring you a step back. The VRMs around the CPU socket get very hot and will become increasingly inefficient and prone to damage or failure as they are pushed harder. With enough airflow from a down-blowing CPU cooler fan, this could be overcome, but then you may be sacrificing low noise for higher clock speed. At the other end of the spectrum, various components can be undervolted heavily, but giving a little less juice to the CPU only saved power on load, not when idle.
Compared to its main competition, the H55N-USB3 is middle-of-the-road in terms of features. It lacks the six SATA ports and Wireless-N adapter offered by the Zotac H55-ITX-C-E, but includes a USB 3.0 controller missing from the Intel DH57JG. If it was a microATX motherboard, the Gigabyte H55N-USB3 would be lost in the crowd. However, with so few mini-ITX boards of its kind, the reasonably modern feature-set and affordability makes it shine. With a street price of only US$105, it is quite affordable and has general appeal, making it our recommended starting point for a mini-ITX LGA1156 board.
* Low idle power (for a non-Intel board)
* Lots of frequency/voltage options in BIOS
* USB 3.0
* High IGP load power consumption
* Lack of VRM cooling
Our thanks to Gigabyte
for the H55N-USB3 sample.
The Gigabyte H55N-USB3 is Recommended by SPCR.
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Articles of Related Interest
Silent Home Server Build Guide
Zotac H55-ITX-C-E: Stacked LGA1156 Mini-ITX Motherboard
Asus P7H55D-M EVO LGA1156 microATX Motherboard
Intel Core i5-661: A 32nm CPU with
Gigabyte MA785GPMT-UD2H 785G Motherboard
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this article in the SPCR forums.
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