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Zotac H55-ITX-C-E: Stacked LGA1156 Mini-ITX Motherboard

Zotac H55-ITX-C-E: Stacked LGA1156 Mini-ITX Motherboard

August 15, 2010 by Lawrence Lee

Product
Zotac H55-ITX-C-E

LGA1156 Mini-ITX Motherboard
Manufacturer
Zotac
Street Price
US$150?

Zotac has been getting a good chunk of business by focusing attention to the
mini-ITX form factor. They've been Johnny-on-the-spot in the past, getting to
market before competitors, most notably with the Nvidia ION-based IONITX
and the GeForce 9300-ITX
for LGA775, once considered the end-all and be-all of mini-ITX motherboards.
As time passed, the torch eventually passed to another first of its kind, the
H55-ITX-A-E, a LGA1156 board with full CPU support all the way up to
Core i7. The Zotac H55-ITX-C-E is an updated model adding USB 3.0 support.



The box.



The accessories include 3 SATA cables, a DVI to VGA adapter, WiFi assembly,
and a 4-pin AUX12V extension cord.

So what else does the H55-ITX-C-E bring to the table? A PCI Express 16x slot,
a mini-PCI Express slot pre-populated with an 802.11n WiFi adapter, DVI and
HDMI with 8 channel audio (if paired with a Clarkdale processor), 6 internal
SATA ports and a single eSATA connector powered by a separate JMicron controller.
The board offers something for everyone — the potential to add an ultra
fast graphics card for gamers, solid HD playback features for home theater geeks,
and support for 6 hard drives, an unusually high number for a mini-ITX board.
This is 90% of everything anyone has ever wanted in a motherboard boiled down
into a diminuitive form factor easily tucked away behind a monitor, tossed onto
a shelf with some A/V equipment, or lugged around to LAN parties by a 100 pound
weakling with one arm free to lovingly grip a 2L bottle of Mountain Dew.

Zotac H55-ITX-C-E: Specifications

(from the product
web page
)
Chipset/GPU Intel H55 Express
CPU Compatibility Intel® Core™ i3

Intel® Core™ i5

Intel® Core™ i7 (800 series)

Intel® Core™ Processors with Intel® HD Graphics
CPU Socket Socket LGA1156
CPU Front-side Bus Intel® QuickPath
Memory Type DDR3
Memory Speed 1066/1333 MHz
Memory Slots Slots 2 x 240-pin DIMM
Memory Capacity Capacity Up to 8GB
Expansion Slots 1 x PCI Express x16

1 x Mini-PCI Express (occupied by WiFi)
DirectX DirectX 10
OpenGL OpenGL 2.1
Ethernet 10/100/1000 Mbps
WiFi 802.11n WiFi (300Mbps)
Analog Audio 8-ch HD
Digital Audio Optical S/PDIF & HDMI
output
Ports 1 x DVI (HDCP)

1 x HDMI (1080p w/8-ch audio)

VGA with included adapter

6 x SATA (SATA 3.0Gb/s)

1 x eSATA (SATA 3.0Gb/s)

1 x PS/2 (keyboard only)

Serial Port via header only

2 x USB 3.0 (on back panel)

10 x USB 2.0 (6 on back panel, 4 via pin header)
Cooler Passive (no
fan)
Form Factor mini-ITX
OS Compatibility Windows Vista/7
Premium Ready
SLI Supported No
Maximum Resolution 2048x1536
Other Wake-On Support


Overclocking features
Package Contents 3 x SATA cables

1 4-pin ATX extension cable

2 WiFi Antennas

DVI-to-VGA adapter

1 x I/O back plate

PHYSICAL DETAILS

A board's layout is important as the positioning of components can dictate
compatibility with other products like third party heatsinks and also disrupt
airflow, making a system more thermally challenging. On a mini-ITX board it's
really not that important as just getting everything on to such a small PCB
is a task in itself.



The layout is almost completely upside-down compared to most microATX/ATX
boards. The chipset heatsink and SATA ports are at the top edge next to
the PS/2 port on the back panel while the CPU socket and power connectors
are on the bottom half of the board. The capacitors are all solid-state,
but there are only 12 of them, an usually low number.




Due to the location of the CPU socket, one of our favorite coolers for
mini-ITX motherboards, the Scythe Big Shuriken, can't be installed without
blocking the PCI Express slot. Smaller coolers like the regular Shuriken
and asymmetrical heatsinks like the Prolimatech Samuel 17 do fit.




The VRM area is covered by a small heatsink with holes cut out to make
way for three capacitors.





The back panel features a handy CMOS reset button, a pair of USB 3.0 ports
(blue), HDMI, DVI, eSATA, and S/PDIF connectors.





The board has a mini PCI Express slot populated by an 802.11n adapter.
The antenna assembly isn't attached out of the box so the leads to the
WiFi card have to connected by the end-user.




The antenna bracket is screwed onto the back panel from the trace side
of the board.

BIOS

For enthusiasts, the options available within the BIOS can turn
a good board into a great one. The ability to manipulate frequencies, voltages,
and fan control settings vary depending on the hardware and the amount of trust
placed in the users' hands by the manufacturer.



Performance menu.



Fan control options.


BIOS Summary: Zotac H55-ITX-C-E
Setting
Options
CPU Clock Setting
100 to 500 MHz
CPU Core Voltage
-0.100V to +0.200V in 0.025V increments
PCH Voltage
-0.10V, -0.05V, +0.01V to 0.10V in 0.01V
increments
Memory Voltage
-0.20, -0.10V, +0.02V to +0.20V in 0.02V
increments
Memory Clock
800, 1067, 1333, 1600 MHz
Memory Timing Control
Basic
Integrated Graphics
GPU Memory
32MB, 64MB, 128MB + DVMT (128MB, 256MB,
Max DVMT)
GPU Voltage
-0.100V to +0.200V in 0.25V increments
Fan Control
Thermal Cruise Mode
Target Temp Value: 0 to 100

Tolerance Value: 0 to 15

Lowest Value: 0 to 255
Manual Mode
PWM Control: 0 to 255

Like many mini-ITX boards, the H55-ITX's BIOS is severely restricted.
Voltages can be adjusted for the CPU, PCH, RAM, and the integrated GPU, but
the ranges offered are minuscule. Particularly disappointing is a -0.100V undervolt
limit for the CPU. The board has dynamic fan control with adjustable options
as well as a fixed manual speed option.

TEST METHODOLOGY

Test Setup:



Testbed device listing.



Measurement and Analysis Tools

  • CPU-Z
    to monitor CPU frequency and voltage.
  • CPUBurn
    processor stress software.
  • Prime95
    processor stress software.
  • FurMark
    stability test to stress the integrated GPU.
  • Cyberlink
    PowerDVD
    to play H.264/VC-1/Blu-ray video.
  • Media Player
    Classic - Home Cinema
    (with CoreAVC
    if necessary) to play x264/MKV video
  • Real Temp
    to monitor CPU temperatures.
  • Seasonic
    Power Angel
    AC power meter, used to measure the power consumption
    of the system.
  • Infrared Thermometer to measure heatsink temperatures.
  • Digital Tachometer to measure fan speeds.
  • Digital Multimeters to measure voltage drop.

H.264/VC-1 Video Test Suite

H.264 and VC-1 are codecs commonly used in high definition movie videos on
the web (like Quicktime movie trailers and the like) and also in Blu-ray discs.
To play these clips, we use Cyberlink PowerDVD.



1080p | 24fps | ~10mbps
H.264:
Rush Hour 3 Trailer 1
is a H.264 encoded clip inside an
Apple Quicktime container.





1080p | 24fps | ~8mbps
WMV-HD:
Coral Reef Adventure Trailer
is encoded in VC-1 using the
WMV3 codec commonly recognized by the "WMV-HD" moniker.



1080p | 24fps | ~33mbps
Blu-ray: Disturbia is a short section (chapter
4) of the Blu-ray version of Disturbia, the motion picture, played
directly off the Blu-ray disc. It is encoded with H.264/AVC.




1080p | 24fps | ~36mbps
Blu-ray: Becoming Jane is a short section
(chapter 7) of the Blu-ray version of Becoming Jane, the motion
picture, played directly off the Blu-ray disc. It is encoded with
VC-1.

x264/MKV Video Test Clip

MKV (Matroska) is a very popular online multimedia container
used for high definition content, usually using x264 (a free, open source
H.264 encoder) for video. The clip was taken from a full length movie;
the most demanding one minute portion was used. We use Media Player Classic
Home - Cinema to play it as its default settings allow it to use DXVA
(DirectX Video Acceleration) by default.



1080p | 24fps | ~14mbps

x264 1080p: Spaceship is a 1080p x264 clip encoded from
the Blu-ray version of an animated short film. It features a hapless
robot trying to repair a lamp on a spaceship.


Estimating DC Power

The following power efficiency figures were obtained for the
Seasonic SS-400ET used in our test system:

Seasonic SS-400ET Test Results
DC Output (W)
21.2
41.6
60.2
81.9
104.7
124.1
145.2
AC Input (W)
32.0
58.0
78.0
102.0
128.0
150.0
175.0
Efficiency
66.3%
71.7%
77.1%
80.3%
81.8%
82.8%
83.0%

This data is enough to give us a very good estimate of DC demand in our test
system. We extrapolate the DC power output from the measured AC power input
based on this data. We won't go through the math; it's easy enough to figure
out for yourself if you really want to.

Testing Procedures

If available, the latest motherboard BIOS is installed prior to testing and
256MB is allocated to the integrated graphics core, if applicable. Certain services/features
like Indexing, Superfetch, System Restore, and Windows Defender are disabled
to prevent them from causing spikes in CPU/HDD usage. We also make note if energy
saving features like Cool'n'Quiet/SpeedStep or S3 suspend-to-RAM do not function
properly.

Our main test procedure is designed to determine the overall system power consumption
at various states (measured using a Seasonic Power Angel). To stress CPUs we
use either Prime95 (large FFTs setting) or CPUBurn depending on which produces
higher system power consumption. To stress the IGP, we use FurMark, an OpenGL
benchmarking and stability testing utility. Power consumption during playback
of high definition video is also recorded.

Our video test suite features a variety of high definition video clips. If
the video (and/or audio) skips or freezes, we conclude the board's IGP (in conjunction
with the processor) is inadequate to decompress the clip properly. High CPU
usage is indicative of poor video decoding ability on the part of the integrated
graphics subsystem.

Detailed DC Power Consumption

During testing we record power consumption both from the wall and from the
AUX12V connector with the help of a pair of digital multimeters and an in-line
0.01 ohm shunt resistor. The latter measures how much energy is being drawn
on the +12V line by the processor including inefficiencies lost to the VRMs.
In some cases, this can help us narrow down the causes of power consumption
differences between boards.

Note: Testing was conducted with the WiFi adapter enabled, but not
connected. When logged into our network, the power consumption increased by
2W. At the other end of the spectrum, removing the adapter altogether lowered
the total draw by 1W.

DC Power Consumption: Idle/Load
Test State
Idle / Load Voltage*
Idle
CPU Load
CPU + GPU Load
Intel DH55TC
System
unknown
18W
63W
69W
CPU + VRM
5.3W
48.0W
52.7W
Asus P7H55D-M EVO
System
0.968V / 1.144V
31W
76W
80W
CPU + VRM
9.9W
49.0W
51.7W
Zotac H55-ITX-C-E

(-0.100V)
System
0.952V / 1.216V
32W
79W
105W
CPU + VRM
10.8W
40.7W
57.4W
Zotac H55-ITX-C-E (stock)
System
1.056V / 1.320V
33W
91W
117W
CPU + VRM
11.7W
47.4W
64.3W
Combined CPU + VRM DC power draw measured from the
AUX12V connector

* according to CPU-Z

Compared to the Asus P7H55D-M EVO,
the Zotac H55-ITX used about the same amount of power when idle, but significantly
more on load. This is easily explained as by default, the board assigned our
i5-661 processor a rather high core voltage, 1.320V on load, 0.176V more than
the P7H55D-M. Using the maximum -0.100V undervolt in the BIOS, the CPU load
power was reduced to a more manageable 79W, but this was still 3W more than
the Asus board.

The power draw of the board while stressing the integrated graphics was a much
greater mystery. With both Prime95 and FurMark running, our undervolted H55-ITX
setup consumed 25W DC more than the P7H55D. The increase compared to stressing
the CPU alone was about 5W for the other two H55 motherboards we've tested,
so how this board managed to use 5 times as much was baffling. Even if the integrated
graphics core was overclocked and overvolted, it should not be that power hungry.

Needless to say, the Intel DH55TC,
the first LGA1156 board we've tested, easily holds onto its energy efficiency
crown — nothing comes close.

Video Playback Power Consumption

DC Power Consumption: Video Playback
Test State
Zotac H55-ITX-C-E
Asus P7H55D-M EVO
Intel DH55TC
Rush Hour

(H.264)
40W
37W
31W
Coral Reef

(WMV-HD)
38W
38W
31W
Disturbia

(Blu-ray H.264)
48W
51W
43W
Becoming Jane

(Blu-ray VC-1)
48W
46W
39W
Space

(x264/MKV)
43W
43W
not tested

During video playback, the H55-ITX on average used slightly more power than
the P7H55D-M overall, however as the presence of the WiFi adapter boasts the
board's power consumption by 1W, it's really a wash. Video playback energy efficiency
was virtually identical when the H55-ITX was undervolted, so the results were
omitted.

Fan Control

To test the board's fan control, we connected the CPU fan to a manual fan speed
controller so we could slow it down to induce higher CPU temperatures and connected
a pair of fans to the onboard headers. Fan speeds and temperatures were monitored
using a digital tachometer and RealTemp respectively as the system was stressed
with both Prime95 and FurMark.

Fan Control
Criterion
CPU Fan

(2500 RPM)
SYS Fan

(1600 RPM)
Min. Fan Speed
200 RPM
1600 RPM
Trigger Temp.
59°C
N/A
Max. Fan Speed Temp.
70°C
N/A
CPU fan control settings: 55°C target temperature,
3°C tolerance, 0% minimum fan speed.

The H55-ITX has two PWM fan headers but unfortunately the one labeled SYS rans
all fans connected to it, both 4-pin and 3-pin, at full speed. The board's fan
control worked only with the CPU fan header and only if a PWM fan was used.
The CPU fan behaved in accordance to the settings in the BIOS. With the minimum
fan speed set to 0%, the fan spun gingerly at 200 RPM until the average core
temperature hit just above the trigger temperature plus tolerance offset. 10°C
later, the fan was spinning at top speed after a smooth, fairly linear rise
in speed..

Unfortunately the board is not yet supported by SpeedFan, and Zotac does not
offer its own fan control utility so dynamic control must be entrusted to the
BIOS.

Cooling

To test the board's cooling, we ran the CPU fan at a fixed speed (~900 RPM)
using an external power source and ran Prime95 and FurMark. The system was left
to stew until temperatures stabilized. Temperatures were taken with a spot thermometer
and the results were for the hottest portion of the heatsink.

Heatsink Temperatures
Board
PCH
VRMs
Intel DH55TC
39°C
44°C (bare)
Asus P7H55D-M EVO
54°C
45°C
Zotac H55-ITX-C-E
52°C
53°C
Thermalright MUX-120 with stock fan @ ~900 RPM.

Ambient temperature: 22°C.

The Zotac H55-ITX's heatsinks were up to the challenge, keeping the chips relatively
cool on full CPU + GPU load and with no direct airflow as our test system uses
a side-blowing tower heatsink.

WiFi Performance

The H55-ITX's included AzureWave (Ralink chipset) adapter was tested with a
pair of routers, one 802.11g, the other 802.11n, both located about 25~30 feet
away through a single wall. On 802.11g, 5 bars of reception were recorded and
a 1.4GB file transfer averaged 22.4 mbps. On 802.11n, it got 4 bars of signal
strength, and averaged 41.7 mbps. As noted earlier, the adapter's presence results
in an extra 1W power draw, and an additional 2W is used when connected to our
802.11n access point.

Performance and power consumption may vary between samples however, as it appears
that AzureWave uses different chipsets for their adapter. Ralink, Realtek and
Atheros WLAN drivers were included on the same driver disc.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Like many of Zotac's previous offerings, the H55-ITX-C-E distinguishes itself
with a great feature set, being outfitted with 6 SATA ports, a USB 3.0 controller,
and a 802.11n mini PCI-E card with dual antennae. When it comes to LGA1156 mini-ITX
boards, nothing delivers as many features.

This beast of a mini-board unfortunately has a dark side: Power consumption.
Compared to the Asus P7H55D-M EVO,
a microATX board with a similar feature-set, the H55-ITX applied much higher
CPU voltage to our i5-661 test processor, resulting in a 20% increase in full
load power consumption. On a typical microATX/ATX board, we would simply go
into the BIOS and set the voltage manually, but being a mini-ITX mainboard,
its range of voltages is very slim. Even after undervolting it to the limit,
we were still about 0.75V shy of what we felt the Vcore should have been.

In addition, when we stressed the integrated Intel GMA HD graphics chip on
our our i5, the increase in power draw was 5 times that of a typical H55 board.
While few purchasers of this board will experience this confounding problem
(few users are likely to game heavily with GMA HD), it's still distressing that
such a big power leak can exist. Thankfully, the board's energy efficiency when
idle and watching HD video is in-line with the P7H55D-M. (Editor's Note:
Whether a BIOS fix will solve this power issue in the near future is something
we'll monitor. Zotac has been informed of our findings; so far, their techs
have no response.
)

Those who see the H55-ITX and its 6 SATA ports as the potential cornerstone
of a file server may overlook these problems depending on how often the system
will sit idle. Generally we would recommend a lower cost microATX board for
this function , like the ultra energy efficient Intel
DH55TC
. For a home theater PC, simpler and more cost effective solutions
abound, though a Clarkdale/H55 combination does offer audio bitstreaming capabilities
similar to that of the HD 5000 series of graphics cards. Still, we can only
recommend the H55-ITX-C-E if you intend to use it as a compact but powerful
gaming PC. After all, what's an extra 15W when you've got an i7 processor drawing
95W and a graphics card pulling down 150W?

Pricing is not yet available for the H55-ITX-C-E, but the A-E version without
USB 3.0 has a street price of about US$130, so expect the updated version to
go for about US$150 which is pricey but okay value-wise, due to its strong set
of features. If you're willing to give up 2 SATA connectors, WiFi, and the mini
PCI-E slot, the Gigabyte GA-H55N-USB is more affordable at only US$105. But
for many, that's too much too give up.

Zotac H55-ITX-C-E
PROS



* Core i5/i7 support

* Feature-rich (6 x SATA, 802.11n, USB 3.0)
CONS



* High Vcore = high CPU load power consumption

* Unusually high IGP load power consumption

Our thanks to Zotac
for the H55-ITX-C-E sample.

* * *

Articles of Related Interest

AMD's
890GX Chipset


Asus P7H55D-M EVO LGA1156 microATX Motherboard

Intel Core i5-661: A 32nm CPU with
Integrated Graphics


Gigabyte MA785GPMT-UD2H 785G Motherboard

Intel's LGA1156 and Lynnfield
core


AMD's 785G Chipset Boards: 780G Evolved

* * *

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