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Zotac H67-ITX: Sandy Bridge for Mini-ITX

Zotac H67-ITX: Sandy Bridge on Mini-ITX

April 17, 2011 by Lawrence Lee

Product
Zotac H67-ITX-C-E

LGA1155 mini-ITX motherboard
Manufacturer
Zotac
Street Price
US$150

Though mini-ITX has gotten plenty of love from Zotac and a few other manufacturers, the potential performance of this small form factor has always been limited by power consumption. The highest performance CPUs use more energy, producing more heat waste and requiring more advanced power regulation circuitry. The amount of space and cooling available in a typical mini-ITX system just wasn't enough for the high-end chips like the 130W Core i7's for LGA1366. As a result, power users who wanted mini-ITX PCs had to make due with 95W chips from Intel's budget socket, LGA1156.

The release of Intel's Sandy Bridge LGA1155 platform changed everything. CPUs like the Core i5-2500K and i7-2600K outperform the best quad cores LGA1366 have to offer, and more importantly, with far superior energy efficiency. The time has come for mini-ITX enthusiasts to finally get CPU performance rivaling what's available for clunky ATX towers.



The Zotac H67-ITX box.

The most notable mini-ITX LGA1155 offering comes from Zotac who have put out yet another flagship board with enough trimmings to rival a Thanksgiving dinner hosted by Martha Stewart. They did it in the past with the GeForce 9300-ITX for LGA775, then the H55-ITX for LGA1156, and they've upped the ante once again with the H67-ITX, the most complete mini-ITX solution for LGA1155.

The H67-ITX is obviously based on the H67 chipset, so multiplier overclocking is off the table, not that overclocking is advisable in a mini-ITX environment. But other than that, Zotac has delivered a full-fledged Sandy Bridge solution complete with six internal SATA ports, eSATA, USB 3.0, wireless 802.11n, and even a DisplayPort connector.



Accessories.

Along with a stacked feature-set, the board also ships with an impressive batch of accessories including four locking SATA cables, a USB 3.0 expansion bracket, a 4-pin AUX12V extension cable, and a DVI to VGA adapter.

Zotac H67-ITX-C-E: Specifications

(from the product
web page
)
Model H67ITX-C-E
Chipset Intel® H67 Express
CPU Socket LGA1155
Form Factor Mini-ITX
Memory Size Up to 16GB
Memory Slots 2 x 240-pin DIMM
Memory Type DDR3 1333
Onboard LAN 10/100/1000Mbps Ethernet
Wireless: 802.11n (300 Mb/s)
Onboard Video Intel® HD Graphics 2000/3000 ready
Package Contents 4 x SATA cables

1 x DVI-to-VGA adapter

1 x I/O back plate

2 x WiFi antennas

1 x 4-pin power extension cable

1 x USB 3.0 header (full-size bracket)

1 x USB 3.0 low-profile bracket
PCI 1 x Mini-PCI Express (occupied by WiFi card)
PCI Express x16 1 x PCI Express x16
SATA 2 x SATA 6.0 Gb/s, 4 x SATA 3.0 Gb/s, 1 x eSATA
USB 4 x USB 3.0 (2 on back panel, 2 on pin header), 8 x USB 2.0 (4 on back panel, 4 on pin header)
Video Ports 1 x DVI, 1 x HDMI (1.4a), 1 x DisplayPort

PHYSICAL DETAILS

The H67-ITX is laid out like previous H55 mini-ITX boards. Compared to most mATX/ATX boards, many components and connectors are located in opposite positions. The CPU socket occupies the bottom half of the board. As a result, wide aftermarket heatsinks like the Scythe Big Shuriken hang over the PCI-E slot rendering it unusable.



Except for one fan header, The H67-ITX has an almost identical layout to the H55-ITX. The USB headers, SATA ports, and PCH are near the top edge, the 24-pin ATX connector is on the far right side, and the AUX12V port is awkwardly placed near the bottom left hand corner.



The VRM heatsink is 26 mm tall but noticeably undersized compared to those on many microATX and full ATX offerings. It's so cramped that capacitors are embedded within the structure, costing valuable cooling surface area.



Taking full advantage of the H67 chipset's capabilities, the board has six SATA ports, two of which conform to the new 6 Gbps standard. On the right of the PCH heatsink is a much sought after internal USB 3.0 header, while the opposite side is home to a mini PCI-E slot populated by an 802.11n card using an Atheros chipset.



The VRM heatsink is secured using spring-loaded screws.



The back panel is fully stocked with USB 3.0, eSATA (JMicron JMB36X controller) and S/PDIF ports. Three video outputs are available: DisplayPort, HDMI and DVI. The red clown noses protect the antenna contacts for the board's WiFi adapter.

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.



One surprise we found in the BIOS were settings for staggering hard drive spin-up. This is extremely useful for low power servers that don't have enough juice to power up six hard drives simultaneously.




The PC Health Status menu is home to the board's fan controls.


BIOS Summary: Zotac H67-ITX
Setting
Options
PCH Voltage
+0.03V to +0.15V in 0.03V increments
Memory Voltage
-0.10V to +0.16V in 0.02/0.03V increments
Memory Timing Control Basic
Fan Control
CPU Fan Mode Manual, Smart Fan
Start Temperature 30C to 60C in 5C increments
Start Fan Duty 20%, 30%, 40%, 50%, 60%
Highest Fan Duty 70%, 80%, 90%, 100%

As good overclocking is not feasible due to built-in limitations on the H67 chipset, Zotac stripped most of the extra frequency/voltage settings from the BIOS. You can only make minor alterations to the PCH and memory voltage; CPU voltage and memory and CPU frequency are off the table completely. We've seen basic Intel boards that are more liberal than the H67-ITX. Fan control is offered with the option for either Smart Fan or a manual fixed speed for just one fan header.

TEST METHODOLOGY

Test Setup:



Test configuration device listing.



Measurement and Analysis Tools

Video Test Clip



1080p | 24fps | ~22mbps

H.264: Crash is a 1080p x264 clip encoded from the
Blu-ray version of an science fiction film. It features the aftermath
of a helicopter crash. It has an unusually high bitrate for video of this type.


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. 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.

Operating Voltage

Before we start, we present the operating voltages of our Core i5-2500K provided by some of the motherboards compared today. Higher voltages don't necessarily equate to higher power consumption, but in many cases there is a correlation. The data below shows that the Zotac has the highest CPU voltages, in idle and at load, of all the H67 and P67 boards we've tested thus far.

TEST RESULTS

Power Consumption

When idle or playing H.264 video, it used 20W and 25W respectively, the same amount of power as the Asus P8H67-M EVO. However on load, we noticed the H67-ITX pull away in the wrong direction, using 5W more than the Asus and Intel microATX H67 boards when just two cores were stressed using Prime95. The difference grew to 12~13W when all four cores were at work.

It seems that the higher the load, the less efficient the H67-ITX becomes. The culprit is likely a combination of less sophisticated power regulation circuitry and an unusually high core voltage to the CPU, which as explained earlier, cannot be lowered in the BIOS. We've encountered poor energy efficiency from Zotac mini-ITX boards in the past like the H55-ITX, but they usually had voltage options that could be used to mitigate the difference.

Unfortunately it is difficult to ascertain exactly how much of the energy draw is generated by the processor alone, as the amount of power pulled from the AUX12V connector depends on how power regulation has been implemented by the manufacturer. In this case Zotac has used a 4+1+1 power phase design which relies significantly less on the AUX12V connector than the Asus P8H67-M EVO and Intel DH67BL boards.

Boot Time

Despite donning a traditional BIOS rather than a fancy new UEFI, the H67-ITX boots very quickly once it's been optimized (setting all hard drive and USB delay to minimum). Our sample took four seconds less than the UEFI-equipped Asus P8P67/Pro to get to the Windows load screen.

WiFi & USB 3.0 Performance

The H67-ITX ships with an Atheros 802.11n mini PCI-E adapter which is fairly energy efficient. Disabling it resulted in only a 1W savings in system power consumption, while connecting it to a network required an extra 1W. Signal strength was good as we got 4 bars with our 802.11n router 25~30 feet away with one wall in between. When transferring a large file over the network the average speed was 24 mbps, about average in our experience. WiFi performance seems to be a total crapshoot when it comes to Zotac products. The ZBOX managed only 15 mbps on the same test while the H55-ITX achieved 42 mbps.

The VIA USB 3.0 controller performed about on par with the Renasa controller found on many motherboards. We copied 4GB of movies from an WD VelociRaptor 600GB on USB 3.0 to a SATA-connected Caviar Black 2TB with a respectable average speed of 97 MB/s.

Fan Control

To test the board's fan control, we used the Smart Fan settings pictured below, connected 2400 RPM PWM fans to the two available fan headers, and placed the system on load using Prime95 while monitoring the CPU temperature and fan speeds using SpeedFan (Zotac does not provide any utilities of any kind for the H67-ITX).



Fan control settings.

Only the fan connected to the CPU Fan header varied in speed (the fan connected to the Sys Fan header ran at full speed the entire time), staying at about 400 RPM (this appeared to be the minimum of 20%) until the core temperature hit 40°C, starting about 5°C too early. The fan speed increased in a linear fashion, topping out at 2000 RPM at around 85°C which is an unusually high end point. Furthermore, CPU Fan header would not control 3-pin fans so it appears that voltage control isn't available on the H67-ITX.



SpeedFan screen with correlations inputted.

The latest beta version of SpeedFan allowed us to unlock PWM control on the Sys Fan header, giving it the same capabilities as the CPU Fan header. It also presented a few extra temperature sensors. The CPU sensor was of no use, staying at 124°C throughout testing, while those labeled System, AUX, and SMIOVT4/5/6 rose and fell together. By systematically providing extra cooling to various portions of the board, we eventually figured out that these set of sensors seemed to indicate the VRM temperature (the difference in values is likely just a calibration issue).

Cooling

To test the board's cooling, we used a Core i5-2500K stressed for ~15 minutes with Prime95. Temperatures of the boards' chipset and VRM heatsinks (if applicable) were monitored using a spot infrared thermometer. The highest temperatures were taken for comparison.

Given its small size and the board's unusually high load power consumption, it was no surprise that the board's VRM heatsink measured more than 10°C hotter than previous H67/P67 boards we've tested. It's not too big a deal though as the Zotac board chips will never be stressed through overclocking. It is also notable that some H67 mainboards like lack VRM cooling entirely, particularly the few mini-ITX models we've seen on the market thus far.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Like many of Zotac's previous mini-ITX boards, the H67-ITX's main strength is its outstanding feature-set. It's a high-end board with almost every feature you could want including six SATA ports (two of which are 6 Gbps), an eSATA port powered by an third party JMicron controller, both internal and external USB 3.0, 802.11n, and a DisplayPort. FireWire is feature that might be considered missing, though its popularity is on the wane. The only other thing that an enthusiast user might want is the use of the P67 chipset for overclocking support, though it probably isn't a good idea in a cramped mini-ITX case.

The H67-ITX"s power consumption is on par with your average H67 mainboard, but only when idle or under low load. As the system is stressed, the energy efficiency becomes progressively worse. Compared to microATX competitors from Intel and Asus, the H67-ITX used 5W more when only two of our i5-2500K processor's cores were put on load while on full load, the difference surpassed double digits. The board suffers from the same problem as its predecessor, the H55-ITX, in that it supplies more voltage than necessary to the processor. However, unlike the H55 version, the CPU voltage can't be manually lowered due to the extremely restrictive BIOS in the H67-ITX. The H67 chipset doesn't support multiplier overclocking so a wide range of frequency and voltage options aren't necessary, but some CPU voltage control should have been made available.

The BIOS offers fan control but it doesn't seem aggressive enough for our liking, letting the temperature skyrocket before hitting maximum speed. Control is also limited to just a single PWM fan. Zotac does not provide a fan control utility (or software of any kind aside from drivers) but we managed to enable fan control for both fan headers using SpeedFan. The board's cooling is actually fine when you consider that many manufacturers don't even bother with extra cooling on their mini-ITX models. The VRM heatsink runs fairly hot on load, but this is partly due to the aforementioned core voltage issue.

While not the most energy efficient solution, for those who want the power of a Sandy Bridge processor in a mini package, the Zotac H67-ITX offers far more functionality than anything else we know of. If you're looking to build the ultimate SFF PC, whether for gaming, rendering, serving files, or just for bragging rights, the H67-ITX is the most capable mini-ITX board on the market. As such, its US$150 street price is seems perfectly reasonable.

Our thanks to Zotac
for the H67-ITX-C-E motherboard sample.

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Asus P8P67 and P8P67 Pro Motherboards

Gigabyte P67A-UD4 & Intel DP67BG P67 Motherboards

Intel DH67BL & Asus P8H67-M EVO H67 Motherboards

Intel GMA HD 3000/2000 Graphics

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

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