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ECS P55H-AK Black review

ECS P55H-AK Black review

Last year we looked at the ECS P55H-A Black motherboard, and determined that it was a great budget enthusiast motherboard with some good overclocking capability.  ECS is looking to step up their game even further with their latest offering, the P55H-AK Black.

The P55H-AK has traded its predecessor’s colorful layout for a much more subdued black/grey/blue motif.  A series of heatpipes and large heatsinks cover the chipsets and capacitors surrounding the socket.

Inlcuded in the box is the motherboard, English manual, I/O shield, angled red/orange SATA cables, a while cable labeled SATA 6G, two Crossfire/SLI bridges, a USB 3.0 3.5″ bay header, and a DVD containing software and drivers.

Specs

CPU

  • Socket 1156
  • Supports locked and unlocked Core i3/i5/i7 and Pentium processors

Chipset

  • Intel P55 Express
  • NVIDIA nForce 200 PCI Express switch
  • PLX PEX 8606 PCI Express 2.0 switch

Memory

  • 4 x 240-pin DDR3 DIMM sockets for up to 16GB
  • Dual channel memory controller supporting speeds from DDR3-1066 up through DDR3-2400
  • Supports Intel Extreme Memory Profile (XMP)

Expansion Slots

  • 3x PCI Express 2.0 x16 (16/8/8)
  • 2x PCI Express 2.0 x1
  • 1x PCI 2.3

Storage

  • 6x SATA 3.0Gb/s
  • 2x SATA 6.0Gb/s
  • 2x eSATA 6.0Gb/s

Audio

  • Realtek RTL889 8 channel HD audio

LAN

  • Dual RealTek RTL8111E gigabit controllers with Teaming

Rear Panel I/o

  • PS/2 keyboard/mouse combo port
  • 2x Gigabit LAN ports
  • Audio ports (line in, line out, mic in)
  • SPDIF port
  • CMOS Clear button
  • 2x eSATA 6Gb/s ports
  • 2x USB 3.0 ports
  • 8x USB 2.0 ports

Internal I/O headers

  • USB 3.0 header (supports 2 additional ports)
  • USB 2.0 header (supports 4 additional ports)

This is the first Intel board we’ve come across that contains any eSATA 6G ports, and this board includes two of them.  This is also the only Intel board we’ve seen that includes four USB 3.0 ports, although to use two of them, a motherboard header is required (which is included in the box).  You have the option of taking a slot in the expansion board area or in an external 3.5″ bay (finally a use for that floppy drive spot!).

The nForce 200 provides an additional 32 PCI Express lane, allowing up to three GPUs in either CrossfireX or SLI.  The slots are configured to run as 16/8/8.

The PLX PEX 8606 provides four PCI Express lanes for the USB 3.0 and SATA 6G controllers.

This board is equipped with a pair of Marvell 9128 controllers, one supporting two SATA 6G ports, while the other provides two eSATA 6G ports.

Installing

Working with the P55H-AK Black is a breeze.  There is plenty of clearance around the socket to install a Noctua NH-14 in any possible orientation without a problem.  Also of note—components on the system leave enough clearance around the screw holes that even with a large heatsink pre-installed, the motherboard is easily installed in the NZXT Panzerbox.

BIOS

Seasoned and new overclockers alike should be pretty happy with the BIOS.  Automatic overclocking is available through profiles, but if you really want to push your system to its limits, individual controls are also available.  In his review of the P55H-A, Peter noted that some of the RAM timings were out of order.  Sadly, this has not been corrected for the P55H-AK; the timings are in the same order.  Just be aware things are out of order, but well labelled, and you’ll have no problems if you pay attention.

Benchmark

Our system is configured using the following components:

  • ECS P55H-AK
  • Intel Core i7 870
  • Noctua NH-14
  • 4GB (2x2GB) Mushkin DDR3-1600
  • WD Caviar Blue 320GB HD
  • Radeon 4850
  • Windows 7 64-bit

Where available, the numbers from the original P55H-A review will be used, but please keep in mind that system was tested using 2GB of RAM and a faster clocked 4850, so it’s not a 100% equal comparison where RAM and GPU are the determining factors.

For further comparison, we’ve included numbers from an Asus G73JH-A2 currently undergoing review in the same test environment.  Its hardware consists of a mobile Core i7 720M, 8GB (4x2GB) DDR3-1333, Radeon Mobility 5870 GPU, and 2x500GB Seagate 7200RPM drives.

PCMark Vantage provides a good indication of all-around system performance in everyday tasks.  All of the tests were run at their default settings.

As you can see, the P55H-AK Black performs on par with or better than its predecessor in most every area.  The only significant difference where the P55H-AK is slower can be attributed to the P55H-A using an overclocked video card.

Next up is SiSoft Sandra’s CPU arithmetic test. This one is kind of a mixed bag.  Whetstone is a test of the floating point performance of a processor, while Dhrystone tests integer performance.  For some reason the P55H-AK performs worse at floating point, but better at integer.  Just to be sure, the test was run again and sure enough the results were the same.

For memory bandwidth we included two sets of numbers here for the P55H-AK: DDR3-1333 for direct comparison, and our RAM’s native DDR3-1600.  As you can see, at equal speeds the P55H-AK delivers a slightly improved amount of bandwidth for RAM at the same speeds.  Of course running at DDR3-1600 provides a large improvement too.

Overclocking

ECS provides a utility called Easy Overclock, or eOC, to facilitate overclocking your system from within Windows. At stock voltage, I was able to push the BCLK to 145MHz for a speed of 3.19GHz.  Bumping the voltage by a notch to 1.164 gave a max BCLK of 150MHz and speed of 3.3GHz.  In the hands of a more experience overclocker I’m sure more performance could be wrung out via the BIOS, but that will have to wait for another day.

Conclusion

With an MSRP of $299, the ECS P55H-AK Black sits near the top of the price list for socket 1156 motherboards, and for good reason.  This board packs more features than any other socket 1156 board and includes one feature (eSATA 6G) that no other Intel board currently has.  The price lands it squarely in competition with Socket 1366 motherboards though, and this causes a bit of a dilemma: which platform to choose.  If you are building a triple-GPU-overclocking system on a budget and can’t squeeze the extra cost to populate that third RAM channel Socket 1366 provides, this board is the one to get.  The ECS P55H-AK Black is an excellent board and certainly deserves consideration if you are looking to build a quality Socket 1156 system.

We’re happy to award the ECS P55H-AK Black with the Icrontic Stamp of Approval.

Comments

  1. Romad317
    Romad317 Oh my! Drool! This is proof that I should be single, and not paying for useless crap like kids dental work and food. Ah, for the good old days.
  2. Cliff_Forster
    Cliff_Forster The black PCB and the heat pipes on this thing! This has to be the best looking motherboard I have ever seen. Of course, if it were an AM3 it would be even sexier, and actually useable by those of us with decerning tastes in microprocessing. :wink:
  3. mertesn
    mertesn It is a great looking board, definitely one to put in a "show off" case. So far they don't offer an AMD board with the same feature set. I suspect if they were to release a Black board with an 890FX chipset it would be a competitor, but at the moment they only have 890G and GX variants.

    Where platforms are concerned, I don't really have a preference. I have both AMD and Intel systems and they both perform admirably.
  4. custompcmax
    custompcmax Beautiful board (love the black theme)... nice review too :)
  5. Optix
    Optix Holy hell! Is it possible to be in love with a motherboard?

    Now if they'd just make it as functional to match the looks this thing (along with matching up against similar offerings from the other big three - Asus, Gigabyte and MSI) is a sure fire winner for someone with a case with a painted interior. Nice to see they finally moved the 8-pin connector up near the top of the board like everybody else.
  6. mertesn
    mertesn
    Optix said:
    Holy hell! Is it possible to be in love with a motherboard?

    Now if they'd just make it as functional to match the looks this thing (along with matching up against similar offerings from the other big three - Asus, Gigabyte and MSI) is a sure fire winner for someone with a case with a painted interior. Nice to see they finally moved the 8-pin connector up near the top of the board like everybody else.
    Not sure what you mean by functional. If you are referring to the layout, I haven't had a single problem working with the motherboard...it's one of the easiest boards to work with. If you mean features, it's not really lacking anything.
  7. ardichoke
    ardichoke Yeah, looking at the specs I can't think of anything else I would want on a motherboard... realistically anyway. I mean, if someone somehow integrated a fine Italian espresso maker into a motherboard that would always be win, but otherwise I'm pretty sure it has everything one could want.
  8. Pinakio
    Pinakio WOW! And I was thinking tripple heatsink infested designs are things of past. This one is a definite looker but would've been better if a more detailed power consumption/temp reading was provided. Also p55 is good for memory overclocking so it'll be pretty interesting to find how this board fares.
  9. mertesn
    mertesn ***Update***
    I've been able to push the board even further as part of another review. So far I've gotten to 3204MHz (177*18) with the RAM running at DDR3-2133 speeds. Rock solid. I'm still learning about tweaking the settings to produce better results, but the more I work with this board, the better it gets.
  10. Optix
    Optix
    mertesn said:
    Not sure what you mean by functional. If you are referring to the layout, I haven't had a single problem working with the motherboard...it's one of the easiest boards to work with. If you mean features, it's not really lacking anything.
    I was mostly referring to the fact that their previous Black edition boards didn't overclock as well and didn't feature as many options in the BIOS as Gigabyte, Asus or MSI. Even ASRock seemed to stick it to 'em.

    I haven't had a chance to really do anything more than a quick cruise through the article so I apologize if this is just wasted bandwidth. :)
  11. mertesn
    mertesn
    Optix said:
    I was mostly referring to the fact that their previous Black edition boards didn't overclock as well and didn't feature as many options in the BIOS as Gigabyte, Asus or MSI. Even ASRock seemed to stick it to 'em.

    I haven't had a chance to really do anything more than a quick cruise through the article so I apologize if this is just wasted bandwidth. :)
    The i7 870 used in this test maxes out at 3.52GHz (160*22) regardless of the board used. I had no problems reaching that speed. While overclocking the Mushkin RAM used in another review I was able to get the BCLK pushed to 178MHz (178*18). I believe the quality of this board surpasses any other Black Edition board that ECS has produced. As far as the BIOS is concerned, the only thing I feel it lacks is the option to turn off the splash screen during POST. I haven't noticed any missing settings.

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